Although I have undertaken a lot of very dangerous sports, I have never experienced the fear on its own; it’s always mixed with exhilaration, anticipation, elation or just plain enjoyment. There was however one instance in my life where I really did think this is it? I’ve gone too far… I am going to die.
The memory in question happened on the remote island of Nanuya Lailai in the Yaswara Islands, Fiji. This island was my first stop after leaving the mainland, as we were told that it contained a fantastic blue lagoon, which was ideal for snorkeling. The boat ride up to this far based island was enough inspiration to write a thousand books, every island looks incredible, lush and green rainforest with paradise beaches scattered throughout. The water was calm and sparkled against the sunshine.
Working on wordplay our resort – ‘Sunshine resort’ was located on the far side of the island, where it was unprotected from the element. This meant that the wind picked up and howled against the tree, the sea was unprotected by a reef and therefore cloudy and littered with jellyfish. But the sunsets and sunrise’s were incredible, either over the clear blue ocean or the jungle behind us.
We were told the lagoon was five minutes walking over the island – HA five minutes – more like 30 minutes… It was sweaty, it was uphill and overall an unpleasant sweaty experience. But my god was it worth it? The lagoon is more like a reef protected bay, and a beautiful one at that. We ran in swam and generally chilled out.
I returned later in the day with my snorkel kit but without any fins, desperate to see what was underneath the dreamy calm turquoise sea. The snorkeling was amazing, with a huge host of tropical sea life, turtles, tropical fish, urchins, rays and even the occasional reef shark. This was the first time I had actually seen a wild black tip reef shark up close and personal. Suddenly the Jaws theme tune came into my head, but honestly they have no interest in us whatsoever, it just meandered through the coral and darted off into the darkness.
As I was ‘free diving’, well holding my breath and diving down into the crystal sea, I saw a sea snake coming toward me, which grabbed my attention. These are renowned as being very dangerous, but luckily it also had no interest in me. However behind it, in the distance was a submerged archway.
It looked incredible; literally a build-up of coral and rock formations had created an arch fully under the water about 5 feet underneath me. My adventurous side took over and I decided to dive the arch and make it through. A deep breath and I was under, kicking down to the naturally formed phenomena.
It wasn’t far underneath the shoreline and I made it easily, but while viewing it up close and swimming through the arch itself, my bare foot got stuck. I believe it was in a crevasse between a rock and some coral, just to the inside of the arch. I tried to pull my leg free but the more I pulled the more my other leg started to hurt. Blood started to trickle out of my foot and dissipate within the clear ocean water. PANIC!
I’ve never been good underwater, but this was something else… I let a sharp small breath out, and water started to fill my snorkel. This is it! It’s over… I vividly remember thinking SHIT! Shit shit shit shit. My head felt as if it was expanding, the pressure was getting too much… I was about to drown
In my panic, I kicked and silently screamed, squirming my body in all sorts of directions, in the vain attempt to release my foot. The more I squirmed the more blood started to pour from my numbing foot. Was I going to down or was I going to be eaten by that shark first?
Suddenly out of desperation I kicked the rock face surrounding my tramped foot with my other foot, and I was free. I honestly think I had moments of air left in my lungs, as I kicked up to the surface faster than I have ever ascended before. I broke the surface barrier just as my lungs were giving up, and took a huge breath of fresh Fijian air. I have never breathed so deeply as that gasp of air.
I lay on the surface contemplating my existence and thanking my lucky stars, I was alive! I was in Fiji; the sun was beating down on my face… But I was shattered.
I did however learn my lesson – Never ever go free diving alone!