As a nervous swimmer, I wasn’t entirely sure that I was not going to drown, but it didn’t matter. I quickly determined that donning a pair of flippers and hopping into a cove with dolphins was worth the risk. You could have upped the ante on that one and I probably (okay, let’s be honest, definitely!) would have made the same choice.
You see, I’m a pretty responsible person. I got my first job at sixteen, working at ShopKo in the lawn and garden department and then transferring to jewelry when the season ended. I went to college at seventeen, study abroad in the Dominican Republic at eighteen, and then married at nineteen. I had my first middle school classroom by the time I was twenty-one, owned a house at twenty-two, and started my first master’s degree at twenty-three. Needless to say, I’ve never been one to shy away from the responsible choice.
Unless, it comes to animals.
Dangle the possibility of touching an animal, or better yet hanging out/playing with almost anything in the fauna world and the possibility of poor choices rises dramatically. (Okay, in my book, there are a good number of creepy-crawlies that don’t earn the label of “animal” and are absolutely not a part of this equation. No spiders. No snakes [although snakes HAVE unwillingly happened].)
Most of the time, my animal encounters are in safe and organized arenas, but they don’t have to be. If I can get close to it, I will. When we were in Perth a few years ago, we went to Rottnest Island, home of the absolutely adorable quokka. These crazy little creatures are just wild around the island and when we stopped to hole up in the shadow of a bush after a brutal bike ride, we found friends who also were using the same shrub-shade. Knowing that I was famished from the heat, I figured these guys were as well, so I shared my water bottle with them. Yes, I let the marsupials drink from the same bottle I was using. I am sure there are no diseases or possibly problems with a bit of a saliva swap. We’re all friends here!
A couple of weeks ago when we took a little trip out of Caracas to Curacao, animals were the top of my to-do list. (Animals, followed closely by cheese shopping. Luckily, both boxes were checked.)
I’d done a bit of online research before (basically avoiding working on things I should be doing) and found a small aquarium in Willemstad. The aquarium itself didn’t seem like much to write home about (and in proved not to be in person), but their handful of flamingos and a few random fish tanks were not the main draw. Instead, it was DOLPHINS! (As cool as fish can be, mammals always win out over fishes.) The aquarium website offered up a couple of dolphin options, including one where the participants stood on a platform in the water, but that didn’t seem nearly engaged enough for me. Instead, I opted for the one where you don a pair of fins and bail into the cove with the dolphins for an hour of chillaxing.
As a non-proficient swimmer, I was a bit nervous about this choice. I tread water okay in a pool, but that has very finite edges and bottom and I know what is around me. In elementary school, I took years of swim lessons, first at the local city pool and then private lessons when I repeatedly flunked out of the public sector. (Those initial ones were the ones when parents signed me up for the first two weeks of June at the 8AM slot, in Idaho. That is not outdoor pool weather! I blame the early-stage hypothermia for my failures.) When it comes to oceans, I am even less confident in my abilities and am pretty much always convinced something is touching me. (It doesn’t help that when I was getting my SCUBA certification, on the first open water dive, we got caught in a super strong current and even the dive master had a terrible time getting back to shore and had to call the dive off. I was pretty sure I was never going to make it back to the beach and the Tioman Island vista would be the last thing I glimpsed on this earth!)
With survival in question, I grabbed my flippers and headed for the dock. Not even possible drowning was going to keep me away from those dolphins.
Facing death by the sea was worth it for an hour with my new dolphin buddies.
Luckily, my giant flippers were quite proficient at keeping my head above the water. (I was surprised at how terrible a swimmer one could be with the help of flippers. This is key to keep in mind for future oceanic excursions!) I spent the next hour swimming, dancing, having water fights, and just generally hanging out with my new BFFs. The younger of the dolphins was just like a big, slick puppy. It didn’t take more than about one stroke down his side and he’d flip over on his back to get a tummy rub. The first time he did it I was afraid I had broken my dolphin! (You break it, you buy it, right?)
Unfortunately, I did not get to take my dolphin home with me at the end of the day. That would have been the best door prize ever! It doesn’t matter though, because I spent the morning swimming with dolphins in a cove on Curacao. There’s not much there to complain about. Caracas might not always be the easiest gig I’ve ever had, but experiences like this one make it worth the frustrations of not being able to find sandwich bread, my car still being in Miami three months after getting in Venezuela, or trying to figure out how the bolivars that I transferred last week are now worth a fraction of their previous value.
At the end of the day, none of it matters.