The banca boat tugs against its anchor thrust deep into the sand as the waves push it to and fro. The surf is grey, cloudy, and matches the foreboding sky. One of the guides begins to motion people forward. The water laps against my feet and I am surprised by how warm it is. The water is pushing the sand out from under my sandals and I begin to slip. I step forward and the water laps against my calves. I am holding my skirt above my knees, but another step forward and I sink up to my waist. I let go of my skirt and it swirls around hips. The waves are pushing me back toward shore, but I make a desperate grab for the ship’s ladder. I pull myself up, water dripping off my now sodden skirt. I sit next to Kelly and she beams at me.
The boat rocks back and forth as the outrigger booms dip under the ocean before popping buoyantly back up. Once everyone is aboard, the captain and deckhands begin a complicated dance to reverse the boat from shore, untangle it from other boat’s mooring anchors and set off.
The choppy water breaks with white frothy peaks as the boat plunges forward into each new swell. Ocean spray covers us in a fine mist. By the time we arrive at the first island, I am thoroughly damp and chilled. I strip down to my bathing suit and follow Kelly down the small ladder. At the bottom step, I reach my foot down, but we’re anchored too deep to touch sand.
I bob under the surface for a moment, before breaking the surface and brushing salt water out of my eyes. It feels so much warmer in the ocean where the wind can’t cut through fabric. Kelly is waiting for me on the beach. After scrambling ungracefully to shore, we walk down the length of the beach, away from the rest of the life-jacketed tour group.
Snorkel mask on and I dip my face below the surface. I fight the instinct that I’ll drown and take my first breath underwater. Below the surface, the water is a deep blue, but otherwise looks calm. Fish dart through coral reefs. I immerse myself in this underwater world as the ocean breaks over my head. I can feel my body float up and down with the water swells.
We surface and realize it’s time to go. Back on the boat, I towel off and wrap the damp towel around my shoulders as protection from the wind. The storm is beginning to pass. The sun breaks up the clouds to reveal blue sky.
The next snorkelling location is much more swallow. The fish and corals are mere inches from my mask. Here the bright turquoise water throws the black sea urchins into sharp relief against the white coral.
I feel a zap on my hand followed shortly by another. I swim back to shore. There I see small, red hives already forming near my thumb. The plankton bites combined with the up close and personal coral leaves me feeling claustrophobic. I take off my mask, lean back in the water, and float weightlessly on my back.
The sky is now a brilliant blue with a few scattered clouds. The sun is shining brightly, reflecting off the soft ripples of the ocean. Limestone karsts jut up from the sea in every direction. From this vantage, all I can see are dramatic cliffs and blue, blue, blue. I can’t tell where my body stops and the ocean begins. The salt water holds me up and I relax into it.
I close my eyes. I am floating in a tropical sea, thousands of miles away from home, surrounded by incredibly beautiful jagged mountains. A year ago, I never could have imagined I would be here in this moment. There are no requirements of me. I do not have to answer to anyone. There is only this moment. There is only this ocean. There is only this sky.
I have lost my feelings of trepidation from earlier. For the next stop, the boat drops anchor in the middle of a sea far from any beaches. I jump eagerly into the water. The snorkelling here is perfect. The water is clear unlike the stormy water from this morning, and the coral is submerged enough to do a few free dives. I find a parrotfish and follow its path. It darts between coral and around sea urchins.
I think I could do this forever.