12 April 2010

Go away, fishy fishy fishy

I should probably apologize for not blogging since, well, I don't even know when. But I hate excuses, so I'm not sorry.

We recently went on a cruise to Progresso and Cozumel, Mexico. I hope you enjoy this short story:

The ship pulled into the harbor at 8 am, and there was no mistaking that this was going to be the most terrifying day of my life so far. The water was clear, like the water in a swimming pool with a bright blue floor at the bottom. My mother and sister were grinning, excited to feel the water around their legs. I put on my swimsuit as slowly as possible, and then to make up for it I threw on my shorts and tank top without bothering to really make sure that they matched. Whatever. I was going to take them off anyway.

On the pier I tried to stall by taking pictures of the other cruise ships, which were, in a word, ginormous. There were people everywhere, fat farmer-tanned tourists posing in skimpy swimsuits and being in general an embarrassment to American society. We walked quickly, following my determined mother through the duty-free shops to the taxi line-up. After a ten minute, ten dollar ride, we were at Chankanaab Park, a resort-style national park made of a beach and the water. Walking through the slightly damp, warmish air, we found the dolphin enclosure and watched for a few minutes as tourists were led through an amusing series of hand motions and sound-makings that make the dolphins jump and nicker.

After we rented snorkeling gear, we dropped our clothes on a trio of wooden beach chairs and walked the ten feet to the wall. The beach was made of beautiful white sand and didn't blend softly into the water like normal beaches. No, here it was bluntly stopped by a solid wall of grayish black stones, and the only safe way into the water was to climb down the metal stairs placed intermittently along the beach.

There weren't too many people in the water yet. It was, after all, still only 10 am. My mother and sister jumped in the water and were about ten feet out before stopping to look at me. My grip on the handrail tightened when I saw a tiny striped fish stroll past my ankle. Taking another step down those stairs was definitely not an option. My lungs were small and tight and another fish showed up, and the two little buggers just sat there, talking or something, while I tried to remind myself that fish are friends, and I am not their food.

All of a sudden a kid barreled past me and launched himself into the water, practically killing me in the process. I decided that having a heart attack and then drowning was not an exciting enough death for me, so I forgot where I was and dove.

The water was cold at first, and I squealed when it hit my stomach, but with the snorkel tube in my mouth, the sound reverberated off of nothing important or cool. I kept my head above the water like a preschooler doing the doggy paddle and with a couple of kicks I was treading water next to my little sister, who grinned at me. We swam out a little more, and they were busy sticking their heads under water while I looked at the clouds. My sister came up from a dive and cocked her head at me.

"You're going to have to look under the water," she said. Oh, really? Who says? I closed my eyes and was going to put my head under like that, but the memory of that little kid on the stairs flashed in my mind and I knew it was ridiculous, but there was no way a little kid was going to best me. I held a deep breath -- silly since I had the snorkel in my mouth -- and dropped my face into the water.

We weren't above any coral, but 25 feet or so below us, on the ocean floor, was a baby forest of sea plants. They looked like the dead bushes that "good" neighbors complain about after a month of having no time to do any gardening. I didn't see any fish. I didn't feel anything brush my leg. Nevertheless, the first thing I did when I lifted my face after two seconds was scream.

Ok, so the scream was more of a low squeal, and it was through the snorkel, so really it sounded like a scream sounds when you're dreaming about screaming, but you're really not. It was muffled and sounded even more ridiculous than it really was. My sister laughed at me. A few minutes later, I tried it again, this time forcing myself to be silent and brave. The barracuda almost convinced me to get out of the water, but when I turned away a school of gray fish was weaving its way toward me.

I reached out and poked my sister in the stomach; she turned towards me, saw the fish, and screamed. Then, of course, we both started laughing. They were largeish gray fish (maybe bluestriped grunt fish, but we don't know) who, I promise you, looked like they knew that we didn't want them near us.

My sister screamed again, and I screamed, and then we both laughed. The fish were swimming right past our faces, now, and no matter where we swam, they followed us. We tried kicking at them, but they just floated lazily out of reach before coming right back up to us. What followed was the perfect sisterly bonding experience: five minutes of screams followed by hysterical laughter. Laughing with a snorkel mask on is not, I repeat, not, easy.

After two hours, two barracudas, one trumpet fish, a gazillion gray creepy fish, a stingray and a jellyfish, my mom let us get out of the water. On the way out we found all the cute colorful fish, and that wasn't nearly as creepy as everything else.

An hour later they made me get back in the water again. It took two more hours, a water snake, and a bunch of jellyfish to get them out again.

Moral of the story? Go snorkeling in Cozumel, it's awesome.

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