Bubbles rise from the bottom of my glass of Prosecco. I stare through the ripples of condensation, at the golden glow of twilight refracted in the droplets as they slowly roll down the slender stem, one by one, until each vanishes into the white tablecloth the glass is sitting on. At the same time, my toes scrunch into the powdery pink sand beneath our table at the edge of the sea; the whole scene lit by two tiki torches...yes quite a contrast from the previous day's adventure, but that's the nature of this sort of travel: an impossible mix of over-fatigue, obstinance and opulence. Where you find yourself doubling down on your last shred of stamina one day only to find yourself in an extraordinary fantasy paradise the next.
Our new best friend Carlos, the local harbor master, arranged our romantic dinner on the spur of the moment at a private club here in Bonaire, he even told them it was our anniversary; this guy is smooth. Of course we folded into the program and played along. Also thanks to Carlos we have a lovely berth in a fully booked Marina. It's Carnival weekend in Bonaire, we've been told it's quite the party. In the mean time we're all marveling at our good fortune, our rest stop has morphed into a fantastic destination.
More bubbles...but these are flowing from scuba regulators, I am snorkeling alone, following the top edge of a reef that plunges down a wall of incredible depth. The amazing part is it's just off the back of the boat; my morning swim. Beneath me I see a group of divers exploring the corals and sponges, the bursts of silvery bubbles they generate cascade upwards in shimmering waves that surround and tickle me. One diver looks up and I wave, he waves back then returns to the purple tube sponge he was examining. I swim on slowly, following along from above, watching the activities of the divers several meters bellow.
There is a persistent sound in the water, at first faint but now growing stronger, I know this sound but at first it doesn't register; a sharp high-pitched squeak, then another. After a few minutes the squeaks grow louder and are now followed by a long low buzz. I hear them very clearly as the sounds build into an extended cacophony of overlapping sound. I realize it's a conversation; the chatter of Dolphins. Suddenly I see them, a tight group of three dolphins passes right in front of me at a distance of ten meters; their long dark grey bodies are almost black in color, they move effortlessly, my excited initial impulse is to swim towards them but they're too fast and too far away so I simply watch as they glide by.
The sound of their communications, their echolocation, fills the water, I not only hear it but I can feel it, it's an energy, it's everywhere. Instinctively I turn around to see there are four more dolphins, they're almost right on top of me, swimming right for me. My mind is instantly filled with a million feelings; surprise, amazement, bewilderment, apprehension, joy...but mostly the sudden raw realization that I am a stranger here, I don't belong, I am living at this moment the physical essence of the term "out of one's depth". These are wild animals, this is their world, there's absolutely nothing I can do but take in the moment, be calm and be with them.
They surround me, they are extremely close, close enough that I could have reached out to touch them, but I was so frozen with amazement all I could muster was a meek wave, yeah I know, kinda silly. But it was like suddenly finding yourself face to face with an A list celebrity- the odds that you will come up with a response even remotely considered cool are like nil.
These guys were clearly curious, inquisitive, but it was cursory, momentary, coupled with an aloofness, an indifference, one of them made direct eye contact, it was as if to ask- "don't you speak?".
The water is crystal clear, I can see every detail of their bodies, even down to the small wrinkles around their eyes. They were large animals, very dark in color, over two meters long with distinctly slender snouts, their bodies had several short, straight patches of scratch marks and scars like white chalk on slate. The closest animal I can identify that matches this description and who would be likely patrolling this area just north of Venezuela is Steno bredanensis, or the Rough-toothed Dolphin.
In our sailing experience we've had numerous visits from groups of Dolphins who enjoy riding the bow wake of the boat, mostly small, playful Common Atlantic Dolphins or the typical Bottlenose, they jump and play and it's always a special treat when they arrive. Growing up in Florida where there are numerous tourist parks with captive Bottlenose Dolphins, I've had a couple of controlled "dolphin experiences" with trained dolphins; these were more along the lines of playing with the neighbor's dog than a true wildlife encounter, and after living the later, I can assure you the two are diametrically apposed.
Soon we will be sailing from Bonaire, what a magical surprise it's been to find ourselves here. We've all had a terrific time brushing up on our diving skills in some of the best scuba-diving the Caribbean has to offer. But after yesterday's incredible experience I will be looking up more during my reef dives using scuba gear, and listening carefully: always. As the divers beneath me saw nothing of those incredible creatures who swam just a few meters above their heads.
As a kid I was taught to stay alert in the wilderness as you never know what may be slithering across the trail in front of you or hiding up in the branches of a nearby tree, we forget that the ocean's are the world's largest wilderness, filled with more creatures than we can identify. My deep respect has been reaffirmed, but with that my sense of wonder as well, and for anyone too fearful to explore all this planet has to offer, my sympathies.
If you enjoyed this article please feel free to share it!