I woke in the middle of a restless night thinking someone was shining a light in my eyes. I sat up in the unfamiliar room and looked around only to find the moon sending a greeting through the open window. I rolled over with a smile on my face and fell back asleep, knowing, I was in Hawaii.
I had come on a mission of love with my sisters Roxann and Rhonda. Rhonda has Multiple Myeloma. During her over five year struggle with this cancer she has been my inspiration; not only because Rhonda remains positive, but more importantly, she has led me in a new direction spiritually. Rhonda often visualized swimming with wild dolphins during her treatments. Roxann and I wanted to make her dream a reality.
The next morning, I awoke and stumbled half asleep out into the living room and gasped: The view! There, spread out in front of me was the ocean, a teal blue. We were told it is called Kona Blue, named after this portion of the coast of the Big Island. None of the other islands or coasts in Hawaii has this stunning blue water. Some distance out, catching waves, I saw surfers. More inland, hidden behind a row of lava rocks that produced a bay, were swimmers and snorkelers. Our apartment, for the next few days, sat above the scene of a beach known for great snorkeling and sea turtles. To the back of our abode, was lush greenery climbing the hills made of lava, interspersed with homes that dotted the landscape as the ocean floor rose out of the sea and rushed up to the top of a mountain covered in mist. Brewing Kona coffee, I intended to enjoy the sights all morning while I sipped and talked with my sisters. We had a day to adjust to the time change and find our way around. Tomorrow was our big day, the dolphin swim.
We awoke at six in the morning while the moon was still handing the sky over to the sun. It was Halloween and we would be wearing masks, snorkeling masks. This was our big day, swimming with the dolphins in the Kona Blue Ocean. We headed to Honokohau Harbor and Marina to catch our boat. Once there, we met Captain Derek, a native to the island, and our swim guide Beth Ann. Fortunately for us, we were the only three passengers, giving us a private excursion. We boarded the vessel, left the marina and traveled north. Along with our guide, the three of us opted to sit in the front. Beth Ann was getting to know us and pointing out scenery when, to our surprise, Captain Derek slowed the craft. He called out.
“Manta Ray at ten o’clock.”
We all looked up to see twenty to thirty Manta Rays swimming in a school. They glided gracefully in the clear water as a hawk might when soaring on warm air currents. They were magnificent, dark brown in color with white bellies. Most had wing spans of three to four feet. Derek said he recognized this school, as they were the ones he often led people to on a night swim. It was a rare treat to see them in the morning. He and Beth Ann told us that each Ray had unique spots on their belly which identified them and so, they called them by name. We lingered there enjoying the cool breeze, warm sun and the manta’s company. Later, Rhonda recounted.
“When I saw the Manta Ray that is when my heart started to open up and it just kept opening wider and wider all day.”
Eventually, after both the humans and manta had their fill of being social the mantas began to swim away and we moved on in search of dolphins.
As our boat cruised along the beautiful coast, sometimes black lava, sometimes greenery and palm trees, Captain Derek spotted a small pod of dolphins and we ferried toward them. As we traveled Beth Ann instructed us on how to get into and out of the boat and the technique of using snorkel gear. Coming upon the pod we traveled with the dolphins for a while, getting acquainted. They were very friendly and soon swam just off the bow of our boat. They proudly showed off their babies, who frolicked by soaring ahead and jumping in the air. These were spinner dolphins, and, like humans learning to walk, these babies were learning to spin. Smaller in size than other dolphins, they were grey in color. Yet, as they glided through the sea, their coloring seemed to change from silver grey to blue grey to grey with hints of brown.
“Are you ready to swim?” Beth Ann asked.
My sisters and I could hardly contain our enthusiasm as we all nodded in unison, “Yes.”
Derek maneuvered the vessel past the pod, turning around so that the dolphins would be swimming directly toward the back of the boat, where we, snorkel and fins donned, would get into the water. As she slid into the warm, salty sea trying not to disturb the dolphins, Beth Ann yelled “follow me.” And we did. One by one we all quietly followed suit and slid into the water as instructed. I marveled at the warmth. The swells hit me in the face and lifted my body up and down. Unaccustomed to a mask and snorkel, I struggled to calm my breathing. I worried sea waves would crash down my snorkel causing me to swallow the salty stream. Then, as if by magic, there, directly below me were the dolphins. I heard them call to one another. I completely forgot about my discomfort with the snorkel as six dolphins appeared. I lost all thought of swimming and remained motionless so I did not disturb the incredible scene below me. The ocean was remarkably clear and I watched as the dolphins swam around each other, then rose from their depth right in front of me to surface. We all swam together, dolphin and humans. They played around us and did not seem to be disturbed by our presence. It was very calming and I was in awe. Beautiful, majestic, mesmerizing, awesome, I can’t find the correct word; in fact there may not be words to describe the sight of the dolphins. We had feelings of comfort, wonder, amazement, all words lacking in description as the dolphins surrounded us.
Eventually, the pod moved on and we were left breathless, bobbing and smiling in the ocean swells, trying not to swallow salt water as we yanked the snorkels from our mouths and repeated over and over “that was amazing!”
All three of us climbed the ladder back into the boat and Beth Ann served us fresh Hawaiian fruit and bottled water. But we were too wild-eyed with excitement to enjoy the taste. As Captain Derek searched for more dolphins we went to the bow of the boat.
“There, off to the left, at two o’clock.”
We spotted another pod swimming alongside the craft a few feet out and suddenly they were at the front of the boat playing with us. As Rhonda leaned over the bow, only two or three feet from the swimming dolphins she could feel the spray from their blowholes.
“It hit me in the face, but strangely, I was not bothered by that.” She later said, with a laugh.
After a while, the pod swam off but one dolphin remained behind. Even Derek and Beth Ann found it hard to explain. She wanted us to follow her. At one point she came to a stop directly in front of the boat.
“Please keep coming,” she seemed to say.
So we did. We had already swum two times with the dolphins but by following this dolphin we got one last chance. Captain Derek positioned the boat so that two separate small pods would swim directly towards us. As we once again slid into the water, the dolphins were very close, only two to three feet away. The dolphin, who had led us, swam calmly beside Rhonda. An emotional connection was made between the two as Rhonda looked into her kind eyes.
“I began to cry at that point, but it is difficult with a mask on.” Rhonda recounted later.
During the swim, I was trying to take pictures with an underwater camera and lost sight of people and dolphins. I raised my head up to look around; I heard Captain Derek yell and point frantically.
I wasn’t sure what he meant. I put my head back in the water thinking the pod must be below me. With amazing speed and grace a dolphin sailed right past me. He was only about two feet away and looked at me as he raced by. I felt he nodded “hello.” In an instant he was gone and I jumped to the surface, yelling “awesome.” Captain Derek, sitting on the back of the boat, was joyous. He was talking excitedly.
“Did you see how close he was?”
One by one, my sisters and our guide popped their heads up. We were all chattering with excitement, not truly listening to each other, but exclaiming over and over our astonishment as we climbed back on board. As Rhonda, Roxann and I sat on the back of the boat heading toward shore I felt a glow rise in me. I looked at Roxann and enjoyed the glance of acknowledgement she gave me. We had been successful in our mission to bring Rhonda her dream. The smile of joy and the tears of gratitude on Rhonda’s face were contagious and the three of us joined hands in silent sisterhood. With the wind whipping my hair as it dried into a sea salt mess and my face turning red from the sun, I smiled with a prayer of gratitude for such a glorious day.