My heart is in my throat and I can’t catch my breath. I’m seconds from plunging into the picturesque turquoise waters off the coast of Aruba.
I’m mentally practicing my most creative arrangements of swear words, like Harry from Home Alone.
Everyone around me is eager to jump in – after all, just below us we can see the well-preserved SS Antilla shipwreck. Just 55 feet below the surface, the German cargo ship rests peacefully after being scuttled (aka sunk, for us non-pirate types) in 1940. The Antilla is now home to fantastic under-the-sea wonders like brain coral, sponges, hawksbill turtles, lobster, and innumerable fish. It’s arguably the most popular diving spot in all of Aruba.
As for me, I’m still wearing as I get closer to the front of the line.
My snorkeling mask is too tight, my lifejacket strap is flopping lifelessly between my legs. Do you think they’ll let me just lay on the deck? Do I have to jump in? FUCK why did I pick this excursion?!
It’s not like I was there by force: I had chosen this shore excursion as one of many offered by Princess Cruises on our port stop in Aruba. Marissa and I had cross-referenced our top excursion choices for each port on the 10-day cruise, and I had whole-heartedly agreed that a schooner cruise to snorkel above a shipwreck sounded awesome.
Awesome in my mind, when it was some abstract future me jumping into the water. Awesome as in, wow, the view and the pictures will be freaking sweet. Not awesome as the Jolly Pirates crew member signaled the person in front of me to jump in, and I was officially next.
Fear is a funny thing. Every fear we have sits somewhere on a spectrum between practical and impractical. Practical fear keeps us safe; impractical fear keeps us comfortable. When traveling, I occasionally get a wild hair and think I should challenge both my safety and my comfort, which is how I got into this whole mess in the first place.
See, I’m afraid of deep water. And large fish. I say large fish, but I’m actually not sure what the barometer is for largeness of fish. A small fish will scare the crap out of me if he pops out of a hole in the coral when I’m not expecting him to. A monstrous fish behind a 2-inch glass at the aquarium doesn’t frighten me at all. I am, like Mrs. Mason and her fear of birds in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, “mortally afraid” of fish.
What’s funny about my fear is that I was a swimmer for 12 years. I am very competent in the water, and could probably survive pretty well in the event of a water-based emergency.
Therefore, when the time came to take a deep breath and jump! off the side of the schooner, I was more than a little afraid. I’ve jumped out of an airplane twice, and I was equally afraid of this four-foot drop into the water as a 10,000-foot drop through the sky. Like I said, fear is a funny thing.
I’ve written before about not allowing fear to rule my travel plans, like when I faced my fear of kites at the International Kite Festival. Among many mantras I practice while traveling, my one about the transformative power of travel to help us push through fear has made me try far more than any other.
In the end, nbd. It was no big deal after the shock and terror wore off and I realized no gigantic lobster was going to grab me with his claw and no fish was going to chomp off my toes (seriously, this is one of my weirder fears). After I caught my breath, all I could say was wow! through the snorkel, a muffled translation of my amazement, ouh! ouh! ouh!
I went snorkeling again later, in shallower parts of the sea closer to the coast, and I lamented that there wasn’t as much to look at. Sometimes our fear covers up our ability to experience the amazing beneath the surface. It’s our job as travelers – and especially for those of us who write and share our stories – to dive beneath that surface and come up for air to tell the story.
How to Visit the Antilla Shipwreck in Aruba
If you, like me, need a dose of facing your fears through travel, Aruba is a great adventure destination.
There are several snorkeling tours to the Antilla shipwreck; Jolly Pirates was affordable, welcoming, and cheerful in taking to me to what felt like my doom. Their Sail, Snorkel, Swim & Swing tour is five hours long for $60 per person. You can book your tour directly through the Jolly Pirates website. If you are cruising through Aruba, book it as a shore excursion.
You can also scuba dive at the Antilla shipwreck, though many providers advise against diving within the ship structure due to dangerous conditions. In addition to sea life, you can also find amazing coral and sponges, as well as tons of Caribbean fish species. Some of the top dive shops near the dive site are Red Sail Aruba and Palm Beach Divers Aruba.
My shore excursion snorkeling the Antilla shipwreck in Aruba was part of a 10-day Panama Canal cruise with Princess Cruises. As part of my partnership, I am sharing this (and other) stories about my experience in the Caribbean. You can see more on the Princess Cruises website, and book your trip here.