I love to drive, but I don’t love traffic, driving cars I don’t own, or driving strange places in a rental car. But it’s funny what you can do, without batting an eye, when you’re properly motivated. For me, the motivation was swimming in a submerged volcanic crater: Molokini. Snorkeling, tropical fish, sea turtles – all that, the main attraction for most, was icing on the cake. For me, it was all about the volcano.
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It was still dark when I left the hotel in Wailea. I made my way, easily, to Ma’alaea Harbor, and walked from the free parking lot to where the Pride of Maui was docked. As I started to check in, my phone rang. It was my orthopedic surgeon’s office with a robocall reminding me I had an appointment first thing Tuesday morning. Ooops. I called them back; early as it was in Maui, it was mid-morning, almost lunch time in Houston. While on hold, I filled out the waiver, barely reading it. I waited for someone to come on the line so I could confess that I’d forgotten all about an appointment made six months earlier. I could barely suppress laughter as I told the receptionist, apologetically, that I couldn’t possibly get there the next day. “I’m about to get on a snorkeling cruise. In Hawaii.” I couldn’t help laughing. A year ago, I was having an artificial disc replacement and vertebral fusion in my neck. My left arm had been a bizarre combination of pain, numbness, and muscle spasms from my neck to my ring finger. This was to be my one-year, post-op follow-up. I couldn’t imagine they’d be upset to know I was swimming with sea turtles. They weren’t. They laughed over it, too, and we rescheduled for the following week.
As we shoved off, the captain announced that they’d been unable to get into Molokini for two days. Not to worry – there were plenty of good snorkeling spots that were accessible, if the winds were too high, the surf too choppy, for us to get into the crater. Oh, no no no no no.
I began to negotiate with Pele, Goddess of Fire. She could drown me in that crater, but I was going to swim in a volcano. Sounds silly now… seemed perfectly rational as we sped across the open ocean towards Molokini, awaiting word from the captains who got there earlier. Next thing I knew, there we were. We’d made it. First time in three days… the winds were picking up, and the seas were growing choppier, but we made it. Thank you, Pele. Pride of Maui provided all the necessary snorkeling equipment, including a wetsuit shirt (enough to keep me warm without hindering movement), and an Optix -2.00 mask so I could see everything at a distance. The water is so clear, I doubt it would have been difficult without the Optix mask, but I could see almost as well with it as with my prescription lenses. Here’s a short clip from the dive (it may take a few minutes to load on a slow connection):
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Most of the video footage I got involved me gasping for air while doing a crocodile death roll followed by an awkward, crab-scuttling backstroke. It sounds much more coordinated than it actually was, and there’s a lot of gurgling and gasping involved. My cheap little GoPro knock off picked that up all right. Breathing underwater does not come naturally to anyone, I’m told – not even us Pisceans. The brain tries hard to fight it, at first. Eventually, you figure out that “fighting it” is exactly the wrong thing to do. When you finally relax, breathe deeply, and trust yourself it’s peaceful. It’s fun.
Grinning at all the tropical fish is not advisable; panic sets in, again, the first time your mask fills with water, even though, by now, you’ve mastered breathing only through your mouth.
Eventually, you get the hang of it all, and the hour’s up – it’s time to return to the boat and have lunch.
Mahalo, Pele-honua-mea. Mahalo, for allowing me to the boat, safe and enchanted.
At our second dive spot, just below the line of windmills that grace the slope of the mountain past Ma’alaea Harbor on the way to Lahaina, I spotted a sea turtle. One. I was so mesmerized by this majestic, calm, and fearless creature that I began to follow, softly kicking the waves a few feet above him as we headed out towards the open ocean. There was no sense of time, distance, or direction. Soon, I was farther from the boat than I’d imagined – everyone else was still swimming near the cliffs. I wasn’t afraid, but I did worry that our lifeguard, Takako, might worry, and sure enough, our hour was nearly over. Of course, this is the one video that was corrupted and unrecoverable. Perhaps that was the sacrifice claimed by Madame Pele. It was time to swim back, climb aboard, dry off, return the snorkeling gear, and have a mai tai as we sped back towards the harbor.
Later in the week, I tried an introductory SCUBA lesson. It was…interesting. And weighty. I’m still not comfortable being confined and weighted down underwater. I got used to the snorkel, mask, and fins – as a teen, and a stronger swimmer, I preferred swimming untethered, with nothing but the face mask. By the time I took a pool lesson, I was fine with breathing underwater, but still struggling to control direction with the fins and maintain neutral boyancy in six feet of water. I can stand in six feet of water, so it’s a weird challenge. I didn’t feel ready to go to a depth of twenty-five feet, and did not have time for a second lesson. At least, now, I can say that I’ve tried SCUBA. Once may be enough.
By the time we disembarked, I was energized, but tired, ready to drive back to the resort. I knew my way by now, without relying on Google maps. I could just roll down the windows, let the wind comb my damp and tangled mess of hair, and enjoy the view. No hurries. No worries.