“Legend has it that if you kiss a stingray, it will bring you seven years of good luck.” I don’t know how true this statement is, but it’s what I was told as I dipped my toes into the still-warm waters of the North Sound right before I touched down on the sand bar known as Stingray City.
Stingray City is a series of shallow sand bars found in the North Sound of Grand Cayman of the Cayman Islands. Southern Stingrays can be found in abundance here, and it was the local fishermen that first attracted the majestic marine animal to the area. At the end of their working day, the fishermen would set anchor on the sand bar and clean their catch, disposing of unwanted carcasses and unused bait overboard. Before long, they began to notice dark clouds floating across the seabed. The dark clouds were, of course, Stingray. The stingray started to associate the sound of a boat motor with food, and today the fishing boats have been replaced by tourists looking to interact with and feed these regal creatures.
From a young age, I’ve been intrigued by life under the sea, and I believe that’s down to my father and his love of diving and aquatic animals alike. At the age of 11, I was introduced to scuba diving, completing a PADI Seal course in a swimming pool in my home town. Since then I’ve sought out a life of a different nature in multiple countries; Australia, (The Great Barrier Reef) Egypt (The Red Sea) and Belize (The Hol Chan Marine Reserve) to name just a few. So when I uncovered “Stingray City” whilst visiting the Cayman Islands, I, of course, signed myself up for the half-day expedition.
We sail away from the jetty, cruising the calm Caribbean Seas, the sun is shining, warming my face. I listen to the waves lapping against the side of the boat, and I feel quite at peace with myself; however, it’s not long before I feel an excitement swelling in me as we near the sand bars of the North Sound.
Up ahead I see dark shadows crawling across the sea bed like lost souls who only come into clear view as we draw closer – dozens of Southern Stingrays.
After the standard safety briefing, I’m standing waist-deep in water, which is uncommonly bright. I feel something brush my leg; however, the perpetrator has disappeared; this happens several times.
I’m living in the moment, taking everything in, enjoying this unique experience when our tour guide effortlessly picks up a stingray out of the azure blue sea. He chaperones him towards my face, and it is now that I am supposed to kiss this Southern Stingray.
In some ways, I feel like I’m reliving my first kiss all over again, I close my eyes, clench my fists and lean in. My lips are pressed up against the underside of a Stingray; my brain is trying to digest what is happening. It feels smooth and soft against my lips but also a little hard. The slime coating rubs off on my lips; the mucus that protects them against bacteria.
I have kissed a stingray. That’s not something I ever thought I would hear myself say: ‘I kissed a stingray.’ I imagine it’s similar to what it would feel like to a kiss a frog, except there is no handsome prince when you open your eyes or happily ever after. I’m also quite certain I didn’t get my seven years good luck.