It’s hard to explain your first proper encounter with a turtle. For one it’s not anything like the photos you see on Facebook, travelers and their selfies with turtles, photos of them touching turtles and pretend kissing turtles, because your first encounter with a turtle is like no one else’s , this is your turtle and an encounter not to be forgotten.
We had searched high and low for turtles and on occasions we had come across them. The trouble is whenever we saw one so did everybody else. We of course had to share it, wait for a photo opportunity, wait to have that moment, wait to see it in all it’s beauty.
As cheesy as it may sound, turtles are simply beautiful. They are unlike anything you have ever seen, majestic, careless, solitary, graceful, simply magnificent animals. But to get real close with one, so close you ‘could touch it’ and then have it all to yourself, well that’s something different.
As soon as we arrived at the Perhentian islands situated in Malaysia, we began our hunt for a turtle. Until now we had had very few encounters with a turtle, whilst we had seen one we had never had the pleasure of having one to ourselves, an opportunity to capture just the turtle and the ocean. That meant no greedy divers bombarding us and no flappy, duck like snorkelers in their fluorescent life jackets, photo bombing our photos with their great oaf feet! It was quite an unlikely opportunity, us, alone, with a turtle of our own but we were to persevere and surely, eventually, we would have our moment.
We loved the Perhentian islands, for many reasons, it’s beauty, it’s isolation, it’s tranquility but most of all, the people.
An island occupied by the most prosperous of people living a very serene life. We loved being part of the community, living in just a wooden shack, wearing nothing but our beach wear and looking and longing for our turtle.
We treated ourselves to yet another dive, we were becoming quite the human fishes. The island spoilt us for marine life we were surrounded by waters of plentiful Reef Sharks, Trigger Fish, Puffers and Nemos . Our dive master gave us some advice, we of course were looking in the wrong places, our best chance was to head for the other side of the island. So we got walking and in less than one hour we were there, equipped with snorkeling gear and swimsuit, ready to swim a marathon.
In the distance was a group of snorkelers, frantically wagging their arms and legs, clustering around something and that something was a turtle. This is exactly what we wanted to avoid, what we also wanted to avoid was the congestion of boat traffic coming in and out the bay. Two snorkelers in a sea overrun by boats, were in great danger of getting their heads sliced off by an incoming propeller.
We were cautious as we swam out, slow and cautious, hoping that the swell wouldn’t suck as out too far. We made it as far as the snorkeling group and saw, about eight meters down what everyone was gathering around. A turtle, carelessly feeding on the sea bed, oblivious to the floaters bouncing above him. He was just as we hoped he would be but we were too far away to really be graced by his presence and far too imposed by others. So we swam away, swimming ever further from the sure yet closer into the congestion of boat traffic. We were tired and a little uneasy, hovering around seven meters above the sea bed, with nothing but ocean surrounding us, there was no place to take shelter. We kept looking and finally when nearly all hope was lost, an outline of a turtle caught Harry’s eye. There he was, unspoiled, untouched and beautiful in every way. He, she, I’m not sure, was just feeding on the ocean bed, gracefully upturning sand searching for food. Unbeknown to him, Harry and I hovered above, staring, idealizing, totally fascinated by our friend. We withdrew our heads from the water, suddenly screaming and giggling, just as a child would after tasting their first mouthful of ice cream, this was it, this was the moment we had been searching for.
Seven meters is a long way down, especially without the use of fins. But we were desperate to get close and personal to our turtle and the only way was to swim down. Harry and I took turns holding our breath and making a break for it, swimming down, lasting a few seconds with our marine friend and then frantically returning to the waters surface for a large gulp of air.
At that depth most people have to equalize on the way down, in other terms ‘pop your ears,’ something that you may have done when you are taking off on a airplane. So time and oxygen was limited. Still however those few seconds spent at the bottom of the ocean were surpassing and those few moments were simply priceless .
It wasn’t long however, until we were interrupted by an uninvited sailor and his spluttering boat. ‘You guys can’t stay here, move along, move along, it’s too dangerous.’ Of course he was right but to hell with him, we had found our turtle and we would wait all day if we had to, if only to see it surface.
We waited and waited, bobbing around on the surface of the water, one eye on our turtle the other scouting for incoming boats. Then as if God had answered our prayers, our turtle began to ascend, gracefully making his way towards us, effortless in each stroke until suddenly he was almost touching us. The turtle of all turtles, the DON, The Godfather, the Arnie, the absolute elite of turtles! Okay I am being biased but who can tell me different? And why would I care ? Like I said, your first encounter with a turtle is like no other and no matter who shares with you their turtle encounters, yours somehow was so much better. He gulped long gulps of air pulling his head 90 degrees out of the water, till he head was completely vertical. His little beak opened and closed and as if all for our pleasure, it seemed he took his time, hovering and gulping again and again. It was a turtle show, an ocean theatre ,hosting its best host and he was putting on the finest of shows. Of course we just looked and didn’t touch, for all you turtle ‘touchers,’ ask yourself how much you like being touched by strangers?
So we swam for a few moments with our little dinosaur type creature. Hovering close enough to appreciate it in all it’s glory and after those few moments passed, after his forth gulp of air, he began to descend back to where he came from.
We were overwhelmed but quite exhausted once we said our goodbyes. Perhaps some just can’t understand it but this experience was much like the time we walked with elephants, it’s the closet encounter with nature, it’s these moments we were searching for, all the saving and grafting was for times such as this, just the ocean, you and your turtle.