Saturday, June 20, 2009

Arta lover

I admit that I was tossed on the horns of a dilemma today, but I'm glad I chose play over work.  At a lovely get acquainted luncheon on Thursday our French colleagues had invited me over to do some pediatric tonsillectomies (the anesthesia part, naturally).  Somewhat disconcertingly, the French call these amydalectomies.  Now to an American trained physician the amygdala is "a roughly almond-shaped mass of gray matter deep inside each cerebral hemisphere, associated with the sense of smell". It thus took me a while to figure out that they weren’t proposing 3 neurosurgical cases  - there being no neurosurgeon - and must mean something else.  In any event, as luck would have it one of the embassy staff had invited Dave, our XO, out for a snorkeling trip on the embassy’s boat (darling, all the embassies have boats) along with 5 colleagues.  Reasoning that there was also a dandy re-anastomosis case for Sunday, and rationalizing that I couldn’t let our XO go without a medical attendant...well the attached photo tells the rest of the story.

This time on leaving from the fishing pier we turned left and headed due west into the Gulf of Tadjura.  The boat was a nifty 23 foot cabin cruiser style, with twin Yamaha 150’s on the back, and when Lulu, the smiling Ethiopian man who is the embassy’s boat guy pushed the throttles forward, the little craft gathered herself up, like a lady picking up her skirts, and then planed across the wave tops as prettily as you please.  The breeze thus generated was a blessing, as the sun on this still day, so near to the summer solstice, was taking no prisoners.  Anyway, we headed along the Djiboutian shore with the self conscious glee of 5 boys playing hooky, slathering on SPF 250 as we went.

The coastline as you make your way west gradually rises.  The city of Djibouti is situated on the low plains, in what would be a flood plain if it ever rained, or a river delta if it rained even more.  This gives way to rugged hills of dark, tumbled basalt, covered in some places with brown dust and sand.  Parched brown shrubs cling to the hill sides with only the most occasional, inexplicable green bush or tree relieving the very subdued palette.  The gulf in this direction is a darker blue - not quite indigo but getting there.   The hills to our left had gotten quite high - 1500 meters or so when we passed one final headland and pulled into the bay at Arta.

Lulu dropped anchor, we scrambled into our gear, and leapt into the water.  When entering thus from a boat, there is always that moment of disorientation as the bubbles clear away.  I floated, took a few breaths, and ...oh. my. word...  Paradise shimmered in the dappled light 10 feet below me.  Visibility was great - 20 feet or more, the water was warm, the current was minimal, and hundreds, nay thousands of reef fishes of all colors, sizes and shapes flitted among and around the most pristine corals it has ever been my pleasure to dive on.  It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve been - breathtakingly so.  And we had it entirely to ourselves - in our 4 hours or so at anchor there was not another living soul evident as far as the eye could see (save a French helicopter or two).  A short list of sightings includes moray eels, giant clams, clown fish (we should change their name to “Nemos), wrasses of every description, puffers, box fish, snapper, sea fans, sea cucumbers, and acre after acre of coral in every conceivable shape and hue.  Way, way cool.

I did take some underwater pictures with a disposable camera, and will send them off to Snapfish (how apropos), and then hopefully post a few of the better ones.  We’ll see if National Geographic is interested.  Anyway, divers out there, take my advice and cancel that cliche old trip to Bora Bora or Palau.  Dive Djibouti!

There is not much more to tell about the day.  In and out of the water several times.  A lunch of galley-prepared pastrami sandwiches (although only mayonnaise.  Oy.), and an ice cold beer.  A final circumnavigation of the reef, and then Lulu powered up those Yamahas and home we rocketed.  The return trip was a bit rougher as the breeze had picked up and we were directly in its teeth the whole way.  A great trip though!

Anyway, tomorrow I’ll present my - hopefully not too sunburned - face at CHA Bouffard for some surgical time.  I’m sure the French will understand.

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