In the last decade, I have visited hundreds of islands, most of them of a breathtaking beauty, but only a handful of those keep popping up in my mind on ordinary days, while making breakfast, chatting with a fisherman or planting basil. The reason these islands “beat” the others is not always obvious, actually, often there is no reason at all. But for me, they are special, and that’s all that counts.
One of these islands that have touched me deeply is Tahuata in the Marquesas.
Hanamoenoa Bay in Tahuata has one of the very few white sand beaches in the Marquesas, which for most sailors means the first snorkeling after the Pacific crossing.
I loved snorkeling in that bay. I often got up around seven o’clock and jumped into the water before my morning coffee. Sometimes I only did a couple of laps around the boat, but often I put on my mask and swam all the way to the cliff at the edge of the bay, where I was welcomed by thousands of small fish of every imaginable colour and pattern. I liked to simply float among them and see what swam by. Sometimes a barracuda darted past me, or a large turtle came to bid me good morning. A couple of times I even saw a blacktip reef shark. I got scared the first time I saw it, but eventually I got used to their company and no longer tried to keep a distance when they swam right past me. It was clear that they couldn’t care less about my floating there.
But nothing beat the sight of the manta rays swimming into the bay at dawn. Sometimes there were only a couple, but more often there were as many as six or seven of these large, elegant, majestic creatures. The kids from the neighbouring boats were always the first to notice them and I woke up to the sounds of laughing children and splashing water. I opened my eyes, smiled, jumped into my swimsuit and joined them.
I’ll never forget the first time that a manta ray swam towards me – I almost exploded with excitement! When it was about five metres away my snorkel filled up with water and since I didn’t have any air left in my lungs I couldn’t clear it. I would have had to surface for air, but I didn’t want to miss the show. I almost drowned because of my curiosity! As soon as the manta ray passed me I popped my head out of the water for a deep breath and then continued watching them. They were dancing and cartwheeling so close to me that I could have touched them if I stretched out a hand.
Sometimes they circled me curiously and other times they paid me no attention during their morning dance show. I watched their synchronised movements and tried to mimic their incomparable elegance.
Forgetting about time and space, I closed my eyes and surrendered myself to the embrace of the sea, spreading my arms wide like wings and joining the manta rays in a dance of complete freedom.
Becoming a Manta is the best dance, the best meditation and the best medicine I have ever tried.
This post is an extract from All the Colours of Polynesia. More about the book HERE.