"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Monday, June 2, 2008

Aussie Journals, CH. 4, True Confessions

Aussie Journals, Ch.4
True Confessions

I have a confession to make. I am no longer “world class” at the one thing in which I knew for certain I excelled. Therefore, in accordance with my ethics, I feel I must abdicate my title.

To be brutally honest, I’ve suspected for about a year that I had slipped in the rankings. I hinted at it last winter. If you go back and look at some of the things I wrote in February, you’ll see I was honest enough to reveal my growing doubts. Thus, I not only abdicate my title, surrender my claim to fame, and admit my fall from greatness with great humility, I also turn in my unused supply of barf bags.

Yep. I can no longer claim to be world class at motion sickness, and I have the proof, along with a couple hundred witness. It wasn’t the two little ginger pills or the two pink Bonine that cost me the title, either, because I hadn’t taken either of those when I crossed Kachemak Bay from Halibut Cove to Homer and back in a snarling blizzard that had some of the Cove regulars hanging over the rail on the Storm Bird. Last winter I totaled ten successful crossings of the bay without a twinge of illness.

I am somewhat abashed to count the last crossing, though, because the bay was so flat dead calm I could have been sitting in my chair in my own living room, instead of on Grant Fritz’s boat. Nonetheless, a successful crossing is a successful crossing, so I’m including it. I’d made four crossings the previous winter, all without motion sickness, and that’s when I began to wonder.

The final proof came early this month, the day after I arrived in Cairns, Australia. The Aussies like to speak in diminutives, like “brekkie” for breakfast and “tinny” for beer can and so on. They also tend to totally ignore letters in some of their words, “Cairns” being a fine example. The Aussies pronounce it “Cans.” Every once in a while I thought I could detect an “ay” diphthong as if they were actually going to pronounce it “Cay-ns,” but I’m not really sure about that. Mostly I’m not sure because I was really struggling to understand at least half the words in any given sentence.

“Melbourne” is another example of forgotten letters. It comes out sounding like “Mell-bun.”

Anyway, back to Cairns and the barf bags. The first activity of this guided tour (after the group hug, of course) was snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef. At 10 a.m., we 39 tourists and Simon, our tour director, boarded a huge catamaran named “Sunlover” along with maybe 150 other tourists, many of them Asian.

A long, respected tradition in motion illness prompted me to choose a window seat in the back of the main cabin, close to the water rather than on the upper deck, and nowhere near the bow. I knew that should I become ill, I could curl up in the corner and not bother—or be bothered—by anyone. I’ve spent many hours curled up in corners with my eyes shut. Don’t believe that stuff they tell you about watching the horizon either—that only emphasizes the up and down movement of the boat.

We were given advance notice about the 28 mile trip out to the reef: it was going to be rough. Large jars of free ginger pills for settling stomachs were at the concession stand. I swallowed two and kept two more for an emergency. We were going to cross a shipping lane, we were told, and it was going to be wild water. It was.

I sat in my corner talking with others at the table, occasionally watching the coastline on the starboard side as the water became rougher, and the twin bow of the huge catamaran slammed up and down violently. The boat pitched and rolled and yawed. Huge waves broke across the bow, covering the large craft with saltwater spray. I noticed a young Asian man across the aisle from me, sitting with his arms around a young woman who was lying in his lap.

His stare grew distant and his face paled. She sat up and leaned over the end of the bench seat on which they were sitting. I saw a crewman immediately approach her. The Asian man slid to the opposite end of the bench seat, his face drawn and almost white. Misery dulled his eyes. A crewman was at his side instantly, holding a white bag. He seized and bent to it. I looked away.

Glancing around the large cabin, I saw the Sunlover crew scurrying about with supplies of white bags in their latex-gloved hands. Many were already assisting the ill, others watching carefully for the tell-tale signs. The crew was experienced at this, I could see. Soon, a steady parade of crew walked past me to the rear of the boat, each holding one or two carefully folded white bags. They disappeared from my sight and came back with new white bags.

I suffered not a single twinge. The young Asian man used several bags, his girlfriend sitting with her back to him at the opposite end of the bench did likewise. When I started laughing out loud, I came to my senses. The gods of Mal de Mer were gonna get me for laughing, I thought. So, I leaned back against the bulkhead, closed my eyes, and daydreamed the rest of the way across the channel. I made sure I kept my stomach muscles loose and did not fight the pitching and slamming and yawing and bucking of the boat.

When we tied up to the floating platform at the reef, I recognized the looks on the faces of the Asian man and many other passengers. They were waiting for the merciful relief of death. I knew that feeling well.

I was fine. (I’m not bragging. I am still far too astonished to brag.) That’s when I knew what I had to do. Remember, I’m the one who got sick standing on shore watching a boat. I got sick sitting on a boat that was still tied to the dock in Homer, on a day so calm I could see a perfect reflection of myself in the water. I’m the one who can’t watch boats in movies. I’m the one who got carsick while driving. I was the best of the best!

I signed up for a guided snorkel tour at 12:30, lured by the promise of seeing giant clams. In the meantime, I was free to snorkel on my own, within a roped off area. I picked up my gear and headed for the platform, noticing a number of passengers still sitting with their little white bags at the ready. The survivors and those who had recuperated were heading for the glass-bottomed boat, the semi-submersible boat, the SCUBA area, or, like me, to the snorkel equipment bins.

I was ready to snorkel the reef!

I hereby abdicate my title of World Class Queen of Motion Sickness. I can only hope my honesty and willingness to step down from fame and acclaim will bode well with the gods of Mal de Mer.

May 28, 2008

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