Open water both soothes and terrifies me like nothing else. Anyone who knows me well has heard me say that the beach is my happy place. As a lifelong night owl, beaches are the only thing that I will gladly wake up early for. I love nothing more than waking up with the sunrise to roll out to the beach, lay out a towel, and close my eyes while listening to the hypnotic sound of the waves. Once the sun rises higher in the sky, I’ll run into the waves, immersed in the rhythmic rocking and rolling of the tide. The experience is so romantic. You’re kissed by the sun’s rays and caressed by the waves. Who wouldn’t fall in love with that environment?
Despite the fact I nearly drowned in swim class when I was young, I take every opportunity to play in the ocean. I took myself on solo beach dates at least once a week while I lived in Rio. I enjoyed my first open water “swim” in Jamaica last year with the help of a pool noodle.Many of my travels have featured either beach time in places like the Seychelles or Culebra or boat trips in Dubai or Argentina. I made sure to log some pool time during my trip to LA last week since the beach was too cold. Funnily, I never knew how to tread water until I took swim lessons again two years ago. Through those lessons, I learned that my swimming abilities were shaped more by my comfort with water rather than my technical skills.
My boyfriend and I took a trip to Mexico this February for a wedding in Cuernavaca. We decided to take a mini vacation to Puerto Vallarta before going to the wedding. After a bit of research, I learned that there were a couple of stunning beaches south of the city. Yes they were a bit off the beaten path as you had to take a bus or a taxi, then walk down to the town, and catch a boat to the beach. And of course, there was more hiking on the other side. Despite my research, I was still surprised by all the steps required to get to the beach and my boyfriend was less than pleased especially because he wanted to see a soccer game.
I negotiated our boat ride and made sure to include an agreement for the round trip. (Travel pro-tip: always get a return ticket.) One lovely speedboat/dinghy ride later, we made it to the gorgeous beach and found the one and only restaurant there that happened to have the soccer game on. After eating even more tacos and margaritas, we headed down to the beach to wiggle our toes in the sand. We settled into a couple of beach chairs and pulled out our travel reading to enjoy the best of beach life.
It was a truly magical scene, both for the stunning landscape as we were flanked by mountains as well as the investment of time and money it took for us to enjoy that particular view. After our nerdtastic meditative moments, we dove into the crystal clear waters, pulling up stones of different colors and textures. At first we were just competing to see who would bring back the most interesting stones from the deepest points. But eventually, we decided we should create our own spin on Japanese rock sculpture and turn it into a photography challenge between the two of us. Not exactly the most traditional beach activities, but it works for us.
We had the loveliest beach day. And then came the boat ride to return back to the mainland to return home. All day, the waves gently rolled in. As we tried to get into the boat, these large swells started to roll in. Where we hopped from the boat directly to the beach when we arrived, this time we had to carefully lower ourselves from the dock as the boat bobbed up and down. And then we began the journey back. The sky switched from a honey-colored glow to a stone colored chill. The light summer breeze changed to severe wind gusts.
My boyfriend and I looked at each other and we both had the same thought: Are we going to capsize? And we weren’t being paranoid. The boat wasn’t really riding the waves so much as being batted about by them. On a few occasions the motor cut off, apparently swamped by the waves. I’ve nearly drowned as an adult when I got caught in a riptide in Rio. But that boat ride was the first time I was really concerned about ending up in the open ocean struggling to stay afloat.
Luckily, the boat ride ended uneventfully despite the stomach plummeting ride back to shore. It’s one of the memories we can laugh about now because the terror is over. In many ways, it’s the only reaction I can have if I want to enjoy being near water. I have more adventures in mind. One of the many items on my fear conquering list is learning how to scuba dive especially so that I can swim with whale sharks. That said, I’ve never really tested those new skills but I came close to a trial by fire this year.
I’m writing an unedited personal essay everyday of November for #NaNonFicWriMo, the non-fiction spin on #NaNoWriMo. You can find daily prompts on my Instagram. Want to join in? The only rules are at least 750 words about the daily prompt and tag #NaNonFicWriMo to share.