It’s a new day and our last one in San Diego. It’s certainly time to have some fun and forget about all this stolen handbag nonsense. And so, with the excitement of a child at Christmas time, Megan and I catch the bus and head to SeaWorld.
A hefty $78 gets you in (my word!), but it’s a day pass to witness and interact with a myriad of marine friends. We check the timetable and precisely determine our plan of action to watch as many shows as we can, starting with Shamu and friends.
It may have been because of the Free Willy film franchise, but I have always – and I mean, always – wanted to see a real Orca whale. Up close and in the wild (more on that later). The thrill of my first glimpse of these remarkable creatures elevates my heart rate and I coax Megan into sitting in the ‘splash zone’ in this massive amphitheatre arena. There’s music and videos on the screens and hundreds of people staring at the gigantic mass of water, willing something spectacular to start happening. So. Flippen. Exciting.
Now SeaWorld is a little cheesy and I feel a bit sorry for the trainers and acrobats that have to spend their entire day with plastered smiles while wildly waving and speaking in that annoying super-positive voice. ‘Welcome to SeaWorld everybody!’ But hey, it’s a job and a pretty great one it seems.
Finally the killer whales are ‘set free’ into the big pool and for the next while we are treated to a show of these magnificent animals gliding through the water, jumping through the air, and swimming along the edges while soaking the brave ‘splash zone’ inhabitants with the swoosh of their tales. And I love every second of it.
Onto the next adventure, we stop at a ‘touch pool’ where low and behold, we may just have the opportunity to actually touch a bottle-nosed dolphin. Alas, the trainer holding the fish is significantly more attractive to them right now and we wait patiently and expectantly (along with several others) for them to come to us. But the seal show is about to start, so we walk away. Not before I turn to Megan and with conviction say: ‘I am not leaving SeaWorld without touching a dolphin, damnit!’
At least the manta rays are more accessible and we spend a few minutes delighting in the slimy shapes that glide past our fingers. Remarkable!
The seal (and otter) show is thoroughly entertaining and funny, incorporating storylines and music to show off the unbelievable intelligence of these guys. Next up is the dolphin and bird show – a kind of Cirque du Soleil-esque performance with high diving and lavish costumes and people who literally ride on dolphins. I bet every person in that crowd is thinking: I want to be her. Right now.
Back at the dolphin pool, things are looking up. They pop their heads up just to the left and right of me and we’re leaning so far in I am almost swimming with them. Suddenly I notice a young girl on my right, wearing a faded SeaWorld cap and seemingly calling these dolphins by name! And they start gunning for her hand – they know her! So I get in on the action, and just like that, I have a selection of grey beauties slipping under and past my hands. I am actually touching a dolphin! I touch their noses (only when their mouths are closed though … have you seen those teeth?!) and slide my palm over their slick bodies. Cold, hard, rubbery. It’s odd, they feel like you expect them to.
It really is amazing. Until of course that moment when the one cheeky little brat goes under and resurfaces tail first, pulling it back – right in front of me – and baptising me in a sufficiently soaking spray of pool water. Oh well, all part of the experience.
We visit the flamingos, sea turtles and seals. We ride the Manta Ray rollercoaster about two or three times consecutively (again! again!) until my head feels like it might explode. And just before we have to return to our San Diego home, I am lured back to the pools where they keep the Orcas. I can stand there all day, mesmerised by their grace and beauty.
The evening turns into a bit of a girls’ night out and Megan, Kristina and I enjoy a cocktail at a sidewalk bar after exploring the Gaslamp Quarter, followed by a little dancing at an Irish pub/club nearby. We encounter the most gorgeous bartender I have ever seen, once again get told that our South African accents are ‘sexy’, and (shame) try avoid the Turkish guy who chatted me up while Megan and Kristina left me alone on the dancefloor, for fun.
Today … today was sunshine after the rain.