With a forceful surge of energy, I heaved myself up out of the chilling water, and collapsed onto the closest bench. The whole snorkel-boat shook — though admittedly, it was scarcely more than a large white dinghy, having a maximum capacity of perhaps eight passengers. Gulping in the warm Baja air, I gasped with gratitude as our little native guide helped unburden me from my hefty load of scuba gear. His nimble fingers flying across the many thick, wet straps and metal belts, I felt the entire apparatus slowly ease from my back, falling upon the bench behind me with a satisfying thunk. I let out an almighty sigh of relief.
As I thanked Miguel once more, I found that my mother had promptly launched herself at me, bustling around, asking if I was all right, and draping a pale-blue towel around my wet shoulders. A small, slightly stout woman with damp brown curls and rosy cheeks, she usually looked very much like me. At the moment though, I doubted this was the case, as her face revealed an intense mixture of anxiety and relief — “ while mine, I felt, surely exuded pure exhilaration.
“Are you sure you’re both okay?’ she asked for what must have been the dozenth time, yanking my sopping-wet brother over and forcing him onto the bench beside me. “You don’t think you’ve got the bends, do you? Did you make a safety stop on the way back up? How deep did you two go?”
“Oh, about a thousand feet,” I replied offhandedly. “Wouldn’t you estimate, Danny?’ I turned to my brother, who was four years my senior and vigorously drying his mop of curly brown hair. We exchanged quick grins before he assured my mom, in his calm, mature, college-sophomore voice that we had indeed gone no deeper than 60 feet — “ the maximum allowed by my Open Water certification — “ had made a safety stop at 15 feet, and most probably did not have the bends, a severely painful, potentially life-threatening illness that divers could contract from ascending too quickly.
Content for the moment, our mother gave an easy smile and inquired eagerly about our dives.’They were good,’ remarked Danny, nodding. I stared at him. Boys — “ why were they never willing to talk? After a short pause — “ in which I concluded that he did not plan to elaborate on his description — “ I dove into a detailed account of everything we had seen.
Colorful eels with speckles and spots. An enormous grey nurse shark, swimming in circles within its dark cave. A tornado of swirling, tiny, silvery fish; making our way into the middle, we had each felt like Dorothy, being whisked away to a watery Oz. Sea lions even graced us with their presence, zipping in and out of the whirlwind like rockets.
Finally, there was the pufferfish — “ or Puffy, as I later fondly decided to name him. A sweet little porcupine-puffer, the prickly creature had discovered us as we embarked on our second dive, which took place in shallower water.
“Ooooh,” I gasped, my voice muffled through my regulator, the mouthpiece through which I breathed. I pointed emphatically towards the curious-looking fish with its sapphire eyes, and my brother and our guide, Miguel, each swam towards it.
Frightened by the two men’s swift approach, the puffer reacted most unexpectedly. Drawing in a deep breath of ocean water, it expanded into a great round balloon — “ all in a matter of seconds. Then, the puffer did something truly bizarre.
As Danny reached out slowly, his pointer finger extended towards the spiky, round-eyed, pectoral-finned ball — “ that baby-like smile still glued to its face, innocent as a cherub — “ the puffer darted out and laid a great chomp on the human’s threatening hand. The fish moved with breathtaking speed for something so round; we had expected it to move slowly, sluggishly, more like the balloon it so resembled.
Perhaps more out of surprise than from pain, Danny let out a short, muffled scream. It took a moment for me to register what had just happened; pufferfish always appeared so cheerful and gentle! I was shocked that they even had teeth in those wide, smiling mouths.
Now, in the cool dryness of the boat, I turned over Danny’s hand to inspect the bite. Surely enough, there it was: a broad little row of bright red marks. I laughed, but shook my head at the pouting 20-year-old. This was one trip to Cabo we would never forget…
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