SwimQuest Guide Alice describes her first magical manta ray experience in The Maldives.
The boat stopped sooner than expected, and rolled in sapphire-gilded waves. The desire to jump was irresistible. Eager and anxious, fumbling with mask and fins, I flopped in, limbs akimbo. A loud splash: then warm, heavy, silk-water – a secret doorway into a magical underworld.
Light-ladders danced down towards an even deeper velvet-blue. Just below, a black cloud wriggled and shifted shape, then burst into a thousand fish, darting faster than I could follow. Below, a rocky moonscape stretched as far as I could see: ragged and wild, and full of crevasses, craters and creases. Next, a neon flash at the surface – thin, shiny bodies, twisting and turning, rushing towards, or fleeing from something. A flicker of orange fins playing hide-and-seek; slender, scattered silver bullets; curious, sculling yellow-discs.
A lull ensued.
Lap, lap, lap around my ears, muffled engine noises, raspy breaths through a tired, borrowed snorkel.
Then it came. Far beneath. Moving slower than I thought possible, as eerie as a spacecraft in a county air-show. Banking and gliding, huge majestic wings flexed in lethargy, gently lifted and lowered, orbiting in an invisible upward spiral.
I took a breath deep into my lungs. Then, with chest and belly full, I lowered my arms and head, followed vertically by long weighty fins. Upside down I dropped, kick, kick, kick – calm, quiet, and strong, matching the sleepy pace of the winged creature. The closer I got, the larger it became, watching me from gentle metallic eyes.
Eye to eye. Suspended, small and humbled, I stared into a gaping motionless mouth. The weightless feeling from the surface had vanished, replaced by the vast pressure of the ocean on my chest. Water pushed against my mask and seeped into my eyes, a sharp tang of salt a reminder of my alien attendance. Out of nothing, another appeared, joining the measured circle. Wing-to-wing, both tense and peaceful, moving in unison, blanketing their wings down, and up.
Up I went again, ascending without effort like a puppet on an invisible wire. Gradually the creatures shrunk back down to a manageable size.
Finally: a thirsty breath at the surface. Up I popped as the ocean spat me back out, screwing my eyes against the ice-white sunlight, hot bright and thin after the deep ocean.
On the boat, our captain placed a small, shiny piece of coconut shell into my hand, polished with varnish and carved carefully into a Manta Ray. “Devil fish, ” he grinned, pointing at the horn-shaped mouth. “€10 dollars”. I put the necklace on, and triumphantly held the tiny curved creature in my hand.
For more information about our SwimQuest Maldives trips, visit www.swimquest.uk.com/maldives
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