This past Sunday was tragically our last day in Oahu (during my post med-school/pre-residency sabbatical, part 2 – Hawai’i), but before we were to leave, we had plans to dip into the ocean one last time, along with some snorkeling gear, guided by James’ long-time friend, Jeff! I was ever so excited for this, as the last time I had snorkeled was with some kiddy-gear in the Kennedy pool back-in-the-day during my childhood (looking back, that was an awesome toy!). We met up at Kahe Beach Park, selected by our snorkeling-savvy friend. It’s strategically located adjacent to an electricity plant, from which flows a large pipe of clean, heated water, about 40 feet below the ocean’s surface, thus creating a unique ecosystem, harboring an abundant and diverse gathering of fish and other wildlife for many-a snorkelers and divers to enjoy alike!
As I prepared for the day, packing and plunging into my bathing suit, I recalled Jeff’s words, “you guys are ok with going over 40-foot drop-offs?” and “when we get out there, the important thing is to breathe normal, don’t freak out!” …I was starting to freak out… a little anyway. I couldn’t help but think about what I always think about now-a-days when I go off and do something semi-adventurous/risky, what will happen to Andy if James and/or I die (lovely imagination we parents have…)? Jeff’s wife, Christina, so graciously offered to watch the now 16 month-old Andy for us. Fortunately Jeff and Christina are close family friends and have all the contact info for James’ family… and at least James has a living will… mine is still on the to-do list… oops… need to work on that, I thought to myself.
Looking over the ocean, you could see its surface, over the spot to which we were aiming to snorkel, a small ripple of turbulent water created by the gush of warm water spewing from the pipe below. Kinda freaky…. but I trusted Jeff’s advice to go there and was also comforted by the number of others snorkeling and diving around the area.
After all of this anticipation plus what I think was 4 trips from our spot on the beach back to the car to retrieve Andy-snacks, diapers, and other forgotten or unanticipated items, we finally grabbed our gear and headed for sea. Wait, no, I had to go to the bathroom one more time! Jeff had us wipe the inside of our goggles with a special solution for the fog. We rinsed everything off, then slipped on the flippers, next pulled on the goggles. We made sure the goggles were nice and snug… Then we were off! Finally! I was somewhat nervous about setting out, as I knew there were shallow rocks and coral, but the flippers provided great foot protection to walk or stand on the coral if needed, the waves were very small, and the coral was not really very sharp if you are just walking on it anyways. Soon we were cruising atop the water, looking down at the fishies! As we were new to the practice, Jeff had James and I practice our snorkel “dives” a couple times before heading out to deeper waters. Mildly distracted by our GoPro camera as we attempted to document the adventure, we were a bit slow at first, but in short time caught on to the breathing and swimming patterns we needed to use. We didn’t even have to travel 20 feet seaward before we encountered tons of beautiful fish and coral. I began to feel my fears melt away as I dove down, over and over, getting up-close and personal with some of the breath-takingly exquisitely vivid wild life.
Jeff pointed to the itty-bitty little bubble shaped sacks in the water, “these are, blah-blah-blah’s, tiny little harmless jellyfish,” he shared (he told us their name, but of course my brain has long since discarded that info). As the swim progressed, I began to doubt his claim to total harmlessness, as I felt all over my body tiny little stinging zaps throughout my swim. They weren’t anything to cry about, and left no mark, so I carried on, not worrying about it too much. Later during the swim, Jeff did say that he was getting stung too, and admitted he had spied several other tiny jellies with their tiny stingers out and about (some other species that of course Jeff knew the name of and yes I instantly forgot it as well) most likely encountered in such high frequency due to the nearing of the next full moon.
We soon approached the great pipe. From the water’s surface, we gazed down what Jeff had said was 40 feet to the bottom of the ocean. Dotting it’s surface were several divers sauntering around. I could feel the sudden change of water temperature and my fears came creeping back to stifle my child-like mermaid-mode-joy, as I now imagined the possibility of rip tides and other scary current-things. We converged at the water’s surface, “you can really feel that gush of warm water!” James said. “Yeah, it’s kinda freaky!” I chimed in. Jeff nodded, “Some snorkelers will dive all the way down to entrance of that pipe, but I prefer to kind of keep my distance.” I was relieved to hear this.
After maybe 60 seconds of discussion, we went back to take some pictures around the pipe only to find we had drifted nearly 30 feet from the pipe we were just looking over. Oh boy. But we swam back, took some pictures, took a minute to enjoyed the dense cloud of fish surrounding the entire area, and then headed south to look for sea turtles. After maybe twenty more minutes of swimming and photographing around in the ocean with various beautiful golden, white, blue, and pink fishies, Jeff stopped to ask us if we thought we wanted to go on. I responded to my motherly instincts, always tugging at me now, and said I was a little concerned about Andy, so we started to head back.
Those brief moments while we were kicking it back in were the fleeing moments of completely and total joy that I enjoyed during this swim, as I felt like I was really freed from all worry and could just savor everything. I had already discarded the GoPro, so I didn’t have to worry about that, James and Jeff were no longer swimming off in separate directions that I had to keep track of, and Andy was soon to be back in my arms. I savored the water rushing through my hair, the dawdling groups of fishies letting me join their little schools for a second, the speed and depth I could go with those powerful fins attached to my feet, and the clarity through which I could view everything! I didn’t want it to end! But at the same time by virtue it had to. I can’t wait to go back again!
We never did bump into any sea turtles, unfortunately. Jeff was much more dismayed at this, however, than I was, as the whole experience was awesome enough to write home about ;). We followed up this glorious experience with some glorious sushi, and reluctantly said goodbye to our friends as we headed for our next flight: to Maui!