It isn’t easy being green
QUEENSLAND: beautiful one day, torrid the next. The sky is dark and the waves are battering our catamaran as we set off from Cairns to the outer Great Barrier Reef.
We’ve been strongly advised to take seasickness tablets; my husband and younger daughter decline, my son and I hedge our bets by taking one each, for the placebo effect, we say. It’s our first holiday without our oldest child, now a university student, and although I’m feeling sad about her absence I’m perversely buoyed by the weather, for she’s not missing out.
‘‘I’ll have heaps of opportunities to snorkel the reef,’’ she’d said breezily when we parted, evoking in her tone a sunlit seabed and a psychedelic marine world perched on its edge.
But the postcard has vanished and in its place is an inky-black ocean and sea-wash pounding the windows of the boat’s lower deck. The placebo effect is working a dream for my son, but mydaughter is green and I’m staring ahead into the salty abyss in a vain bid to keep my nausea at bay.
‘‘Just pull on your wetsuits and get out there into the spray and enjoy it,’’ hollers one of the crew.
‘‘We’re going to give you the best adventure imaginable in these crazy conditions.’’
But as we bounce across the ocean’s steely surface, I’m assailed by an intense dose of deja vu — 14 years earlier as we had returned to Cairns from Kuranda, the bus driver had said nonchalantly: ‘‘Anyone planning on going out to the reef tomorrow had better reschedule.’’ Conditions were too tumultuous; we were flying home to South Africa the day after that, and so our dream of visiting the Great Barrier Reef was stymied.
Our boat now halts at the outer edge of Upolu Reef and bucks in the choppy, cerulean sea. The best antidote to seasickness is to alight, so I adjust my mask and snorkel and plunge into the opaque waters. My husband and daughter drift off, their goggle-squashed faces obscured by the ocean’s rough undulations.
I battle with claustrophobia, fearing every time I sink my head beneath the surface that I will inhale quantities of this vast sea; my son — a tall, confident, insouciant young man — stays close by my side, terrified of sharks.
Back on the boat, we reflect on our encounter. Visibility was poor but we have seen giant clams and fish and felt the power of the great ocean wrapping itself around our insignificant bodies. After lunch we sail on and anchor beyond Upolu Cay, a wedge of beach floating in the middle of the ocean. The sun has come out and the wind has died; we slip into the water and find beneath us a world we always knew existed — sunilluminated seabed, coral and sea plants in greens and purples and oranges waving at us in slow-motion, schools of clown fish (Nemo) and dory (Dory), the sweet little protagonists of the children’s movie Finding Nemo.
My husband and son feast on the magical world beneath them; my daughter and I alight on the cay Ursula Andress-style and sit there in exhilarated disbelief. Queensland: beautiful one day, sublime the next.