Tales from Barbados: At one with the turtles

What a young woman and a four legged, shelled reptile have in common

In our third "Tales" series, columnist Rachel A.G. Gilman remembers her first snorkeling experience in the heart of the Caribbean.

Before my mother even thought of having me, she'd had beach days soaked in daiquiris and sunscreen along the coastline of Barbados, a bi-annual vacation with friends. I'd grown up hearing about the magical little island and wearing the t-shirts to bed with the destination scrawled across the front. I'd always wanted to experience it myself. A month before I turned twenty-one, she decided to share it with me during my spring break vacation.

As excited as I was for the feeling of white sand under my feet, the cost effective rum between my lips, and the opportunity for relaxation all over my body, I was most excited to go snorkeling with hawksbill turtles.

Rachel A.G. Gilman

I was fit with a snorkel mask and large, webbed rubber fins while still on land. I didn't read the waiver before I signed away my rights to legal action should something go wrong. Nothing would. I was in the middle of what pops up if you were to Google image search "paradise." And more importantly, I was completing an item on my bucket list.

In my denim shorts and striped cotton blouse, my polkadot bikini underneath, I swam out with my fellow passengers to the boat, stripping down once on board. Everything felt like such an obstacle to getting to the turtles: the life vests, the passing rain cloud, the reggae music coming from the speaker next to my seat.

The boat took off, driving a small distance before anchoring again further into Carlisle Bay. I tightened my goggles, slipped on my flippers, and jumped off the edge of the boat into the water before I could think to be nervous about it.

Salty water submerged my skin. Sun baked my tan shoulders. But I couldn't see the turtles anywhere. "Swim around," the guides said. "Be quiet and respectful. Don't dangle your fingers or they might nip you." I followed instructions and swam a bit away from the group, in the opposite direction. Fish swarmed between my toes and across the backs of my legs, but no turtles. I kept swimming. In the distance, a saw a green, orb-shaped body approaching. I bobbed up and down in the water but didn't move.

The turtle swam up close. I had only ever seen one contained within a glass case in an aquarium. She felt so much more relatable without the barrier between us.I could see everything: her blurry eyes (turtles have notoriously bad vision), her patterned flippers, and her leathery shell.

"If you're careful, you can touch her," one of the guides said when I poked my head above the water.

I reached my hand out and gently caressed her shell, which was just as rough and bumpy as it looked. The small, silver turtle charm on the single bracelet on my wrist also touched her shell. The turtle moved her head slightly toward me before slowly swimming underneath me. Her body touched my stomach and I simultaneously laughed and smiled, feeling a sort of ease I have yet to experience again.

I think the turtle might have felt the same, a pleased expression on her mouth as she swam away.

Rachel A.G. Gilman

Read More from Journiest

Subscribe now

Related Posts
Food & Drink

8 of the Best Donut Spots In the United States

Celebrate National Donut Day with our favorite treats across the country.

November 5th marks one of 2020's two National Donut Days.

Occurring in both June and November, National Donut Day allows fans of those delectable yeasty treats to embrace their sweet tooth. But like any niche food group, people often take their donuts very, very seriously, and there are countless places to get your fix.


Below, we've rounded up some of the best donut spots across the country. From coast to coast, these bakeries are sure to impress even the pickiest donut-heads.

Mr. T.'s Delicate Donut Shop – Modesto, CA

Mr. T.'s Delicate Donut Shop

If you ever find yourself in the San Francisco Bay Area, it's worth taking a short trek out east towards Modesto for some of California's best donuts. Mr. T.'s Delicate Donut Shop has remained family owned since its opening over 30 years ago, providing both tried-and-true classic donuts as well as experimental flavors and holiday specials. Even their 24-hour service doesn't diminish the line that trails out the door most mornings.

Dough — New York, NY

Dough \u2014 New York, NY

Donuts might not be the first circular, doughy treat you think of when it comes to New York City. If you've had your fair share of bagels, the Big Apple also boasts some spectacular donuts at Dough, a go-to spot for both tourists and locals alike. Here, you'll find a host of Latin American-inspired flavors that are hard to come by anywhere else; their Dulce de Leche flavor is a customer favorite, while the tangy Hibiscus donut is just as good for Instagramming as it is for eating.

Blackbird Doughnuts — Boston, MA

Blackbird Doughnuts \u2014 Boston, MA

Boston's Blackbird Doughnuts is a no-frills donut spot specializing in both brioche "raised" donuts and old-fashioned cake donuts. With a small menu of year-round donuts and a rotating cast of seasonal flavors, Blackbird keeps it simple and classic. Why mess around?

Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop — Brooklyn, NY

Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop \u2014 Brooklyn, NY

For over 60 years, Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop has been calling the quaint Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint home. Since then, the bakery has remained a popular spot for both regulars and new visitors passing through the area. Here, you won't find uber-trendy decor or gimmicky recipes, just damn good donuts that prove the power of long-standing local businesses.

Pip’s Original — Portland, OR

Pip\u2019s Original \u2014 Portland, OR

In both their mobile catering van and brick-and-mortar locations, Pip's Original is a staple for small, sweet treats in Portland. They're known for their tiny donuts that come in inventive seasonal flavors like marionberry-lavender and mango ghost pepper. But even if you opt for one of the more traditional flavors, Pip's Original proves good things can come in small packages.

Round Rock Donuts — Round Rock, TX

Round Rock Donuts \u2014 Round Rock, TX

Founded in 1926, Round Rock Donuts—located just north of Austin—are impossible to miss. These donuts' distinct yellow-orange color, caused by fresh eggs in the original recipe, make them stand out among the crowd. While this classic outpost can easily churn out hundreds of dozens of donuts a day, they also offer Texas-Sized Donuts, which are just as ginormous as you'd imagine. Round Rock Donuts are not only delicious and easily recognizable, but they're a slice of Lone Star history.

The Holy Donut — Portland, ME

The Holy Donut \u2014 Portland, ME

In Maine's Portland, you might not find tiny donuts or a decked-out catering van, but you will find a slightly healthier alternative. The Holy Donut was founded on the premise of creating tasty donuts that used all-natural ingredients to make a treat you could feel good about eating. The secret ingredient is fresh, mashed Maine potatoes, which make these donuts delectably moist without sacrificing flavor.

Donut Friend — Los Angeles, CA

Donut Friend \u2014 Los Angeles, CA

As expected of a city so focused on entertainment, Los Angeles' Donut Friend puts an edgy spin on their inventive donut flavors. Their year-round menu features donut flavors with names like Green Teagan and Sara, Fudgegazi, and Bacon-182 that are sure to delight the rock music nerds. For everyone else, the delicious donuts speak for themselves.

Explore

Are Disney World And Universal Orlando Doing Enough To Keep Visitors Safe?

Is it possible to keep a theme park clean and safe during a pandemic?

California governor Gavin Newsom recently announced a plan for reopening theme parks in the state.

After months of lobbying for reopening from both Disney and Universal as the state sought to limit the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the plan was not received well, with representatives from both companies balking at measures they saw as overly restrictive.


With staggering losses and massive employee layoffs as a result of months of closure, both Universal and Disney are eager for their theme park businesses to get back in gear in California. But the companies don't have the same issues in Florida, where they have been operational since the summer.

In fact, Florida governor Ron DeSantis completely eliminated state-level restrictions on businesses as of September 25th, and even made it impossible for local municipalities to mandate anything beyond the most minimal restrictions on bars and restaurants.

Despite some worrying trends in the state's coronavirus numbers, the Governor has been determined to return to business as usual, even promising a "full Super Bowl" in Tampa next February. But not everyone is as blindly optimistic as Florida's highest elected official.

Why Go to Disney World During a Pandemic? | The New Yorker www.youtube.com

While Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World have been reopened since June and July respectively—when Florida's first wave of COVID cases was at its worst—if travelers are considering a trip to either resort, they may want to have a closer look at the precautions taken by each company to make their parks safe(ish) for visitors.

With that in mind, my wife and I recently went under cover as "tourists" and "nerds" to inspect these theme parks by going on a bunch of rides and getting overly excited about various attractions that may or may not be designed for small children.

Capacity

universal entrance

While both resorts claim to be taking measures recommended by the CDC, only Disney World has explicitly stated that they are operating at 25% capacity. That said, guests should not expect to see 25% of the usual crowds, because Disney World's various parks don't generally fill up to 100% capacity under normal circumstances.

Instead—on days when the parks reach their 25% capacity—the resulting crowds should be around 40-60% of average levels. While this creates a noticeable reduction in the density of visitors, Disney World is far from a ghost town, and both Epcot and Animal Kingdom—the two parks my wife and I enjoyed inspected—were host to a comfortable number of people on the weekdays we spent there.

As for Universal Orlando, it's hard to get a proper comparison, because we found ourselves at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure on the Sunday before Halloween. While that weekend would probably see the parks packed to the brim under normal circumstances, it was still quite busy, with throngs of people—especially in the "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" sections—frequently making us feel uncomfortable.

While it may not be fair to blame Universal for the way their guests choose to cluster, it's worth noting that the resort has refused to publicly clarify their current operating capacity, referring to it simply as "limited capacity" or "reduced capacity," without providing a specific number.

Perhaps it's a more lax approach to limiting guests that has allowed the resort to maintain long hours with lots of mascots and live performances, while Disney has reduced both their operating hours and the presence of performers in their parks—having laid off around 90% of Disney World's union performers—in order to cut costs.

While this may make for a more fun experience for some visitors to Universal Orlando, if safety is a priority, Disney is clearly taking a firmer approach to minimizing their crowds. And while Disney parks are operating for fewer hours each day, the reduced crowds make it easier to experience a lot in that limited time.

Disney: 4/5

Universal: 3/5

Social Distancing

social distancing universal disney

Disney World and Universal Orlando have adopted the same basic protocol when it comes to social distancing, instructing guests to maintain at least six feet of distance from anyone they weren't traveling with, and providing floor markings in lines for rides and attractions.

However, Disney was a bit more stringent about repeating and enforcing these instructions, which made a clear difference. While a substantial portion of guests at Universal seemed to ignore the floor markings—generally leaving only a few feet between themselves and other parties—nearly all the guests we saw at Disney World seemed to take the six foot rule seriously.

Disney also took the extra step of adding physical barriers between lines wherever necessary, which is a major reassurance when you would otherwise be forced to keep track of dozens of strangers in various directions in order to maintain appropriate distance from everyone around you.

Disney: 4.5/5

Universal: 3.5/5

Face Masks

Again, both Disney and Universal have adopted the same basic protocol advised by the CDC. Guests must keep their mouths and noses covered by a face mask at all times, except when eating or drinking—which is only to be done while stationary and away from other guests.

In announcements reminding guests of the rules, those who do not comply are threatened with removal—though we did not witness any effort to make good on that threat. As with social distancing, the reminders were more frequent at Disney, and employees did occasionally correct people who left their noses exposed. Many of the workers at Disney World also had the added protection of face shields, which was nice to see.

As for the various restaurants in each park, they were still operating. And while there was some effort to space guests out, we did not feel comfortable removing our masks in indoor spaces with uncertain ventilation, so we chose to make use of abundant outdoor seating.

Disney: 4.5/5

Universal: 4/5

Hand Washing

This is the one area where Universal definitely had Disney beat. While both resorts had hand sanitizer stationed all around their parks in automatic dispensers—and Disney Epcot also had a number of outdoor handwashing stations, which was handy with their food and wine festival ongoing—only universal had employees stationed at every ride to make sure each guest sanitized their hands before boarding.

This made a big difference when grabbing seatbelts, restraints, and handlebars. We had a reasonable assurance the hundreds of other people who had also touched those surfaces had relatively clean hands at the time. Without that added step at Disney, it felt a little more urgent to track down hand sanitizer after getting off each ride. And while it was generally easy to find, it's easy to imagine what a challenge it could be for parents to keep a small child from touching their eyes, mouth, and nose in the meantime.

Both parks seem to be using hand sanitizer that includes aloe or some other kind of moisturizer, because after three days of near constant application, our hands had not transformed into scaly, irritated claws.

Disney: 4/5

Universal: 5/5

Cleaning

Cleaning

Speaking of strangers touching surfaces, you might wonder what kind of army it takes to keep these massive theme parks clean while thousands of people mill about, touching and breathing on everything. And you can keep on wondering, because while both resorts assure visitors that they have ramped up their cleaning procedures, that was only evident at Disney—and even there it didn't seem sufficient.

While nothing looked particularly dirty at either park, at Disney we saw only a handful of workers moving about with spray bottles and cloths, sanitizing handrails, benches, outdoor tables, and other surfaces. At Universal, the only place we saw that approach to cleaning was at the temporary lockers where guests are required to place their belongings before more intense roller coasters—which is less of an issue at Disney, where there's less emphasis on thrill rides.

This is not to say there weren't workers cleaning surfaces at Universal, but unless they are exceptionally good at doing their job undetected, they are certainly fewer than at Disney World.

Disney: 3.5/5

Universal 2/5

Guests...

Macaulay Culkin scream

Of course there is a confounding factor in all of the efforts theme parks take to keep their guests safe: the guests themselves.

While the new rules and safety measures are positive steps, there's nothing that will stop a stubbornly oblivious or selfish or just plain stupid person from pulling their mask off to talk on the phone or itch their nose or sneeze into their hand and then proceed to touch everything.

As much fun as we had at both Disney and Universal, that fun was regularly disrupted by the horrified rage of watching people comply with public safety rules only as much as they had to to avoid getting in trouble.

At Universal—where there was less effort to drive home the rules—that included way too many people crowding close to strangers, many of them not seeming to realize that their noses are attached to their lungs, i.e. the things that can get infected and then infect others with a deadly virus...

But at both parks it included people—only some of them children—touching everything within reach, ignoring hand sanitizer, then touching their phones, their loved ones, and every part of their faces. And worst of all, the drunk people...

There's a reason why bars have been subject to stricter rules as the country attempts to reopen. Drunk people cannot be tamed. If they remember and understand the rules, do they care?

Does it matter to someone who's just trying to keep a buzz going that they can spread COVID-19 even if they're asymptomatic? That—when they ignore the rules and take off their masks to throw back some some beer—they could be indirectly triggering the deaths of who knows how many innocent people?

At both Disney and Universal we saw people fully remove their masks while surrounded by strangers, indoors, in line for a ride, and leave their masks off for an extended period of time. In both cases they had drinks in their hands and were already drunk.

Maybe that's on the parks for letting them join those lines while they had drinks with them. Either way, it was a healthy reminder of how stubbornly selfish and uncaring people can be.

People: 2/5

Drunk People: 0/5

So if you're considering a trip to Florida, and hoping that the theme parks at Universal Orlando and Disney World will provide a safe place to escape the world for a bit, you should know that, while neither one is doing a perfect job in terms of COVID safety measures, Disney is probably a safer bet.

Disney: 4/5

Universal: 3/5

That said, Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure at Universal might be the most fun you'll ever have on a rollercoaster, so... tough call.

Tips

6 COVID-Safe Date Ideas for Autumn

Cooler weather doesn't mean you can't go on dates.

It is certainly brisk when you walk the streets of New York.

As we close in on the end of daylight savings, the days of patio get-togethers are slowly waning. The wind has picked up, it's getting darker earlier, the sun doesn't come out to play as often, and temperatures are quickly dropping after 6pm. As winter encroaches, it may become a little more difficult to plan a get together with your pals, let alone a date with a stranger. Zoom dates are insanely awkward, and a walk in the park can only bring so much joy after a certain time of year, but don't let the chilly temps discourage you. Here are a few COVID-safe options for those who are still looking to make the most out of 2020's unusual cuffing season.

Grocery Run

grocery shopping

Grocery shopping has become one of our sole remaining social activities in the days of COVID, so why not bring a pal along with you?

In the pandemic's early days, grocery runs came with an insane amount of stress thanks to every store's empty shelves. But now, as the panic has subsided, grocery runs have remained one of the only reasons to put on an outfit. They can also be excellent opportunities to bond with someone. As you shop for yams and black beans, why not do it alongside a potential suitor? Just make sure to keep your hands to yourself.

Talk on the phone, not on Zoom

phone call

With Zoom and FaceTime being the go-to application for face-to-face communication, the tried-and-true phone call has taken a back seat. But Zoom can be exhausting. You have to maintain composure and perfect posture for the entirety of the date, and let's be honest: you spend more time looking at yourself than the other person. But on a phone call, the pressure is off, and you're able to focus on listening to the other person speak more than what you look like. The pressures of a screen can be daunting, so why not just pick up the phone?

Write Letters

Write a letter

Have you guys been texting for a while? Are you both really strict about your quarantine and not ready to meet in person yet? Writing old-fashioned letters is a great way to elevate the romance without risking contact. There is nothing more romantic than receiving a handwritten letter in the mail, and the process can be a really easy way to keep things fresh while you wait out this mess.

Make a playlist

Playlist

Wikihow

Playlist-making has become an art form in recent years and is a great way to show your tastes and vulnerability to a potential partner. There is something sacred about sharing a song together, especially if it's a romantic one. A perfect playlist can reveal your feelings without you having to say anything, which is very sexy.

For those who want to indulge in their yearning, craft a meaningful playlist and send it to your lover so you can both share in that moment together.

Watch A Movie Together

Drive-In theater

Drive-In theaters are booming thanks to the pandemic, and most of them offer joint viewings. Set up Zoom from your separate cars, and indulge in a prolonged film experience together. If drive-ins aren't your thing, set up a weekly zoom call and trade off viewing of your favorite films. Your favorite movie says a lot about you and your character, and you two will undoubtedly learn a lot about each other by sharing your favorite films.