What price a camera?

My brief foray into underwater photography has been put on indefinite hold. Indefinite because I need to figure out if having your battery pop out while the camera is submerged in the Pacific Ocean means the camera may not work any longer. Time – and visiting someone who might know what to do about such things – will tell. Without another battery to check and see if the thing will even turn on, I’ll just have to live with that unknown for the time being.

Of one thing I am certain: the SD card is not allowing me to download the photos I took today. This day was dedicated largely to aquatic pursuits. I headed to a nearby beach that was supposed to have good snorkeling and I was ready to snap some good shots. After my first effort a couple of days ago, I felt better prepared – more aware of the difficulties of trying to achieve wonders with a $90 second-hand camera. Not that it was a bad camera, but it was one of those waterproof point and shoot types that can take a shot underwater but that certainly weren’t intended for deep sea adventures. In other words, a camera perfectly suited for someone like me with no previous experience.

And today was a good day to be in the water. While the beach was fairly crowded, it’s a big ocean and there were plenty of fish in that sea. And I actually managed quite a few good shots today. I know this because I checked them out while sitting on the shore after the first of a couple of sessions checking out the aquatic scene. This particular location was essentially a small reef which afforded some protection from the waves. The swell was still substantial but not so much that it made it unpleasant. The water was clear and the fish, as I say, were abundant.

All of this was in preparation for tonight, though. I had been following the Lonely Planet guide inasmuch as it suggested certain things as must-dos on the Big Island of Hawai’i. I had settled on three essentials and two were complete. First was a trip to Volcanoes National Park; second was seeing a sunset from Mauna Kea, the highest peak on the island (although I didn’t climb the final 4000 feet to the summit, a smaller peak near the Visitor’s Centre afforded all the view I needed). Both of these proved worthy of the recommendation and I would add my voice to the multitudes who have come before me recommending the same things.

The final must-do was night-snorkeling with Manta Rays. If you are unfamiliar with these marvels, I can’t offer you any snapshots I took because . . . my camera is awash in salt water, my SD card is dead, and my battery is somewhere on the ocean floor. But do I ever wish I had my own snapshots to show you.

Assuming my tour was similar to all the others, we didn’t go far from shore, just off the point from where I am staying actually. After a brief orientation that took us to within a few minutes of sunset, we were ready to head into the water.

I had planned on bringing my own snorkel gear but I’m glad I didn’t. The company’s equipment proved fine and the wetsuit they supplied provided some relief from something I hadn’t expected: getting cold in the water.

Manta Rays are attracted to light in the water, not for the light’s sake, but because plankton, which they feed upon, are. So the set-up is as follows: tethered to the boat, long, narrow platforms with lights on the underside float in the water. On either side are handholds for snorkelers to grab on to while flotation devices are held at your ankles to keep you level on the water. And then you wait.

On this night, I was beginning to wonder if this was money well-spent as we laid in the water for a half-hour or so with nothing much happening. Fish were plentiful and interesting but they were not, in this case, the main attraction.

And then the first one came, followed by others. Someone let out a whoop and it didn’t take long to figure out why. These indescribably graceful creatures with their sometimes 12 to 14 foot “wingspans” dance a ballet for you without even thinking about it. For the next half hour, we were treated to an experience difficult to describe. Their “dance” involves moves I would tend to associate with early twentieth century aircraft doing loops silently in slow-motion. They do long, arcing somersaults and even brush against your body sometimes as they go by. Sinuous is a word that pops into my head when I try to find the proper adjective to describe their passage through the water.

But finally, words just won’t do it. As with so many things in travel for me, I can see the pictures and read the commentaries and descriptions, but nothing ever compares to the real thing. It might have cost me a camera but it was worth it. Good for you Lonely Planet; you got it right.

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