Rays and rays

I did some outdoor chores a few days ago, and I discovered later that night that my neck had been attacked by a strange, unseen force that caused a stinging sensation and reddish discoloration. I racked my mind, searching for the possible cause. And then—aha! Of course! Sunlight! That mysterious “X” factor that just recently returned to Northern Nevada! And this must be—sunburn! Well, whaddayaknow. And then, my mind raced back, in a mysterious insta-flash, to the last time my neck was this burned.

I was on a Princess cruise ship a couple of Novembers ago, an excursion that was a heckuva deal. 10 nights on a relatively small, 700-passenger floating buffet, with pool and casino, for $1,400. So for $140 a night, you got a room, unlimited food, and the South Sea. Not bad. One of the highlights of this jaunt was when we parked in the bay of Moorea, an island that is pretty much indescribably beautiful, a place that will cause your eyeballs to bulge with the glory of its view. The mid-morning horn sounded, telling those of us who were going to waddle away from the mega-lunch—oh, those eclairs!—that it was time to get off the damned boat and find something to do.

Our party skiff full of pasty honkies zipped out to a special spot in the lagoon, where the ultra-fabulous water (all those shades of turquoise, aquamarine, teal—and warm!) was maybe 5 feet deep, and then dropped off to a deeper, darker zone. Our Moorean guide told us to get on our snorkeling gear while he grabbed his bucket of fish and hopped into the ocean. As we fiddled with our masks and fins, we could see them coming. The rays were ready for lunch.

Big gray stingrays, most of them at least 3 feet across, and they knew the drill. It was showtime. We all slipped into the water and hung with these exotic beasts, who glided nonchalantly among us, providing a novel and fascinating wildlife experience. There must have been 25 of them, each cruising patiently for their turn to get a free snack.

As the rays swam next to us, they were perfectly willing to be touched by our curious hands. They knew the price for easy food, and seemed more than willing to pay that price. So you basically could pet the ray as you fed it, and in doing so, you could feel … liquid velvet. What skin they had! An unexpected delight, and one of the most memorable tactile moments ever.

In Polynesia, it’s a good idea to snorkel with a shirt on. The sun at that latitude is merciless. We snorkeled about in this living aquarium—by then, the small, supercool black-tipped sharks had joined the party—for a couple of hours. My T-shirt was on, but it didn’t quite cover my neck. I remembered that fry job now, standing in my stinging shower in Spanish Springs.