I was putting on the flippers first then the goggles with the snorkel, taking one last big breath through my nose, tasting the salt in the air. I made sure there was no chance for leakage, pulling on the straps, and turned to get out of the kayak as carefully as I could manage. I’ve been told that it flips easily and I knew myself well enough – if there was anybody clumsy enough to do it that was going to be me.
Trip to Baia di Ieranto
A well-hidden little piece of paradise, right at the meeting point of the Gulf of Naples and the Gulf of Salerno, Italy. I had some friends doing their EVS, European Voluntary Service there. Since I was doing mine in Naples, it was only a matter of time to finally visit them.
The bay was only accessible two ways: on foot or by boat. Now, since it was a protected area, there are only a handful of smaller ships allowed inside, so that’s pretty much out of the question. On foot it’s a 40-minute hike to go down – not including time spent on admiring the view – and a lot more to come back up on the rocky path in the mountainside. With barely any shadows in the summer heat. For some mysterious reason, it was never crowded by tourists. Which, of course, just added to its charm. It was definitely worth the effort.
In The Cave
As I eased myself down into the cool water, I was trying not to bother the fish moving around lazily under me. Their dashed cloud of white, orange, red and silver didn’t seem to mind me at all. They didn’t realise I was to conquer one of my biggest fears. How very ignorant of them. I’m sure they could hear the rapid rhythm of my heart. Even the otherwise comfortable temperature of the water seemed to be colder now. Though, that was also thanks to the shadow of the small cave in which we were. It had a big entrance with lots of sunshine reflecting from the water outside but the sun was still facing the back of the cave, so we were completely covered from the heat of the rays.
There was a tiny tunnel that led to the exit of the cave. It was about 5 meters long. Not a lot. I’ve been told that when the water level was low enough, you could easily go through with your face in the water and still have enough space between the surface of the water and the ceiling of the cave to breathe through the snorkel – easily but carefully. It was even part of the excursions they lead around the bay. This time though, the water level was high enough to cover the last 3 meters of the tunnel, where the ceiling was lower. I haven’t been afraid of drowning – or water for that matter – since I was a kid but this really pushed my limits. But, wait, wasn’t that the point of the whole trip? I had to keep reminding myself of that.
I was admiring the impossibly blue, radiant colour of the water at the entrance of the tunnel. The sunshine coming through made everything look vibrant and alive compared to the greyness of the shadow behind me. Each and every splash of wave brought a new shade of turquoise, brilliant light blue and the darker shade of rich royal blue, playing around, chasing each other in the field of sparkling white little gems, framed by soft white foam pillows. Now, if you go to Capri, they make you pay for this view. At that moment, I was enjoying it all for free and couldn’t have valued it more.
Flora and Fauna
Before getting down under, I already saw the crystal clear depth of the sea. A couple of meters below my flippers, I saw a mingling crowd of fish, wearing several combinations of blue, yellow, red, orange, white, and shining silver with a hint of dark green on them, moving around in the pile of big white rocks. It was a vivid main square of a town of about 10 different species of fish rumbling around with lazy flips of fins and ethereal tranquillity. Their tiny houses and parks were all a long, thick, deep-green and grass-like sea plant, called Posidonia, which covered the bottom of the bay everywhere – and was also the reason why the bay was a protected area.
“Are you ready?” – coming from my Albanian friend with his close-to-Russian accent, voice a shade higher from the excitement than the usually warm bass-baritone he was. Honestly, I don’t even remember answering that question but on we went so I must have said yes.
As I put my face in the now pleasantly cool water, it was as if I stepped through a TV screen right into the live show. Everything was suddenly so real, all the colours intensified. A second ago I wouldn’t have thought that was even possible. My heart was beating like a wild little bird with its wings when caught in the hands of a mischievous kid. I was so scared but so certain at the same time. I knew I was going to do it.
My friend went first, sort of showing me the way – though it was obviously just a good excuse to encourage me. I didn’t complain. I can’t say I didn’t need it. The main point of the whole thing would have been to enjoy a look at the wildlife beneath. Well, for me, as soon as we got to the part where the waves were splashing at the rocky ceiling, with only enough space above the water to fit my head, it was all about survival.
I’ve decided I was going to do it smart. Let’s go right after a splash of a wave when the water is a bit lower and calm. But the waves kept coming and coming, more and more violently, more and more loudly – or so it seemed to me with my breath stuck in my throat. After my friend went ahead, I waited for a couple of wave cycles, feeling the water, easing into the rhythm, and starting to go mad with the sound of my heart beating in my ears.
I finally just went for it, drawing a big breath before I threw my head down into the glimmering colours, pushing myself forward with the flippers. I had a heat of energy rise up and run through me, something wild and utterly exciting. I must have been smiling for sure as I got a glance of the scattered rainbow of fish down under. I didn’t have such an adrenaline rush on a rollercoaster, hanging upside down 30 meters high.
Then the next push of wave came and forced me to the rocky ceiling, making me spit all the air out of my lungs. I was terrified and started to fin in an insane rhythm with all my force, going face towards the sunshine with the screaming thought in my head: “Oh, my god, am I going to drown!?” I have never felt this thirst for air before. I was afraid the reflex to draw a breath would come too soon, only to fill my lungs with water. I was just pushing and pushing, concentrating on the light above the surface, already looking for my two friends and the comfort of air while I watched my sight be eaten up by the black shadow-monsters. Still, even after I broke through into the light, I didn’t relieve my lungs until I tore the goggles off. I felt the warmth of the sun caress my face as I enjoyed the salty scent of the sea, finally out of the shadow. Smiling, laughing, and feeling lighter than ever. This place instantly made the top of my list – and has ruled it ever since.