Hunka Hunka Hawksbill Love

Whenever I go on an “up close and personal” nature excursion, I wonder who’s entertaining whom?

“There’s a mountain goat that’s always here when we paddle this stretch of river,” the guide said on a rafting trip in Cody, WY. Every afternoon the rafts float by; every afternoon the goat — often joined by a friend or three — waits on the hillside. A massive bison chewing his cud while lazing in a well-worn hole by the side of a byway in Rapid City. A barracuda greeting novice divers in Provencial.

I imagine the conversation: “Hey, Edna, it’s nearly noon. That’s when the humans always show up. Don’t want to miss seeing what they’re up to today. Do ya think Grandma would like to go along?”

In Barbados, the interactive delight is swimming with sea turtles. Half a dozen outfitters offer day cruises that promise a sea turtle encounter as part of a day long cruise. (The rest of the itinerary includes snorkeling, on-board lunch buffet, cruising past the very tony estates on the Platinum Coast, and sunbathing on the foredeck of the catamaran — all while imbibing rum in various concoctions — with a background soundtrack of reggae and Jimmy Buffett.

Depending on the size of the boat and age of the passengers, this can be a relaxing outing with friends or a boisterous bacchanal rivaling New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas.

Long past the bikini and Speedo stage of our lives and physiques, our gallant gang of pre-geriatrics opted for Super Cats/Stiletto. She carries 10 passengers, max, so it was perfect for the 6 of us. Trevor and Preacher were the crew, and as it the habit of our gang, we included them as part of the party.

Two shipwrecks just offshore are havens for tropical fish and magnets for snorkelers. Preacher said one of the ships reputedly was scuttled by the crew at the beginning of WW2, effectively stranding them on the island for the duration. Given a choice between the probability of being torpedoed by a U-Boat or joining the Coastal Watch Patrol, there were worst decisions.

From there it was a short paddle to the sea turtle hangout. It probably violates every ecologist’s goal of leaving the creatures unspoiled by human contact, but all of the guides are equipped with chum to attract them. The turtles anticipate their daily morning snack and glide through the swimmers in search of the Sugar Daddy with the goodie bag.

“Our” visitor was a massive Hawksbill. Sea turtles never stop growing, so I’m told. From the size of this momma, she was a hatchling back in the days of sail. (I don’t know if she was a female or not, but Big Momma fits her.) When she cuddled up to Preacher for her sushi, she stretched from his calves to his shoulders. When the bag was empty, she made a circuit around the rest of us in case we were holding out on her. Close enough to appreciate why it’s a “hawksbill,” to respect the determination in her eye, to lightly rap on her shell. Despite her bulk, she moved with smooth grace, dignity, and power.

Certain we were of no further use, she left us in just a few strong strokes of flippers the length of my arm. Two Green Turtles — delicately hued as if tinted with artists’ pencils — followed in her wake. Within moments, the busy turtle site was deserted.

I could hear the conversation: “That’s it for today, Edna. Nice flying fish, don’tcha think? The Mahi Mahi was a little tough, though. Got plans for tonight? They’re showing “Heart of the Sea” at the multiplex.”

(photos courtesy of