As a welcome diversion from some very taxing sunbathing, our snorkelling excursion could not have come at a more suitable juncture as, during the previous day, I momentarily nodded off lying face down, and my buttocks were nuked by the blazing sun. Nothing soothes a burnt bum like floating in a cool saltwater bath wearing a sun-proof wetsuit.
A tousled blonde head nodded to us from the drivers seat of a clapped-out pickup truck. We gingerly climbed into the back seat and were whisked off to meet our dive buddies at an undisclosed location in the back streets of Santa Maria. (Mother’s Words Of Warning only barely audible in my head)
After a very swift and business-like safety briefing and kit issue, we followed our beautiful local guide (who looked indecently good in a wetsuit) to another clapped out pickup for the short ride to the beach. There was much hilarious banter with Rose about how, because of the lamentable lack of decent dental care on Sal, the sharks here are mostly toothless. I had already done my homework on the Cape Verde lemon shark, (a powerful stocky beast up to 11feet long, with numerous razor sharp gnashers), but decided it was best to go along with the joke, and we all laughed feebly.
We waded out to our waiting motor boat through rolling turquoise breakers, and climbed aboard before zooming away, James Bond style, to the drop-off in the middle of the sweeping Santa Maria bay.
Our first glimpse of the world beneath the waves was a bit underwhelming, the sun had momentarily gone behind a cloud, and it looked as deserted down there as the barren landscape above. But in a heart-stopping moment I realised that we were swimming above the submerged statue of Christo Redentor, (Christ the Redeemer), his arms outstretched to receive the forgiven souls of lost sailors and fishermen. For the first time on this very hot and sticky holiday I got goosebumps.
As our eyes became accustomed to the murky light it was clear the the sea around us was actually teeming with life. Our guide knew all the best places to show us, where interesting specimens lurked, and the sun came out to illuminate it all in sparkling detail. Holding his breath like a pearl diver, he swooped down below us to point to a brace of invisible Fowlericthys Senegalensis, the poisonous and not so pretty rockfish. We swam through shoals of Lubbocks Chronis; shimmering silver with fluorescent yellow tails, then shining white seabream with a black spotted rump. We were eyeballed by cute lone pufferfish, who tilted slightly to get a better look at us through their weird goaty eyes. We were shown huge purple lobsters hiding in their rocky lairs, and I spotted a flat disc-shaped chaetodon (Please note that I have, of course, Googled all these proper names, as there wasn’t much opportunity to ask questions at the time) and we found pairs of pretty pink and green striped fish that I cannot name.
But the piece de resistance for me were the pipefish. First there were the smaller silver and black variety, like a stretched out seahorse about a foot long with a striped tail, but then I heard our guide shout “HO!” And looking down, encountered Aulostomus Strigosus, the Atlantic trumpetfish. Over a metre long it glided past showing off it’s ability to change colour from a dull brown to a beautiful yellowish green with smart neon turquoise spots.
The only other creature of note was my daughter, who, unfazed by the instructor’s banter, and the ill-fitting safety jacket, braved the chilly water and the terrifying swell as we swam over big rocks, with grace and style. It was lovely to glance up at her little masked face from time to time, and to be sharing these moments with her.
That morning, before setting off, I had fashioned a sophisticated underwater photography kit using a ziplock freezer bag to contain my iPhone, and a shoelace to tie it round my neck. It was remarkably effective, but I felt shy around all these cool, no-nonsense, diving types and their jokes, so I chickened out of using it. I have managed however, to find images online that perfectly match some of the sights we saw.
If you ever get an opportunity to stick your head under water with a breathing tube in your mouth, and float about on your belly pretending to be a mermaid and spying on underwater creatures and their amazing habitats, I advise you to seize it with both hands.
Our excursion was with the dive centre attached to the Hotel Dunas de Sal and only cost €25 each for the afternoon. We enjoyed a lovely sweet water shower on the beach, and the friendly Portuguese boss delivered us safely home while he chatted animatedly about island life. It was an ‘extra’ booked through Thomson holidays and comes highly recommended.
#snorkelling #diving #underwaterlove #sea #atlantic #sealife #daysout #santamaria #divedunas #sal #aftersun