If you couldn’t swim, like literally you had never been in water before, would you go snorkelling with sharks in the sea off the coast of a strange country? That’s not rhetorical. I’d like your opinions please. Anyway, I went to Belize, specifically the island of Caye Caulker, and I went snorkelling with sharks with a chubby Brazilian who couldn’t swim.
It was Tuesday afternoon, 2pm. The sun was shining bright in the sky. There were five of us. A Canadian guy and his girlfriend, a Brazilian guy and his girlfriend, and me and my right hand. There was also our guide/lifeguard — let’s call him Rocky — who asked which of us were strong swimmers. Canadian Guy raised his hand, then Canadian Girl, then I raised mine halfway assuming that “strong” meant “ability to not die if pushed out of the boat”, which I was fairly confident I would be successful at, then Brazilian Girl raised her hand. Brazilian Guy looked sheepishly at his feet.
Rocky helped Brazilian Guy into a life jacket and said, “We’ll be in the water for about 45 minutes. The rest of you will be okay, yes? You are strong swimmers?”
I looked at Canadian Girl. Canadian Girl looked at Brazilian Girl. Brazilian Girl looked at Canadian Guy. Canadian Guy looked at me. I looked at Brazilian Girl. Brazilian Girl looked at Canadian Girl. This went on a while. Then Brazilian Girl looked at Rocky and said, “I think I might wear a life jacket too.” Rocky helped Brazilian Girl into a life jacket, then Canadian Girl said she wanted a life jacket too. I looked at Canadian Guy with a raised eyebrow. He looked at me. I said, “45 minutes does seem like a long time. I might wear a life jacket too.” Canadian Guy concurred.
So all of us wore flippers, snorkels, and life jackets, and we flopped into the water like drunk penguins on a night out. The water was warm. Three weeks ago, I was enduring -10C temperatures in New York, so swimming in water so warm it felt like I’d pissed myself felt oh so good.
After ten minutes swimming away from the boat, we reached the turquoise coral waters. Under the surface, I felt all my worries fall away as we saw lots of beautiful fish: red fish, blue fish, yellow fish, jellyfish — ahhh, jellyfish! Swim! Swim! FASTER! DON’T LET IT TOUCH YOU!
Actually, there were no jellyfish. Plain and simple, it was incredibly relaxing. I’d forgotten how good it felt to be in water. Rocky evidently didn’t want us to be too relaxed though, because next he asked us if we wanted to go swim with sharks. Treading water near the boat, we all looked at each other, and then at him in expressions we hoped said, “are you nuts?” But he just laughed and manned the motor. I wrapped a towel around myself and lay out on the front of the boat, shivering. Foam from the waves flicked up and into our faces and wind whipped past our cheeks. We were about to go swimming with sharks.
I was picturing myself 20 feet down, swimming alongside great whites, looking at teeth big enough to crush my head like a sponge cake. That wasn’t exactly the case, but the nurse sharks we were swimming with were still between 8 to 12 feet. As Rocky dumped a bucket of dead fish over the side, the sharks swarmed towards the boat. We slipped into the water on the other side (no life jackets this time!) and swam around, warily staying a few feet away from the sharks, which themselves were very slow moving, almost lethargic. We stayed beneath the surface, treading water, looking around through our goggles, breathing carefully with the snorkel, admiring how smooth and sleek the sharks’ skin looked. When they opened their mouth to snatch a fish, we could see their thousands of serrated teeth.
I looked over at the Brazilian guy. He looked like he was enjoying himself too. I think he was pleased with the decision he’d made to come here, to snorkel with these sharks, to see this, the second largest coral reef in the world, even though he couldn’t swim. Good for him.