One hot and steamy Sunday morning, my friend and I decided to rent a two-person sea kayak and venture out to the island that sits off the coast of Samara Beach. It is deserted, uninhabitable, and from the perspective of the shore, it looks remote, craggy and somehow very inviting. We visited the friendly beachfront surf school, C & C Surfing, to pick up our kayak and guide, an intelligent and engaging young Tican named Fabrizio. He is a hard-core surfer and snow boarder, fluent in English as well as his native tongue, Spanish, and is now learning German so he can interact more effectively with European tourists who come to the surf school. Quick to laugh, a smile that covers his entire face and could light up a dark room, he was the perfect person to accompany us to the island.
The sea was relatively calm and we paddled out, trying our best to get in sync with one another. Once past the first round of waves, it was easy, just a steady rhythm of push, dip and pull. The sun sat fat and high in the blue sky over our heads, and all around us were the sounds of water, birds flapping and diving for food, the subtle chatter of swimmers and children playing in the water. Fabrizio was in one kayak about 30 feet away and my friend, Pascal, and I worked in tandem to reach the island where we planned to snorkel.
It took about 40 minutes to get into the radius of the island. As we approached, I could make out the shoreline, jagged in places with large rocks and crashing waves and craterous peaks that loomed up and over the water. Scraggly trees clung to the cliffs and dozens of brown pelicans swooped and dove in the surf, gorging themselves on small fish. We landed, dragged our boats on shore and got on our masks and fins. The current is strong on the island and I had to push-off hard to avoid being dragged back into the sand and pushed down. We had to kick off hard to get to quieter water and begin the exploration for fish.
I love the feeling of being underwater, the way the water muffles or obliterates all other sounds. It’s a different world, one of greens and strange, fractured light, bouancy and the peaceful sound of your own breath filling your ears. There is nothing else that feels so insular, where your body feels so alien yet so familiar. Pascal and I floated along the reef-line, looking at under-water rocks and coral. Fabrizio was obviously at home in the water and on the island. He told me he grew up swimming and fishing here, helping his dad collect small blue fish to sell to aquarium dealers. Now it is illegal and people can only look, not catch. He slipped about in the waves, diving 12 feet deep to scare up some fish. I watched from above as he swam down into the rocks, sticking his hands into crevices and poking at things. All of a sudden he had something bright yellow in his hands. He rose to the surface and out popped a round ball, a puffer fish. It was golden, inflated in fear of us, and sat like a ripe cantaloupe in his hands. Its sweet face looked surprised, small lips pursed to look as if it wanted a kiss, its eyes set wide apart on its head, and its tiny little fins flapped back and forth in a frantic attempt to fly away. What an amazing creature. We all cracked a smile looking at this strange fish, who was now struggling to return to the depths of the sea and locate a better hiding spot. It floated lazily down again.
Schools of small silver fish swam around me. I saw several more puffers, some of the electric blue fish once caught for tanks, and Fabrizio pointed out a moray eel. We swam like this for almost an hour, fueled by the beauty of the ocean and the quest to see more creatures. The water was like glass and the sun shone into it creating a blue-green mirror reflecting the light. My breathing echoed in my ears and the only language needed was our hands as we pointed to things we saw and smiled beneath our masks.
After snorkeling we returned to the shore. My arms and legs were tired but the sand was warm and welcoming. Fabrizio had brought a huge watermelon which tasted perfect after the swim. We sat, ate and watched the pelicans who continued to feed and the sand crabs who struggled to drag away pieces of our discarded fruit. It felt perfect and I was happy to have seen so many incredible things, things I would not have discovered on my own.
The beach of Samara looked far away but we needed to return. We pushed our boats into the crashing waves and worked to clear them and begin the long paddle home. For me, the allure of the island was better motivation to help me move my kayak though the water, but the tour was over and my Spanish textbooks were waiting. We pushed our way back a bit more slowly, tired and content. As we pulled into the beach surf, we navigated wrong and our kayak flipped, depositing Pascal and I into the warm, shallow water. The ocean was done with us for that day. It had shown us some of its secrets but needed to remind us of our proper place. One wave and off we went, face first into the sand. Laughing and delighted to be once again on the shore, we drug the kayaks home, thanked our incredible guide and began the slow walk toward the school, a million new images floated in my mind.