MY ADVENTURE OF A LIFETIME
By Sara Diemer
It seemed like getting to the boat everything was against me – the night before in Illinois we had the snow storm of the century, and then of course my flight ended up being delayed. Not just once or twice, but for about 5 hours. I ended up being about 15 minutes late to the boat, and like the lovely people they are they waited for me. I got on the boat completely frazzled, and found an empty seat as dinner was about to be served. The nice Canadian woman across from me introduced herself as Anne, whom I then shook hands with and greeted. Then as I’m still trying to get my bearings about me the man next to her reached across and took my hand and said “Hi, I’m Bob”. And as it dawned on me who currently had my hand in theirs the word vomit started. How excited I was to meet him and talk about mantas and dive with mantas and meet him and talk about mantas…it was not one of my most graceful introductions.
Throughout the next several days of our journey at sea while above water I took the opportunity to pick Bob’s brain about everything and anything manta rays. One question would stem into an hour long conversation – and I loved every minute of it. Then half way through the trip I finally mustered up the courage to ask him what I was really dying to know his opinion about, a topic I had read a research paper on that could beg the question of anthropomorphizing manta rays – putting our feelings on them instead of doing actual science. Do you think manta rays could be self-aware? And within a split second he answered “I absolutely think they are.”. I can’t remember the last time I was that excited than when I heard his response. Not only did he think that these giant cold blooded fish could be self-aware, but it was the first time in a very long time I felt I had found someone who understood and shared the same passion I did. Not only was Bob an incredible scientist, not to mention quite the comedian as well, but he had now become a mentor. We talked for another hour or so about mantas and the idea of them being self-aware, which he then elaborated on at night giving us his TED talk which he had given a few years prior.
Meanwhile underwater the first few days of the trip the diving was terrible compared to my previous experience. The Boiler out of all places had terrible visibility and absolutely no big creatures, just some smaller fish. You could tell the divemasters were getting nervous – trying all of the best places they knew and yet there was nothing. But the fantastic part was even though the diving wasn’t great I was lucky enough to have a dive group that acknowledged that sometimes things happen. The ocean doesn’t always behave the way you want it to – and therein that lies beauty as well. Of course we were disappointed, however everyone was still happy they were on the ocean and getting to dive. At the end of our trip Bob said this was one of the worst trips he had been on as far as manta expeditions, but it was also one of the trips with the biggest hearts.
The last few days though, the ocean decided to turn around and give us some fantastic luck. Diving Cabo Pierce we had a mesmerizing experience with friendly dolphins on all but our first dive of the day. I think that was most people’s favorite experience, and one I will treasure forever, however it was not my favorite.
My favorite dive though was the first dive of the last day. We decided to try The Canyon again at San Benedicto, since The Boiler had been too rough the night before to anchor. Our group jumped in second and almost immediately we saw mantas – and not just the chevron (black and white) mantas but the majestic all black ones. There were at least 3 mantas if not more, 2 of them being black ones. Both dive groups ended up staying in the same area for a while just watching the mantas dance around us. Eventually the other group was ending their dive and had to go up but the mantas were still hanging around. There was one giant black manta, who we later identified as Pockets with Bob’s ID book, who kept coming around us more so than the others. Pockets kept getting closer and closer until it was only about a foot away from me just looking into my mask, continuing to circle around me held my gaze. It’s these experiences I live for. That connection between you and another animal – it’s like nothing you can describe. They are seeking you out and are just as interested in you as you are in them. It’s an experience that defies words really, but I’m trying my best. It’s because of these experiences that I know something more is going on there – whether it be self-awareness or something else. “Mantas, they can feel your soul” is something my dive master Edgar told me before I went on my first dive trip with mantas. Though scientifically it may not be accurate, it seems like one of the best ways to describe the incredible feeling of looking at a manta and having them look right back into you.
The second to last dive of the trip we were diving the Canyon again. We decided to stay there since the first one of the day was so good. This dive we were going to try to tag a manta for Bob’s research. Bob taught Edgar the tricks to tagging and let him take the sling, making him fully aware that it’s harder than it looks and most people don’t succeed on the first try. We saw a chevron manta that was more shy than Pockets this dive – never quite getting close enough to tag for the first few minute of the dive. Then Edgar saw his chance as the manta started to glide away beneath him – the manta looked so slow and graceful but you could see how hard Edgar was kicking to try to keep up. After a few seconds of what seemed like a dance, Edgar managed to tag it successfully on the first try! The manta ended up coming and going around us the rest of that and the next dive – we got some great ID pictures and added what we believe is a new manta to the database! On the safety stop of our very last dive another manta came cruising by just below us – almost as if to say goodbye. It was a great ending to a great trip.
On this trip Bob taught me so much about mantas, more about what we still don’t know about them, and even more about myself. He shared one of his favorite and now one of my favorite quotes that goes something like “The secret of doing great science is to see what everyone else has seen, and to think what no one else has thought” from the Nobel Prize winner Albert Szent-Gyorgyi. I know for a fact Bob is one of those who sees the world differently, and I hope to one day be more like him. And who knows, maybe I’ll even be lucky enough to work with him.
This trip was nothing how I imagined it was going to be and yet it was so much more. Sure the diving wasn’t always great this time around, but a dive trip is about so much more than just diving (ironic, I know). It’s about meeting new friends and connecting with old. It’s about having drinks on the top deck and deep conversations late at night. It’s about watching dolphins play at the bow of the boat and exploring on the pangas in between dives. It’s about finding yourself and figuring out where you want to fit into this world. And for me I did all of it and so much more – I could go on for days. Whenever I’m on the Quino I feel like I’m at home. This adventure is certainly one for the books, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.