On the days when my world focuses on getting my little girl’s winter jacket and boots on in time to make it to daycare, or on keeping her occupied with a chair pulled up to the kitchen counter and a pile of flour or salt to dig her hands into while I make dinner, it’s hard to imagine that ten years ago or so, my days were about taking people scuba diving in exchange for room and board in a gorgeous little hippie town in Australia.
My days started at 4a.m. I would sleep with my running clothes tucked next to me in my bottom bunk in the room I shared with the other divemasters. That way, they would be warm and close at hand as I wriggled into them. I would slip out into the warm, dewy morning, and glance across the tops of the palm trees level with my second-floor balcony overlooking the dive shop pool, equipment room and driveway. Quickly down the stairs and out the heavy back gate, I would start to run, finding my pace as I wound up the steep road towards the lighthouse. I would always stop for a few minutes when I reached the top of the hill; the vantage point was the best in town from up there, and it wasn’t unusual to see humpback whales breaching in the waves below, just asea from the floating raft of surfers catching rides on the point break.
I always spread my arms wide as I ran somewhat haphazardly down the hill; because I could, and because it felt good.
I would shower quickly upon my return, curling my waist-length hair up into a bun and treading to the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea. It was at this time in my life that I started drinking tea, milky and sweet, savoured every morning while doing a crossword puzzle.
I was always the first one to arrive downstairs, before it became the hub of action that equipped and shipped out divers for the 6a.m., 9 a.m. and 12p.m. boats. I would check over the red-and-aluminum rigid hulled inflatable pontoon boats, testing the two huge motors and making sure there was enough fuel. I would grab my dive gear and hoist it up over my head and into the boat, tucking it away near the bow, where I would later sit, watching over the nervous divers clinging to the gunnel ropes as we roared up over the surf break.
Getting everyone kitted out and the dive boat loaded was always a feat of logistics, as was keeping them safe once we arrived at the beach and launched the boat into the waves. My knuckles were always raw and deeply scarred, as it was my job to hold the boat steady, clasping the ropes that circled the outer edge of the dinghy as the hull rose and smacked down in heavy surf before using all my energy to jump into the boat that was, at this point, floating head-height in the water.
The divers were often a little shell-shocked as the skipper accelerated over the incoming break; a good amount of horsepower and often a bit of air time was needed to safely clear the surfer-strewn waves before we were on our way to the little island just offshore, where we would be anchoring and jumping in.
My stories of my dives there – of surfacing amongst humpback whales, sharing a tiny cave with a grey nurse shark, of swimming with sea turtles the size of a dinner table – those are stories for another time. It goes without saying that every day I spent leading dives around that reef was a new adventure. It was good, hard, physical, exciting, demanding, rewarding work, and I loved it. Obviously, for the months I spent there are still etched in my memory as some of the best of my life.
When we returned later on in the morning, I would do my best to streamline the unloading and reloading of the boat so that I would have time to pop over to the little cafe across the street to grab breakfast sandwiches and lattes for myself and the rest of the crew, some of whom were returning from the ocean, wet and salt-speckled, and some of whom were just waking and padding down the stairs to the dive shop with sun-bleached bed-messy hair.
They were the best breakfast sandwiches I’d ever had, with a thick slice of back bacon, an ever-so-slightly-runny egg, a slice of cheese, and a smear each of mayonnaise and barbecue sauce on a crusty ciabatta bun. The need for one of these sandwiches was usually quite great after a night spent at the local pub listening to the same guy play the same cover tunes on his guitar, drinking rum and cokes and dancing amongst other tanned, board short-and-tank-top-clad bodies. Here I learned a particularly sage bit of wisdom: there is no cure for a hangover like a saltwater swim and a greasy breakfast sandwich.
I think of this time in my life often. Not to be counted one ounce less valuable or exciting than the adventures that fill my life now, I am so thankful to have these memories to look back on. I hope maybe my daughter thinks I’m kinda cool when she’s old enough to hear the stories of my travels, and more so that she has wicked adventures to relive in her memories one day too.
To make the sandwich:
Fry up a few slabs of good-quality bacon and an egg or two, over easy, until the yolk is still soft when poked, but not jiggly. Slice open a fresh, crusty baguette or ciabatta bun, and spread with mayonnaise and some homemade barbecue sauce (recipe to come later in the week). Throw on a slice of cheese, the bacon and egg, and press together the sandwiching slices of bread. Wrap in foil for the most authentic takeaway breakfast sandwich experience. Eat while sipping a latte and feeling the salt water drying on your skin.