After the great success of the night walk, we were quite excited by the next excursion we’d booked through our hotel; it was sold to us as a romantic catamaran trip, where we’d see dolphins and have dinner at sunset, out on the water. It sounded amazing, and, ultimately it was, just about.
Our pickup wasn’t until mid-afternoon; we had a late breakfast, slept on the hammock, watched the tanagers and hummingbirds from the balcony and chilled. The pickup was a bus, and while Sam and I had our bags, most others were in swimwear with just a towel. A rowdy spring-break group of medics held us up as they fussed about before getting on the bus.
When we arrived the illusion of a picturesque and romantic catamaran journey was shattered. This was a catamaran for 100 people, filled with screaming kids, sun-kissed adults, a bar with luminescent cocktails and a slide from the roof to the sea. As we set off on this Planet Dolphin trip, I wondered how I’d survive the next 4 hours, this was a horrible touristy nightmare; my delicate stomach swayed left-to-right with the boat.
Activity 1 was snorkelling, everyone decamped in their flippers and masks to swim around a small rock which had perhaps one or two fish. Samantha got to try out her awesome new swimwear, a long-sleeved “Monkey mafia” top; she had the coolest swimsuit of all – even staff were asking where she’d bought it.
Fortunately, after the snorkelling and the dive-bombing from the boat roof, the evening picked up. The food was surprisingly tasty, a good pasta salad, mahi-mahi fish kebabs and sides of fresh fruit. And then we, eventually, set off to find some dolphins. Until now I’d regretted the whole thing, and had thought this was a terrible way to spend the penultimate day of our holiday.
While everyone had been out snorkelling I’d found us some good seats at the front, we had the best view. The boat sped off, out to open sea, towards the setting sun. To find the dolphins we first had to find the birds, a flock of brown booby birds.
What unfolded in front of us was like a scene from a wildlife documentary, it was actually something I’d seen on TV. Pods of dolphins under the water round up schools of fish, forcing them up and out of the water in desperation. But these were flying fish, when they rise up they use their fins to fly, up, up and away, escaping the ensuing dolphins. Here’s where the birds come in – they track the dolphins, and as the dolphins close-in on the fish they dive, beak first like a dart, straight into the water, catching fish with precision. Those fish that escape the dolphins by flying? They must also avoid the birds; seeing a fish leap from the sea, catch the wind and attempt to fly to safety, as a pack of swarming birds narrow-in, it’s exhilarating. A fish flew right across the bow of the boat, chased down by more adept, fast-flying seabirds – they edged ever closer, until the fish cut short its flight and returned to the water, this one presumably survived.
The boat kept up with the action by following the birds, not getting too close, and not staying too long; disrupting this pattern would be unfair on all creatures. They were pantropical spotted dolphins, and they were everywhere; a trained eye could spot their grey bodies beneath the water’s surface. With every breach there was a gasp and applause from the boat, two dolphins enjoyed the attention, they lined up in front of the boat and leaped one after another, to the great delight of all aboard – a predictable jump made photography a lot easier too.
And soon the nightly event was over, the catamaran did a short tour around the national park coast, before returning to port, stopping briefly for us to all watch the red glowing ball sizzle and dip into the sea, bringing with it night.
Not sure if we still needed food, we headed out again to Cafe Milagro and ordered some small mains, and cocktails. Lots of cocktails.
By the time we’d finished we were the last there; it was romantic there, in the garden, beneath the fairy lights, by ourselves, a brilliant holiday almost over.