No extra vacation money for moped rentals. Not enough funds for scuba diving either. But there was something my cousin Jill and I could afford: a snorkeling trip.
The day of our snorkeling excursion, we had the good sense to carve out time for a morning swim before our all-day swimming activities began. After our dip in the ocean, we ate our breakfast poolside, grabbed our beach bags, and hurried to the gate where a tour van awaited us.
Two locals headed up the tour, and they navigated the boat onto the sea, the sun glinting off the aquamarine water surrounding us. At our first stop, one of the guides killed the boat’s engine and perched a transistor radio on the deck.
“I shot the sheriff,” the other guide crooned along to Bob Marley, “but I did not shoot the deputy.”
And even now—more than twenty-seven years later—whenever I hear that song, I remember Jill’s face splitting into a smile and the Caribbean sun warming my skin.
The tour guides gave us instructions, and we jumped into the sea to look for conch that would become a part of our lunch. Successful, we sailed on to the next stop: Stingray City. And that’s where we met dozens of curious and gentle stingray, swishing by us and sometimes brushing our legs. The water was shallow way out there, and the flapping sea creatures played near us.
“Wanna hold one?” a guide asked me.
Of course I did. And Jill clicked a picture of me—a rubbery fish in my arms—and captured my laugh for always.
At the noon hour, the skies darkened to navy blue, and rain sprinkled our turquoise waters. We stopped at Rum Point for lunch. One of the guides had marinated the conch we caught, and we enjoyed it raw on Ritz crackers, along with other seafood delicacies.
We finished our snorkeling tour and caught a ride back to the bed and breakfast with a honeymooning couple from London. Exhausted, we fell into our beds for late-afternoon naps.
I awoke from my nap dizzy. I sat up, every inch of my body achy. I palmed my forehead. Definitely a fever. Maybe even a high fever. “Whoa. I don’t feel so good.”
“Same here.” Jill inched her head off the pillow, then let it plop down again. “Must’ve been the conch.”
We lounged, listless, for a long while.
“I have to call and make sure we get on that 8:00 a.m. flight tomorrow,” Jill said, staring at the ceiling. She flopped her legs over the side of the bed and stood, bracing herself. She shuffled over to the phone across the room and dialed.
She spoke to someone at the airport, specifying our need to get on the early flight to Miami. Silence. “Is that so?” Her expression went flat, and she looked over at me.
Feeling more like a nursing home patient than a coed on a tropical vacation, I struggled to sit up, my gaze trained on Jill. She finished the call.
“So, I made a mistake,” she said. “Tomorrow’s Thursday. That 8:00 a.m. flight leaves here only on Mondays, Saturdays, and Sundays. If we get on the afternoon flight for Miami, we miss our connecting flight to Minneapolis. We don’t have money to stay anywhere.” Her mouth flat-lined. “Maybe we’ll have to sleep at the airport.”
Despite my fevered brain, I knew spending the night on the floor in the Miami airport wasn’t our best idea. But we’d come up with something. We had to.
The next morning, we overslept breakfast, but Grandma Madge fed us anyway. She served us our last platter of fresh fruits on the island, informing us lightning had struck the exchange in the night. As a result, no phones were working. And after she dropped us off at the airport, we learned all the computers were down too.
“Here,” the woman behind the desk said. “I’ll fix your tickets.” She rewrote them to route us from Miami to Memphis. “And you can probably get on a flight from there to Minneapolis tonight.”
And she was right. On our flight from Memphis back to Minneapolis, our “Open seating” tickets not only snagged us spots in First Class with steak kabobs for dinner, but they also offered us a front row view of the launch of the space shuttle Discovery.
If all these years later Jill were to ask me to go with her to the Cayman Islands again, I’d say yes. But this time, I’d probably obey the “No skinny dipping!” signs and pass on the raw conch.
Or maybe I wouldn’t.
*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date
*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.