Went diving this morning. The reef is GORGEOUS–lots of coral everywhere, moray eels, bright yellow-and-blue fish that flash as they swim by, schools of tiny electric blue fish. Sea fans, purple tube-like coral, brain coral, big lobsters with wavy antennae, small coral shrimp, and eagle rays flapping by. Awesome, awesome experience. (The Similan Islands were a little nicer, but this is still incredible.)
That said, I wasn’t in much shape to appreciate most of it, as I spent a good chunk of my time concentrating on not drowning. I hadn’t been diving for two years, so little details like breathing through your respirator, clearing your face mask, etc. were a bit rusty. At one point, when my mask flooded, I nearly panicked completely–almost started gulping water before I remembered I could clear my respirator and breathe through it. Two or three (very long) minutes later, I finally remembered how to clear my face mask. After that I managed to enjoy the rest of the dive.
Unfortunately, on surfacing I ran into more trouble–couldn’t catch my breath, and was gasping rapidly by the time they got me onto the boat. My lungs hadn’t fully recovered by the time of the next dive, so I missed it, staying on the boat (alas–they saw a bunch of eagle rays!). And then, to top it all off, I got severely seasick on the way back. There’s a great irony in throwing up *just* as the boat is docking. I think I must have offended the sea gods or something.
To recover from all that unpleasantness, I decided to go wade in the ocean for awhile–which is delightful: blood-warm, gentle waves lapping at you, shallows that slope very gradually out to sea. And sand dollars. Lots of sand dollars.
This is how you hunt sand dollars: you go wading out until you find a mud flat (i.e. not sand), then shuffle your feet along the mud as you frolic in the water. Eventually, your foot hits something flat, round, and hard, you reach down (getting knocked over by a couple waves on the way), and you pick up a sand dollar.
This is not a bleached, nice white sand dollar. It’s a live sand dollar, kelp-green, covered with bristly green “hairs”, and usually sporting a couple tiny, translucent crabs clinging to the bottom. It feels rough when you pick it up, but they don’t bite or sting or anything.
So what do you do with one, once you find it? Well, you can dry it out and bleach it, or you can etch it with muriatic acid to produce a very beautiful geometric pattern (natural to the sand dollar), and you can then paint it. I collected three sand dollars in short order–mostly because they were so much fun to hunt for. But, on further reflection, I decided that they probably needed to be sand dollars much more than I needed them to be ornamental kitsch, and released them back into the ocean. (I don’t have a huge problem with killing a creature for food, but I think it’s *extremely* rude to kill some poor critter just to get a souvenir that will wind up in a dusty box somewhere. If it were something I’d deeply treasure, I might reconsider.)
I suppose it was a bit disrespectful of me to play sand dollar frisbee while returning them to the water–but dang, it was fun. They do fly quite nicely, and it got them further out to sea. I was tempted to try skipping one, but enough is enough. (Besides, I’m lousy at that kind of thing.)
So now, having encountered a real live sand dollar, I must look up everything I can find about sand dollars. I know almost nothing about them–how they manage to stay on the bottom, how they keep from getting covered, what do they eat/what eats them, can they move on their own? and all the other interesting things about the critters. I had never really thought about them before, having only seen them as pretty shells, but now my curiosity’s been piqued. It’s always different meeting something in living color–live sand dollars are WAY more interesting than bleached shells.
And I’m definitely going to look for more of them (it’s such a thrill when your questing foot meets one), but strictly on a catch-and-release basis. They are SUCH cool critters.
(One of the beautiful things about travel is that it makes you look at old things in new ways…I had never really thought about sand dollars before!)
Anyway, given today’s excitement, I think I’m going to skip diving tomorrow. If the weather is nice, I’ll probably go on a fishing/snorkeling tour with a private guide, and if the weather is not so nice, I’ll probably go on a river tour. Fishing/snorkeling gives me the opportunity to catch and eat my own barracuda, which would be kinda cool, and see a lot of marine life while snorkeling (hopefully with less histrionics than diving). The river tour sounds equally nice–float down the river, lots of animals (including crocodiles!), lots of interesting plants. My private guide has led tours for the local high-end resorts for nine or ten years, and is now freelancing, so he knows a lot about the local ecosystem, animals, etc. I’m really looking forward to it.
I’m not sure what happened while I was diving. I had the flu up until a week or so ago, so it’s possible it was affecting my lungs–or I might have gone too deep for a first dive. If anyone knows about those symptoms when diving, please post a comment and let me know. I may try diving again near the end of the week–this time, with Dramamine. I really do enjoy diving, but not when seasick/having breathing problems.
P.S. Still no armadillo. *sigh* I wonder if I could con my guide into taking me armadillo-hunting? It would be pretty cool to see a wild armadillo…