Column: An adventure leads to more than anticipated

Being a pirate always appealed to me, their life on the high seas, not a worry in the world except for finding gold, swashbuckling and other things that occupy pirates' time. That wish nearly came true aboard the M.V. Blue Angel, except instead of plundering ships and cities, I paid for an unforgettable weekend of fun and excitement on the Great Barrier Reef.

For three days, a British chap and I learned to SCUBA dive and explore the ocean floor. Our only company included three Australians and two Germans, all in all a merry international mix. Even though the Australians swore with greater frequency than I previously thought possible (especially when repairing the ship's toilet), the Germans with their astute senses of humor understood nary a joke from the rest of us or The Simpsons, and the other novice diver resembled Peter O'Toole circa Laurence of Arabia, we hit it off splendidly with one common purpose: to experience the Great Barrier Reef.

One of the earth's natural wonders, the reef spans over half of Queensland's coast, extending nearly all the way to Papua New Guinea. There is no finer place to begin SCUBA diving; though community pools have their own special attractions, like chlorinated water instead of salt water.

A quick lesson in clearing a water-filled mask and an equipment overview provided the necessary skills before descending a few meters and exploring life below the surface. We later learned the somewhat more important training, such as surviving out-of-air situations.

After four dives, several discussions, quizzes and a final exam consisting of 50 multiple-choice questions, the Peter O'Toole look-alike and I were officially open water certified SCUBA divers, ready to descend slightly less deep than Jules Verne sent the Nautilus, as our certification limits us to 18 meters. On my first dive without an instructor, I nearly pushed that limit, making it to 15.5 meters below the surface.

No description justly depicts a coral tower teeming with life. Fish species inhabiting the reef span the entire color spectrum, with schools of fluorescent fish closely resembling early 1990s neon teenage fashion��some mimicked Zubazz pants.

The peace residing beneath the waves focuses all thoughts on the fish and coral directly in front, eliminating all worries experienced above. Floating effortlessly at 11 meters, watching a school of mackerel making their way past while a sea anemone wavers slightly upon coral provides absolute relaxation.

An eternity seemingly passed while observing these creatures. It was not until I realized that my partner wanted to move on that I continued with the dive. So, staying true to my American tourist persona, I snapped a picture and swam away, pursuing new discoveries.

More hours seemingly passed, examining colorful coral, clown fish, unicorn fish and sponges. Checking my air pressure gauge and dive computer, I realized not only that I had to resurface soon for lack of air, but also that the dive lasted a mere 30 minutes. I could hardly contain my elation for the undersea world when I climbed back into the boat, even without meeting turtles or giant squid.

Diving introduced a whole new world that constantly excites and presents new experiences��even if they are as simple as observing a new fish species or surviving a minor equipment malfunction. The events speed time along, leaving me to crave more time under the sea, where the seaweed is always greener.

Three days diving from a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean grants a new perspective that land cannot show. Once in the water, a diver joins the food chain, no longer the dominant species. Even with state-of-the-art diving technology, humans remain vulnerable not only to the extremely rare shark attack, but also to deadly toxins released by undersea creatures.

We cannot carelessly tread the ocean as we do the land. Our insatiable curiosity leads us to a new level of vulnerability beneath the surface. Curiosity for the unknown and unpursued adventure originally drew me to diving. It will draw me again and again. This trip however meant more than simply exploring the ocean's floor.

Spending time alone, atop the ship's deck at night, looking skyward to pure darkness illuminated by countless stars, a gentle breeze blowing and waves gently meeting the boat's hull, I could not stop asking, "How's the serenity?" Of course I received no answer due to the question's rhetorical nature, and also I was alone. A feeling of utter insignificance pervades among such a grand body of water with a cloudless evening sky revealing the rest of the galaxy.

Aside from the boat, no sign reminded me that other humans impacted that corner of the world. It was nature and my thoughts convening without a worry in the world. There could have been worse places to be. The weights of every day life floated among the waves. I did not ponder classes, relationships, the world's conflicts, the past or the future; none of these mattered then. My thoughts dwelt solely on the situation at hand, nothing more, nothing less.

Something my dive instructor said to me struck me one evening as I gazed at the stars. He said "Every dive is a good one if you come up fine." Even if I didn't observe sharks or Manta rays, safety mattered above all else.

That lesson goes beyond diving. As long as you've got your health, there's little that you should consistently complain or worry about.

The weekend aboard the "Blue Angel" granted respite from the world's pettiness, as I sought adventure. I know it was only a brief break from depressing headlines and society's materialism, but nevertheless it was a relief to find near absolute serenity.

So while the world debates war or some other cloud dampens a personal horizon, take a moment to wander to a deserted place void of human contact, clear your thoughts and find solace with your existence.

Few experience the Great Barrier Reef, but most can find enjoyment and comfort in, as Sir Thomas More claimed it to be, the greatest pleasure of all--good health.


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