So there I was: a brand new bride, married to Mr. Handsome all of three days, honeymooning in the gorgeous Cayman Islands. Crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches…stingrays and underwater wrestling matches…and me, huddled on the ocean floor in the fetal position, my mind screaming, “I will NOT DIE on my honeymoon! I will NOT!”
If you’ve taken a look at My Story, you may have wondered a bit at the mention of some unintentional adventuring. These escapades included wrestling large stingrays on the ocean floor and dining with princesses and criminals, and I’ve had a few requests to share those stories. This week’s writing prompt for Friday Reflections is to tell a funny story, so here it is: my first diving adventure in which the new bride wrestles a stingray!
If you are familiar with the Cayman Islands, you may know that it is a prime scuba diving destination. My groom was a certified diver, and wanted to take advantage of this opportunity. His bride, however, was a claustrophobic, terrified-of-diving, walking sinus infection — NOT a good combination for deep water, high pressure, mask over your face adventuring. Local diving instructors wouldn’t even consider giving me lessons after talking with me for two minutes. Apparently, “LIABILITY” was stamped on my forehead in large, flashing letters.
Being the sacrificial bride I was, I told Mr. Handsome to go diving without me. He could find me right where he left me — safely tucked away and sunning myself in the hammock on the beach. No such doing. Instead, he found a resort diving course that taught the basics in a swimming pool, then took us out on three relatively shallow dives (20 – 50 feet). Alas, I acquiesced, but my fears did not abate.
The course went surprisingly well, I did not panic as I had feared, and the shallow dive that afternoon was incredible. We explored amazing reefs, watched brightly colored fish zip in, out, and around us, and marveled at the majestic sea turtles gliding by. (On a side note, sea turtle was on the dinner menu that night, but I could NOT eat it! All I could see was that beautiful creature I had been swimming with earlier in the day. 😐 Mr. Handsome had to trade meals with me. He’s sweet like that.)
Our last dive was at Stingray City.* If you visit today, you will find most trips to Stingray City consist of a few hundred people on several tour boats, all anchored around a large sandbar.* The stingrays congregate and freely swim around the visitors. No diving, no snorkeling, just standing on the sandbar and touching the stingrays as they swim by — and kissing them if you’re brave enough! Twenty-four years ago, however, we were on a boat with about six other divers and two instructors, anchored off the sandbar in slightly deeper water, with no other boats in sight. (*Click the links in this post for pictures of Stingray City! Though most people just visit the sandbar, you can still do a dive trip if you wish.)
“Swim with the gentle stingrays!” they said.
“Pet their soft skin!” they urged.
“Kiss a stingray!” they teased.
“It’s perfectly safe; they won’t sting you!” they promised.
Well, they were right. The creatures did glide beautifully through the water, their skin was like velvet, they didn’t sting. But the kiss I got was a bit more than advertised!
Now, before we go further, you need to know two things in order to accurately picture this scenario: (1) Divers wear extra weight to keep them on the bottom, so unless I was trying hard to swim, I was sinking, and (2) the female stingrays had wing spans of about four – six feet;* the male wingspan was 2 – 3 feet. With those bits of trivia in mind, let’s go diving!
It was a very simple plan, really. The stingrays don’t have teeth, so they can’t bite. They suck their food into their mouths like vacuum cleaners. We were given a plastic container of squid with a slit cut out of the lid, and told to take one piece out at a time and lay it on our open palm. The stingrays would smell the squid, and come suck it off of our hands.* Easy peasy.
Except for one thing (well, actually two things)…the two crazy college boys who decided to rub the squid all over their bodies and rile the poor rays into an absolute feeding frenzy! Yes, while the instructors kept my husband and me on the boat for last minute instructions since I was the only non-certified diver on board, these guys drove those stingrays crazy searching for food they could smell but not find! By the time we jumped into the water, the other divers had gone through all of their food, but the poor stingrays were frantic to find the squid they could still smell. The moment my husband pulled out a piece of squid, the first stingray sucked his arm into its mouth past the elbow! He clamped the plastic container to his chest as instructed to hide the scent, but it did no good; a huge stingray latched onto the top of his hand with so much suction it left pretty odd marks!
Even though I had no food, I was still fair game in the feeding fray. Normally, the rays swim up against you searching for food, they don’t latch onto you like monster leaches. Normally. However, within seconds of entering the water I was covered in sucking stingrays. I had a six-footer sucking the back of my head, three-footers on top of my head and down my legs, and another six-footer attached to my face. She pulled the regulator right out of my mouth! And remember the weights? You got it — straight to the bottom I went, completely covered in sucking stingrays, with my oxygen regulator inside the biggest one’s mouth!
Somehow, I heard the little voice in the back of my mind telling me to get the regulator back and reminding me how to clear it and get it working again in the event of an emergency. Once that was accomplished, I curled into the fetal position on the ocean floor, hands over my face as I sobbed into my mask, completely covered with sucking stingrays!
Mr. Handsome did, of course, free me from the mad sucking hordes (like I said, he’s sweet like that). Eventually the stingrays decided there really was no more food and they calmed down and let us play with them for the rest of the dive. They were friendly, they were soft, they didn’t sting us. But those stingray kisses? I’ve had enough of those to last a lifetime!
Even though the frantic feeding frenzy was unusual and induced by the two young men, being initially overwhelmed by the stingrays is part of the trip — we just had it in spades! Take a look at this short video* to see what a “normal” trip is like. Our trip was videoed, as well, but when we went the next day to purchase a copy, there wasn’t a single frame of us in it (hmmm, I wonder why??). 😉 And despite the extra adventure and the, ummm, many very odd marks all over our bodies, we would do it again!
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