July 2014 – St. Maarten
My biggest concern about going to the Caribbean was getting bored. On a list of things I value about vacations, probably two of the last are relaxing and water. As near as I can tell, those are exactly what people go to St. Maarten to enjoy. After a day of lounging by the pool to move to lounging by the beach and back, I was ready to spend some cash in order to get out of the resort and go on an adventure.
We could rent a Mini Cooper and drive around St. Barths! Whoa, for…way too much money. In the end, the tour desk in the resort lobby offered only one affordable package, which is how Lindsay and I found ourselves in Phillipsburg with twenty other people waiting for a boat that would take us snorkeling at three different islands.
As we walked along the dock, our hostess directed us to two different boats. “Oh my word,” I murmured when I caught sight of the second boat’s captain. “Lindsay,” I hissed. “Look.”
“That is the most attractive man I’ve ever seen,” she breathed. Behind us, a woman on her honeymoon leaned in to us and added, “I hope we’re on his boat, huh?”
A group of five party girls strode eagerly toward him, but our hostess directed them to the other boat. At their sounds of dismay, she assured them, “You’ll see Sander again, don’t worry. Family of five, you’re with the girls. Everyone else, you’re with Sander.”
Lindsay and I exchanged grins. Sander, a tan tall man with blond hair falling to his chin, smiled at our approaching group. “Climb on in,” he said.
“His accent,” I whispered.
“Where are you from?” Lindsay asked.
“I’m Dutch,” Sander answered.
“Oh, I. That’s great.” His face and his voice combined were too much for anyone to react to in anything resembling calm.
Sander got us settled into seats and fetched drinks for everyone. He explained what bays we were in and what houses overlooking the water were owned by which celebrities. He grinned as he drove faster over the waves, bouncing us through the green and blue waters. I spent 80% of my mental faculties trying to look at him without looking like I was looking at him.
“He took off his sunglasses!” I groaned at Lindsay.
“Oh my–he has Zac Efron eyes!” she answered after sneaking a glance.
“I can’t handle this.”
“Well, then you definitely won’t handle this. He just took off his shirt.”
We docked in a cove with no beaches. Sander explained that this was our first snorkeling destination. He talked about different kinds of fish we might see, and purple eggs, and probably something else, but I was fixated on the fact that we were in fifteen feet deep water. I’d assumed we would always be wading in from shore, not dropping off the side of a boat.
“I mean, not well. I don’t know if I can do this.”
The rest of the people on our boat were passing around scuba masks and flippers. I took a set and swallowed bile. Some of our fellow passengers jumped off the side, and some eased themselves into the water from the ladder in the back. I saw two women grab pool noodles for floatation devices, but they weren’t snorkeling.
Sander looked at Lindsay and I. “Are you ready?” he asked, smiling with his stupid Dutch teeth.
“Yes,” I said, and took his hand. I let him walk me over the back seats until I was by the water. I climbed in and mimicked Lindsay’s actions as she put on the mask and flippers. She pushed away, and I glanced at Sander. I was not going to stay on the boat like an idiot and make his tan friendly face fall in disappointment. I took in a breath, and meant to push away from the boat. Instead I blurted, “Could I have a noodle!?” Sander tossed me a pink one. Face burning in shame, I took my noodle and slowly followed Lindsay toward the cove.
She showed me how to breath through the mask as I clung to my safety noodle. “Let’s go!” she said. I breathed in my fear and then let it out, putting my face below the water as though it wouldn’t kill me. And then it didn’t. I let myself dead man float and found that the mask actually kept water out of my eyes and lungs. I wasn’t dying–I was snorkeling! I kicked my flippers and found myself swimming, noodle to the side and almost unnecessary.
Once I was confident I wasn’t going to immediately drown, I actually noticed that I was looking underwater. There were fish there, darting into the rocks, shining purple and yellow around the edges. “This is so cool!” I yelled, and inhaled salty water. I came crashing to the surface, clinging once more to the only thing keeping me from drowning, spitting out the breathing tube in horror. Lindsay surfaced beside me. “Um, don’t talk when you’re underwater,” she said. “Here, pour out your tube like this. Got it? Okay, let’s go!”
I did eventually get the hang of things. I gleefully swam through a school of tiny fish and tried to touch them unsuccessfully. We saw a big needlefish swimming near the ocean floor, and urchins dotted the sand and rocks around us. I found myself comfortably twisting in the water, reveling in the grace and confidence that floating enables. We made our way back to the boat when we noticed people packing up. I handed Sander my noodle and pulled off my mask and flippers.
“Let me help you,” he said. “The ladder moves.”
It was rather wiggly, and his strong Dutch arm was reaching out in front of me, so I clasped his hand and pulled myself onto the boat. It was slippery, so naturally I had to hold on to him a little longer than necessary, just to be totally safe.
“How was it?” he asked.
“It was beautiful,” I said, meaning the water, the sealife, and his face.
“Great!” he said, and piloted our boat to our next destination as I grinned into the ocean spray.