Thursday, April 19, 2018

Nurse the Hate: The Manta Ray Dives

Every divemaster in a tropical location is the exact same guy. He is in his early thirties. He is well educated but that is usually hidden by a stoner slacker exterior. After college he decides to maybe do a little traveling to distant lands. He is desperately avoiding becoming his father and is delaying any responsibility. He always starts in Thailand, goes to Asian party hot spots, mixes it up by drifting up and down South America before arriving in his current location wherever it is that I have just met him. He learned how to dive when he realized that being a drug dealer was too dangerous in the countries he was loitering in. He makes just enough money at the current dive operation to move to his next target location after he has fucked his way through the attractive locals and a few adventure seeking tourist girls. He always wears a groovy hemp necklace with some sort of magic rock provided by a mysterious woman from an exotic locale. There is rarely a linear story that he tells but sticks to anecdotes. He is a great guy to party with on shore. He is, surprisingly, quite capable in scuba as he does it every single day.

Now when my latest version of this guy, Mark, made the shark hand signal at me with some enthusiasm, I knew I should take him seriously. I had a couple bigger issues to contend with at the moment though. My rental mask was not holding a good seal. I had a consistent rising tide of ocean water slowly filling the mask, and at this point was now over 50% full, over my lower eyelids and clouding my vision. It was frustrating. I would clear the mask but it would seep back quickly, leaving me in the same position over and over again. Diving blind is not very fun. As I was attempting to clear the mask this time, I recognized I was being pulled into the rocks of the off shore formation we were diving. The current was sucking me into the opening of a crevice where the previously mentioned seven foot white tip shark was now exiting directly towards me. As I cleared my mask enough to gain some vision, I noted the expression of the shark as he swam past me as “slightly annoyed”. He was not annoyed to the point to bite me in any of my limbs, which I appreciated as he was quite a big fish. It was much larger than me. I would call that shark “attention getting”. While sometimes these sea monsters just seem large from a distance, I would like to confirm that they seem quite large a couple of feet away too.

I was diving the area off Tamarindo in Costa Rica in the Pacific. My game plan was to see a giant manta ray, a beast of a ray about twenty feet across. They are elusive and somewhat rare.  There was reason for optimism as they had been spotted in the area just the day before. Today, as we readied to get in the ocean, dozens of devil rays flew up out of the water around us landing with a “thwack” as they smacked the surface after their “flight”. This is usually a good sign. The captain’s helper, a local named Leo, pointed out just off the stern. “Manta! Manta!”. We weren’t quite all geared up yet but got in as soon as we could hoping the ray was lazily cruising the area. He was not. I saw devil rays, stingrays, spotted eagle rays, and some big sharks doing their thing. I did not spot the manta. My leaky mask and I went back to the surface and climbed back in the boat in an angry swell that bruised my toe on a cleat as I got tossed around.

We climbed back to come up with a new plan. The captain and Mark debated en espanol about the best location for a second dive. A woman who was previously introduced as “Leo’s friend” was along for the ride and had stripped down to a bikini revealing the most spectacular pair of breasts in Central America. She was from Slovakia and was doing the hippie-girl-backpacker-trip thing wandering around anywhere with good weather. She had that unusual Slovakian trait of speaking English while being shockingly direct through either limited vocabulary or cultural nuance. I can never tell for certain. She and I were talking on the front of the boat as we motored to the next location. I was pretending she wasn’t almost naked and consisting of perfect curves like a 1940s pinup model. “Yes. I go with Leo on boat today. He is my friend because I like to fuck him. I like to fuck. (Smile) I go to Cozumel in next days when am ready.” Ummm, I beg your pardon? You like to what? This conversation was a bit distracting from the matter at hand of finding the sea monster. Leo looked over at me and I swear to God he smiled and nodded. This situation, though fleeting, was something he would retell in his small village for the rest of his life. That lucky son of a bitch.

We went out again the next day after a nice, but unremarkable second dive. Thankfully Leo and his backpacker girl weren’t on the boat this time. Instead there was a father-daughter Deadhead team, a couple dull middle aged guys and my stoner dive leader new pal Mark. Mark leaned in as soon on as the boat started moving. “Jesus dude... that Lucy chick was completely distracting. I told Leo he had to leave that shit on shore when we’re doing these dives.” Agreed. Nobody wants to be the guy with the erection poking from his wet suit. We motored our to the location of our first dive the previous day.

The wind had picked up last night. I was concerned the visibility would be less than yesterday. The waves were pounding the cliff of the rocky island. I flopped in the water to see that I was right about the water clarity. The water looked like a jar of formaldehyde that had been rigorously shaken up. When we started to drop to depth one of the guys was having trouble pressurizing his ears. Prior to dropping in, we had agreed to meet on the bottom. Mark stayed with the guy having trouble with his ears. The other guy and I dropped to the bottom without incident. Almost immediately we lost visual of the two other divers. The water had a weird greenish hue. I thought I saw a shadow of a bull shark cruise past. Who the hell knows. It was big and moved with a gliding grace.  I bet it was 10 feet of visibility where we dropped in. We waited on the bottom. And waited. I counted out 45 seconds.  Finally they came down to the spot and we got to work slowly transversing the edge. The only way we would see a manta today was if he passed over us and blotted the sun. I had to be careful not to get lost down there. We saw stingrays. Lots of five foot across big ass stingrays looking up at us with their raised eyeballs thinking “what the hell are these guys doing out here today of all days?”. It was a bust.

We made one more dive that day where my mask refused to keep a seal. Slowly rising water in mask, attempt to clear mask, repeat. It was frustrating and the dive became a struggle of endurance rather than any form of enjoyment. With about 700 pounds of pressure left I somehow tenuously formed a working seal. A school of hundreds of jacks swam through a slight opening in the rocks and totally enveloped us. It was difficult to see anyone, just jacks as far as vision could see. Then, at the tail end of this school, an angry green moray flared out after the jacks in some sort of “get off my lawn” eel gesture. It made the previous 25 minutes of tedium worth it.

I did not get to see my manta ray. Who knows if I ever will get the chance again. I suppose if it were just as easy as “book trip/see the sea monster” there would not be much sport in it. That’s what makes it special when something out of the ordinary happens. The world is geared to make you become a gray little ordinary man. Every day I feel it pull on me, adding weight and effort to prevent real substance to rise from the mundane sludge. I’m disappointed I didn’t see a manta ray. I’m glad that I tried though.  All is lost without a mission. 


At April 19, 2018 at 11:31:00 PM EDT , Blogger Frank said...

The real truth about it is, we're all supposed to try.
- J. Molina

At April 20, 2018 at 11:04:00 AM EDT , Blogger Ken in sunny Florida said...

I stood waist-deep in the waters of St.Pete Beach, domestic beer in hand, and watched gleefully as a group of stingrays swam right by me, 6 wide, on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon. It was my 40th birthday. A gift from the mighty Neptune himself, I tell ya...


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