Now that our house has a pool and I’ve done pretty much nothing but perfect the art of laying down on my floatie in it since my summer vacation started, it got me thinking that this would be a perfect time to hone my snorkelling skills. And believe me, they could use some honing.

Picture it, Southern Caribbean cruise…Barbados….2011.

Now, if you’ve read any of my other posts, you’re getting a sense of just how many phobias I have.  One of the biggest being water. Oceans, lakes, seas, you name it. I’m not a great swimmer, well, actually I am an excellent swimmer in the 4-foot-deep section of any pool… but I’ll almost always nearly drown in anything over my head. I can do all kinds of swirls, dips, tricks in the comfort of the shallow end, but as soon as I’m swimming along and realize I can’t stand up or touch the bottom, well, all hell breaks loose.

This entire phobia came from all the near drowning experiences I’ve had in my life…. being a skinny 10 year old at a hotel pool and having your friend’s younger, 200 lb little sister (yes, that’s right) jump on you while you are not expecting it and not getting off of you until your lungs are screaming for air, or being a 19 year old and getting caught in a bizarre undertow in Cuba only to be tossed around underwater before being vomited by the ocean onto the beach and realizing that in the whole saga that just occurred I managed to have lost my bikini in the ordeal. Yah, open water has never been a friend of mine.

Sooo… this whole idea of going snorkeling with sea turtles last year sounded like a good idea when I read it in the shore excursion booklet, that is, if we could do it in a children’s pool and the turtles didn’t come anywhere near me. That’s right, I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of swimming in water with other creatures… I don’t like fish unless they are served on a plate with a side of tartar sauce or swimming in a fish tank at the dentist office, and the mere thought of jellyfish, catfish, clownfish, swordfish, sharks, water snakes and pretty much anything else found in the ocean even approaching me would send me straight into cardiac arrest for sure. Suuuure, this whole snorkeling with turtles sounded like a stellar idea.

My kind of fish… on a plate. (courtesy of pinterest)

I’d never snorkelled before, and along with this fear of water is the refusal of getting my face wet. Snorkelling and not putting your face in the water is like fishing and not putting the line in the water – it would be pointless. Clearly, like everything else I do on a daily basis, I hadn’t thought this through.

The catamaran crew for this excursion was fantastic. The sail to the turtle spot was spectacular. The views of the coastline as we sailed along were incredible. It was when they started passing out the snorkel gear that I realized it was too late to turn back. I had to do this. Didn’t I? Good grief, I was going to have to do this. The germa-phobe in me cringed at the thought of putting this snorkel gear on. Ewwww. I was going to have to put this in my mouth? Seriously? Mental note: buy my own snorkel gear next time.

My heart was pounding just looking at this stuff. I had the sensation of impending doom. At least, by the grace of God, there was a mandatory floatation device we had to wear. The other passengers were laughing and having a great time, anticipating being the first in the water. I was wondering if I had time to fake a heart attack.

My boyfriend wasted no time in putting his gear on, in fact, he had everything on and was ready to go while I was still holding up the snorkel mask and making faces at the “icky” gear. I told my boyfriend to take full possession of the underwater camera – I knew I’d be too busy trying to stay alive to take any pictures.

One by one people starting disembarking our little catamaran and enjoying the warm water. I watched as each one got in. I was obviously the only one with her floatation device FULLY inflated. I felt like a five year old standing at the water’s edge with my water wings on and inflatable ducky around my waist.

Yep. Almost me here.

There was no way the ocean was going to take my life today. No way. I play it safe with water stuff, I tell ya.

It was my turn to descend the ladder. My heart was pounding, arms shaking, knees knocking. I could see to the bottom of the ocean (we were told the water was 20 feet deep), so that was neat, I just wasn’t liking the fact that I couldn’t touch the bottom. I also realized that once I got in the water I’d probably have to let go of the ladder and the thought of that made me queasy.

I got in the water and I should point out that the preserver thingie that I was wearing, was now wearing me. As soon as I got in the water, the life vest thingie pushed up and punched me in my chin and the strap between my legs shifted up and into the crack of my ass… chafing, cutting and burning like barbed wire. My full back bikini bottom was now transformed into a thong. I immediately located my boyfriend, which wasn’t easy considering that once everyone was swimming around all you saw were snorkels and the tops of everyone’s head. I put in the mouthpiece, adjusted my mask and put my face in the water which instantly made me panic. My breathing, in medical terms, would surely be considered hyperventilating. All I could hear were the distant conversations of others in the water, and the constant sound of my nervous breathing through the tube. Hufffff.. huf huf.. hufffffffffffffffffffff…huf… huffffffffffffffffffffff.

I kept my head out of the water for a few minutes in hopes of regaining my composure. Suddenly I was straining to keep my head above the water. I looked down and saw there was almost no air in my vest. I did some sort of frantic doggie paddle back to the boat ladder, flopped onto the first step and waved at one of the staff members. He came over and I told him I needed a new vest because this one had lost all the air. He looked at me quizzically and said, ” Try eet again sweetie and if no air stay in, you come riiight back to da boat for a new one.” For cryin’ out loud, just give me a new one. I sat on the ladder, thought about putting my face in the water which made me hyperventilate and I was able to blow up the vest in no time. I slipped back in the water, bobbed around a bit, and sure enough, the air came out again. Back to the boat I went, flopped on to the ladder again and this time padded my way up to the deck.

“I need a new vest.” I said to him.

“Oh sweet tinnnng, ” he said, “Take dat off before dee others start right laughin’, dee strap is all caught up bad on dah back end.”

I knew exactly what he meant. I was standing on a stage-like surface above the water, dripping like a near drowned rat, and had a wedgie the size of Texas because of the life vest strap between my legs. Grrrrreat.

I was equipped with a new vest in seconds and was back in the water. I knew I could do this, I just needed to relax. And I guess I had to let go of the rope holding the boat in place. I wondered then if I could just hold onto the boat itself… become like a barnacle maybe, and stick to the side of it.

I calmed my breathing, and put my face back in the water. Nice big and slow breaths. Thaaaat’s it. I’m okaaaaaayyyyyy. Huffffffffffffffffffff….. hufffffffffffffffffff… huffffffff… Got it. Yep, got it under control. Nature has a funny way of picking on the vulnerable because it was like one of the turtles knew I was uneasy and came right over to me. Our eyes met… I panicked… huffffff…huff…huff… hufff.. hufff… huf..huf..huf.. what did this thing want?  I may as well been staring into the face of a great white shark because my heart was thudding against my ribs and I was sure this turtle could feel the vibrations of it. He/she (whatever it was) paused and just stared at me, blinked its big eyes a couple of times really slowly, before swimming off.

oh. my. gawwwwd. (my boyfriend took this picture because as I said above, I was too busy trying to stay alive and couldn’t stay afloat, breathe, and take pictures all at the same time.)

Everything was under control. I was okay, and I’d be okay if all the water creatures just stayed away. I had joined some of the other people from the tour but it was too crowded and twice I’d gotten kicked from the excitement of people seeing these turtles. Or maybe it was me doing the kicking in trying to get the heck away from these turtles, I’m not sure. I’d managed to float off to an area not far from the rest of the group, spread my arms in a dead-man float and just bobbed on the surface, looking down at the wonders swimming around beneath me, hoping and praying that none of them came near.

I have to say that once I regained composure, it was incredibly peaceful. My mask was like a thick paned window revealing the underwater wonders beneath me. In some ways it felt magical as I began to see things I’d never seen before. I saw a school of sleek, silver and yellow tiny fish swim by, a bigger purple one glide by ever so beautifully, followed by a trio of orange fish that zig-zagged around in perfect formation – all of them paying no attention to me… as if I were invisible and secretly watching them. Talk about neat. This was almost surreal once I stopped panicking and enjoyed it. The motion of the water was very soothing. Suddenly, I saw something familiar to me… it was one of the tour staff … he’d come into my mask’s view of underwater things… he was swimming around underwater, no snorkel, no floatie, no flailing arms in panic. He was way down there looking at something in the sand, then he sat down on the bottom of the ocean and motioned to a turtle which came right over like it was a golden retriever coming to its owner, then the guy rubbed the turtle under its chin and then along its back, it slowly swam away and then I watched the guy stay there and pluck a star fish from the ocean floor. I watched him in silence, completely amazed. I was mesmerized… as if he were now some sort of rare fish or as if this was some sort of underwater circus just for me.  I was wide-eyed and remained completely still as if I were staring at a “mer-man” that no one else could see and no one would believe. He spotted me and brought the star fish over to show me.  That was cool. The last time I saw a starfish was in a tacky souvenir shop in Florida. It’s nicer when they are alive.  I gave him a thumbs up and he went off to show someone else before returning it to where he found it.

Within minutes I had three turtles come and swim beside me, obviously disappointed that I wasn’t the person holding the sack of bait. Maybe they were disappointed, but I sure wasn’t. I felt relaxed and enjoyed every second of their presence.

whoaaaaaa big fella…

Wowwwww…cooooool

Suddenly it was time to leave and I, the girl who didn’t want to get IN the water, was now refusing to get OUT of the water. I’d found my peace with mother nature’s finned and not-so-finned water creatures. Snorkeling with sea turtles in Barbados is amazing, even more so if you aren’t flailing around in panic and crying out to a higher power begging for the ocean not to take your life.

So on that note, I think I’ll hit the pool and get practicing my snorkelling skills… there aren’t any sea turtles in my pool, just the odd dead bee or two. I’ll tackle my fear of flying buzzing things another day.

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