… So, if you recall, I left off with my sister and me snoozing in the dark, quiet breeze of an island-wide power outage, with no end in sight and a few worries about what was to come. As it turns out, worrying really is a waste of time! We opened our eyes to bright lights and the hum of the A/C, and when I checked my phone it showed a time slightly before midnight, which meant the outage had lasted roughly six hours. With a quick “wahoo!” we went back to bed.
In the morning we slathered on sunscreen and stopped for coffee and bagels on the way to catch the snorkel cruise outside the beach shack in Palm Beach. As we boarded, the crew, led by host Cesar, made sure we knew what the plan was and outfitted us with flippers and snorkel gear.
Once the music started and the drinks began to flow, Cesar kicked his entertaining personality into full gear, having each guest state for the group where they were from and then teasing and flirting and cracking jokes over his microphone, all while pouring Aruba Aribas (a fruity guava drink we couldn’t get enough of) from the bar and later, dishing up a ridiculously good lunch. Our group was made up of mostly east coast Americans, a few Germans, Italians, Arubans, and a splash of others, and everyone was friendly and talkative.
We made our way out to sit on the trampoline, watching the blues and greens passing below us, drinks in our hands. The first stop came quickly, at Arashi reef in about 10 feet of water. We chose a jump off the side with a deep splash rather than stepping down the ladder, and then stuck our faces in the water. Fish were everywhere. Schools swished around our legs, curious yellow-and-black striped fish swam up to our fingertips, large brilliant blue fishes eyeballed us in consideration, dotted and speckled and boldly marked blue and orange and black and silver and dusky lavender fishes of all sizes and shapes surrounded us. Floating inert and breathing, mesmerized, I felt I, too, was meant to be here as part of this brilliant underwater world.
We zigzagged our way across the reef towards shore, then back out to the deeper blue, stopping occasionally to point excitedly down or to pop our head up and holler “Did you see that?!” Finally, once the boat was nearly full again, we reluctantly climbed aboard for a quick sail to the next stop at Boca Catalina’s 10-foot depth. Another splash, faces back down, this time we kicked our way in towards the shore and the large openings formed by giant rocky outcroppings. As we swam in, we trailed dozens of needlefish seemingly leading the way, skimming along the top of the water before us.
At the shoreline, we swam in and out of deep grooves, making circles around the craggy boulders and exploring the shadowy underhangs teeming with life. Corals and anemones, urchins, eels, sponges, wavery cardinalfish, lime-colored damselfish, scuttling crabs, along with the ever-present needlefish, colored our world. Once again we were the last two to pull ourselves out of our aqua surroundings.
Our third and last stop was in 65 feet of water, directly on top of the massive SS Antilla shipwreck. The German ship was set afire and scuttled in May 1940 when the captain and crew resisted seizure by the Dutch marines during World War II. The deeper water churned and pulled us this way and that, making it impossible to stay in one spot. We looked down through the blue onto 400 feet of ship, more than four times the length of our large catamaran, sitting on the ocean floor. It had been pulled into huge chunks draped across the rocky bottom, and rays of light pierced the liquid to reflect off its crusted surface. We swam front-to-back under the catamaran, between the two hulls, and then out further to see the length of the wreck. Getting back to the boat was work, and we were tired and happy as we sailed back to shore.
Once we docked, we still hadn’t had our fill of the blue liquid and swam for a while longer in Palm Beach’s neon aqua water, before making our way home to shower and change. Dinner reservations were at six, at Pincho’s Grill and Bar.
The place sits on a pier out over the water, and we were led to a corner table, where the host proclaimed “the best seat in the house”. As the sun blazed, we questioned his judgment, but once it began to set we were glad to have unobstructed views of the gold-orange globe sinking into the sea. Our waiter, Floyd, was the sweetest and most attentive man, and oozed a happy island vibe as he brought out cinnamon-laced sangrias, a bright, zesty salad, conch fritters, and beautiful pan-seared grouper with a gingery sauce. When we sat relaxing after all the food, he moved us over to the bar where he told us the bartender, Ozzy, wanted to buy us drinks. Game, we sat and chatted with him, he flirted and joked with us, and Floyd stood and visited with us between attending tables.
All in all, it was a wonderful ending to a wonderful day. Tanned and serene, we were amazed that tomorrow, our last full day, had come so quickly. We planned to squeeze every drop of Caribbean out of it we could.
To be continued in Part 3…