the Love of Turtles
© Copyright 2020 by Desiree Kendrick
Send help. A James Bond rescue works for me. Whirring helicopter blades descending from the azure sky will do the trick, but if 007 is otherwise engaged, a herd of Navy Seals off the coast of Curaçao will suffice. Thank you to the depths of the sea and back.
Darkness suffocates. The air is stale, my fear fresh. Rumbling voices bubble around me. There’s good reason I didn’t check out the submarine ride at West Edmonton Mall. Submerged underwater in a compact tin-can isn’t my idea of a good time. I can barely handle the rides at Disneyland. How in the hell did I get here?
If I close my eyes, fifty shades of blue ebb in and out of my subconscious. Turquoise waves glisten under the fireball sun and a celestial sky canopy. There’s a laissez-faire rhythm to the Caribbean, even the birds glide like they haven’t a care in the world. Our family woke early. We wolfed down breakfast in the dining room of the monstrosity they call a cruise ship. I glugged back my orange juice and swiped my napkin across my lips. Day four, here we come, ready or not!
Beach bag bumps against my hip, sandals loosened by one additional notch and sunglasses perch on my nose. I lead us to the deck where we disembark for the day.
“Look at that sunshine,” says my husband Brett, shielding his eyes. “We should’ve just gone to the beach.”
I hip-check his rosy-hued body and shoot him a glare. “Don’t complain. This is a popular excursion. It’s a good thing I booked before we left home.”
The tour description promised an Atlantis paradise, an opportunity to view sea-turtles and exotic fish in their natural habitat. Neptune’s wonderland awaits us. Exciting, right? No snorkelling or scuba gear required. We’ll be relaxing on a boat, sailing along, the wind tossing our hair like a shampoo commercial. Our guide providing the narration will point out the octopus lounging in his garden along the reef. An excursion so vivid I’ll be craving seafood by lunch.
“We got up so early,” my teenage son whines. His droopy eyelids and apathetic slouch are a consequence from yesterday’s day in the sun, or a symptom of teenager-sleeping-sickness.
“Perk up, how often do you get to socialize with turtles?” I point to the woman holding a sign, and navigate our way through the throng of passengers.
We paid good money for this tour. It’s a family activity, one that even I can join. Did I mention I don’t swim? I never mastered the artistry of a star-fish float or the backstroke. The truth is, I’m afraid of the water. I’m the Titanic passenger who would’ve let Leo drown before sharing my make-shift raft. But, I’m on holiday, and will put my trust in a seasoned sailor. Captain, Mon captain.
“Did everyone put on sunscreen?” I ask, as the tour operator leads us to a shuttle bus.
Passing the lotion bottle to my twenty-year-old daughter, I ignore the bemoaned groans of the guys.
The blast of the air conditioned bus cools our skin. Beach bag tucked between my knees, I settle in for the ride. The bus chugs along through heavy vegetation lined streets. The frothy fronds wave and bow as we near our destination. Car horns play a game of Morse-code, short-long-short. My son shuts his eyes, his head bobbing with every swerve.
I turn to Brett. “You charged the camera, right?”
He squeezes my knee. His wicked grin suggests my enthusiasm amuses him. I admit I’m giddy.
“The buffet served fermented fruit this morning,” I joke.
We’re about thirty or so tourists. From my comfy bus seat, I gaze at the skinny tall dwellings. Pastel houses line the streets; ice cream shades that make me drool. Dreamy. Curaçao is a miniature painting of Amsterdam. Canals and bridges. Architecture that mimics doll houses and cobblestone paths are postcard perfect.
The bus halts. Swoosh! The doors open and we’re on the move again. Our tour guide, in her linen uniform and white deck shoes leads us through the lobby of a posh hotel. She looks relaxed and fresh in this heat. Gold radiates from every angle. I look up and catch my reflection in the mirrored ceiling. My hair’s frizzy from the humidity. Golden tan looks good against my matching tank top and skort.
Mouths gaping, we stroll past the indoor water feature, the cascading sound plays a classical tune - tranquility. A sharp turn to the left, past the super-sized potted ferns and the hibiscus, and we’re outside again. Hotel guests recline under striped umbrellas, nibbling on their gourmet breakfast. A lady, perched on her lounge chair, raises a champagne flute, sipping her mimosa. It’s as though we’ve sauntered onto the set of a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous episode. The sand is white. Pristine. Our tourist troop looks out of place among the uniformed waiters flitting between tables.
It’s possible this resort belongs on the top ten places to hide out while recuperating from cosmetic surgery. Pampered care and discreet service offered with no eye contact. A hint of salt in the air ignites a craving for a refreshing margarita. I lick my lips.
“Is that the boat?” My daughter’s flip flops keep pace with me, her sundress wafting in the ocean breeze.
“Must be,” I reply.
The vessel is a stark contrast to the ritzy beach resort we’ve wandered past. Wind, rain and frequent usage reveal its worn hull. Even the limp flag suggests the vessel is tired. I grab my husband’s hand, looking for reassurance. He’s the avid sailor among us. He did his celestial navigation course a decade or more earlier, but he’s hoisted sails and moored sailboats both in the Gulf Islands and the Caribbean. He’s been my Captain once or twice so his endorsement goes a long way. Except he’s wearing his sunglasses, I can’t see his eyes. His sunburnt face remains motionless.
One step, two steps and into the boat we go. I grip the edge, swaying as I follow others further into the open deck. I place the tote bag in my lap, maximizing room for us to squeeze around the perimeter of the boat. One by one, the tour operators seat us.
The man at the helm, in his white t-shirt, calls out. “In a few moments we go below. Two people per bench seat, keep moving forward to the front. You’ll find it cozy. You go in first, you exit last. Once everyone is below deck we’ll motor further out.” He beckons with his hands. “Keep moving, keep moving.”
Staring at my sandals, I’m so confused. Where’s the glass bottom? How are we supposed to gaze at the ocean floor?
“Today you will see marine life in abundance. Fish, coral, seaweed and turtles.”
I grin and elbow my son. “Turtles,” I whisper, containing my excitement. Waves slosh and the sound is soothing as well as concerning. I pray my bladder won’t scream bathroom break before the two hour excursion is over.
“Our diver will bring items close to the glass,” the Captain says, raising his voice. “Are we ready?” His ear to ear smile reveals white teeth.
The boat rocks and I lean into Brett.
He shakes his head at me. “Oh, for the love of turtles,” he mumbles, returning my loving nudge. “It seems rather rocky for so close to the shore.”
One of the few things I know about sailing is the preamble; be above deck if you experience sea sickness. Below deck is rougher.
A narrow stairway descends. One body to the next disappears into the boat belly. As tourists move in couples, stepping over benches to fill up the seats nearer the front, we clutch the walls. The narrow boat rocks like a cradle. Glass walls are dark, cave-like. I squint, seeing nothing but an opaque water dungeon. My pulse accelerates. Ceiling is low. Panic swallows me. Claustrophobia is the party crasher. I spot the white paper bags within reach of every seat.
OMG. Heaven help us if anyone needs the barf bag. Brett and I follow the kids, sinking into the wooden bench behind them.
I feel knotted to Brett in the slim boat, two by two like Noah’s passengers. Anyone at the front would need to climb over all the other bodies to escape. Save me. Slosh! The ocean floor tests our endurance. This is not what I signed up for. Had I missed the small print? A sickly disposition makes my palms clammy as blood drains from my face. The thrill of adventure distilled by our cramped sardine quarters.
Oh, for the love of turtles!
I close my eyes briefly and blow air threw my lips. We tip again, and I sink my fingernails into Brett’s arm. Glancing at him reveals his startled expression. Anxiety swells.
“Where’s the Gravol?” Brett growls.
I search the bag. If the experienced sailor is worried about sickness we’re doomed. Six thousand leagues under the sea danger, I’m thinking.
“Hold out your hand,” I bark at the kids, and place a capsule in their palms. We each take a swig of the water bottle. I make a silent prayer to St. Anthony. Find us calm waters.
Focus, focus on the murky sea. Sand unsettles as the boat turns. I blow puffs of breath, lips dry. Throat constricted. As we get further from the shore the ocean floor comes to life. Blackness dissolves. Swirls of colour explode. Green and yellow merge with silver and red. Striped fish frolic, weaving past the kelp. My eyes widen.
Our guide points out the brain coral, which, surprise-surprise, looks like a brain. Gross. Seaweed dances. I relax. My son’s head bobs forward. The Gravol is working its magic. I blink repeatedly amazed by the variety of marine life. A man in a scuba suit presses against the glass side of the boat and a school of fish dart around his head. It’s like watching a frenetic Peter Gabriel music video, an in-your-face spectacle.
My son leans his head against the glass and I can’t tell if he’s sound asleep or fascinated by the up-close-and-personal marine show.
“Look, look!” My daughter taps her window view, and we strain our necks.
Against a backdrop of seaweed, flailing about like rockstar fans eager to touch greatness and among the coral, sand and plethora of colourful fish, one lone turtle paddles in the water. He moves gracefully, inching closer to the glass. My camera won’t capture his poise or his attitude. It’s as though he knows he’s on parade, swimming past us with all the sass and class of a runway model. Exquisite. His crooked grin suggests he’s laughing at his audience.
Minutes later, the cabin door opens and fresh air drifts below. We turn, a hint of sunlight streams below, offering us escape. I wipe my palms on my thighs and my breathing slows.
“That was something else,” I murmur.
Brett gestures for me to go first and I follow the group up the stairs to the open deck.
“Considering how much we were moving, I thought for sure we’d be throwing up,” he says.
“I had no idea we were going below deck for this tour.”
Brett smirks at my confession. “No kidding.”
As the sailboat docks, we take turns disembarking in single file.
I stumble when my feet touch land. “Anyone interested in tomorrow’s excursion?” I ask, steering my sleepy teen towards the shuttle bus.
“Did you see that fish with the pointy snout?” babbles my daughter.
Brett grabs the tote bag from me and I take longer strides to keep up.
He grasps my hand, pulling me along. “Did you see the turtle?”
brush off his teasing. For me, it was a lifetime experience. You will
never get me below deck, in the depths of the dark ocean floor, ever
again. Knock on wood, but not a boat.