When I go on vacation, I like to find a beach chair, porch swing, or hammock as soon as possible. Basically, my first priority is to be prone. When I take vacations with my daring friend Stecks though, a compromise must be made.
Stecks was one of my roommates in college and is still one of my best friends in the whole world (there are four of them, in case you’re wondering.) One summer we were vacationing with another roommate and all-around-awesome-lady M’O (name chosen because I think she will become Michelle Obama when we grow up) in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
M’O and I have a running joke that Stecks (who is half White and half Black) lets her White side out to play only on vacation. Under normal circumstances (and in the contiguous US), she is careful, weary, skeptical and dubious when it comes to unknown environs. When it’s time for fun in the sun though, she wants to take all kinds of chances and aches for adventure.
Well, vacation is for everyone’s enjoyment, so we make an arrangement: We’ll allow for one large ‘activity’ in exchange for days reading on the balcony, reading by the pool, drinking margaritas, and laying on the beach. For this trip, we settled on snorkeling. We’d take a boat out to some great spot and frolic with the creatures of the sea.
When activity day arrived, a van picked us up from our resort and escorted us through the tiny streets of the city. The road from our lush hotel shot steeply downward, and we entered the city center as if coming from on-high. We were dropped off at a deserted crosswalk, the driver having pointed vaguely in the direction we were supposed to go. The three of us shot worried looks at each other. Echoes of parental warnings ran through my head. Each of us had folks at home who were terrified at us being in Mexico, and this seemed like just the place they’d been worried about. A lone truck meandered by, and the men inside gave us curious glances.
M’O: “Nobody’s going to kidnap us; we’re Black.”
Me: “I was thinking the same thing. For once, skin the color of poverty may help us.”
Stecks: “Um?” Our fair skinned companion pouted.
M’O: “Just stay close. Our stereotypes will protect you!”
We walked toward what looked like civilization, early morning dust kicking up around us. Finally we made it to the harbor where we were to meet our boat. On the dock, we saw a restaurant called “Señor Frogs” that boasted about their “infamous party scene.” We all eyed the Señor’s drink specials keenly:
Stecks: “Maybe we can stop by after? They have some cute souvenirs, I think.”
We knew, however, that the “infamous party scene” montage usually came just before the “where did those girls go” scene in the Lifetime movie. Of course, this movie has never starred Black girls, but Lifetime movie-inspiring events are not really the kind field you want to pioneer.
Yeah. We’d better pass.
At last, we heard the blaring horn of the boat we’d been looking for, already at port. We rushed on, and were welcomed by a gregarious crew. We sailed for over an hour to get to the cove we’d be snorkeling in, and were raring to go once we’d arrived. We listened closely to all instructions, and walked downstairs to the sea-level portion of the boat to put on our giant flippers, life jackets and snorkels (Errant tip: Don’t say snorkel to yourself too often. It’s one of those words that loses meaning with repetition.).
Now, given what I know about myself, I should have known this was a doomed trip. But it was a group outing, and I’d wanted to be amenable to the group. Alas poor Dara…
Allow me to present the inevitable issues as they arose that day:
1) Snorkels feel like death
Putting on a snorkel allows you to breath with your mouth in the water, but only just. You don’t get the amount of air you’re used to. I have asthma. Breathing through a snorkel feels like the beginning of every asthma attack I’ve ever had. Asthma attacks make you panicky, and the great wide deep of the ocean is the last place you want to panic, especially when:
2) I can’t swim
I can swim. I can beat my dad in a race across my Godfather’s pool. I can swim well enough that I wouldn’t die if thrown in the ocean. Or so I thought. In freezing cold water with raucous waves, I was in a sputtering tizzy. No one can swim when they’re in the middle of an anxiety attack. Between the (miles?) deep water waiting for me, the wheezy snorkel, and the violent surf, I was in a full flap. I was killing myself just to stay upright and safe, but I was failing miserably because:
3) Life jackets are a lie from The Devil and The Man and anyone else who wants to keep us down
Life jackets. You can’t get them wrong. You strap one on, and it keeps you from dying in the murky deep. Right?
Absolutely not right. As false as any “FALSE” e’er uttered by Dwight Schrute.
There is a fundamental point about life jackets that can make or break your water experience, depending on your knowledge of it. It is this: Life jackets will keep you afloat ONLY if you’re on your belly (Or your back I suppose. You have to be prone, either way). If you try to stay bolt upright (with wild, bulging, darting eyes, just for argument’s sake), the life jacket will repeatedly throw you into the water like a drinking bird on meth. It was not until Stecks points this fact out to me that I could relax and stop struggling. After all, prone is the position I’m most comfortable in. Except that then I was met with visions of:
There are fish in the ocean. Of course there are fish in the ocean. The whole point of snorkeling is to see the fish in the ocean. Until you get to the ocean and there are so many fish in the god damned ocean and how could someone be afraid of fish yet here you are afraid that the very fish you’ve been tasked with admiring will (please God no) touch you. BLEGHHH.
5) We were hella far from land
We’d docked at a spot that was several hundred meters (several thousand? I have ZERO number sense. Let’s just say it was far.) away from the shore we were poised to explore. Stecks was doing her damndest to calm me down: I was swimming toward the shoreline, and we were nose to nose; her swimming backward and offering soothing encouragements. In retrospect, this trick was swimming backward and showing the hell off but IT’S OK BECAUSE I LOVE HER LIKE MY FAMILY (but I see you girl). By the time I’d been soothed enough to even take a look around, I realized that the boat was very VERY far away from us, but so too was the shoreline. We’d come this far, so I was determined to make it to the beach. I smacked the thought that I’d only have to come out all this way again to get back to the boat to the back of my head. Enough worrying for that minute.
6) Pelicans are not just a shitty basketball team name
When we finally reached the beach, I thought the worst part of this new plight was the jagged rocks and chips of grit that made it near impossible to recover from our harrowing trip comfortably. What I hadn’t counted on though, were the pelicans. Right now, what you are thinking of as a pelican is not what we encountered, I promise. You’re thinking a white thing with dumb eyes and an orange beak who says “Mine” and will perhaps leading you to P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney (no, of course I didn’t have to look that up. That address is sitting in my head where something smart should live). No. Absolutamente no.
On this little Isle, instead of white and pristine, these birds were brownish-gray and wrathful.
That my fear was compounded by their mangy looking color is definitely somehow racist, but I’m a product of my environment and I’m working on it. From afar. And not all that much.
The Mexican Brown Pelican has an average wingspan of about 7 feet. Imagine: a bird that’s waving around two deadly Dikembe Mutombo’s. Two fingers wagging at you with an unspoken warning: Do not underestimate my sharp and gigantic beak. I could thwap you over the head with one of my Dikembe’s and have you for a snack before you could open your mouth to scream. Imagine laying, gasping, and exhausted, shards of evil digging into your skin, only to see the sky mottled with an onslaught of these beasts. Each of which is carrying a pair of unfathomably tall basketball-men on either side of their torsos. Jeezy-Petes.
I take it back. “The Pelicans” is not a shitty basketball team name. It is a ferocious and badass and terrifying name and please don’t come here to find me please. Thank you.
7) From the side eyes of babes
When it was finally time to swim back to the boat, I was silent. I pressed my mouth tight, trying to look calm. Still, Stecks was guiding me back like I was a little scared guppie. As I flapped and flailed through the water, I chanced a look to the right to identify some motion I’d noticed. What I saw then was perhaps my greatest humiliation: A sweet little Black family splashing blithely by. Included was a mama and a daddy and a little girl no more than three years old. She wore a tiny lifejacket, two arm floaties and a look of confused disdain that was directed specifically at me. The look said (loudly) “Girl. Girl? Girl. The hell is wrong with you?”
I got cussed out by a baby.
When we finally reached the boat, I lost the flippers, mask and jacket and quickly readjusted to life on solid ground. Earth Wind & Fire and the Bee Gees traded turns on the radio, and my two girls and I danced all the way back.
Finally, something I knew how to do.