Two days into our vacation in Mexico, I had feared my communication skills would be limited to locating a bar but soon found myself effortlessly conjugating verbs in the present tense as Spanish lessons, dormant for 20 years, came flooding back.
By the sixth day I no longer felt trapped by any language barrier and confidently scheduled a snorkeling trip for mi esposo y yo. After waiting over an hour for our shuttle to pick us up (not my fault, pero Pablo’s), we arrived in Akumal to swim.
Our guide, Manilee, spoke fluent Spanish and English. And French, Hindi and German. His English accent was a very unique blend of each of those and took a bit of concentration on my part to comprehend. Still, I was rocking the non-English so far and felt no reason to worry.
I donned my flippers per his directions, cleaned my mask as he instructed and promised not to touch anything, especially any part of the nearby stingrays, as we swam seaward.
Our lives in his hands, Manilee knew exactly where to go, and within minutes we were swimming side-by-side with sea turtles. These lumbering yet graceful creatures paid no attention to us, happy to graze around the seaweed on the ocean floor and come up for air on occasion. Manilee bobbed up for air too to explain that the fish attached to the turtles were eating algae off of their shells.
Manilee then led us further out to the coral reefs, rising from the water to warn us of the fragility of the coral, some of which was even poisonous, and instructing us to keep our appendages close to the surface.
As we approached a boat about 150 yards from shore, Manilee popped his head up again and started talking. I was a little slower to clear my ears this time though and, through the sound of water draining from them, heard Manilee say, “There is a lot of coral under the boat.”
Excited to find Nemo and friends frolicking in an anemone or two, I headed straight for the boat so quickly that I beat my husband there.
I hovered 15 feet away from the boat, but I saw no coral, no clown schools, nothing. The only thing under the boat was a four-foot-long fish floating completely still. It had mean eyes, sharp teeth and a creepy grin.
I replayed Manilee’s last words in my head, realizing that “a lot of coral” and “a barracuda” sounded very similar under water just as my husband swam up beside me, giving me the universal sign for “Swim away!”
“What are you doing?” mi esposo asked when we resurfaced.
“I thought he said ‘a lot of coral,’” I explained.
“That’s a barracuda!” he shouted in very simple English into my waterless ear canals.
We swam away before the scene could turn into an episode of “Pesca Mortal” and joined the less-deadly tangs swimming nearby, resolved to leave delusions of multilingual vacationing safely en la cantina.