The virtual shouting stops on the boat. My compulsion to check the noise evaporates with the loss of signal, the lack of Wi-Fi. Once the grey green water of the harbour becomes ocean, the colour of a newborn’s eyes. A colour that holds the answers to everything.
When we arrive two hours later the blue changes again. Transparent and vibrant like blue heaven jelly. A giant bowl of it. Viewed from above the sharks and turtles and rays could be gummi lollies, if they weren’t moving. If they hadn’t been moving through these waters for thousands of years. Long before we came with all the awkward gear that allows us to breathe under water.
One of the first days. On the five-minute boat trip to the outer reef. We squint. It looks like a flipper, just piercing the glassy water in the distance. A dolphin? We draw closer. Engine cut. And there – barely below the surface, four metres of magnificence, mouth parts welcoming plankton. Silver, grey, black, and white – a giant silk handkerchief shimmering in the sun, billowing on the tide. A manta ray, gracing us with a moment of awe.
On another day it is dolphins, close enough to see their skin shining in the sunlight with each arc above the water.
Snorkelling off the beach. Impossibly sleek reef sharks glide close. Black and white tipped. Small eyed. Large nosed. Clown fish dart in and out of their protective anemones. Symbiosis. Ears submerged I hear parrot fish crunching coral. Their jewel tones on steroids and perfect fin flaps almost make even me believe in a god.
I hover clumsily next to unperturbed turtles. They breakfast while my breath moves noisily through my snorkel. Blank black eyes focussed on each mouthful of sea grass or coral. The patterns on their heads and shells are intricate as fingerprints. Neck skin concertinaed in wrinkles. And when one glides off unhurried, I flap along beside her, eager to witness her surface for breath.
Each evening the birds return to the island. Hundreds and hundreds fly in on the sunset as it paints a golden red carpet on the water. I could walk into forever on it. In thirty seconds, a minute at most, as a reminder that the earth still turns, the last of the sun slips into the sea like a burning coin.
In between snorkels I read. Paper and ink books. Several.
For a week, whenever I close my eyes, fish, coral, sea stars, sea cucumbers, velvety clam lips, swirling fish, play on the inside of my eyelids. I didn’t take a camera into the water with me this time. Too distracting. I take my eyelid footage with me instead.
The release from screen suction untethers me from the endless frenetic opinions and largely meaningless activity social media hurls into my brain. This passively acquired ‘content’ vacuums up my time and energy and adds nothing to my life.
I arrive home. Feelings mixed. I could have stayed and stayed. I am also relieved. The tension of possibly forgetting either or both of the two separately packed sets of medication I travel with releases. The fear of my Bipolar disorder wrecking our holiday evaporates. Because it didn’t happen. This time. It doesn’t have a good track record for respecting holidays.
I love being removed from the rest of the world. But there is a flip side. Travelling somewhere remote with no access to doctors, pharmacists and no means of contacting them, means I travel with an undercurrent of fear. The potential of having especially a psychotic episode when cut off from all of the support I need to treat it, fills me with horror.
My re-entry into signal, Wi-Fi, and responsibilities is an opportunity for a reset. Pruning and muting the unnecessary followings. Being a bit more mindful about the world my phone dumps into my head when I pick it up. Reading paper and ink books at bedtime…
And when things get hectic again – because they will – I will dip into one of my favourite pieces of footage from the time away:
On the last day. In the water. Just off the edge of the reef. Magic appears with the majestic passage of three mantas below us. Close enough for sunlight to make them shine and glisten with each leisurely flap of their wings. Impossible for anything else to exist in this bubble of time. They gradually dissolve into the deep and leave behind joy, a lifelong memory, and an elated expression on my daughter’s face.