The first time I … tried snorkelling.

I had always had a fear of water because of an “almost-got-drowned” incident when I was eight. My dad, however, insisted that I learnt how to swim, even though he himself couldn’t.

During one school holiday, I did just that. But it was always in the safety of swimming pools where I could see the bottom and never into the sea where the unknown lurked.

So, when my cousin invited me to go snorkelling with a bunch of friends in Pulau Tinggi, one of the lesser known islands off Mersing, Johor, I was hesitant but decided to give it a go. Together with another friend, we took a train to Mersing, where we stayed at my cousin’s place.

Early the next morning, we went to the and waited for the boat to arrive. There were 12 of us, including my aunt and uncle, who were very sporting.

The journey by speedboat took less than an hour and the sea was very choppy. Thankfully, we were soon greeted by a pristine white sand beach backed by a hill of tropical rainforest. This was Mount Semundu and its shape has caused it to be known as the “General’s Hat Island” to some of the locals.

Our home for the next two nights was a semi-open longhouse. We placed our sleeping bags all in one row on the floor. The back and sides of the longhouse were covered, but the front was open and we could get a view of the ocean in the distance. Our meals were taken at a long log table with benches on a grassy area by the beach.

snorkelling

In snorkelling, you wear a diving mask and use a breathing tube to breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose. Filepic

We had two snorkelling sessions each day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. After unpacking our stuff, we changed into our swimming gear for our first snorkelling session. Our guide and his helpers handed out the life vests, snorkelling equipment and gave us some simple instructions. It sounded easy enough – breathe in through your mouth and breath out through your nose – the opposite of what you do when on land.

For safety reasons, we were paired up into twos, with the guides accompanying the ones who could not swim or were the least confident in water. Unfortunately, I was not considered one of them, despite my fear of water.

We were given some time to practise in the shallow waters and then, led by the guides, we snorkelled out to deeper waters. I breathed in and out steadily as instructed and was now extremely thankful for all those swimming lessons as they certainly came in useful!

Before, sea water always seemed foreboding to me because you couldn’t see what was in it. But the minute I put on the snorkelling mask and had my head in the water, I was so awestruck by the magical underwater world that I “forgot” to be afraid. Myriad fish in many hues swam past me. Colourful corals beckoned from below.

We kept paddling until we were quite far from the shore and the water was deeper, so captivated and engrossed with the marine life that we lost all track of time. It wasn’t until the guide called all of us back with a loud whistle that we realised we had been snorkelling for more than three hours. It was already past lunch time!

After lunch and a short rest, we went to another part of the island, which was totally deserted, for more snorkelling.

Later, as I prepared for my first night on the island, I felt a little wobbly, like I was still moving about in the water. I dreamt that I was in the sea, too, still snorkelling away. It was a very sweet dream!

I had really enjoyed my first snorkelling experience, and have gone on many excursions after that day.