In the last article in our Beehive for this year, I am faced with a dilemma which has no answer. What is more beautiful: discovering new, exotic destinations, or strolling across familiar ones that we have seen a thousand times before and that we know like the back of our hand? I believe we all love both the known and the unknown, but in varying proportions, of course. As far as I’m concerned, I have definitely changed over the years: ten years ago, I was constantly yearning for new horizons, but now, I prefer in-depth explorations. My list of the countries I wish to visit for the first time keeps on getting shorter, while the opposite is true for the list of places I would love to go back to. Since I’m an amphibian, the same goes for underwater destinations.
Last year in Fiji, I took the brilliant decision to complete a divemaster course. In addition to surrounding myself with books and numerous challenges, this choice made it possible for me to spend two months performing two dives a day in a country known for its magnificent underwater world, known also as the soft coral capital of the world. True paradise! Since we were mostly diving at the same locations, I quickly became familiar with them. I knew the best places to come across a turtle, the location where the sharks were usually sleeping, and where the little shrimp that could clean your teeth if you let it into your mouth was hiding.
After a week or so, I was already guiding groups of guests myself. While this role brought me a certain degree of satisfaction, it also caused heaps of stress. The divers I was guiding were not beginners, so I was not excessively concerned over their safety. What bothered me more was whether I’d be able to find my way through the underwater labyrinth of rocks, overhangs and caves, and whether I’d know where to find all the littlest creatures that create a truly special diving experience.
Fortunately, I never got lost and I managed to find a sea slug or two on every dive, but I must also admit that the shrimp in the photo below was making me extremely angry: a couple of times, I couldn’t find it for all the world, even though it was (and probably still is) at the same spot each and every time.
As far as beginners went, we usually took them through so-called Turtle Street, absent of important challenges related to flow and depth. There, I could charm my guests with brown “magic coral” that turn white every time you touch it. I always enjoyed observing their eyes, full of surprise, that had never seen anything like it before. Often, a member of the group wanted to record this miracle: turning on the camera, they held their breath, slowly stretched out their finger, touched the coral, and faced disappointment. Only the “locals” namely knew where the magic coral was hiding amongst countless other ordinary ones.
During the dive, we often saw turtles. If there were none, I went to find one under a big rock where a green sea turtle was usually sleeping. I knew exactly where to find it, and was deeply disappointed if she wasn’t there. As my co-divers fortunately had no idea there should be something there, they never finished the dive with a long face.
The last location, the so-called dreamhouse, is definitely the most complex of dives for the guides; after the initial descent onto the coral reef, we swam into the depths of the ocean where you can no longer use anything for orientation. There, we went about finding a herd of hammerheads that are usually located at a depth of about 40 metres (this is a huge herd—I have even seen up to a hundred hammerheads!). While meeting such a large group of sharks is an amazing experience for the divers, it is always at least a little bit stressful for the guides, since it’s really hard to find these animals in the middle of the deep blue sea.
We must learn how to follow certain signs. If there are no fish anywhere, for example, we’re definitely following the wrong path. If we see a battery of barracudas overhead, however, we are on the right track.
When you dive there for the first time, this is something that you obviously don't know. Even during your tenth dive, you probably won't be able to find the sharks by yourself. As these dives were usually herded by more experienced guides, I was taking care of the guests that were simply too enchanted by the hammerheads and started descending towards them without so much as a glance at their depth gauge ... until I brought them back to reality by tugging at their sleeve. Even though I was usually at the end of the line, I always shared the tension of my colleagues when it came to searching through the dark ocean water, and felt the same huge sense of satisfaction when a herd of these extremely charming ocean residents finally appeared below us.
As I write these lines, I’m wondering if I was ever bored during these dives since they were always the same. The answer? No, not even once. Just like I’m never bored when I take a stroll through the Karst forest extending behind our house. I do get sentimental whenever I glance something familiar, but every single time, I also manage to discover something I have never noticed before.
I have always had a connection to the sea. Born in the coastal village of Sistiana (near Trieste) in northern Italy, my earliest memories are of watching the heavy waves slam ashore when the local winds were blowing hard. As a teenager, the sailing club became my focus – not just for my love of water sports, but also for the handsome boys that sailed there. I went on to become an Optimist instructor for the club by summer and a junior school teacher by winter. However, ten years of focusing on the needs of children dampened my maternal instincts somewhat and I felt the need to travel. The sea was the obvious way to go…