Calm Collected Comical Chaos – Grief

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on December 4th, 2010 by MadDog
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Grief . . . It’s a funny thing. No, not funny – ha-ha; it’s an odd thing that it is so very common – we all do it sooner or later – but we do it in such extremely different ways. Now, you may be thinking, “Oh no, here we go again.” And, you’re right. Here I go again, but with a twist. Some things we simply have to laugh about, because if we don’t, we get all depressed, bitter and twisted. So, today I’m going to laugh.

Like most Westerners, my concept of grief included things such as plenty of nice deep depression, an acute sense of loss, gobs and gobs of denial, much sniffling and dabbing of eyes and the occasional crying jag. More pronounced but harmful symptoms such as suicidal thoughts and intense anger are common but are usually unseen by those surrounding the griever. That was my idea of grief until I witnessed the aftermath of a death in a Papua New Guinean village.

Wow, you’ve probably never witnessed such scenes – well, maybe in movies. Believe me, movies can’t convey that kind of emotional chaos. You have to see it first-hand. You have to hear it, the wailing which goes on interminably, the drums beating all night. You have to smell it, the stench of animal fat and plant juices smeared on sweaty bodies. I felt embarrassed. The staggering around, the rolling in the dirt, the screaming and shouting, the moans and tears, the trembling, the falling into camp-fires. I kept wanting to shout, “Hey, hold on there. You’re going to hurt yourself!” It was horrible. I didn’t get the point of it. That’s it all right. It seemed pointless to me. And it went on for a couple of days with brief periods of exhaustion.

One might well ask, “What’s funny about that?” Well, nothing, I admit. Until it happens to you. It’s taken me a few days to calm down enough to look back on it to see the irony of my experience. Before Tuesday morning it all seemed a tiny bit fake to me – like a public demonstration of sadness and loss which is Politically Correct. If one doesn’t participate it is considered callous and uncaring. Proper respect must be paid.

I kept a pretty stiff upper lip through the two memorial services, grieving in the Western way, hunched, sobbing occasionally, gratefully accepting the ministrations of lady friends on each side holding a hand or draping a comforting arm around my shoulders. It was very proper and convincing. I was certainly convinced at the time. However, in the end it was strangely uncompelling, unfulfilling, unmoving and a whole lot of other un-somethings which I can’t seem to get from my brain to the keyboard. I will not take a thing from those experiences. I won’t spoil them by lessening their importance. Those ceremonies were not for me. They were for Eunie. However they did not come anywhere near satisfying my need to grieve for her. There’s another un – unsatisfied.

Many people warned me. “It hasn’t hit you yet.” Now I get it. I learned all about it in one morning. I don’t know how to rank it alongside other powerful experiences in my life. It was absolutely unique. It wasn’t much fun, but I am so glad that it happened.

Because I’m feeling calmer now and I want to run with that, here is a nice peaceful reef scene with my favourite starfish, the highly improbable Linckia laevigata:

The morning did not start well. I called in sick. At some point I sat down at the computer to compose the words for Eunie’s tombstone. Yes, I know that’s been a long time coming, but it’s a logistical problem. You cannot get anything like that made in PNG, at least not what I wanted. I had a mild sense of foreboding, but I told myself sternly (doing that a lot these days), “Hey, you’re a writer. So sit down and write something. It’s not War and Peace.”

So, I sat down to write. Here’s another L. laevigata:

Nothing that I wanted so much came to mind. I desperately needed  to get the job done. Nothing but frustration . . . What a fine time for writer’s block. Suddenly something wild pounced upon me like a wolf ravaging a carcass. It blew me away. I was Pooh Bear on The Blustery Day.

Okay, what I’m going to describe is not pretty. Keep in mind that I’m in a very calm and bemused state of mind right now and I’m standing outside myself looking in. It was a good thing. It was needed. Still, you may not want to read about it. That’s okay. I’m putting these words here because I need to. If nobody  reads them . . . well, that’s okay too.

It went on and on. I couldn’t stop it. Crying isn’t the word for it. It was more like wailing – yeah, wailing and moaning and . . . screaming. I can’t ever remember screaming before in my whole crazy life. How can that happen? How can you get through life without screaming once in a while? Now I get that too. I get screaming. Oh, yeah, baby. I get screaming. We all need to do it more often. It’s very refreshing.

And then there was the staggering around and bumping into things. And yes, the falling down. And the pounding of the fists against anything handy, like a head or the floor or the wall or whatever. And the head banging, now I finally dig that one too – the head banging. I couldn’t stop. I started getting scared.

And then something really silly happened. I started yawning. I have seldom yawned in the last few months. What’s with that? So, between racking sobs I experienced a seemingly endless series of yawns that went way down to my soul, long earnest yawns which sent chills of wacky pleasure flowing from my scalp to my toes. You know the kind of yawns I’m talking about. Where did those come from? They seemed so incongruous, so unseemly, so . . . so stupid!

I managed to get my voice back enough to call the office to say that I wasn’t coming in. I think that I scared my friend on the phone. He offered to come over. Let me catch my breath a moment. Here’s yet another calm blue starfish. Really this blue toy looks as if it’s just plain tired:

If I show enough of these I will put you to sleep. Don’t spill your coffee.

I declined the offer of help because I knew exactly the kind of help I needed. I needed some tough love. some very tough love. I called Trevor. I’m not going to tell you everything that happened while I sat in the living room waiting for Trev to arrive. Some of it is too revealing. Some of it is embarrassing.  I will admit that I did two things which are supposed to be a part of the grieving process, but I had decided to skip, because they seemed so pointless. I asked “Why? Oh, WHY?” and I got extremely angry with God. And yeah, in retrospect, both were pointless. Imagine that – getting all angry at God. It is to laugh. And asking why?  WHY?? What a silly question. Everybody dies. It’s part of the deal. What makes me so special that my wife shouldn’t die? It’s ridiculous. It doesn’t require an explanation.  Because. Just because.  That’s why.

The anger seems very comical. I’m too steeped in Christianity to curse God properly.  The words wouldn’t come. The sentences were too awful to complete. I’m now picturing Homer Simpson with his hand’s around Bart’s neck and Bart’s tongue is sticking out and wiggling frantically and Homer is screaming, “Why, you . . . (sputter, sputter)”. You get the picture. That’s me – angry with God. A dear friend told me that she was very angry with God for a very long time after her husband died. I didn’t get it. Now I do. I got over my anger pretty quickly. I ran out of energy. All of that grinding of the teeth and clenching of the fists wears a fellow down. It takes a lot of effort to stay angry with God.

You don’t need any more details. That is not what this is about. This is about relief.

Here is another of my favourite starfish, a Choriaster granulatus:

I don’t know how they get into these positions. They must practice Yoga. More about that later. You’re going to have a good laugh. (Hee-hee)

Well, by the time Trev arrived I was in a sorry state. I wish he had taken a picture. I’d love to have it. My head was lumpy and my hands hurt. We sat there for a while and he calmed me down. It was some of the finest tough love I have ever received. I was still breaking out in fresh fits for a while. I distinctly remember hitting myself in the face very hard. Funny, I did not realise that it was possible for one to hit oneself in the face so hard. My jaw is still sore. Now I am getting a giggle from that as I think of it. It was like the classic movie scene in which some poor soul is plainly hysterical and gets a good hard slap from a friend who says, “Get control of yourself!” and the slapped person replies, “Thanks, I needed that.”

Well, this story is growing too long, so I’d better wrap it up. I scared the neighbours something awful. When I came back to the house in the evening, after going for some Yoga (yes, I said Yoga), Sisilia and her niece were waiting for me with some food and serious looks on their faces. They are lovely people, my next door neighbours. I invited them into the house and we sat for a while. Though they were shaken and worried about me their attitude changed dramatically when I told them what it was all about. They were very approving and happy for me. It’s the Papua New Guinian way. I was now acting like good person and properly showing my grief for my dead wife. See?  A happy ending.

Now for the real fun.

I have detected a tiny hint of jocular scepticism among certain friends whenever the word Yoga escapes my lips in connection with myself. I’m here to dispel that scoffing attitude. I went for some Yoga to help calm me down. I asked Michaela to take a couple of pictures of me in the less frightening positions.

I have never ascribed to the spiritual accoutrements of Yoga. I don’t get it. However, I have practiced the physical exercises and contortions since I was a child. I’m Pretzel Man. I don’t want to shock you with the more bizarre configurations of my body. You may be having your breakfast doughnut. I just want to demonstrate that I actually do Yoga. I don’t pretend to do Yoga:

Yes, that is me. You might now be saying, “Yeah, well, anybody  can do that.”

Yeah, well, can you do this?

This is also me – doing a head stand or, as I prefer to call it, a Tiger Stand.

If you don’t find that funny then you need an attitude check.

UPDATE: I got this Facebook comment from Justin Friend. It’s so appropriate to this post that I’m including it here.

Reading your blog post today reminded me of several PNG Haus Krais and similar I have been to. One of my first experiences with such things was when I first arrived in the highlands and was in Kerowagi. We had been in the garden for several hours digging up Kaukau and getting other foods for a feast the next day. We were all taking a break and sitting in the shade beside a typical single file village track winding through the gardens. There was maybe 8 of us sitting there telling stories. As we sat it was common every few minutes for someone to pass by on the track only metres away, apart from a general greeting the passing people were essentially politely ignored.

And then all hell broke loose amongst the people I was with, seemingly without a cue or a reason. The women started wailing and almost convulsing, going from sitting on the ground to rolling on the ground flailing their arms, tears flowing immediately. The men were not much better. The noise was intense, the emotion was intense.

I sat dumbfounded. One minute, no 1 second ago we were all laughing and joking, and now all of a sudden the entire party was crying, screaming, rolling around the ground.

And then it stopped. Almost as sudden as it started it stopped. There was the briefest point of composure and then things went straight back the way it was, telling stories, laughing, joking, sitting in the shade after the gardening work.

What the hell had happened. I looked to my soon to be wife for an explanation.

“Did you see those two people who just passed on the track?” she asked. Well no, I didn’t because as soon as the first Aunty started screaming I was focussed on our group.

It turned out that just a day or so before I arrived there a man had died. The “official” mourning period was still in place. The people who had walked past our merry group laughing in the shade were owed the appropriate sign of grief and mourning so they got it.

IT was certainly genuine. The tears were real. The grief was real. But it was so controlled. They turned it on and off like it was the tap supplying fresh water.

It was very powerful and I see and hear it still in my mind as if it was yesterday I experienced that.

Not exactly where you were coming from in your blog, but still an interesting handle on grief

Hang in there ol’ fella.

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A Starfish Is Born

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on March 23rd, 2010 by MadDog
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We have, over the last ten years, lost nearly two thirds of the financial support for our work here. That figure is adjusted for inflation. What that means is that if we depended on our remaining supporters alone, we would not be eating. Going into all the reasons that support has been dropped would be a fruitless exercise, so I’ll forgo boring you with that. It would be unfair of me not to mention that we still have financial backers who have shown no sign of abandoning us and our work. Without them, we would have to leave the work which we came here to do. We would, of course, remain in Madang. It is forever our home.

So, we are left more or less to our own devices to maintain an income level that is conducive to staying alive. Ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.  In aid of this, we’ve taken on work to increase our income while remaining full-time on our current jobs. We are both a lot busier than the average mid-sixties couple but I reckon, since we handle stress very well, we’ll probably live longer for it.

This requires some rather tricky juggling. We have to find work that we can do at home or during times when we are not required to be at the office. Another thing that we had to do was set up a registered company to do business. It was a complicated process, since we are technically “foreigners”, but we’ve completed it now and our company is duly registered as J & E Enterprises Limited.

Our company logo might amuse you:We wanted a retro look and I think that we got it. The logo is based on an image that you saw in this post.

There is a certain irony in all of this. We had built up a small business in the USA in the late ’70s with the aim of becoming rich. Okay, okay, we knew we were never going to be rich, but private schools for our son were within our reach. As the business became more and more cut-throat, we found day-to-day dealings were becoming ethically impossible to stomach. The whole game was, as they say, going to the dogs. About that time we decided to sell out and get off the planet. That’s how we ended up in Papua New Guinea. It’s as far as we could get without a space ship.

The name of the company which we sold out was J & E Enterprises Incorporated. Therin lies the irony. When we thought about a name for our new company, we grinned at each other and said, “Why not?”

We also wanted to feature the starfish as a symbol of our business enterprises – no particular reason – we just like it. Here’s the front page of our company brochure:

If you would like to see the entire brochure you can find it in a PDF file here: J & E Enterprises Limited It’s a tri-fold design, so you have to imagine the pages in the proper order.

While on the subject of starfishes, I may as well show you one:You’ve seen the Choriaster granulatus  here many times. It’s as cuddly and cute as a starfish can get.

When I think of our company and how it will make it possible for us to continue our core work here, I want to feel good. It’s a good  thing. I don’t need my work to identify me, but making a positive contribution to my society is  important to my self-image.

A starfish will do nicely.

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Sunday at the Office

Posted in Under the Sea on February 21st, 2010 by MadDog
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Wooo Hooo, I just LOVE driving all the way to work on Sunday morning to do a post because swampsucking TELIKOM can’t figure out how to twist two wires together so that somebody can get an actual dial tone for more than two hours. However, it does produce the occasional side-benefit. Witness this lovely, if somewhat sombre, morning scene at Coconut Point:The water was all sparkly and the sky looked like it had just dropped some acid. Very trippy, indeed.

Speaking of trippy, I showed you some Blue Coral (Heliopora coerulea)  in a mixed bag of things that I picked up on the beach. It took me a long time to figure out where it came from. There’s nothing that looks like it underwater. Then I discovered that it is actually brown on the outside. I began looking around for the right stuff and finally found a little bit that had been broken off. On Saturday’s dive, I found a big spot where something, probably a clumsy diver, had broken off a couple of knobs:As you can see, it’s improbably bright blue inside. I’d be interested to know what causes this blue colouration, but I’m far, far too lazy to research it. The beach at Wongat Island  is covered with the stuff that has been broken up by natural means and washed up and tumbled. That’s what you see in the image to which I’ve linked to in the paragraph above. The image here is the live stuff that has been broken off.

I simply love these chubby, cuddly looking Starfish (Choriaster granulatus).  They are the puppies of the Starfishes:I noticed that this one was particularly pink, especially in the centre. The do vary somewhat in tint. The posture here is suggestive that it’s leaping over the boulder with its arms outstretched, probably hollering “Whoopee!” Don’t believe it. Their top speed is about a half-metre an hour.

Here’s some very gaudy female Purple Antheas (Pseudanthias tuka)  flitting around at the local mall:The male is around somewhere, probably near the edge of his harem, keeping an eye out for poachers.

I showed you one of these nightmarish Sea Cucumbers (Bohadschia graeffei)  a few days ago:This is a much better shot. It clearly shows the sucker-like food-gathering thingies that reach out continuously and grab onto anything remotely edible.  As soon as one of these appendages has sucked something up, it bends around in a particularly creepy fashion and shoves itself down into the gob of the squishy, prickly, disgusting critter.

You’ve gathered by now, I’m sure, that this is not among my favourite creatures of the sea.

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Starfish Day for Julie

Posted in Under the Sea on January 18th, 2010 by MadDog
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Julie, a Facebook Friend, tells me that she really digs starfish. Because I can use all the friends I can get and Julie never scolds me for attempting a humorous comment on her status changes, I think that her polite hint deserves an appropriate response.

Since I do, despite my geeky aura, appreciate the sentimentality evoked by images of starfish, I’ll set the stage with this mushy shot:

I can hear the murmurings of “Awwwwww . . .” from here. I have no idea who the people were. They simply happened to be standing on the rock while I composed the image. It was a very lucky break.

The truth is, I nearly overstayed my prime time. During an attempt to catch the sailboat out on Astrolabe Bay,  I was nearly inundated by a wave crashing on the rocks:Now that I’ve set the mood in my inimical way, we shall proceed to tickle Julie’s fancy with some yummy starfish.

You know, I’ve seen  this shape before.  There is a logo somewhere, on a product or representing some organization, that is a cartoonish figure of a starfish (two eyes, a mouth, etc.) with the top of the star a little crooked, as if it were wearing a hat which is a bit askew. This Fromia milleporella  reminds me of that:Please keep in mind that this is Annual General Meeting week and I’m sitting here trying to stay interested and not fall asleep. My mind wanders in particularly unusual ways. I keep feeling fluid draining from my sinus cavities. It’s seawater. My wife, Eunie, tells me when to raise my hand to vote on a motion. As you can imagine. I’m a little more distracted than usual.

But wait! Let’s get back to Julie’s starfish. This is one that you’ve seen here many times, the lovely Choriaster granulatus:You may be tiring of seeing this critter, but I’m nowhere near finished taking pictures of it.

Here’s is another which you have seen here many times:I’m sure that everyone out there has seen images of the Mimic Octopus which is able to contort and recolour its body in marvelous ways to appear to be any of several non-octopus critters. However, have you ever seen a Linckia laevigata  mimic a snake? As of now, you have.

It may surprise some that this lump is a starfish:Called a New Guinea Cushion Star (Culcita novaeguineae),  it appears more like a bumpy, spiky football. In fact, it is supremely tempting to pick it up and attempt to kick it back and forth between divers using the floppy fins.

Of course, we never actually do  that.

Bon appétit,  Juli.

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Merry Christmas Tree Worm

Posted in Under the Sea on December 23rd, 2009 by MadDog
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Let me begin today’s mashup of disorganised visual and verbal clutter by wishing myself a happy birthday. This has, indeed, been an interesting year. Having lived through my 66th year, I now embark on my 67th. In the past year, as a result of a New Year’s Resolution,  I have banished foul language from my daily speech (almost  completely), made an unexpected trip to North America without busting the bank and begun to reverse the devastating financial situation at Casa MadDog.

So many blessings . . .  And now, it’s almost Christmas, a time of year that inevitably depresses me. So many reasons . . . No snow or cold weather (which would probably kill me anyway) Don’t get to see my son and his family, my beautiful, smart granddaughters. Never mind. I’m not going to whine on my birthday. Eunie will bake me a pineapple upside-down cake tomorrow, a family tradition. I’ll eat the whole thing. It will take me about two or three weeks, according to how rapidly my spare tire inflates.

And now for your daily Christmas Tree. Here is a cute little mob of them:

If you move your hand over these they will disappear down their hidy-holes in an instant. No, I’m not guaranteeing that it will happen on your computer screen. Hey, I could do that with a mouse-over. I wish I had time to try it. First I’d have to have the exact same shot with the worms retracted. Never mind. I didn’t think of that while I was under the water.

Here is the star Christmas Tree Worm (Spirobranchus giganteus)  for today:I like the little magenta stars on top.

Here is another “what I actually saw” shot. The murky water at Barracuda Point  last Saturday lends a spooky effect to this shot of Divaricate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia)  with Carol Dover in the background checking out some Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello):It’s not pretty, but it’s what I saw.

Here is something that has puzzled me for some time. We often see these Solitary Corals, sometimes called Mushroom Corals, with damaged edges and colourful stains. This one is a deep form, that is it grows in deeper water, of Fungia fungites:If anybody out there knows anything about this, please enlighten me.

The contortionist of starfish is Choriaster granulatus  or, as we sometimes call it, the Dirty Starfish. I’ll let you wonder why:Another common name for this one is the Granulated Starfish. I don’t know how they manage to squeeze themselves into such awkward positions. This one looks as if it is trapped under a coral ledge.

Sticking with water, but on the surface now, here is yet another water drop image:

My fascination with water drops is boundless.

I wonder what that means?

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Odd Things – Including the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch

Posted in Humor, Mixed Nuts on September 25th, 2009 by MadDog
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The sunrise at my house this morning was particularly unremarkable. I woke up at about 05:30, looked out the front window facing Madang Harbour and mumbled, “Hmmmmm, zilch.” Still, I got my Canon G9, some filters, my tripod, a chair and a Fanta Orange soda and stubled out to the edge of the water to see if anything interesting would happen.

A lot of big fish were jumping. I’m going to have to borrow a spinning rod from someone and see what I can catch. The sunrise was uncooperative:

Sunrise at my house this morning

However, on the way to the office, I had much better luck. Here’s a shot along Coronation Drive. I’ve featured this location many times on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi:

Sunrise on Coronation Drive

The image from the camera was very nearly monochrome. I had some fun with Photoshop adding the colours that you see.

There’s a Monty Python theme today, so I’ll now announce, “And now for something completely different.”

On our dive last Saturday I saw this beer bottle lying on the reef. It is completely encrusted with coral-like growth. I won’t be long before it will become a permanent part of the reef:

Everything becomes part of the reef - even a beer bottle

While we’re still underwater, on the same dive I spotted this starfish (Choriaster granulatus)  which has, some time ago, lost an arm to a predator:

This starfish had a leg taken off by a predator. It's growing back.

As you can see, it is growing back quite nicely. Starfish can regenerate an entire organism from just one arm. No kidding. If you chop off an arm, a whole starfish will grow from it. Medical researchers are frantically trying to figure out how this regeneration trick works. Imagine the cures that could follow such discoveries.

Well, that’s serious enough for a Friday.

My nieces and I have been trading back and forth a few of our favourite Monty Python moments. If this doesn’t give you a grin, then there is something seriously wrong with you:

Thanks to Christel Courossi for passing me the link on Facebook.

That’s from Monty Python and the Holy Grail,  in case you’ve forgotten. I’m deeply saddened by the nearly total dissappearance of this kind of silliness from our world. It’s getting much too serious for me. I can’t get through a day without contemplating, speaking, attempting or raging about something utterly ridiculous.

It is part of my charm.

Vanity is the other part.

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Barracuda Point Peculiarities

Posted in Under the Sea on September 12th, 2009 by MadDog
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We had a very nice dive on Barracuda Point on Saturday. It’s near Pig Island  only a few Minutes from Madang. This is the sight at the east end of the point at only about ten metres:

Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello)

That is a nearly solid wall of Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello)  mixed in with a few Big-eye Trevally and one lonely Red Emperor.  You can see some more barracuda images here and here.

Down deep at about forty metres I got this shot of a strange red coral that I’ve seen before, but can’t identify. I’m assuming that it’s a coral. It is extremely red – about the only red thing that you can see at that depth, since most red light has been scattered by the sea water – and hard as glass:

Strange red coral?

The extreme hardness of the thing is surprising, because it looks as if it is very soft, like flower petals. The first time I touched one (not supposed to do that anyway) I got a little green blood leaking out of my finger – blood looks green underwater if you are deep enough.

I found this favourite of our starfish (Choriaster granulatus)  much deeper than it would normally be. I don’t know what it was doing way down there. They are usually not found below about 25 metres:

Starfish (Choriaster granulatus)

Pascal Michon, our resident Frenchman, is forever finding stuff on the bottom. He once found a Hewlett-Packard calculator on the reef. This time it was an old mask that had been there for quite a while:

Pascal Michon

Barracuda Point is surrounded by beautiful Sea Fan clusters. This one a a species of Melithaea:

Sea Fan (Melithaea sp.)

This is a Barrel Sponge growing under a ledge. I’ve seen this several times before. They are always very pale instead of rich brown, the normal colour. At first I thought that it was just the lack of light that causes the paleness, but now I think that this may be a species that is not (according to my references) supposed to be in PNG waters. It should be around the Philippine Islands.  I think that it is Xestospongia testudinaria,  as if anybody cares:

Barrel Sponge (Xestospongia testudinaria)

At the bottom of the image, you can see a small Cleaner Wrasse swimming past. It’s a little blurred because of the long exposure time.

Back up in the shallows again there was a mob of Big-eye Trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus)  there to greet us:

Big-eye Trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus)

You can see more Big-eyes here and here.

I’ll have a few more shots of the dive in a day or two. I’m still getting caught up from our drive up to the highlands. My hands are nearly back to normal now. After ten hours of gripping a wildly vibrating steering wheel, it takes me a couple of days to get over the numbness.

My brain feels a little numb too. Must have been the altitude.

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