Tuesday, June 4, 2013

I Kissed a Dolphin (and I liked it....)

I think I've already mentioned that we stayed in a resort that had dolphins swimming around RIGHT OUTSIDE OF OUR ROOM, and I may even have alluded to some dolphin cuddling. 

Yes - that happened.

For $150, you too can have a "dolphin encounter" which involves a lot of petting of the dolphins, kissing, hugging, and - the crowning glory - a "dolphin push" which involves a dolphin swimming up behind you and pushing your feet so that you are raised up like some sort of majestic mermaid and fly across the surface of the water, balanced on the dolphin's head, at a rather alarming pace. 

Unfortunately, the encounters were completely sold out by the time we sauntered up to the tourist desk to do so. I was able to snag a spot from a cancellation, but The Gentleman was unable to get up close and personal with the dolphin, so he had to be satisfied with taking pictures of me and hearing me talk about my experience for hours and hours afterwards.

Here's something I never expected: dolphins are kind of scary. They look so super cute when they're like this:

(image courtesy The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies)

...like all, "Hello there! I am a friendly creature of the sea, who might possibly be smarter than you and also contain magical powers, and my best friends are unicorns!"

But they're actually kind of really intimidating. You forget that they're roughly the size of a small horse, because most of them is underwater when you look at them, and you have no idea how incredibly strong and powerful they are until you feel one swimming by you. Also, they have lots and lots of teeth. 

I got over my fear of being in deep water surrounded by beings much larger than I and was able to go with the flow. It helped that a seven year old boy and a nine year old girl were in my group. They didn't seem scared and, I reasoned, they were smaller and weaker and would be picked off more easily should we have a case of Rogue Dolphin on our hands.

High five? No? Gonna leave me hanging?

Dancing. This was the point when I realized how freaking big dolphins actually are. I got a little scared at the point. 

But then I got to hold the dolphin like an upside-down baby, and all was well.
So, something else happened during this experience. There are probably 6-7 dolphins in the pen at any given time, and each dolphin has a trainer, and a small group of about 6-8 people. The dolphin must hug, kiss, cuddle, and "push" each of these tourists who have paid an exorbitant amount of money to fondle wildlife. Understandably, the trainers are highly sensitive to the fact that they're working with very large animals around very dumb tourists. The dolphins' needs HAVE to come first, and a trainer who knows his/her charge well will understand his/her personality quirks and triggers, and will lead the experience accordingly. I have nothing but respect for these trainers, who do the same shows multiple times a day, and are responsible not only for the safety of these scary beautiful creatures but for tourists who pile in from around the world for the opportunity to get up close and personal with a marine mammal.

But "Debbie from Texas" in our group apparently just didn't get it.

"Debbie from Texas" had a bee in her bonnet from the moment we were ushered out of the small hallway where we were assigned life jackets and watched a brief and depressing film on dolphin endangerment (as well as a terrifying brief documentary on how dolphins are wild animals and have been known to attack humans if provoked) and onto the dock where we lined up to "meet" our assigned dolphin and trainer. "Debbie from Texas" was pissed off because, apparently, she wasn't aware that a "stranger" (i.e. - me) was going to be put into her group which consisted of her, her best friend, her sister, and her best friend's two kids (who I purposefully did not get attached to in the event that they got eaten by a dolphin - better them than me). But another group had a cancellation that I was able to snag. However, the other group was assigned to a dolphin who, for whatever reason, the trainer had decided needed a smaller group to work with on this particular afternoon. Whatever, dude; we're talking about wildlife with teeth - I absolutely defer to your judgement. 

So the extra tourists were divvied up amongst other dolphins, and I wound up getting assigned to "Debbie from Texas" and her crew. And "Debbie from Texas" apparently felt that this inconvenience had ruined her entire vacation.

"Debbie from Texas" bitched about this for a solid twenty minutes as we adjusted our life jackets, lined up, and had our first encounter with the incredible sleek, gray creature who silently slid by me in the water and eagerly opened her mouth for the (very dead/slightly frozen) squid that I tossed in. I was amazed - with the tiny squinty eyes of our dolphin, to her powerful tail, to the scratch marks on her back and fins which are common among penned dolphins who "rough house" with one another.

"It's no offense to you - hey, what did you say your name was?" "Debbie from Texas" went on.

"Um, me? Lindsay?" I said, still mesmerized by the fact that I was touching a dolphin for the first time in my life.

"Right, Lindsay, seriously, nothing personal, ok? It's just I paid for a private encounter, you know" (bullshit, private encounters are for only two people, and it's five times as expensive as what you paid) "and I didn't know they were going to try and pile on random people when I'm just trying to have a nice experience with my family and friends, you know?"

Shut up, "Debbie from Texas". Just shut up.

The trainer, a very kind and patient man named Marco, asked "Debbie from Texas" to please be respectful of the fact that the trainers have to make decisions based on the needs of the dolphins, who work very hard every day, and that he could assure her as intimate an experience as possible even with the extra person (me) present. He, and the staff of the resort, would do everything in their power to ensure that her experience was as once-in-a-lifetime as she wished.

"How about free T-shirts?" "Debbie from Texas" requested. I'm pretty sure Marco would have given her the shirt off his back if it would shut her up at this point, so he eagerly acquiesced.  "And one for Lindsay, too," she said, smiling at me as though we were in this thing together.

No, "Debbie from Texas", we are not.

As Marco went to ask one of the staff members to round up some T-shirts for us to shut "Debbie from Texas" up, she leaned over to me and whispered, "Seriously, no offense to you, at all, but, I mean, you know how these Mexicans are. If you're not careful, they'll just screw you over in any way they can! They're just out for your money."

I was aghast. I was shocked, first that "Debbie from Texas" would say something so completely inappropriate, and second that she would say this to a stranger and expect that person to commiserate with her bigotry. 

I wish I could say that I defended Marco, the dolphin, and the whole damn team, but I was so taken aback that I just kind of stood there in the murky pool water with one hand on the dolphin. I was halfway between a magical sea world of wonder that my child-like self was wholly absorbed in as something truly otherworldly, and halfway between wondering if I would get kicked out of the Dolphin Encounter for bitch slapping "Debbie from Texas". 

Fortunately, we were both saved from the experience of her being slapped and me probably being removed from the dolphin pen by Marco, who re-appeared and, clapping his hands together excitedly, said "Ok, friends, let's meet your dolphin up close and personal!"

I mostly forgot all about "Debbie from Texas". And I did get a free shirt. It has a giant heart on it with dolphins leaping out of it. I have reassigned feelings of guilt and anger towards that shirt and now look upon it with fondness of the memory of the time I overcame my fears of large marine mammals and let one kiss me on the cheek.
The dolphin is kissing me.

1 comment:

katiebird said...

If you only look at the photos of this post, you feel wonderful. Dolphins! Yay! But then "Debbie from Texas" goes and represents humanity poorly. I am sorry that she was there, but I do hope you still like Texans :)