I have been lucky enough to spend weeks living on and in the ocean, from the Caribbean shore to the sands of the Pacific as, on this particular ocean trip, we worked our way through the coastlines of Panama, Belize to Hawaii.
Sometimes the water has been my friend…..
The wildlife off the coast of Caye Caulker
I have dived into it, been enveloped in its warm 28 degree embrace. A tiny island called Caye Caulker off the coast of Belize has water so clear you can see for 20 or 30 metres. The barrier reef here teems with wildlife, from turtles to sharks to massive rays. We sailed out there on a boat, slipping from its deck into the gentle swell that rolled across the sea. I swam with animals who floated past me on currents, so unmoving save a beat of a flipper to direct them. The turtles I danced this slow moving dance with were over 100 years old, old enough to have lived through droughts, floods, famines and countless wars that the human race have decided were necessary in the past century. I swam down to be eye to eye with some of them, to look at them and wonder what secrets they knew, what knowledge they held. You cannot be in the water with these creatures and believe they are anything less than wise sages. One looked me in the eye, assessing me, as though I was being weighed in some Mother-Earthly balance, and I held my breath until he blinked. I felt I had not been found wanting, and the turtle kept pace with me as I continued to explore the reef.
We swam from the dock off our room
I have fallen asleep at night to the lapping of the waves under my room in my seaside hut in Bocas Del Toro, Panama. I have waked in the darkest hours before dawn and been comforted by the familiar sounds that come with the sea, as if the breaking of each small wave washes away fears and anxieties that haunt us in those moments. I have risen and walked hand in hand with Adrian to the shore to swim before breakfast. We dive in, straight off the gnarled wooden dock that stretches away from our room, shaking sleep from our eyes. We float, absorbed by the peacefulness, the stillness of it all, wanting somehow to hang on to these moments forever. Breakfast – fresh fruit, eggs, juice – is taken with the sand on our toes and the water dripping from our hair, with the sea… well, just over there waiting for us to return.
Salty hair, brown berry skin.
We have spent days on a Caribbean Caye so tiny you can walk from one side to the other in 5 minutes (if your dawdling – which lets face it…we are). The water is everywhere here, it invades all of your senses. The smell of the sea in the air, the feel of the salt on your skin. I become my favourite version of myself in a place like this. The version who lives in bare feet with curls wound so tight with a crust of salt from the sea, skin brown as a berry from a life out of doors. This version does not worry about work, the cases I have left, the schools I will be returning too. This version sleeps soundly at night, does not lie awake wishing for the one thing in life I want the most. This version does not pay attention to the dull ache that is carried around every day, it seems quieter here somehow. I have embraced my “inner earth-child” here, and I have never felt more at peace.
Infinitely better though, is the change I have seen in the man that I married. Gone is the heaviness in his shoulders, the tightness in his neck. Gone is the eyes constantly on the look out for threats. Gone is the man who sits on the couch for hours at night, staring at the TV in an attempt to wind down enough to sleep. Gone is the man governed by routine in a desperate, and ultimately failed, attempt to keep his job from invading all areas of his life. Gone is the short temper, the frustrations, the million little stressors that make him so tightly wound at home. In its place…… well, in its place is the man I fell in love with all those years ago. The person who tickles me and laughs and jokes as we walk down the beach. The person who takes me to dinner where we sit and talk for hours. The person who strikes up conversation with random people on the street, at the table next to us, in shops. The person who does not care if he gets to a gym, what time we eat or whether he has a drink (or 4). The stress has melted away and he has rediscovered what life is like when you do not do the job he does every day. I want to bottle this for him, take it home with us and keep it on a shelf so that when his job starts to invade again, I can take it down and show him it does not have to be that way. I want all the people who love him to have a chance to see him relaxed like this. Most of all though, I just want for him to stay this way… I have never seen him happier.
That is what the sea can do, it has the power to release you from yourself, to question whether your priorities are right and whether deep down, you are letting life pass you by in an effort to “get ahead”.
And then sometimes the sea is my foe…..
The clouds were building before the hurricane
We outran a Hurricane from our little island paradise. Somehow an island so small you can cross it in 5 minutes sounds significantly less romantic when there is a hurricane bearing down on you. We had intended to catch a boat across the Caribbean to Mexico, but the authorities closed the ports the night before we were due to leave. We made the rounds of airports trying to get a flight. “We think we’re flying…we’ll have to see about the weather”. We booked tickets on a morning flight with the storm due to hit at midday. All the radio stations were on hurricane alert, tracking the storm as it gathered momentum.
Rain pouring either side of the hammock, Bocas Del Toro
We watched the sea turn from calm and friendly to the frothing, violent beast that can snap boats, sink ships and kill humans – the beings who pride themselves on their “top-of-the-food-chain” status. We lay in hammocks in the afternoon, under a palapa and watched the rain pour down on all 4 sides of us. We were over the ocean, and you still could not see if for the rain. We swam quickly, the waves were choppy and big. There was no blue in the water, only grey and dark, dark shadows. I stood and watched the water change and felt such respect, such awe for this force of water, currents and waves. Our tiny 4 seater plane flew us around the storm, we skirted the black edge and could see the rain just to the right of us as the storm grew. The water below us looked fierce, unforgiving, deadly. So removed from the calmness I had come to love, and maybe trust.
People died in that Hurricane and as I read about the damage I remembered the ocean’s dangerous, menacing air as the storm developed. It felt like the ocean was coming to claim what was hers, maybe as payment for the abuse we humans hurl at her every day.
But as I write this, from a room perched high on a hill, overlooking the Pacific off the coast of Maui I am contemplating an ocean that is still and calm and oh so blue. My breakfast is waiting, with a mug of steaming coffee. I can hear the water calling too, begging us to pay her one more visit before we leave.
Night time walks on the beach
The rays are majestic