I saw my first turtle a year or so ago, at Pescador Island in the Philippines. When you swim in those clear blue waters, with flora and fauna so alien-like in color and form; it’s hard not to think that we can’t be alone on this universe and then surprise! A large brown and jewel green shelled turtle swims under you. It is startling, you make a sound that is meant to be a little scream of happiness but all that is released is bubbles through your snorkeling gear. You work as hard as possible to push your finned legs to follow the turtle, its back-flipper fins are crossed over each other. You wonder how it manages to swim so fast ahead of you without beating its little back fins like you are with yours.
The next turtle I saw was in Nosy Be, Madagascar. I had the utmost luck in scoring a cheap all-inclusive accommodation deal at a hotel that owned a private beach that came with whales that would stage a choreographed ballet every evening and turtles that would come to swim close by in the mangroves by the hotel. I swam with families of turtles everyday while staying there, this time they did not run away from me. I think perhaps their cousin in the Philippines may have sent a message over that I wasn’t too bad a human. I like to think it said, ‘Dear cousins, a somewhat noisy human with splashy swimming skills will be coming over to see you. She seems fascinated by our fins. I can imagine why; she needs all the help she can get to swim with the level of grace that even a 2-year-old turtle can manage. That said, she isn’t too bad, not smelly, kind of gets startled easily and may squeal if she sees you.’
The next time I swam with turtles was in Zanzibar, Tanzania. This time they were all over me. Granted, it was in a turtle orphanage and they would throw food that would have the turtles surround you to get a tasty bite. I like however, to believe that they were as excited to see me as I was to see them, but common sense tells me it was just the snacks. I cried and cried in awe when I was swimming with them. The idea of being in a space with close to 20 turtles swimming and eating away was overwhelming for me. In a good way. A stray piece of tasty seaweed fell on my arm and a turtle snapped away, taking off some skin from my elbow. It is one of my absolute favorite scars. The turtle bite on my elbow.
With every beach I have been to since seeing my first turtle, I am always thinking about them. Hoping for a turtle surprise like the first time it happened to me. That is the thing about seeing turtles, they become a fix. A situation ship where you may or may not see them but sometimes, they let you hang, and you get to eat together.
Whenever I swim in the sea, I am bound by the hope and effort to continue to return to a place where I am surrounded by turtles, while paddling my fins always furiously in the most foreign place I have visited-under the sea.