Back in the days when I gave a lot of thought to virginity, I always regarded it as a – hopefully – temporary condition somewhat similar to having the chicken pox or measles, an ailment that, if I was lucky, would be quickly cured. (The alternative was – according to some cultures – to be pushed to the front of the queue as a sacrificial offering should a volcano ever erupt in the backyard and threaten to spew boiling-hot lava all over mum’s prize-winning petunia patch.)
Nowadays – having survived chicken pox, measles and the inconveniently-placed back-seat springs of an old Austin 8 car – whenever I hear the word ‘virgin’, I always begin to think about diving. And before anyone suggests that I need several-hundred volts worth of electric shock therapy, it’s not quite as bizarre as it sounds. I know people who, whenever the word ‘diving’ is mentioned, start thinking about warm, woolly socks, après-dive mugs of hot chocolate, or the molecular properties of various exotic gases.
In my case, however, it’s simple word association based on the various meanings of the term ‘virgin’ and the fact that it usually implies being untouched, faultless, flawless, pure, immaculate and … and … pristine.
And it’s the word ‘pristine’ that gets right up my starboard nostril.
Read a sufficient number of articles or brochures promoting exotic diving destinations and there’s a better than even chance that the word ‘pristine’ is going to crop up somewhere or other in a variation of, “We sank down through the azure blue, our bubbles rising above us like a silver screen as we descended onto the pristine reef below …” (and it’s almost certain that once you stumble across the word ‘pristine’, you’ll find ‘kaleidoscopic’ and ‘myriad’ somewhere close by) “… where a myriad of kaleidoscopically coloured marine life greeted our arrival’. (I told you so.)
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the word ‘pristine’. In the right context it’s a perfectly adequate word to describe something that, in the words of the Oxford English Dictionary, is, “Ancient, primitive, unspoilt.” But in the case of diving it’s become an over-used word that’s acquired a whole raft of new and different meanings. Especially when it comes to deciding on a destination based solely on advertising literature and reports describing the dive sites.
Tell somebody that a place offers a variety of outstanding reef and wall diving rich in marine life and it’s reasonable to assume that that’s what’s on offer, without the need for other vague superlatives. But tell them that a diving destination is ‘pristine’, (one that’s presumably unspoilt and where divers have had absolutely no impact whatsoever on the diving environment) and it’s like baiting a crab-pot with a lump of old flounder.
Which is exactly what drew my mate, Krabbmann, to a remote island speck out in the middle of the ocean to join a small group of experienced divers privileged to be among the first to dive and photograph a newly discovered wreck of dubious provenance.
“To my of thinking”, he said, on his return, “an aluminium-hulled dinghy that sank in the last cyclone and that’s half-buried in silt at a depth of 10-metres, doesn’t measure up to what I expect from a wreck-dive described as, ‘a recently discovered vessel of historic significance that’s in pristine condition’.
“Mind you, it’s easy to see why the whole place is unspoiled. Unless you’re one of those people who find inspiration in flat, featureless expanses of silt and sand, there’s absolutely nothing worth seeing there.
“And as for any, ‘historical significance’ – the fact that the dinghy once belonged to a person who knew a person who claimed to be a descendant of Nelson doesn’t really put it up there alongside the ‘President Coolidge’ as a potential dive tourism attraction.”
Although I still like the idea of discovering – and diving – reefs, wrecks and dive sites that nobody else has ever visited or seen, today I am more mindful of the fact that any place that’s described as ‘pristine’ may well lack the qualities that make some diving destinations worth re-visiting time and time again.
“Anyway” Said Krabbmann. “I’ve certainly learned a lesson. Never again will I be lured into visiting a place purely on the basis that the diving attractions are supposedly ‘pristine’.
“My next dive trip is to this place I’ve just read about that’s described as having, ‘a melange of marine life.’ I don’t know what a bloody ‘melange’ is, but it sounds far more exciting than that last ‘pristine’ place that I visited.”
(The above article first appeared in the on-line ‘Nekton’ magazine in 2004.)