Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Dolphins, The Sea And Me

The day had begun in utter darkness, no moon nor star shone this night.  The boat rocked and rolled over swells that swept in from the open ocean, heading towards land where they would become the waves that broke against the shore.  Before long, a line of grey had appeared in the sky heralding the approaching dawn.  Across the land, huge shapes emerged from the dark and slowly transformed themselves into the misty gloom of a mountain range.  To the east, out over the ocean a curve of orange light slowly rose from the water and became a perfect orb of pale light, more reminiscent of the moon than the sun, masked as it was behind a thick veil of cloud.  As it lifted, the day finally dawned and rays of light struck upon the surface of the water, creating glittering shimmers of gold.  And there, within that golden light, the dolphins came.

At 4:50am in the morning, when my alarm woke me from my sleep, I wondered what I was doing.  What had driven me to say that I would go and swim with dolphins so early in the morning?  As I lay there, in that time between sleep and true awakening, I asked myself what the refund policy would be for a no-show, so I could sleep on for a few more hours.  It was very tempting.  No, that was not going to be how my day would begin.  A chance to swim with dolphins, how often does that happen in life?  I threw back the cover and kick started myself into action.

Forty minutes later and I was at Dolphin Encounter, sitting in an auditorium, wearing two layers of 7mm wet suit to protect against the cold  16C water, and equipped with fins, hood and mask and snorkel.  A large group of people had assembled all with the same purpose and possibly all asking themselves why they are here at such an hour?  What is clear now though, is that the tiredness and lethargy so evident when we all first arrived, have been replaced with excitement and anticipation.  After watching a short briefing film for 15 minutes, that educated us on the dusky dolphins that inhabit the oceans that surround Kaikoura, we all board a bus and are driven the short distance across the peninsula to South Bay, where the boats are waiting for us.  Shortly, we are underway in darkness, the twinkling lights of the jetty and of the town that is gradually stirring to life, receding behind us.

Sitting at the back of the boat, leaning backwards over the port side, feeling the early morning air rush over me, I knew I was in that moment between dream and reality.  It is a time when all of your imaginings of how an experience might be cease and those of actual memory begin to replace them.  I was on the verge of realising a dream, all that was needed was a pod of co-operative dolphins to appear.  Although the sun had now risen, the day was dark and gloomy under a grey blanket of cloud that filled all the sky.  The breaking day and the sunrise are the triggers for the dolphins to return to the shallower water after their night time feeding, so this lack of light was keeping the dolphins away longer than usual.  I wondered if this would be a false start, whether there might be a need to return the following day for a second chance?  As I looked out in to the golden light that played on the ocean's surface, I saw the ocean come alive as dolphins leapt clear of the water and swam our way.

The day dawns
The dolphins, the sea and me.  That is all that existed.  We were caught in our own universe, held in an existence that was only ours to know.  Everything else was gone, shut out and put away.  I turned around and around, almost making myself dizzy, chasing a dolphin as it tried to swim around me.  I tracked it as best as I could, spinning myself through the use of my hands, pulling the water in front of me, over and over again, faster and faster, as the dolphin tried harder to evade me.  It was a game, our game.  I would play this game many times during the morning, it seemed to me that the dolphins enjoyed it as much as I did.  Cat and mouse, mouse and cat, which was which, I could not tell, it did not matter.  There were times when I was under the ocean, desperately holding my breath in my lungs, fighting to hold myself down, as the buoyancy of my wetsuits forced me back towards the surface.  For those few seconds under the surface, I was able to barrel roll myself around, to see dolphins swim over me, to the sides of me and underneath.

Perhaps the most precious part of the experience was taking a breath and duck diving down to see five or six dolphins speeding towards me, coming directly at me, their heads bobbing up and down as they pushed the water with their powerful tails.  Whoosh! They separated in time, swimming past me, to the left, to the right, over my head, beneath me. My mask filled with water.  Smiling and laughing whilst wearing a diving mask is not recommended since it breaks the seal, letting water flood in.  But what could I do?  I could not help myself.  I was happy, ecstatic, lost to the moment.

Dusky dolphins playing at the bow.
That moment.  A moment that you never wish to end yet it must.  It was time to swim back to the boat, time to share the smiles, happiness and the experience with the other swimmers.  Reluctantly, I pulled myself back on to the swim step at the back deck.  My time swimming with dolphins was over but I knew that the experience would live on.  This was a dream come true.  A tick I could place in another box.  But it's not only ticks in boxes, is it?  It is knowing that you dared to realise that dream and in do so, you discovered that the reality was indeed better than all of the thoughts and wondering.  Why?  Because you made it a reality.  Dream becomes experience becomes memory.  Memories like these become smiles that will last until the final breath, and accompany you on the next journey.

Friday, 21 February 2014

A Dream Or A Memory - The Choice Is Yours To Make

The sun beat down on an already parched land. The wind blew across the fields of brown and withered grass, bending stalks, creating the illusion of a wave running across an ocean. To the east, the ocean itself, its waters a beautiful and rich azure, that deepened and darkened away from the shore. Across to the west, majestic and towering, the mountain peaks, snow clinging to the northern slopes, even now, resisting the days of high summer. Ahead, the road snaked on and on, writhing and twisting its way around the coastline. This was the coast road that linked the towns of Blenheim and Kaikoura, on the South Island of New Zealand. Along this road, I now cycled.

Parched and dry land
How can I explain the feelings that I experienced yesterday? How do I explain the childish grin that erupted across my face, the wild, untamed laughter and the beating of my chest and the punching of my fist in the air, as I uttered a cry of pure and utter, unabated joy? It sounds like a madness and it is. It is the madness that comes from following your heart, from going in pursuit of your dream, and from the moment of realisation. That here you are, dream and reality are inseparable, each melding into one, no longer able to distinguish where dream ends and reality begins, the dream is no longer only a dream, it is now, it is here, it is reality, and soon it will be a memory. A memory that exists from an actual experience. No longer the thought of what might be, no longer the wonder of how it would be.

The reward after a long, hard climb
Since the first time I drove this road in 2004, I have thought of it. For me, it is one of the most beautiful, scenic and stunning roads that exists on this planet. It reminds me of State Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, that runs the coastline of California, particularly the section from Los Angeles up to San Francisco, through the Big Sur. Kaikoura itself is also a very special place. I came here for the first time in the New Zealand winter of 2004.

I'd driven all day, coming up from Queenstown in the south, after I'd scared myself witless making my first (and last) bungy jump from the Kawarau Bridge, the home of the first commercially operated bungy in the world. I'd driven into the night through heavy rain, so that I would be in Kaikoura in time to go whale watching the following day, something I certainly did not want to miss. I'd never known nor suspected what would await me the next morning, and I think it was all the more special because of that. It came as a complete surprise. From the first moment that I pulled open the curtains on my motel room and stood in jaw-dropping awe, my eyes taking in the crescent of beach that arced around to the north, the water glittering and sparkling, as the sun shone out of a perfect clear blue sky, and the mountains to the north, standing tall and mighty, blanketed in snow, I was in love. From that moment, Kaikoura was special to me.

Ocean and mountains
Dream or memory? Both live within our thoughts and our consciousness. Each is nothing more than some form of mysterious electrical pulse that exists within the matter of our brains. Some dreams are so vivid that on waking, it seems that they exist in memory, as real moments that were actually experienced. But they were not. Dreams are good. Without a dream in the heart, it is not possible to push yourself, to strive to be more than you are, to seek out the unknown. A dream must not stay in the heart forever. In the heart, caged like a prisoner, the dream will eventually wither and die. As the dream dies, so too does a little piece of the soul – of your very own soul. Each dream that dies, means that you are one step closer to the end, to the inevitable darkness that must consume us all.

Turning a dream into a memory, that is the key that will unlock the universe. A dream that becomes a memory is never dead. It has been been given life and it has transmuted into a memory. And as a memory, it will happily live on forever more. A dream that is a memory is your companion for the rest of your days. It is there to be recalled, to be looked upon and to be relived. In so doing, you will feel the joy and the happiness as you felt them in the moment that you first realised the dream and you will know in that moment one very important thing – that you lived your life and that you followed your heart.