The surprise bucket list item
I was caught completely off guard by a recent trip to a sandbar in the Caribbean Sea. As part of a port excursion that included swimming with dolphins, we were treated to a rickety boat ride for almost an hour. I was tired and hungry, and mentally berating myself for not having read the fine print about what this excursion involved.
All I saw was Ride the Dolphins and visit Stingray City and I clicked “Buy”.
I mean, really, who doesn’t want to swim with dolphins? Stingray City conjured up images of a badly maintained facility where little stingrays raised in captivity were subjected to the endless pawing of tourists, but it was part of the deal. How bad could it be?
Little did I know that this was the gateway to an emotional experience I will never forget.
When the boat finally started to slow, our captain, in very complicated English, tried to explain we could jump off the boat and swim out to the sandbar. Awkward pause.
Or, he continued, we could use the ladder in front and step right onto the sandbar. His next sentences were crystal clear – be very careful where you step. You don’t want to startle the stingrays.
I glanced over at my husband. This is what his eyes were saying: What. The. Hell. Did. You. Get. Us. Into.
I stood up, looked over the side of the boat and I am sure my eyes bulged out of their sockets. My brain was trying to process exactly what I was seeing, fighting to over-rule the images conjured by my imagination.
My only exposure to stingrays was in a holding tank at a zoo. These were not the same thing.
If you spread your arms out wide, that will give you an idea of the size of these wild stingrays. Majestic.
If you think of the softest leather you’ve ever caressed, that will tell you how soft the underbelly of a stingray is. Surprising.
If you think of the intelligence you can sometimes see in your pet dog or cat, that will tell you how amazing these creatures are. Moving.
I had no idea about any of these things. I also had no clue that stingrays like to be touched. More than that, stingrays like to be the ones doing the touching, and as I was coaching my husband on how to use the camera, I was suddenly surrounded by 8 stingrays, 3 of which decided it was completely appropriate to climb onto me. One on my back, two on either side of me.
It was freaky and exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time.
And now I can cross that surprise item off my bucket list.
What about the dolphins? Just as amazing, but without the fear.