I was ill a few days of our vacation, but I am so grateful that my birthday wasn’t one of them. I turned 28 on Thursday, August 5. The night before, I saw the date on my watch and figured it must have fast-forwarded when I re-set the time earlier in the week. We hadn’t been paying attention to the date AT ALL, and I was shocked when we did the math and realized that the next day really was my birthday!
I woke up and we had breakfast and then tea by the beach.
After putting our bathing suits on, Whit and I went exploring by Bikini Beach. It was still early, and the tide was low, and we were shocked when we saw that the area we had snorkeled in yesterday was now walkable! We wandered around a rocky area on the east side of the island, where small pools of water collected between crashing waves. We carefully walked around until I stood still, shocked, and shouted, “An eel!!” Whit peeked his head around my body from behind me. “It’s looking right at me!!” About two feet in front of me in the water below, a brightly decorated green eel looked right at me with his mouth open wide.
Whit came and stood on the rock I was on, and I clung to his arm as the eel seemed to swim straight for us. I was afraid it would act like a snake and come out of the water and bite our heels!! It actually swam under the rock we were standing on, and after that we couldn’t find him again. We waded out to the wreckage to see if we could spot some awesome fish like we had when snorkeling the day before. Not too many were out because of the low tide, but we did notice that the water was quite sparkly, and there was no one around, so… we went skinny dipping!!
Neither of us had been before, and it was definitely the perfect place to do it because of how clean and clear the water is. The only thing that was a little tricky was that the water wasn’t deep, so we had to be careful not to stand all the way up. Even though it was daylight, if anyone had walked by, they wouldn’t have been able to see us because of how bright the sun’s reflection on the water was.
We went back to our resort for lunch, where our chef had made fish amok, a popular Cambodian dish, upon our request. It wasn’t the same curry-like consistency that Cambodian amok has, but the fish tasted delicious, and the rice was fresh too.
A few hours later it was time for our excursion! We were going to turtle point to try to swim with turtles!!
We thought we were going to board the large ferry docked on the pier, but laughed when instead a small boat pulled up next to the dock. I mean a very small boat! It had a motor, but besides the two of us, there were only three other people aboard, including our guide. The boat didn’t even really have side walls, just a low edge.
We pulled away from our familiar beach and rode out to sea. We headed for a resort island off in the distance, but stopped well before reaching the shore. Anchored in the middle of the Indian Ocean, we put on snorkel gear and jumped in to the Coral Gardens.
Our guide led us in a large circle around our boat, and we marveled at how in “Blue Planet” (the BBC documentary series) we were. It was magnificent! Neither of us had seen a coral reef as fantastic as this one. There were layers and layers of fish. Everywhere you looked or swam, there was more reef and more species of fish.
We swam for awhile, but after not seeing any sea turtles, we decided to head to another reef to look for the animal we were hoping to find. We rested and drank cokes as the boat sprayed water all over our legs as we rode against the current.
On the way back, the captain spotted a group of dolphins and guided us in their direction. The other two men whistled and whooped, making dolphin noises, as the pod swam right under our boat!! They swam alongside us for about five delirious minutes, splashing, jumping, diving, and making me the happiest birthday girl in the world!
The next reef we went to was even more amazing because the water was a little clearer and brighter, the coral was closer to the surface, and the current wasn’t so strong. Our guide spotted a turtle as soon as we got there, and pulled me over to see it, but then lost it. Nevertheless we swam and spotted many more varieties of sealife.
My favorite moment: I kicked away from the center of the reef, as a large school of tiny silver-blue fish swam past me. More and more kept coming, so I glided into the middle of them. Millions of fish crossed over, above, below, and around me. It seemed like such a miracle to be in the midst of them!
Even though we didn’t see any turtles, we had the most amazing time snorkeling, swimming with fish, and riding out in – literally – the middle of the ocean. You can’t control nature, and we were extremely lucky (blessed!) to get to be so up close and personal with the dolphins. It was pure glee sitting a foot and a half above them on the boat, as they so happily danced in the water next to me.
For dinner we were treated to a Maldivian buffet – only Maldivian food was presented, including fresh coconut water to drink. It was delicious, but I can’t talk about what I ate, because I suffered from it for many hours during the night due to some very unfortunate food poisoning.
Before getting sick though, we joined a group of locals fishing on the pier. They had caught a lot of small fish that they cut up and carried in buckets down to the water’s edge, where they were trying to attract sting rays.
After much waiting (they had already fed one bucket to the rays, who must have been feeling full), the Maldivians attracted a few sting rays to swim up to them and eat the fish guts out of their hands. While eating, the locals held them in what looked like a big friendly hug. I was able to go over and pet them, too! They feel gooey and slippery on the bottom, and tough but slick on the top. It was amazing, to feed and pet sting rays right on the beach.
It was a wild and full day, and I couldn’t think of a better way to bring in the year 28!!