We went on a catamaran boat tour in Varadero, Cuba, this past Xmas. We were first taken out to a concrete pen in the middle of the ocean to swim with some dolphins. I’m not a bleeding heart animal activist, but that whole experience felt wrong. It was also a case of false advertising. A dolphin did some tricks for us and we got to touch it, but we never got in the water and swam with it. After that we stopped at a coral reef for some snorkelling.
Everyone put on a small floatation belt, masks and snorkels were handed out, and we jumped off the end of the boat after receiving not a word instruction. We just jumped into the water, the warmest ocean water I’ve ever been in.
This is the part where I nearly died.
I looked under the water and could see colourful fish swimming past my face. I saw coral, white sand and the bluest water everywhere. Then my mask began to fill up with water and I went back to the boat and got a new one. When I returned to the water, for some reason, I couldn’t breathe through the snorkel. I kept trying but it kept getting worse. I wanted to go under the water, but I just couldn’t get my breath. And then panic kicked in and I felt like I was drowning in the middle of the ocean. I tried to swim back to the boat but the current made it nearly impossible. I swallowed several mouthfuls of sea water trying to catch my breath. When I finally made it to the boat, I was shook. But I pretended everything was cool because everyone else was having a great time. I discovered afterwards another guy had a similar experience, and he sat there and smiled like me even though he felt like he had almost drowned. I can easily imagine now what it must be like for a drowning fisherman who’s boat has just sunk to the bottom with no land in sight. It was one of the most unsettling feelings of my life.
Then the boat moved on, the brain dead party music was cranked to the hilt again, and some guy began feeding pieces of his ham sandwich to the seagulls following the boat. I was happy when we made it back to shore. Except for nearly drowning, it was a good time.
UPDATE (Mar. 21/11): I should have mentioned that my swimming skills are okay. You won’t find me doing laps in an Olympic sized pool, but I’ve never had problems swimming in the ocean. It was a weird occurrence. That’s why it freaked me out so much. It was odd that they didn’t give any kind of instructions to us. They just pulled out the masks and snorkels from a bucket of what I assume was disinfectant and pointed to the end of the boat. I definitely wouldn’t consider doing it again unless I had my own mask, snorkel and fins. I’m not sure what caused me to lose my breath. It could have been the floatation belt was pushing too tightly into my diaphragm. I’m not sure. It certainly didn’t do much to keep me afloat. Maybe it was water logged. But whatever happened, when you can’t breathe, it’s game over… If you wear glasses and can’t see anything in front of your face without your glasses, you can forget about seeing anything through the swimming masks too… The constant boom-boom-boom of the party music on the boat was enough to turn me off. Had I know that in advance, I wouldn’t have signed up… The tour boat operators passed out a questionnaire near the end asking use to rate various aspects of the tour experience. But the guy passing them out read through them the second he got them back while he was standing there right next to us. So I didn’t exactly answer my questionnaire honestly. Most of the 30 or 40 people on the boat acted like they enjoyed it, but I suspect I wasn’t the only one who didn’t have a great time.
More posts about our trip to Cuba are filed under Varadero.