I rode in a small motorized boat, trying to take in everything that surrounded me. Occasionally an old man rowed by in a tiny wooden canoe big enough for only himself. We slowed each time we passed one of these men so they would not get caught in our waves. Water lilies grew everywhere – along the edge of the river and all around us. Other plants grew too, plants I did not recognize. We turned down a tiny side river that can only be accessed by boat if it had rained.

Cano Island in Costa Rica by ThembekaOn both sides, beautiful, huge mangrove trees lined the boat. I reached out and touched them – their numerous roots growing up and out of the water, maybe three feet before joining together to form the trunk. Other trees down that little river took me back to the bayou in Louisiana, although I’m certain they were not the same kind.

When I broke out from the mouth of the river, I saw ocean for miles and miles ahead of me. Beaches with crashing waves stood a good distance to the left and right of the boat. The water changed from a deep olive green to an aqua to a blue that was deeper and bluer than the sky it collided with in the distance. As I continued, the beaches drifted away behind me and hardly any land could be seen. Porpoises danced around the boat while others fished nearby, the birds above flew in a circular motion to capture prey within their constantly moving wheel. I looked for whales, as they come down to this place in Costa Rica to give birth, but unluckily, I did not spot any.

I saw Cano Island in the distance and slowed to a stop. Looking completely ridiculous in my snorkeling gear, I waddled to the back of the boat and clumsily splashed into the water and started poking around to find whatever the ocean might allow me to that afternoon.

Having only snorkeled once before while in the British Virgin Islands, and enjoyed a terrifically painful jellyfish sting along the back of my knee nearly four minutes into the experience, I was pleasantly surprised at the life swimming below, in front, and all around me. Everywhere I looked, I saw vibrant colors: blues, yellows, greens, purples, and when I focused intently on the bottom of the ocean depths below I could make out the not-so-colorful life blending in with the movement on the floor. Everything shimmied and shook. Everything. There was a special grace unknown to humans. The colors stayed together in packs. Blue and yellow stripes existed here while black and white spots stayed over there, all swimming by me unperturbed by my looming presence. I did not scare them. I liked that.

I glanced down below me and froze, reaching out to grab my boyfriend’s hand. He had already seen what I spotted. A shark that was probably four to five feet long was swimming directly under our very white, very bright bodies. Neither of us moved for fear of attracting its attention. We were told that sharks near the island were not dangerous, but my instincts did not care about what we were told. I make it my tendency to not mess with Mother Nature too much as She does not have to be kind to the likes of me. The shark swam beneath my frozen form, and if it recognized my presence, it did not think to pay attention. For that, I am grateful. Harmless or not, I am certain I would have lost control of all bodily functions had that shark as much as glanced in my direction.

The highlight of the trip came as we made our way closer in to shore. A friend of mine called me over for an exhilarating and simply beautiful swim with a sea turtle that was far bigger than my head. It swam back and forth before me, up and down, in and out. Through amazed eyes I stared. And I smiled.

Cano Island in Costa Rica by ThembekaAfter our friend, the sea turtle, swam away, I allowed myself to drift in on the waves and the tide, soaking up my last bits of ocean life, until I eventually landed in the sand where rest and relaxation and the sad end to my snorkeling extravaganza was inescapable.

I cannot bring myself to complain about the nasty sunburn on my back after such a splendid adventure in the sea. Instead I took it as a reminder that I can’t really escape my human-ness, no matter what I’m swimming around and I couldn’t help but remember my magical swim with the turtle and other sea life at Cano Island.

Written and photographed by Thembeka

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