I have had a couple (mis)adventures with snorkeling over the past year, beginning with my Chilean adventure last year. After a somewhat traumatic first outing, I desperately wanted to try again. I was a marine biologist for crying out loud, I had to be able to snorkel. Last year I was determined to successfully snorkel in Chile, clinging to the hope that I would be able to do it before I left and give the story a fulfilling ending. Unfortunately, things never quite panned out and I honestly left disappointed.
Upon my return, I was absolutely dead-set on finding some way to snorkel. I had bought my own gear to make certain that everything was fit to my size so that I could prevent as many possible issues as possible. I made it the top priority in my packing. At the station, I watched the waves for days and found the website everyone else used to track wave and wind activity. I learned the patterns of the water and the waves, how long they moved and how they behaved. I even watched how the birds handled oncoming waves. My time was spent subconsciously preparing for snorkeling.
The ocean here is not particularly forgiving. It is often strong, sometimes even violent, and therefore snorkeling is not usually an option. However, out of the blue the sea changed its tone for a day and was the calmest it had been in a very long time. A small passing remark in a conversation turned into a plan, and before I knew it two of the darling gringas (Americans) Katie and Allie were working to get us out to sea. I was completely beside myself, but part of me was terrified that it wouldn't work out. I wanted this so desperately, but I could barely contain my excitement. The night before our excursion, I could barely sleep because I was so excited. I don't even remember the last time that happened.
The morning arrived cold but with beautiful sunshine and no waves. Everything was perfect. We even spotted dolphins before we set out, and I knew that the day would be wonderful. We entered the water at a beach I'm quite familiar with (the first photograph), but the water was a bit rougher right at the entrance than I thought. As we entered the water, I suddenly felt a feeling I knew unfortunately all too well: "the spooks." I characterize these as a sudden feeling of nervousness coupled with rapid breathing and inhaling water. The rapid breathing and feeling like I can't properly breathe makes the nerves more intense and the cycle gets worse and worse. I have no idea why I got nervous. Maybe it was the waves, maybe it was that my fin decided to pop off, maybe it was a triggered response from my first escapade. Regardless, it was there and the fact that it was there made me even more nervous. I sought out the nearest rock and tried to put my fin on more securely, all the while focusing on my breathing. The others waited patiently for me, telling me we would just take it slow and that everything was going well. I really appreciate these two dears, they made this snorkeling trip for me.
I caught my breath and proceeded out to the open water, and suddenly it was easy. I was doing it. The underwater world I had only read about in dry black and white publications suddenly came to life in front of my eyes, glorious and very much alive. I saw everything: crabs, chitons, sea stars, giant snails, all of it. When I saw my first fish I squealed through my snorkel. I continued to squeal happily through my snorkel, pointing and exclaiming at everything the sea had to offer me. A glittering silvery school of fish swam past and around me and I nearly cried with glee.
This was a world I had longed to see for years, and now here it was in front of me. A wave of understanding washed over me (I'll show myself out) as I was able to piece together all of the information I had read. The habitat is made up of several sheets of rock with deeper crevices in between. Some of the rocks have patches of short, bushy kelp (not like the kind you see in California) while others had patches of purplish crustose algae (imagine flat splotches of pastel purple paint on rocks) or just boulders and little rocks. It's a mixed habitat that basically looks like a lot of shelves with sneaky places for creatures to hide. I could see everything I had read and heard about right in front of me, and my understanding grew triple-fold. I could feel the pulsing and see the animals behaving in their natural environment, many ignoring me for the most part and allowing me to see them in their natural state. At one point the sea swelled and the kelp below us flowed with it in a flash of yellowish green, making you feel like you were gliding over them even though you were in the same place. I had the biggest grin on my face the whole time. I was unabashedly happy. I honestly don't even remember the last time I was that happy.
Those minutes felt timeless. There was the three of us and the sea, with all of its splendor and wonder. The blue-green water swayed and life abounded. We were visitors in an alien, weightless world that had allowed us to slip into itself for a whisper of time.
Before I knew it we had to return and I slowly slipped out of the watery world and back into my own. Right before I left the water another silvery school of fish swam around me, with a few fish lingering and allowing me to soak in their beauty. Slim and shimmering, they moved delicately through the underbrush of algae and into the sun. One stayed a moment and looked at me. We both had a moment of curious understanding before it slipped away into the blue-green haze. I turned and beached myself on shore with the biggest grin on my face that didn't leave all day. Finally, my snorkeling story had a successful Chilean ending (and hopefully, this is merely the beginning).
For some my giddiness may seem a little childish, but for me this is my life. This is what I am passionate about, what makes my blood run. Successfully snorkeling and entering a world I knew only from the surface for so long was a big step in the right direction for both my time here but also for my career. That thing that you are passionate about, that thing that gives you a little glitter in the corner of your eye when you talk about it or makes you feel at home when you are thinking about it is so important. So often people travel down a path they are not enthralled with because it is easier or because they are too scared to pursue what they love. Trust me, there are few things more fulfilling than actively engaging in something you absolutely adore. It is worth the obstacles, the exhausting nights, the thoughts of doubt or the other difficulties. That feeling of true, unrestrained joy and love for what you are doing is worth everything and worth pursuing. You won't lose it. Some words that have haunted me for years were uttered in honesty in a moment of quietness: "One day, you will look at those waves and they won't fascinate you anymore." I told myself from that moment on that I could not let that happen. If you love something, it will continue to entrance you and fascinate you. It won't feel like work, it will be an object of love. But akin to love, there will be hard times and trials and frustration, but you will always find yourself coming back, needing to come back. It won't let you leave. Find that thing in your life.