Miriam Feder home


Report 19: Under the Sea

Nha Trang Vietnam—a beach town that was very very good to me. My soul is unleashed in gently swaying salty water. How do I forget this amazing feeling and go so long between rounds? When I dive off the back of the boat I instantly leave the world of awkward plastic fins and feel my gently-kicking flippers. It’s delightful to let go all those muscles that work so hard to hold me upright and gently lie across the water, listen to my breathing and watch the amazing sea life documentary unfold beneath me. My goal—how western—is to pike dive a lot and test how my head held up against the pressure of my sinus/ear affairs. Lots to inspire those dives and all is ok—so diving it will be. In the meantime snorkeling is such a great way to be.

Next day I join my incredibly well-dressed and graceful relations down below by donning all that awkward gear that lets me visit up close. About 3/4s of the way through our second dive, after we soar over Utah-like boulders fastened with corals hard and soft (soft corals are the ones that really look like plants, or something in the Rubbermaid aisle, but are animals like you and me. Well not exactly—they are perfectly suited to crashing salty waves without neoprene skin) Anh, my wonderful dive master, points out nothing in particular on a high-ish ledge. Note if you haven’t been diving—things pointed out underwater often start out as nothing in particular. Camouflage and smallness are good defenses. Then suddenly a flounder shoots across the sea bottom or a lobster looks for another place to try his pile-of-sand trick. This nothing was being assiduously guarded by adamant little fish—the giveaway. They were circling and attacking as we got closer—but they were very very small—so their ferocity was simply entertaining.

When I creep up to the ledge, I see presents from the Arabian nights. I am stunned and have to work to take it in—they are so far out of the blue, green, purple, orange and yellow context of the sea bed. One is wrapped in black velvet with gold thread shot through to form a diamond quilted pattern. The other is more of a tortoise-shell brocade. They seem to be beautifully wrapped hostess gifts dropped from a plane on the way to some sultanate.

Anh motions for me to touch gently and I do. This decorative paper-sort of layer pushes away easily to reveal two boldly white porcelain balls. These were apparently young egg cowrie: that first, practically unbreakable seashelll we all receive, usually with a spotted pattern. These white ones aren’t valued in the shell market. But for me they are an amazing event.

The water is clear and blue with lots of varied and colorful coral and some fish schools. It has been a long time since I dove. On dive 1, I felt like a cow dropped in the water. It was hard to get the buoyancy right. And I don’t think the men who suit you up understand how women’s bodies operate in terms of fat storage (makes you float. Boobs—nature’s life vests.) Luckily I asked for more weight than was offered. As we continued, my body remembered those little shifts and bends that help keep you down without going for the BCD valve.

On the second dive I was much more able to stay where I wanted to be. We did more soaring over boulders than crawling along the bottom. As we slid through one fairly tight crevice we found a large school of shiny yellow tailed fish rather surprised to be in the fast lane alongside the two of us putterers.

My dive partner was very experienced in the area and with this dive master. He was looking for photo ops, a good excuse to go slow. Certain creatures really seemed to be performing for his camera, especially several circles of long skinny shrimp-eating fish that hang out in small groups upside down. This is also a good area to see the occasional nudibranch, a much better name than sea slug. These guys come in infinite variety (color, shape, layout, floaty-feathery-rubbery attachments) of 1 to 3 inch fabulously decorated small plastic tubes. New fish for me: fire-dart gobies, a hawkfish, a ghost pipefish, urchins that look like alien security systems… And of course the usual sergent-major fish, occasional parrots, wrasses, and angel fish—here the angels are large and have almost a sail coming off of their heads.

lunch spread

Then there’s the wonderful high after you get all that gear off and you’re more oxygenated than ever before while blissfully exerted. The big struggle is to remember the stuff you wanted to look up in the identifying books. Big spread of local food and competitive fish naming. Awesome.

dinner that night--seafood pancake YUM