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In the fall of last year instead of bundling up with sweaters and sheepskin boots I was stuffing my suitcases with swimsuits, sandals, and a myriad of sunscreen. Instead of worrying about exams or essays like my peers; I was packing for a school sponsored Bahamas escape. At the time I figured it would be like any other archetypical trip, but looking back on it now I realize it was a truly unique and life changing experience.

San Salvador itself was a tiny island, measuring around only 7 miles in length with only native residents. The airport, if you could call it that, was a two room shack with a handful of benches, although I doubt they ever had a problem with housing too many passengers. The island attracted mainly research students, like us, that stayed at the research campus. This disappointed me at first; I had been daydreaming about a luxury resort, but luckily I learned to love it for what it was. We arrived, and were surrounded by tropical flora, crystal clear oceans, and pristine beaches untouched by developers. This is when I first started to appreciate the purity of the unspoiled island. We arrived at the dorms we would be staying at; a frisky lizard was waiting to greet me, and he was kind enough to have brought friends. Luckily this was the low point in the trip.

â–º  Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship

The area around the dorms was gorgeous: picture perfect palm trees housing ripe coconuts, a secluded beach within arm’s reach, and the base of reggae beats from a native celebration playing in the background. I was in awe, but the true beauty of the island awaited me at the dive sites. We loaded into our trucks, packed like sardines, and drove to a sheltered beach to snorkel. I awkwardly put on my flippers and waddled backwards into the water. The first thing I noticed was the warm water that blanketed me; a huge adjustment from the frigid Atlantic I was used too. In the water, huge coral reefs housed the most beautiful animals I had ever seen. Vast schools of tiny neon colored fish swam intricately through the reefs, reminding me of excited children on a roller coaster. I dove down expecting to see more fish, but this time I was met with dozens of purple sea urchins with pointed tips; they were beautifully terrifying. I was about to turn back to shore from exhaustion, but something caught my eye. I saw a flash of silver moving at lightning speed, maneuvering the twists and turns of the reef like a pro. I hopelessly tried to follow the creature until finally it slowed down. I had been chasing a shark. Luckily, it did not seem half as interested in me as I in it, and I made a disaster free swim back to shore in what I am sure was an Olympic qualifying time.

Each day was a new glimpse into the underwater world I had never experienced and every time I caught a glimpse I was spellbound. I truly started appreciating the opportunity I had been given, taking full advantage of the wildlife and the ambience. I drank in as much as I could for the short time I was there, and when it was finally time to go I felt like my heart was breaking. I still feel a little sad when I go to the overcrowded, frigid beaches of the East coast, but I can still close my eyes and pretend that I am back in paradise reliving a trip that truly taught me to appreciate beauty.

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