I'm hard pressed to remember a day when I have thrown up my breakfast and lunch yet remained happy. The Red Sea is salty. I should know; I swallowed four or five pints of it. Every belly full of brine caused me to issue forth the remnants of another meal, which attracted, in particular, the little blue fishes, which are, I presume, fond of Cocoa Pops and cheese sarnies. The passageway to the reef was perilous -- an obstacle course of razor rocks, size 6 crevices for size 7 feet, and sea urchins. As I ventured further out, the waves bitch-slapped my beleaguered thrush/cystitis nethers. At one point, I was knocked off my feet and landed inelegantly on my arse, crushing small crustaceans with Vogon abandon. Though a confident boy and a strong swimmer, Jamie wailed like a puppy in a rock-weighed bag and clung to my unsteady body in a vain attempt to safeguard his own position. We inched forward, the water still too shallow for us to go horizontal. We remained conscious of the coral rapiers beneath us.
Then, whammo! Nothing. The seabed fell away from under us in a sheer drop. The coral reef ended and so did Jamie's last shred of courage. He bolted to the safety of the shallows and clung to us both, shaking and crying with shock.
Although Andrew did persuade him to venture back out, Jamie's confidence never returned, and the wonder of the Red Sea was lost to him. However, on balance, my brave little soldier had fought his fear and won once, and I could not have been prouder of him.
The wonder was not lost to me. I have never witnessed so many fish, such variety, such translucence, the colours and shimmering fluorescence. Above my head, those body-sweeping waves continued to pound the reef, but here I floated, a mottled red turd, clumsy witness to the calm world beneath the water. It took effort not to be dashed back into the reef, and the effort of doing so made my goggles steam. Treading water and dragging the goggles (and hanks of hair) from my head in an effort to clear them, found me floundering and gulping water, and my all-inclusive breakfast was first to feed the fish that swam beneath me.
After a lunch break, I went back in and promptly lost my lunch. But, by God, never was a stomach so honourably emptied.
Getting out was as dangerous as getting in, and I whined like the girly I am, being guided in the safe way by Andrew, the pilot tug, who had braved the path first. He was cut to shreds; I was less so, deep slices through our soft fleshy sticking out bits, which nipped in the drying salty air.
I was exhausted, and I lay on a lounge chair, listening to the seaward cries of my fellow snorkeling compatriots as they slipped, slid, and hacked bloody slices from their body parts.
The three of us beach-combed in the shallows afterward. Not for empty water bottles and used condoms like we do on the banks of the Firth of Forth, but for bustling crabs, ungainly but plentiful starfish, and darting kindergartens of baby fishlets. The water was warm and clearer than my crusting contact lenses.
The track back to the road was up a flight of interminable steps, in temperatures that could only have been equalled in Hades. The salt we tried to shower off at the beach was creating a million tiny crystals on our body hair, making us sparkle like tarts on a rare afternoon jaunt. My stomach lurched in discomfort, one trial too many. Ahead, the bus waited for us, and we picked up our pace, robbers to a getaway car.
Back at the hotel, Jamie pronounced the day to have been the best ever and ran to the hotel pool without a backward glance. Andrew and I climbed wearily to our room and slept for two dead hours, naked, salty, and knackered on our heavenly, unmoving beds.
They think I sit and work, these smart, beautiful people at our hotel. They stare at me writing on my laptop after dinner and then cast a sympathetic glance at Andrew, abandoned husband of the workaholic. They don't realize that I'm writing my photo album, crafting my words into written images. As they whip out their trillion-megapixel, state-of-the-art Nikon and take snaps of their beauty juxtaposed with that of the millennia-old beauty around them, I scribble. If I work hard and my words are right, they will be as evocative as any snap consigned to their hard drive. We all find a way to express ourselves. This is mine.