Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef

Today (Sunday) was my trip to snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef. I woke up bright and early that morning, and as I was walking over to the boat (which looked like a sailboat that also had motors) I saw one of the girls who was on my Alice to Cairns trip was also on my boat, so I already had a friend!

The weather looked to be perfect for snorkeling. We had about an hour and a half boat ride to get to the place where we’d be snorkeling (it was right next to an island called ‘Green Island’) so we settled down with coffee and muffins and looked eagerly forward to the days events. Our crew was awesome and very entertaining:

and our captain was pretty good at steering the boat with his feet!

About 45 minutes into the ride, I had to go down under the deck to use the bathroom. This was when things took a complete turn for the worse. The wind had started to pick up, so when I went down below I was rocking like crazy. I started to feel extremely queasy so I used the bathroom and got back up on deck as quickly as possible. I hoped that when I was back in the fresh air I would start to feel better. Unfortunately the boat was still rocking a lot, and I wasn’t feeling any better. It so bad that whenever someone tried talking to me I had to apologize and tell them I couldn’t talk because I was concentrating on not getting ill. They understood, of course. At least I hope they did!

Happily, we got to our snorkeling spot without me getting physically sick, but I was still feeling pretty queasy. The snorkeling instructors told me they were sure that once I got into the water, I would feel better, so I got myself prepared and got into the water as quickly as possible.

When I had my face in the water, I immediately noticed that the sea was not quite as clear as it could have been if it was a non-windy day. I did see some pretty fish and coral, but the winds were still picking up. The waves were bouncing me up and down in the water which made it very hard to keep my face under water and to see everything. I kept bouncing up and down, left and right, and the water was going into my ears every time a wave crashed on me. This dramatically increased my feeling of nausea. The waves weren’t at a dangerous level but they were just wavy enough to make it difficult for me to snorkel, especially because I was already feeling sick.

I was out there for maybe half an hour before I couldn’t take it anymore, so I came in. During the short time I was out in the water, I tried to snap everything I could with my waterproof camera. I wasn’t able to see what I was taking pictures of, I was just taking pictures in the general direction of the fish, without thinking, because I was so busy concentrating on not being sick.

This shot below is pretty much the only thing worth sharing. You can see for yourself that the water wasn’t very clear:

Back on the boat, I sat in the sun where the wind could blow on my face. The instructors told me that as soon as we got to dry land I would feel better. After about an hour (way too long to be struggling with sea-sickness!) we headed towards Green Island. Everyone else in our group ate their lunch on the boat before going to the island, but I figured that eating would probably be a terrible idea for me. The instructor made me up a plate I could eat when we got to the island.

We reached the island by use of speedboat – which had been dragged along by our sail boat – how did I not notice it before? When I got onto solid land, I felt immensely better. I walked straight to a picnic table and ate my lunch, where I was joined by this unwelcome guest:

At first I thought this little bird was adorable and I took a picture of him when he came up to me. That changed the second I took the plastic wrap off my food. Now he had only one mission – and it was to eat my food. The island was full of these birds, and they seemed to be experts at stealing food. I did manage to get some video of how bold this thing was:

The second I turned off my camera, he rushed me while I was pre-disposed and he STOLE my bread! I was so angry because I really wanted that bread. While I was busy being mad, another one came by and took a bite of my chicken wing while I was eating my salad. Cannibal.

Green Island was nice, but it was a complete tourist-trap. Most people who go there will spend some time on the beaches or at the beach bar or gift shops, and they might take a ocean-plane or a helicopter ride… the REALLY rich will stay there overnight in a swanky resort for 500 dollars a night. This is where I would have to stay if I missed the final speedboat trip back to our sailboat.

I was still pretty hungry because of my stolen food so I got some chips and gravy and some ice-cream at a little stand on the beach. Then I had to kill some time until this trip was over. I didn’t want to go back to being seasick if I could help it, so I waited for the last speedboat trip to return. I was told by the tour guides that Green Island was such a small island that you could walk around it in half an hour, so I decided to test that.

While walking alone I had plenty of time for thinking. I couldn’t understand why my one shot at seeing the Great Barrier Reef is the one time I get seasick. I’d been on boats in the past, and never before had I  gotten sick. I do have an interesting fact about why you get motion sickness though. I’ll share it with you. The reason that people get motion sickness is because when you are driving (or boating) your body feels the movement, and understands that you are supposed to be moving. But as soon as you do something like read or look at someone who is standing still, your brain gets confused because your eyes are telling your brain that you are standing still, but your body is feeling movement. Your brain decides, ‘huh, this is weird and not right. I must be poisoned!’ so it makes you feel sick to get rid of the toxin that you must have eaten. The really sensitive people can get sea sick even though their eyes can see that they are moving on a boat because the up and down movements of the waves aren’t natural to us.

Here are a few pics of the island:


When it was finally time to head back to port I steadied myself for another hour and a half ride back. At first I thought I would be OK and not get sick. Then the wind started picking up and the boat started rocking… a lot. Even harder than it was on the trip there. The captain said the wind was at something like 30 knots. I don’t know what that means, but I do know that it meant that boat was sideways for almost the entire ride back. Everyone on my side of the boat was constantly being splashed while the other side was holding on to keep from falling onto our side. That sick feeling started to come back. Even though I was getting soaked soaked where I was sitting, I didn’t want to get up to move because I was concentrating so hard on not throwing up.

Eventually though, the crew convinced me to move to a better area where they assured me I wouldn’t feel as sick. When I moved I did start feeling a little better… but all I really wanted was to be back on dry land. I couldn’t understand how five of the people on our trip were really partying it up on the way back, drinking beer after beer. There was no way I could have put any alcohol in my body now. One other guy was beginning to feel sick too, so he ended up sitting next to me for most of the ride home. The other few people who weren’t drinking were just looking out into sea with fear in their eyes because the waves were so big and rough, and kept splashing into our boat.

We did make it back in one piece, but I have to say I have never been so happy to be off a boat. It’s unfortunate that my reef experience was not that great of an experience, since I had been looking forward to it for so long. If I ever plan on taking a sailboat in rough waters in the future, I will be sure that I take a motion sickness pill beforehand. Now that I know I get seasick, I can try to do something to prevent it on my next boat ride.

At the moment I am back in my noisy hostel with drunk people running around on a Sunday. I am about to go to bed (if I can ignore all the partying) because I have to wake up early tomorrow for white water rafting.  And by the way, do you ever experience when you spend a day doing something with unusual motions (such as if you spent the day in the water or in an amusement park) you can still feel the motion of movement when you lie down to sleep? I feel it now, and it is not fun. Oh well, at least I know I won’t get sick while white water rafting. I just might fall out of the boat!