This is a page from my diary on the day I tried to overcome my fear of the open water while snorkeling almost a decade ago. Copied word for word. Don’t laugh! I am truly exposing myself here :-).
Heads up: Some thoughts may not be clear to a reader because I was writing for myself and I knew what I meant, so here it goes…
March 20, 2007
Location: The Galapagos Islands
After playing and looking at the sea lions, I walked along the shore. I was thanking God for the opportunity to see these things around me. I was grateful. I also had a little quiet time to reflect on recent events in my life.
After reassuring myself that I am a wonderful person :-), I looked up and appreciated the beauty around me. The sand was almost too white that it actually blinds you with the sun’s reflection. Aside from sea lions, I also saw marine iguanas walking on the shore. It was like a miniature dinosaur from ages ago. It makes you think of evolution.
Sea lions sunbathing on the shores of Espanola Island, Galapagos
Then I walked back to where we dropped off our things. I grabbed my snorkeling gear and walked to the water. I told myself I was going to brave it and swim to the rocks which are not very far from the shore. However, I didn’t wear flippers because I thought I could swim better without them if in case I panic. It was a mistake because the rocks on the shore were sharp and it cut the bottom of my feet, so I walked back to my things. I didn’t even get far.
Little did I know that David was watching me. I guess he knew that I was afraid of the water, and he just want to make sure that I was fine. He actually suggested that maybe I should swim to the other set of rocks a little further away from the shore. I thought to myself: ‘you mean to actually swim to those rocks???’ It was quite a swim, but he said I should be able to see more stuff there.
Barry, an older man from our boat (the one with diabetes) was listening to our conversation. He said that if I agree, he would hold my hand until we get to the rocks. He said he would go up there with me. I guess both of them felt bad for me the previous day that I held on to the boat the whole time. I was really convincing myself to brave it. I know how to swim. I have goggles on. I have flippers on…worse thing, if I panic, I just swim back to the shore…how hard is that?…so I finally braved it (this was a HUGE deal). I knew I had to stay really calm.
I swam to the black rocks behind me. It was a big deal!
Barry told me that I am going to see different things underneath, and I should just calm down. Sure enough, here comes a fish (yes, one fish), and I grabbed his hand tight!! He gave me a signal underwater that it was ok, and I need to calm down. I could hear my own breathing through the tube…I kept telling myself ‘relax…relax…keep breathing…keep swimming…’ Next thing I knew…I saw a whole school of fish, and we were near the rocks! I made it! I was so happy. I took pictures of the fish. There were thousands of them! Tiny little fishies. When you swim towards them, they clear the way.
Picture from a film waterproof camera back in the day
I popped my head on top of the water, and I took my goggles off and my breathing tube to tell Barry I was enjoying it….and then I suddenly remembered and realized I could not touch the bottom of the ocean. I am out in the open water….I started flapping my arms and Barry was trying to grab them…I swam away from him because I wanted to put my goggles back on. My tube was full of water. I couldn’t breathe through it. I didn’t know I was supposed to blow that out. I accidentally swallowed some water. I heard Barry say ’what the hell?’…again, I had to get my composure. I signaled to Barry that I need to head back to the shore. He swam close to me.
On our way back to the shore, when we were almost there, I suddenly felt something cold under my belly…like something was moving there, so I looked down and I saw at least 20 sting rays swimming underneath me. I could hear my heart pounding, but from watching National Geographic, I knew some animals can sense fear or hear very well underwater. I knew they could sense my heart pounding. They all had long tails. They all had at least 2 to 3 feet wingspan. They were big. I kept remembering the story of the croc guy who got stabbed in the heart with a tail of stingray…oh my…my mind kept switching from ‘Enjoy the moment. You are swimming with stingrays’ to ‘survival mode’.
By instinct, Barry and I just both stopped swimming to let them pass, but as David said later, they were curious animals, so they just kept swimming around us. When I finally felt that there were not going to move away, I signaled to Barry that I was going to swim to shore. I let out all my competitive swimming experience and swam away as if my life depended on it.
When Barry and I finally got to the shore, I gave him a hug for being there to help me overcome fear. We both talked about the school of fish and the rays that we saw. We were both excited. I would never forget him. I was grateful for his kindness.
Update: I am happy to say that I have snorkeled (braver) in many other places such as Hawaii, Philippines and the Great Barrier Reef since then. I’ve even done an open water triathlon. Sometimes I still wear a life jacket if the waters are not calm 🙂