…As our sailboat neared the Marietas Islands, schools of jellyfish amended the captain’s chosen snorkeling spots twice. Just as well. While I wouldn’t trade memories of an accidental swim through tiny diaphanous sea jellies a few years ago, I remember with equal clarity the lingering stings along my upper lip.
My solitary week in Nuevo Vallarta had etched some bold new strokes into who I knew myself to be. I had flown through jungle canopy on zip lines, negotiated city buses and explored Puerto Vallarta on foot. I had kayaked in the Pacific Ocean and run miles along the golden crescent shore of Banderas Bay. Talking to strangers had yielded vibrant vignettes of lives far removed from my own, and lively music had set rhythms in my heart that made hope dance in directions my feet longed to follow. And now, I floated toward rocky protrusions called the Marietas Islands.
Other-worldly. Agave and other similarly scrubby brush covered craggy masses punctuated by arches and overlooks. The cliffs seemed a breathing being beneath the constant motion of landing and launching sea birds —most with specially coated feathers for ocean plunges. Frigates, not so biologically well-equipped, added drama by thieving fresh fish from the mouths of successful divers. As we slowly made our way around the largest island to a safer snorkeling spot, I spotted my first blue footed booby bird and then several more of the stumpy birds perched on the boulder tips of outer islands.
The Marietas Islands, popularized by Jacques Cousteau and now protected as a national park area, is volcanic in origin and surrounded by coral. We dropped anchor near a steep beach nestled amongst its cliffs, and a dinghy took us in range of the coral and marine life. Our guide kindly broke the rules and allowed me to remove my life vest to free dive down into fish range. The water was clearer than I had expected; I followed one fish after another until it was time to relax on the postage stamp of a beach. A few of us explored the unspoiled island in our bare feet, ducking under arches to find still more caves and overhangs, wandering a splendid twisting geological maze.
I didn’t want to leave. I wondered how long it would take —climbing
the rocks, feeling sand and sea swirl between my toes and watching fluttering sea birds —before the passage of time would matter again. As the boat slowly backed from the islands, stark yet lovely with their swirled caves and arches, I cradled the moment. I breathed in every sensory bit of it and wondered how it could all be so perfect when there was no one to “nudge” or share it with. It was revelation to me that a tree could fall within its forest and that my ear alone could be enough to hear and mark its sound. And, it was pure freedom to know that bliss could wrap its arms around me, just me. It didn’t have to be a group hug.
We soaked in the music and salt air on our sail back until that group from Appleton, Wisconsin grabbed onto the cables on the side of the boat and began dancing. Before long, someone grabbed my hand, placed it firmly on a cable, and I was dancing too…