Celebrate Your Life – See the World
Destination Swim: The Blue Grotto, Island of Capri, off Naples, Italy
by J “Kat” Loren : : It was too early for tourists. The only person I saw was the café owner setting up his tables and chairs al fresco, muttering aloud about clouds and rain. He caught sight of me walking down the steps of the cliff side and stopped me as I passed.
“You going swimming senora?” He asked. “I don’t have a suit. I think I’ll just look.” “No suit? No problem.” He exclaimed with a wave of his hand as if he were weary of Americans and their inhibitions. “Its OK you go ina anyway, senora. You just go in before the boats arrive and they donna mind.”
I had no intention of swimming as I caught my first impression of the violence of the swells against the rock wall. For a time, I stood on the quay alone in the awakening dawn watching the swells batter the entrance to the cave. Every sixth or seventh swell grew larger that the others and swallowed the hole barely visible in the rock wall which surrounded most of this Island of Capri. Surging against the rock, the sea forced its way inside, spray exploding upwards along the cliff, sending an almost imperceptible free flow of sea into the deep, dark cave known as the Blue Grotto.
I peered into the opening trying to decide its length and breadth, and height. At high tide on a stormy morning, the narrowing looked formidable but giving. I knew I could do it. I had seen postcards of the cave’s blue light and heard how the tourists would lay flat on their backs in the dory boat as they approached the entrance. Then, the guide crouched down so as not to hit his head while he yanked them in on the flow, hand over hand, grasping onto the rope that hung from the tunnel’s ceiling. It couldn’t have been that far from the opening into the cave itself, I reasoned.
As I watched, my heart picked up a few beats with that telltale rush of adrenaline that told me I had made up my mind. After all, the man made it sound like lots of people swim into the Blue Grotto. Who needs a boat? Could I ride in on the surge? How far into the cave would it carry me? Could I ride out on the ebb or would I be able to feel or see it in the dark?
Although I thought the matter through, I relied on my instincts. And my instincts honed by countless hours in the surf, told me yes. I was at home in the water in darkness. The sea would carry me safely where I wanted to go, of that I was sure. I had tested it often enough transcending my limits of air and stamina time after time in pools and oceans. Now I would swim into the grotto alone.
Still my mind conjured up images of headlines in the Naples evening paper, “American Body Found Naked off Capri by Local Tour Boat Operators”. Purported links to the Mafia or rumors of someone murdering me would come into the story. The American Embassy would launch an inquiry. The adrenaline rush started over again as I imagined my head dashed against the mouth of the cave rendering me unconscious before spewing my body back into the Mediterranean, another corpse, another police mystery.
Stepping out of my shoes I quickly lifted off my shirt, dropped bra, shorts and panties onto the cement quay, hesitated by the ladder that enabled swimmers to climb back onto the platform to make sure it would suffice, and plunged headfirst into the water. For a moment, I bobbed a few yards from the cave’s entrance, treading water, getting a feel for the sea’s strength.
My body floated swiftly towards the cave as the tidal surge lifted me as if threatening to throw me in, then bounced me backwards, playing with me the way a child plays with a beach ball. I would have to ride the surge not fight it. I would make it work for me. I dangled in the surge for a while, letting it carry me closer to the entrance, surrendering to its rhythm.
Poised at the narrow opening I glanced back to watch the incoming swell, took a huge breath of air and ducked my head underwater, kicking my way inside. A swirl of gray water mingled with the blue foam, breaking water twirling me into the vortex. I kicked harder as I felt the ebb threaten to drag me backwards, trapping me in the narrow tunnel without air. In a moment, the ebb released its grip and I found myself in peaceful water, surrounded by dim light tinged blue as if someone turned on a light blue nightlight in a dark room. I was inside. I surfaced. The tunnel wasn’t that long, just frightening outside. Inside, the calm felt strangely reassuring.
Strange how the sea could rage outside but here, I could float forever, undisturbed. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the light reflected off the sand below. I judged the bottom to be about 20 feet deep by the entrance and deeper further in. The grotto itself was like a big round room. Swimming along the wall I felt for a ledge, my fingers moving like a blind girl shyly touching a stranger’s face attempting to see what he looked like, find clues to his character or perhaps a place to pull myself up and rest. There was none. But it didn’t alarm me. I merely laid back and floated, allowing my arms to stretch out. I arched me back a little, filling my lungs for added buoyancy, and felt the salt tingling along my skin, mingling with the cold.
Lying there in the chamber of sensory deprivation, I felt myself suspended at the thin border edging out reality from hallucination. I opened my eyes and gazed at the intensity of the blue that now surrounded me as my eyes adjusted to the dim – light blue beneath me, darker along the edges and deep darkness above.
I felt the fullness of sound in my body as my ears filled with water and caught the sighs and whispers of the tide outside the cave. I floated away, my spirit separating from my body and drifting in the blue grotto of my mind now acting like the boat that carries souls off to the netherworld. All of my heaviness lay cradled by the sea; no worries, no expectations, a self without restrictions, an uncreated being.
All too soon, I felt the chill creep along my skin sending shivers along my spine and I knew it was time to leave. Turning over, I swam back to the entrance, gentled on this side of the open ocean. Still I felt for the tide’s ebb, judged the timing, braced myself to kick back into the turbulence outside. Sucking in a deep breath I ducked my head beneath the water into the tunnel, kicked into the ebb and gushed forth easily into the morning sun.
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J “Kat” Loren is a Pacific NW-based journalist and author of more than a dozen books. She currently focuses on writing health, fitness, ocean conservation and travel articles. Her blog “Crazi Culture” is a popular read among those who like eclectic topics and travelogues about odd places and adventures. http://www.craziculture.com Jloren.firstname.lastname@example.org
“No Suit, No Problem” is part of the Destination Swim series by J. “Kat” Loren.
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