A Caribbean Escapeby
|There are many
wonderful places to escape to in our great state of Texas, but today I would like
to invite you to escape with me to the Caribbean. Just choose your favorite island
and get on board Imagination Express. Be sure to bring sunscreen and a hat.|
are mirrored on the surface of the Caribbean Sea as a rosy sky prepares for the
sun's rising. The waves leave all vestiges of night behind as they applaud the
coming brilliance. The sun needs no further encouragement and pulls free of the
horizon. It has business to do; a world to light and heat, plants to grow. The
sea shrugs its shoulders nonchalantly and slowly changes back to cool turquoise.
gulls, white and gray winged beggars, dart about in playful groups yelling, hey,
look at this, look at this, in gull language. They keep mindful of me, remembering
tourists-past who've rewarded their aerobatics with crackers and stale donuts.
Okay, okay, I say, tossing pieces of my almond Danish in the air. Any
of you guys ever think of trying out for the Dodgers? I ask, as they catch bites
in mid air. Hovering above me, they screech their disappointment when my hands
My bare feet make clear imprints on pristine, newly washed
sand. Tiny, nearly transparent crabs dart this way and that, searching for places
to hide. Some will take refuge in the seashells scattered about or beneath the
nylon beach bag I put down.
I pause to watch a squadron of brown pelicans
flying in low formation over the water before I pull the swim fins from my bag
and fit them over my feet. With mask and snorkel in hand I clumsily flop my feet
forward into a sea so clear it makes me think of Perrier water. As I fit my purple
rimmed mask over my eyes I catch sight of my granddaughter, Kendra. She is awake
and begging her mother to let her go with me. Waves wash over my feet while I
wait as her mother inflates water flugles and fits them over her arms and secures
a life vest around her chest. As her mother and Aunt Christy settle into lawn
chairs with morning coffee and Danish, Kendra and I, brave explorers we, set off
on an adventure.
Floating with our faces in water on this gentle leeward
side of the island, breathing through a rubber tube, we notice a flounder ruffling
about as it seeks camouflage on the ocean floor. Sand settles, rendering the odd
little fish virtually invisible. Then Kendra points to a Brittle Starfish resting
on the first bit of coral we approach. She remembers what I told her about not
touching the coral because it could damage it and could also sting her, so she
swims around, not over it. There is a wall of silver ahead. Thousands (millions?)
of minnow sized fish swim together as one. For safety, I suppose but probably
will never know. Maybe they just don't like to swim alone. How do they keep from
running into each other I wonder?
We move our legs the tiniest bit and
the swim fins undulate softly as we ease nearer the silver wall. We cannot we
touch them no matter how stealthy our approach. They move out of our way in organized
precision, creating round tunnels for us and we swim through the silver wall touching
only water. Looking back the tunnel closes as if by magic.
Is this what
our lives are like, I wonder? We think we are cutting a swath through the world,
making changes for good, tearing down walls of evil, shining lights where once
there was darkness and ignorance. If we could turn and look behind us, would we
see that the world looks as if we were never there?
We encounter a school
of parrotfish. They are nibbling bits of coral with their little beaks, changing
coral into the sand on which we walk. We ease in beside the bluish/purplish fish,
careful not to make ripples. They are not afraid and allow us to swim along side.
Later we will laugh and tell people how we "went to school" with fish.
A barracuda hovers in the shadow of a coral overhang. He is only about a foot
long, but already looks fearsome. He bears a strong resemblance to the submarine
in Jules Verne's, 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea. We keep a respectful
Away from the reef, we see four baby squid suspended in mid
water. They float as one, shoulder to shoulder, facing out to sea like tiny little
soldiers resplendent in matching uniforms. Did their mother tell them to go outside
and play? Did she tell them wait here until she returns?
A green and white
sea turtle swims along minding his business and we admire him for awhile. I can
see why their skin is prized for boots; it is very beautiful. But no, I don't
think I will buy any, thanks just the same. But, maybe I will have just a taste
of turtle soup at dinner. My honor evidently has limits.
The sun is overhead
now and not as kind as earlier in the day. We can feel its heat through our T-shirts.
We learned long ago not to float about with bare backs exposed. Kendra touches
my arm and directs my attention seaward toward something large and black.
my head I remove my mouthpiece and tell Kendra she should start back toward the
beach. I wave to Kerri who is reading while keeping an eye and ear tuned to her
daughter's movements. She waves back, and with a flip of swim fins Kendra heads
I must get a closer look. Is this a critter or a piece of
debris? With curiosity almost overriding my fear I swim closer, never losing sight
of the object except when it glides beneath the surface of the water. Wow, it
is manta ray, oblivious to my presence as it moves gracefully through the water.
I have never been this close to a sea creature this large. I once played with
Stingrays near Grand Cayman but they were only three or four feet from tip to
tip. This beautiful, black swimmer must be at least nine feet wide. I have been
told mantas are harmless, gentle creatures. I would love to get closer, perhaps
swim along with it. Did I mention this thing is really big, as in the width of
my kitchen? I decide to err on the side of caution and head to shore.
Kendra is all excited, wanting to know what the "black thing" was. Just as I finish
sharing what little I know about mantas and stingrays, the men of the family are
back from their early morning fishing excursion. They must clean their catch and
they tell the women to stay out of the kitchen until lunch is ready (Ok, so maybe
I'm fantasizing a little here and there with this story.)
Soon we are
sitting in the shade of a sea grape tree eating grilled seafood, fried breadfruit,
avocados, coconut bread and mangoes.
After the men clean up the kitchen,
there is time for resting, reading or napping. Later we walk about the island,
stopping to explore whatever catches our interest, picking up shells, and talking
to the natives. Near sunset we find a thatched roofed restaurant and order lobster;
which we eat sitting at picnic tables with our bare feet scrunched down in warm
powdery sand as the brilliant colors of sunset turn the air around us orange.
We stay until the moon has risen, and its silvery light dances on gentle waves
that rush onto the beach, fall back into the sea and then tirelessly rush forward
again and again...forever.
When we return to our condo, friends from the
neighboring condos have gathered outside and invite us to join them. We sit around
talking and laughing as a guitar is passed around for solos and sing alongs. My
grandson, the drummer, has found two sticks that make a just right sound and he
is keeping rhythm to the music. We sing every island song we can remember at least
As sleep begins to overtake us we reluctantly say goodnight and
tiredly make our way to bed to fall asleep with no effort. To dream, per chance
to dream...of manta rays that carry on interesting conversations and invite grandmothers
and granddaughters to ride on their backs for miles and miles and who introduce
us to dolphins who gossip and giggle and make fun of timid people who are afraid
of manta rays.