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Swimming with Sharks

I guess this is as good a place as any to tell you about Alfonse, 'the no-mercy tour guide'. Alfonse said he would someday like to be an MTV video rockstar. That must be why he wore his fast sunglasses as well as lots of those bracelet looking tattoos on both arms. Hopefully his rockstar desires explain also why he had two pierced ears. Each ear had an earring which had a big hoop dangling off the lower lobe.

"Is that for better balance?", I asked Alfonse. Alfonse appeared to be not amused. Alfonse then told me that in fact he likes his MTV alter ego lifestyle so much, that he has even gone so far as to put tattoos of MTV's cartoon stars 'Beavus and Butthead' on his right arm. I told Alfonse for his sake, "I sure hope they are still popular thirty years from now".

Despite the hooped earrings and the Beavus and Butthead tattoo and all, Alfonse is a good sort and Severo the fishing guide even vouched for him. That is why I allowed them both to convince me to take a dive into Alfonse's world. No, I did not let him convince me to get one of those bracelet tattoos, though he tried real hard and was quite convincing. And of course I did not decide to get my ears pierced. No it was nothing like that. After a great deal of discussion, I allowed Alfonse to talk me into going for a dive in the real deep end. I decided I would indeed go swimming with Alfonse and his sharks and stingrays in a place he called 'Shark Ray Alley'.

A Sting Ray off Ambergris Caye
Sting Ray off the Coast
of Ambergris Caye

Swimming with Nurse Sharks off Ambergris Caye
Alfonse with a Nurse Shark at
'Shark-Ray Alley'
When the big day arrived, within moments after entering the waters following our arrival at 'Shark Ray Alley' just outside the barrier reef on the backside of Ambergris Caye, Alfonse had hundreds of fish swimming around us. In the mist of all these air bubbles, stingrays four feet wide approached from below, dragging in tow about twenty nurse sharks, all ranging in size from between three to seven feet each. I had never seen anything close to the natural wonderment that surrounded me.

Alfonse had taken time to prepare me only by saying, "Definitely, do not put your fingers in front of the sharks mouth". Unfortunately, he did not say a word about what to do when the brown colored sharks started surrounding me, swimming slowly around and nudging up against my side. Shark eyes, I promise, no more than inches away.

Floating about there off the barrier reef, my eyes stared wide open from behind my foggy goggles as I worked that plastic breathing-tube-apparatus referred to as the snorkel. I tried my best to not let on to the sharks that I was scared, but with increasing numbers of them, I started to feel more than just a bit uncomfortable.

At first I thought that I should be careful, not to react to quickly. I was there in the water telling myself to just breath slowly, thinking all the while about how the sharks might have a sixth sense or something. I was convinced that if I let on that I was scared they would somehow sense my fear and decide to eat me alive. Of course, thinking about it I would have known that nurse sharks do not eat humans, but right there and then, I did the only thing I felt I could do, I completely freaked out.

A 'panic attack' we call it back home. Whatever you would like to call it, I was consumed with unabated fear from head to toe as I looked around my body at all these sharks encircling me. Most certainly I started having flashbacks to what happened to all those people swimming in the movie 'Jaws', part One and Two.

As the fear settled in, I decided to nonchalantly work my way back towards the sanctuary and safety of Alfonse's boat, the Roxanne II. My hopes were that all the sharks would not see me trying to escape or maybe they would just simply decide on their own to go away. But before I could make my move, Alfonse swam up to me and handed me a six foot shark.

Talk about your wild kingdom, this guy Alfonse might not be quite right after all. For my own sanity, well there I was in water way over my head about to pass out from the fear, and my guide stops to hand me an extremely large nurse shark. He then instructed me, for the lack of a better word, to 'hug' a very live shark. All this as I frantically sucked air through my faithful snorkel's tube.

And then suddenly I caught my breath and slowed myself down. The shark I was holding in my arms and I then paused briefly there for not only a photo opportunity but for that moment of Zen. You know, a moment of Zen, that speck of time where they say the universe reveals itself ever so slightly. That moment in time and space when man and beast absolutely bond. It was at that exact instance when I realized that I could actually feel that shark's heart beating in my hand.

Nurse Sharks at 'Shark Ray Alley'
Photos provided by Julian M. Fisher. All rights reserved.

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