Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Just as I was about to give up and swim back to shore, I saw it.  Camouflaged against the bottom of the ocean was a small sea turtle.  Judging by the size and having no prior knowledge whatsoever about sea turtles, I would venture to say it was an adolescent.  I wondered how many I may have swum over without even noticing.  If they aren't moving, they really do blend in with the ocean floor.  I was on a mission that day, though.  I would snorkel at the beach at Akumal until I saw a sea turtle.  No matter how many times my mask leaked or I accidentally swallowed some salt water.  I would see sea turtles, determination alone would make it so.

I gasped in surprise at the first sighting.  My eyes widened with delight and I started to smile but salt water seeped in through the sides of my mouth piece causing me to sputter like an old car engine.  How challenging to see a sea turtle up close and personal and try to keep a poker face.  Instead, my eyes stayed wide open and eyebrows raised in a botox-like fashion, in excited anticipation of what the turtle would do in it's salty habitat.  Not a whole heck of a lot, it turns out, but captivating nonetheless.  I was tempted to lift my head above the water and yell to the other snorklers, Tortugas aqui! (Turtles here!)."   I refrained, though, as there was a sentimental part of me that wanted to hold onto this moment of solitude, floating in the water, watching a sea turtle, uninterrupted by other masks and fins, for as long as I could.  What sweet and peaceful animals they are undulating through the water, rising with one current up to the surface for a breath of air, then flowing on another current back down to the bottom, a little piece of sea grass dangling out of the side of it's mouth.  They make it look effortless, like an autumn leaf fluttering to the ground.  If only I could look so graceful in my bright orange life vest and blue snorkel mask plastered to my face.  What must the turtles think of these goofy looking humans?

I had been in the water for almost two hours at this point.  The first hour I spent snorkeling around the reef checking out different fishes in every color imaginable ranging from bland beige to flourescent neon.  The reef itself is not that spectacular as far as color goes.  Don't get me wrong, it's definitely fun to float around and peek into the nooks and crannies of the coral and observe aquatic life in its watery splendor but if you're going on color alone to please, you may be disappointed.  I wasn't, however.  I love snorkeling.  It's seeing a world we are mostly foreign to.  I find it all fascinating.  Every moment is filled with something new, some brightly colored fish that no neon crayon can replicate, a school of fish darting together from one spot to another.  I tried to figure out who was the leader as I watched one school.  It's not like birds migrating in the V form, there's a distinct and obvious leader to the human eye.  This school of fish I watched though, how do they know where and when to move?  Their narrow electric blue, irridescent purple and black bodies abruptly swimming one way and then another in collective unison.  Synchronized swimmers in a dance they have not learned but know by instinct.  Nature is so damn cool and we miss so much of it if we don't bother to slow down and observe.

Needing to take a break and drink some water, we emerged from the ocean after exploring the reef for a rest.  I was the only one who went back for round two at a different spot along the beach.  The reef was much farther out and I struggled to swim against the current.  I was tired but determined to see a sea turtle.  I was expecting to swim all the way out to the reef but they were all hanging out on the ocean floor, munching on sea grass well before the reef.  I saw one once when snorkeling in Malaysia but it was seemingly in a hurry in the opposite direction and it was more of a fleeting vision.  This time though, I hovered above each turtle I saw and studied them with a profound curiosity that I never had when studying specimens in my 7th grade science class.  If I could set thirst and exhaustion aside, I would have been in the water all day watching these turtles.  Once I saw the first one, it was easier to notice others.  I think I saw five in all, three small (the shell about one foot) and two big (the shell about two, maybe three feet).  I marveled at the patterns on the shells and fins.  Those are the kinds of patterns that perhaps show us what perfection in nature is.  How did a sea turtle's evolution occur such that all the joining shapes on their shells and fins look like they came from a mathematical equation?  

So I got to thinking while I was snorkeling.  Floating around out there in the oceanic blue, it's a microcosm for traveling.  You're putting yourself into a situation where you don't know the outcome (you could get eaten by a barracuda or slapped by a sea turtle....come on, bear with me).  You're swimming out into water and you don't know what wave will knock you down but you do it because it's worth it.  You do it to better yourself, to become a stronger you.  You do it for broadened perspectives, you do it to see things differently, to see a world that exists beyond the kind of comfort zone where you can easily drink water from the tap.  Tasks that were once simple become challenging and perhaps stressful.  The laundry service I use here returned my clean clothes but my muti-purpose yoga/sleeping shorts were missing.  I spent an entire morning in duress debating between just trying to find a new pair to buy here or go back and ask if they had them.  They don't speak English and I speak broken Spanish and I was intimidated.  After a pep talk from my friend, Ashley, I looked online how to say, "Yesterday, when I picked up my laundry, my black shorts weren't in the bag.  Are they here?"  "Ayer, cuando me levanto mis ropas, mis negroes pantalones no estan en la bolsa.  Estan aqui?"  I memorized what to say and repeated it my head while I rode my bike to the laundry place.  I started sweating that nervous kind of sweat as soon as I asked her because it's the first time in Tulum where I've had a problem and had to fix it all while speaking Spanish.  After a bit of troubleshooting and explaining even more what they looked like, the woman understood and I got my shorts back.  Crisis averted, right?  Not like it was this huge crisis, but those shorts provide comfort and agility unparalleled to the three other shorts I own here.  I can't sleep or practice yoga in jean shorts now, can I?  I was proud of myself though, a small little victory for me.  I successfully communicated something I needed in Spanish.

Let me bring you back to my analogy though.  It's rewarding, fulfilling and incredibly lonely all at the same time.  But you learn to adapt, you learn to let go of everything that once made sense, and you recreate the puzzle in a different pattern.  And you see beautiful, stunning things that you wouldn't ever otherwise see, calm and anceint sea turtles sure don't exist in upstate NY, neither does an ocean for that matter.  And no matter how nervous you are about something like how to say a new phrase in a foreign language or how intimidated a situation makes you, you take these tiny steps and realize you are capable.  It's never easy to leave your bubble of comfort, but it is incredibly and undeniably worth it.  Snorkeling around and seeing those primordial creatures swaying in the currents, that trumps all the hours I've spent second guessing my decision to come here or all the hours I've spent in a lonely, homesick stupor.  I take my observation of the sea turtles as a lesson in finding comfort where you are.  Taking pride in little mini triumphs you may have in a day.  All the mini stuff amounts to something.  When you seek something because of sheer determination, you will be successful.  The outcome may not be what you intended, but it's an outcome you can take with you and learn from nonetheless.

I have no photos from Akumal so I will show you photos from a weekend trip I took to Valladolid and other fun things!

Climbing Mayan Ruins!
Amazing fountain I stumbled across in Valladolid

Cenote Dos Ojos


Auntie Bekka and Calai (Ashley's baby)
A little coffee....


  1. Great post! Keep 'em coming. xoxox

  2. I am in awe of your journey and your writing is a lot of fun to read! How beautiful!

  3. Love this post, so insightful and proof of the power of perseverance!