I bit hard on the mouthpiece. I chomped my teeth up and down on the plastic nodules on each side. It’s been years since I snorkeled. How hard could it be – it’s like riding a bike, right? I thought back to the last time I snorkeled, in Hawaii, maybe six years ago? Most important thing, don’t inhale water. I remembered that, the burning sensation of salt water in your lungs. Not something I wanted to repeat.
I plunged my face underwater and started swimming. I hadn’t swum far when I saw the first fish. I floated, still, my eyes scanning the area. The lone fish darted in and out of the coral and among the short sea grasses. I watched it carefully and in my stillness noticed more. Tiny, eel-like fish, nibbling on unseen treats. Fan coral, gracefully waving with the movement of the water. Sand colored fish, camouflaged against the sea floor. I slowly swam on. The next hour or so was a balance between swimming to new locations and peaceful observations. Noticing the big flashy fish first, then seeing everything else dwarfed by its existence. Circling a non-descript rock to discover the backside hollowed out, hosting dozens of spindly, prickly sea urchins. Drifting along, trying desperately to see further ahead, then glancing down, shocked to find myself above a school of dozens of velvety black fish, each with a shocking neon blue streak on its back. And then, as I navigated my way across the channel where boats enter the bay, struggling not to get caught in the rope, noticing a sea turtle just feet below me. In awe, I watched as it flapped its feet, gracefully advancing across the sea floor. I held my breath, not wanting to draw any attention to myself. Another turtle swam under the first and nudged it playfully on its underside. The first one swam upwards, closer, closer, and closer until I wondered if I should be afraid. Do sea turtles bite? Was this a turtle of the snapping variety? I gently propelled myself backward, out of the turtle’s path. It came to the top of the water, took a breath, then dove downward, oblivious to me.