The New York Times is dropping its travel reporting until after the Coronavirus is defeated and we return to normal. In its final travel section, it chose to have several travelers tell tales about special trips. Bonnie Tsui told about her 2 weeks on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef when she was a 19-year-old college kid. I was much older by the time I made it there, but Ruth and I had one of our great travel experiences on the Reef and made excellent friends who became travel companions.
Growing up in land-locked Missouri, Ruth and I had never been in a snorkeling/diving environment before. I didn’t feel secure and craved help, so I asked the boat attendant what to do. He said to just jump in and bob around. Ten minutes later I was doing exactly that and having a ball examining the fish and plant life on a living reef. When our guide asked if anyone would like to study sea cucumbers, only Robert and I were interested and I recall thinking that he might become a friend. Did he! The 3 days that followed were magical, but we were all too soon disembarking at Townsville and boarding a bus that would take Ruth & me back to Cairns, our departure point.
Several years after that, we had another ocean experience with the couple we met on this Great Barrier Reef cruise. On a catamaran with them on the other side of Australia, we were chasing dugongs together. These medium-sized marine mammals similar to manatees are found in coastal waters on the western side of Australia in the Indian Ocean. Grey in color, they swim alongside boats and divers. There are only 5,000 to 7,000 of them left, and the area north of the town of Geraldton off the coat from the Shark Bay Marine Park is where to see many of them. We had taken the train from Sydney to Perth together across the Nullarbor Plain and then traveled south and then north with Lynette and Robert to this unique part of Australia.
We reconnected with them on our first return to Australia after exploring the Great Barrier Reef with them and becoming friends. In their home city of Canberra, Australia’s capital, we were there for the first time and I found 3 men with the same name. I blindly called the 3rd one. Robert answered and invited Ruth & me to their home. We subsequently took many trips with them in Australia. Robert would always patiently answer my many questions about his country so that I learned to love it too. Since and before Robert’s death a few years ago, we have visited, corresponded with, and traveled with his older son John and his wife Trish. We have entertained all 4 of them in our 2 homes in the United States, and I consider myself the luckiest man alive to have made that phone call. The last time we saw Robert was at a birthday celebration for his wife. After we dined at a restaurant, Robert grabbed Ruth’s arm and walked several blocks to Robert and Lynette’s Canberra home, chatting away as always. I can’t think of a finer memory.