Snorkeling in Phu Quoc

March 5, 2007

So there I was. Clutching the ladder of the boat, peering down to the surface of the water three feet below, and the brainy mass of rocks and coral in the sea five meters below that. Shin was treading water, impatient for me to just jump in already. Finally, when a fellow snorkeler looked like she wanted to descend into the water as well, I realized I had no choice…and I leapt.

Before today, I had only snorkeled once before, in Koh Samui, Thailand. At that time, the rocks deep under my body and the vast nothingness of the ocean had freaked me out and I’d doggy-paddled frantically back to the boat only five minutes after going in. But, I love coral – its colors, its craggy asymmetry – and I desperately didn’t want to be afraid of the ocean’s depths. That’s why I decided to give snorkeling another try here in Phu Quoc, an island off of Vietnam’s southern coast.

The water was more refreshing than lukewarm and a deep aqua. I gasped for breath when I resurfaced seconds later. The flippers make treading water a clumsy exercise so I had to clutch onto the side of the boat as I adjusted my mask. Finally, I was ready. Gripping Shin’s hand, we headed to the reef.

The morning was overcast, making the water mysterious and gloomy. We saw a fish; I nearly cut off Shin’s circulation. My breath came fast and Darth Vader-esque out of my snorkeling tube. At times, the coral was so shallow that I nearly skimmed it with my belly. Sea urchins lined the bottoms and sides of the rocks, their menacing spikes – sometimes over a foot long! – waving to me like witches’ fingernails. There were a few times when Shin thought to let go of my hand; I whined like a scared puppy. I returned to the boat early, but I’d made it longer than my time in Koh Samui, of which I was proud.

Reluctantly, I promised myself I would go in again when we reached our second coral reef of the day, without the cumbersome fins. This time, it was glorious. The reef was deeper, with the intimidating sea urchins out of the way, and I got to see what the sea is really made of…

Fish, of course. Striped clown fish, dazzling blue and green fish, little minnows. Coral. Twisted brain coral, green coral, lavender coral with white tips, plateaus of coral that looked like giant shiitake, other coral that looked like Chinese ear mushrooms. Anemone billowed in the current. Little particles floated everywhere. The water sounded fizzy, like Pop Rocks.

The ocean is so accepting. We were intruders, barging into a world where we were more foreign than any stranger in a strange land, yet the fish didn’t mind. They darted around me, oblivious. I’d assumed they would hide. Feeling slightly like the Little Mermaid, I studied my foot against the turquoise backdrop; it seemed so out of place.

By the third coral reef, I was a pro. I swam out on my own, marveling at the ocean floor in a state of nirvana. It was bliss. That is, until the boat started its engine and took off, leaving seven of us watching it silently like a disbelieving pack of dolphins. Suddenly, the ocean wasn’t so benign.

Sure, there were nearby islands and rocks where we could have taken refuge. But we had just been abandoned in the equivalent of Pluto, for all I knew. Terror snaked its way through me, and if it weren’t for my companions who shrugged it off and kept gazing at the abyss under our torsos, I probably would have begun sobbing. Fortunately, our boat returned ten minutes later, after picking up the passengers of another snorkeling tour whose boat had broken down.

I understood a new sense of awe and terror today. As beautiful as the ocean is, humans don’t belong there, and it can swallow us with nothing more than a wave. With that lesson learned, I plan to seek vengeance in the seas of Thailand when I’m there is a few weeks.


4 Responses to “Snorkeling in Phu Quoc”

  1. Keiko said

    I am so proud of your snorkeling!!! It’s hilarious how we GREW UP IN FREAKING SOUTH FLORIDA and are both terrified of snorkeling. Well now you aren’t anymore. That is so weird and doesn’t make any sense. I gave it a try in high school at summer camp and got all freaked out and swam back to the boat and never went back in.

  2. sailorjes said

    Weird, huh? Try explaining to people “Yeah, I grew up in Miami. Yeah, I love the beach. I just hate seaweed and fish and watersports, in general.” They never get it. :)

  3. Clarissa said

    Hooray!! I’m so glad that you had a better experience than you did when we were in Thailand. There were no stupid fish in the water off Koh Samui anyway. No coral either, so you didn’t miss much there. Do I remember that the guide told you it was the result of “cyanide fishing”, or some equally unsound environmental practice? The kayaking was great fun, anyway!!

  4. sailorjes said

    The kayaking was fun, wasn’t it? I remember that secret lagoon we went to with the crystal-clear water. Paradise!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: