Swimming with Sea Turtles

“I think I’m going steady with the manicurist,” I announce to my sister Simone.  My left side is wedged up against her right side as we sit on a crowded tram that is transporting tourists from the cruise line to a swimming with sea turtle excursion.  In one week, we beached and shopped the Cayman Islands, cave tubed in Belize, and toured ruins in Mexico.

“You move fast.  Who is he?”

“No, no, a she.”

I give Simone a side glance as her straw hat shakes “no.”

“Roberta. That’s her name.  We have an unspoken love.”

“Did this new relationship transpire during your manipedi at the spa yesterday?”

“Manipedi and a 25 minute back massage.  She didn’t need words.  Roberta spoke with her hands,” I raise my hands in front of me for extra emphasis.

“You’re an idiot.”

I share with Simone how Roberta parted my long hair to the side to access my neck and shoulders.  She lubricated her hands with mango lotion and her moist fingers caressed my shoulders and neck announcing the start of the massage.  Her touch moved me so much that I dropped my head, nearly banging it on the counter where my hands hid under the heat lamp to dry my nails.  Roberta’s knuckles kneaded me and then the tips of her fingers slid down my back, teasing my bra’s hook. I caught my breath, thinking she had expertly unhinged me.  Under my shirt I could feel her hands mold, rub, squeeze and press my deltoids, biceps, and spine.

When Roberta placed my hair on my back again.  I wanted to pull her into an embrace and invite her to the U.S. for impromptu back massages.

“No one has ever touched me the way Roberta has touched me.  Seriously.  She was well tipped.”

“I hope you two are very happy together,” Simone yanks her hat off, waving it in front of her face, “What’s with the Caribbean and no air conditioning.”

The cruise was a bachelorette celebration for Simone’s pending marriage to Ryan, a podiatrist with a four year old boy from a previous marriage.  I have two years on Simone and while she is planning a wedding, I have no prospects accept for a one night stand from six months ago and of course, Roberta’s memorable massage.

“Are you thinking about loving the ladies,” Simone asks, “Switching teams?”

I sigh, “No.  But I get the appeal.  I just might start going for massages regularly.  Less mental anguish than dating and it feels good,” I adjust my swim suit cover up, a blue and white tie die material with spaghetti straps, “How many sea turtles will there be?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do they swim up close to you?  Will they rub up against me?”

“Maybe you’ll like it.  Maybe bestiality is your thing,” Simone laughs out loud, her freckles are like sprinkled cinnamon and her guffaw is the same as when she was seven-years old.

“Can’t we just sit on a beach and skip the swimming with turtles?”

“We’re swimming with the damn turtles!”

“That guy I slept with, you know, a few months back.”

“You are not still obsessing over that.  Laurette, you are entitled to pleasure in your life.  Just chalk up the mistake as some fun.”

I had two real boyfriends back in my twenties, but my career and week long trips for work as an IT consultant never advanced the relationships into anything.  My thirties had been a decade of online dating that felt like a second job sifting through marriage contenders.  And the one night stand was hardly pleasurable.

“That guy asked me if I liked dolphins.”

The tram stops and the bus driver announces we have arrived at Sunshine Catamaran. The other tourists clamor like lemmings carrying beach towel stuffed tote bags.  We wait as the crowd shuffles single file out of the tram.

“A guy asks you a lame question like that and you are still pining for him,” Simone rises from her seat and plops her sunhat back on her head.

“He said dolphins are one of the few mammals who have sex for fun, not just for mating.  He thought all girls liked dolphins.  They get dolphin tattoos and necklaces and porcelain figurines.  I told him I had no opinion about dolphins.”

“You know, marriage, it’s not necessarily the golden ticket in life.”

I follow Simone off the tram, “Why are you saying that,” I ask, “Is everything good with you and Ryan?”

We shield our eyes from the sun with our over-sized sunglasses, lagging behind the sea turtle brigade.

Simone grabs my arms and looks at me intently, “Every day I am making compromises, deciding which battle is worth fighting for, trying to love some other mother’s boy.  Life is life, and you just hope you find someone who loves you despite it all.  Maybe your life is just fine as it is.”

We transfer from the tram to the catamaran and Captain welcomes us.  His hair is a mass of dreadlocks and his bare feet tap around the boat pulling in line, pouring rum punch and assigning snorkeling equipment to the passengers.

Simone and I slurp down two plastic cups of rum punch, our hair whips in the trade winds, tangled, salty and wavy.  Our bodies slowly turn brown like a rotisserie chicken and the punch makes us ponder the idea of never leaving Barbados.  Captain shares with his passengers that his colleague Dillon never showed up for work.

“He en sleep’n late.  Lots o good, good musek gine mek yuh dance all night.  Like o nest of snakes.”

Captain’s teeth are bright white against his perfect black skin and he talks about the sea turtles and how they live as long as humans. Around the age of twenty-three, female sea turtles travel the Caribbean as far as Venezuela to mate.  They return to where they were born to nest.  I envision these animals cruising from Aruba to Curacao back to St. Kitts.

“What happens to the 36 year old sea turtles?  Is there some island of misfit sea turtles they move to,” I say for the group to hear, leaning against Simone who slaps me away.

My tour book explained the demand for turtle meat, eggs, and colorful shells. The sea turtle population was dwindling.  Many breeding populations were becoming extinct and entire species were being wiped out.  Scientists speculated that sea turtles would become oddities found only in aquariums and natural history museums.

We sail by pastel chattel houses, limestone caverns, sandy shores and coconut palms.  Captain pulls off his t-shirt, revealing washboard abs.  He arms himself with a bucket of silver fish that flip flop to get out.  Captain dives into the water and calls everyone on the boat to join him.  Bodies of many shapes and sizes fall into the ocean, dog paddling toward Captain as he lures the sea turtles to the group.

I tread on the sidelines watching the bobbing people screech and laugh as the turtles saddle up to their sides, turtle heads popping out of the water to nibble on Captain’s silver fish.

Suddenly, a sweeping platter size shell brushes by me.  A head pokes out of the water and studies me.  The turtle looks a little piqued, perhaps tired from zipping around the Caribbean to mate. A second later she sinks back under the turquoise water, skimming past my thighs as if to coax me to join her underwater.  I wonder if the turtle knows she is endanger of extinction? Can she feel it in the tides, the turtles she passes mauled by boats, tangled in fishing nets or beaching themselves to die of pneumonia?  Despite its 500 pound size, its gums and wide flippers I pull off my life preserver, letting it drift away in the current and I dive underwater, following the turtle as it bobs and weaves.  I reach to pet her shell, smooth and glistening in the sunlit water.  Maybe someday the turtle will find its mate, drag its heavy body onto the beach, nest its eggs and hope that a high tide won’t steal her family.  Maybe the turtle will live to be eighty with many more sea adventures with or without a family.

The pressure of the 10 foot deep ocean makes me dizzy and I slide my hand on the turtle’s flipper and give it a shake then shoot up to the surface; happy to feel the air rush into my lungs.

4 thoughts on “Swimming with Sea Turtles

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