Maroma Beach, Quintana Roo, Mexico – On a sunny day, the Caribbean would beckon. Visibility would be good to a hundred feet or more. The Palancar Reef, one of the world’s premier diving and snorkeling areas, is a short boat drive away. But today it’s pouring – tropical rain. Drenching rain. Thunder in the distance. Lightning strikes visible on the beach to the north. Rain pours through the thatched roof of the palapa.
“Okay, time to go,” says the captain. “Everybody with a purple wrist band follow me.” He leaves the palapa, wades through the running water, and heads for the boat. “And please take off your shoes before you get in the boat, okay?” More thunder.
We huddle below deck in a cramped, humid compartment not quite big enough for all of us. But we’re all in there. The captain sticks his head in. “We’re taking off now.”
At the dive location, we gather topside for “instructions” from the captain. “First, has anyone not snorkeled before?” Several people, amazingly, raise their hand. “This is a snorkel.” The captain is holding up one for everyone to see. The rest of the instructions take maybe twenty seconds. “Okay, who here cannot swim?” Again, amazingly, a couple of people raise their hands. “Okay, I’ll have a life ring with me in the water,” the captain says. “You two hold onto the ring. Okay, is everybody ready?” We begin jumping into the dark murky water.
Within minutes we’re strung out a hundred meters across the ocean and, because of the strong current, we’re also swimming for our lives. The captain dives down to show us a lobster. The closest snorkeler to him kicks his fins, creating a sand storm. Visibility: zero. More swimming for our lives. The current gets stronger. It’s wise to keep up with the captain, whose bright yellow flippers are about the only visible thing underwater. The two people who can’t swim are holding onto the life ring.
We swim (furiously) back to the dive boat. “Okay, let’s go to a second location.” The captain looks at me for reassurance that his idea is a good one. I nod toward a sister dive boat behind us, driving rain making her appear like a ghost ship in distress. She’s barely visible. Diesel fumes and smoke swamp our view as we pull away.
At the second location, more currents, more extreme swimming (forget snorkeling). Nobody cares about the fish or the lobster or the reef. Crackling thunder splits our ears as we surface momentarily. Again, we’re strung out across open water. The captain is yelling at the laggards. It’s time to reboard.
Xcaret, Quintana Roo, Mexico – May 31, 2012
…We snorkeled early, but the sea was rough and the water chilly. We walked back to the beach and read under the palapa and had mango margaritas.
Later that afternoon, a young boy shimmied up a nearby palm tree and snagged some bright yellow unripe coconuts. He excitedly showed them to his mom and another lady in the beach chairs near us. I noticed the Russian letters on their beach bag. We tried to converse with them. I took a couple of pictures of the young boy and his mom and said I would send them the photos if they could give me their address. What ensued was hilarious as we tried to communicate; they knew not a word of English, we knew no Russian. Cherie had one of the ladies speak Russian into her iPhone, but the translation was impossible and we all laughed together at our hopeless communication skills.
The boy wrote his name in a back page of my journal as he sat on the end of my beach chair. I asked if he knew English and he firmly shook his head. No! His mother and her friend talked excitedly to one another. Email! That began another furious writing attempt by the boy. For some reason and thinking it would help, the ladies were asking (in Russian) what our room number was at the hotel. Finally the father showed up. He spoke no English either. The ladies had earlier told us they knew some French. He took the journal and wrote his email address, but not before fussing at his wife for apparently being in the sun too long without enough sunblock.
Later that evening in front of the outdoor theatre, the young boy ran to where Cherie and I were sitting. He stood in front of us and smiled. Then he waved. He didn’t say anything. But he didn’t have to. We understood. It was a wave from Russia – with love.