Like a true 90’s middle-class American family, we had a mini van growing up. We liked to take road trips, so my parents stepped it up a notch and purchased a mini van with a DVD player in it. Every family in America (preferably from the Northeast) should at one point torture their kids by forcing them to take a road trip to Florida.
In 2000, our family did indeed take a 24-hour road trip from Westmoreland, NY to Orlando, FL. The DVD player was meant to play the role of entertaining my older sister, my younger sister and myself while our butts cramped from being trapped in a car. However, my older sister and I didn’t get much say in what we watched, because my younger sister (four years old at the time) had a strange obsession with the movie JAWS. While I wanted to watch The Rugrats Movie for the 19th time, the 24-hour road trip consisted of watching JAWS at least four times (it’s safe to say our family has that movie memorized). Needless to say, I am terrified of sharks and have been ever since.
So when I took a weekend trip to Caye Caulker, Belize and heard that one of the main activities to do on the island were to swim with nurse sharks, I wasn’t sure if I could handle it. I am an adrenaline junkie but jumping in the water with animals I had only known to live off of human flesh seemed a little sketchy to me (granted they were nurse sharks, but I call a spade a spade). After a few Belikins, I decided to face my fear and swim with the sharks!
I got on a boat with about five other people (most who were equally terrified as me), and a man with gold teeth and dreads drove us around some of the clearest waters I’ve ever seen. We first stopped and did some snorkeling to look at the Belize Barrier Reef. It was in this moment that I felt a new appreciation for water and decided I wanted to get my scuba license. I, up to this point, had been generally terrified of water because I immediately associate going in water with being eaten by a shark (I kid you not when I tell you I AM TERRIFIED OF SHARKS). But seeing all of the cute little fishies and pristine coral, my fear transformed into gratitude and appreciation for this beautiful earth.
After seeing the coral reef, it was time to… SWIM WITH THE SHARKS! They call it “Shark Ray Alley.” We rode the boat up and gold-teeth-dread-badass-captain (I forgot his name but that’ll do) turned off the engine. He said “Ok guys, jump in,” and we all looked at each other like “who goes first?” A guy broke the seal and jumped in which paved the way for the rest of us to grow some balls. I jumped in and I did it. I swam with the sharks! They were totally harmless and actually super adorable. It would have been nice if gold-teeth-dread-badass-captain had told us there were also stingrays in there too (also, miraculously, harmless). Maybe someday I’ll grow the balls to cage dive with the great whites in South Africa. Baby steps.