A travel moment in Thailand

The sea was choppy and a little bit rough. I was in Thailand on a live-aboard cruise in the Andaman Sea, which is one of the Top Ten dive resorts in the world. Amongst the more experienced divers, there was a lot of talk about the sighting of sharks and manta rays. I had only just qualified and was still preoccupied with all the technicalities of floating weightlessly in the water and breathing evenly. However, when I was told that manta rays were often seen in this area, I got very excited. Manta rays are huge, with their wings reaching a width of up to fifteen feet. The gentle giants feed on plankton and are totally harmless.

As I descended into the depths of the sea, I sent a little prayer to Neptune, god of the sea to provide me with a manta ray sighting. As soon as my group reached our level of descent, we looked around us. Within seconds we saw a big, wide, wing-like shape in the very far distance. It was only a shadow at this stage, but I felt a surge of happiness go through me. This must have been a manta. My dive master looked at me and signalled “Have you seen it?”

I nodded.

As we were still getting over the excitement of having seen a manta so early into our dive, we just hung about for a couple of minutes. I knew that my prayer to Neptune had been answered when the manta ray came back and drew a wide circle around our group. Then he disappeared in the far distance. As soon as he was gone, another manta appeared from the opposite direction and drew a much smaller circle around us. The mantas kept getting closer and I noticed them hovering above the divers, letting their tummies get tickled by the air bubbles escaping from the divers’ air regulators.

And then it happened. I was hanging in mid air, well, mid-water really, and I was mesmerised by the beauty and the gracefulness of these huge animals. I had jealously watched one of the rays getting really close to another diver. The diver’s hand touched the manta and the manta happily let it happen. Straight after that, the fish changed its course and headed directly towards me. In my excitement, I forgot to breathe and started to drift up towards the surface. The manta was only a few feet away from me. He looked me directly in the eyes, held my gaze, got closer and closer until I could almost touch him. His eyes were locked with mine as he very gently moved upwards and swam away behind me.

Eventually we ran out of air and had to come up again. It felt like we were leaving another world behind us. None of us wanted to get out of the water. We all wanted to stay down there forever, hanging out with the mantas in this peaceful, quiet, weightless world.

E Wojtenek

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