To celebrate the last day of our Galápagos excursion, ten class members and I snorkeled at Kicker Rock, located 45 minutes off the coast of San Cristóbal by boat. As we set out on our journey, a number of different stories played out in my head with each story coloring the experience in a different way. I hope I will never forget each one of them.
We boarded the boat on a pier surrounded by sea lions. If we were at a zoo and humans took the place of the fauna, sea lions were little kids stepping over the fence to catch a closer look at the animals in front of them. Throughout the trip I’ve seen sea lions in places I had never thought I would before – on benches, in playgrounds and, as a going away present, inside the restaurant where we ate our farewell dinner. Once on the boat, a number of us climbed our way to the front where we laid out as the sailor cruised us out to our first stop.
While the journey felt nothing short of glamorous to a layman like myself, a different reality played out when we got off the boat at a small beach. The beach was free from plastic, from infrastructure and, besides our brief visit, humans. I was brought back to childhood. Lyrics from Phil Collins’ “Two Worlds” played in my head. Although he was talking about “Tarzan” and life among the apes, he described their world as “a paradise untouched by man.” This little island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean wasn’t all that different.
Later on when we put on our flippers and adjusted our goggles to ensure no water would leak through, a different wave of thoughts swept through my mind. We were in the middle of the ocean, with nothing but a daunting rock standing in front of us. If a tough current came through or I wanted to escape from a shark – I watched way too many shark weeks growing up – the only way out was to cling for dear life to this rock or try to make my way back to the boat; the experience broke me in to say the least.
When it came time to dive in, I was nervous. I had never swam in waters so deep and it felt as if I were dropping into a black hole. Who’s to say I wouldn’t be the next horror story to appear on “Dateline”? Having read Jane Goodall’s “In the Shadow of Man,” however, I was mentally equipped with the tools necessary to swim in shark-infested waters. If Jane could navigate apes and tigers, why couldn’t Kate navigate sharks and sea lions?
It took a while to feel comfortable in the ocean, but I eventually faced my head downward to see what was below. Besides the occasional sea turtle who swam like he had nowhere to be, there was no reason to be startled. When my ears dropped down into the water, the world became silent. You could hear a pin drop if it ever made it to the ocean floor.
As I trod water and made a mental note to thank my parents for swimming lessons as a child, I held tight to the surreal experience that surrounded me. I was brought back once more to a song from childhood by Lee Ann Womack. In “I Hope You Dance,” she sings, “I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,” and despite being in it, I most certainly did. My homework due Monday became a small sea turtle in the larger ocean I found myself in.