My first trimester really did me in. And actually, so did most of my second. So there wasn’t a whole lot of athletic, entertainment, amusement type activities I was up for. I love to run, but I had to retire my running shoes for the season. Prenatal yoga is awesome, until they ask you to lean your head back. Nope. I’m out. Tea cups at Disneyland. Not a chance. Even getting into my car presented itself as brutal at times. So going to work, eat frozen yogurt, and sleep were my three go-to activities.

When I was 13 weeks pregnant, my best friend got married on the Big Island, Hawaii.

I made it across the Pacific. The nausea was of course rough, but I didn’t prepare myself for pregnancy dry mouth. Ok, pregnancy books, add this into one of your chapters (unless it’s always been there, and I skimmed over it thinking it won’t happen to me) I think I walked to the back of the plane to get water at least 10 times.

After two months of non-stop morning sickness, an extremely uncomfortable flight (no fault to you Alaska Airlines) I put on my bathing suit and dipped slowly into the ocean in Mauna Lani to see if snorkeling and pregnancy mix. Bingo! Maybe it’s a combination of fresh Hawaiian air, and being in the water, but I as soon as I went under the sea, my nausea seemed to float away with the tide.

I snorkeled every morning and almost every afternoon for the next three days. The wedding was beautiful; I stood with her as Maid of Honor, and I was so happy I didn’t have to wear a bridesmaid dress. (Note: If I could go back to my own wedding, I wouldn’t have done bridesmaid dresses).

After the wedding festivities died down, we still had a couple of days in paradise. Throughout the week, I noticed advertisements to snorkel with manta rays at night. A few years ago I watched a show on the Travel Channel about this new activity that aimed to bring more tourists to the Big Island. I’ve been scuba dive certified since my honeymoon to Fiji, but the thought of going into the ocean at night completely freaked me out.

When I travel I am much more the type to want to see and do it all. Not so much the type to sit around and lay on the beach all day everyday. So on a whim, my husband and I, along with a few other friends from the wedding decided to go for it. I can’t run, I can’t spin in a tea cup, I can’t lean over backwards in yoga, but I was going to get on a boat, ride out to the middle of the ocean, at night, and jump in to search for giant manta rays. “Their tails don’t sting, right?” I thought to myself as I gave my credit card over the phone to book our excursion.

Just before sunset, we boarded the old fishing boat and my stomach had a nice cocktail of nerves and nausea. Our local boat captain showed us a cooler of ginger ale and we left the harbor. I’m pretty sure if this boat ride was off the choppy waters of California, I would have asked him to turn right back around, called it another crazy idea I had on vacation, and have been done with the whole adventure. But the calm waters of Hawaii with the sun setting in the background, mommy and baby spinner dolphins jumping in the wake of the boat, and a whole cooler of ginger ale on ice, I was feeling pretty great.

The 30 minute or so boat ride took us down the Kona coast to Keauhou Bay. Nightfall was upon us and our boat joined a handful of other dive adventure companies all getting ready for this nocturnal attraction. It got dark. Fast. The boat captain and our guide got to work quickly, getting a very bizarre looking contraption ready to set loose into the sea. It looked like a surfboard with handles all around its perimeter and flood lights mounted on its belly.

“Ok, get ready! The mantas are hungry!” the boat captain barked.

Huh?

I looked around our boat and a small part of this experience felt like spring break at Lake Havasu. There were about 7-10 boats now all gathered together. People were laughing on board and groups were splashing into the dark waters.

My nerves came back. I’m not nauseous right now, but why am I doing this?

I put on my fins and adjusted my snorkel mask to my face. Some people opted for a wet suit, but I took one smell of the well-used suit, and I nearly lost it over the side of the boat. It’s Hawaii, and I have a pregnant body temperature. I’ll be fine in just a bathing suit and rash guard.

I sat down at the stern of the boat. Took one last sip of ginger ale and dropped into the water like a buoy, falling straight and popping up to find the surface. My pregnant self already felt better being back in the water. I floated over to the lit-up-manta-surfboard-floating-contraption and my legs went to work gently kicking back and forth treading water. My husband was on one side, one of my best friends from college on the other, and growing baby, weighing nearly an ounce, the size of a pea pod, in my middle. My arms were straight holding onto the raft, my body hung parallel on top of the ocean surface and I looked down into the sea to find it hopping with night life. Fish of all sizes were darting under us like pedestrian traffic in Times Square. Ok, with all these fish swimming about, does that mean sharks are nearby? I couldn’t help but think like a 10-year-old seeing JAWS for the first time.

Thirty minutes into our adventure, fish was all we could see. Our guide told us to swim together over away from the group. So we left the comfort of the other floating night snorkelers and journeyed out into much darker, much deeper waters. I was starting to get cold. I was leaning toward swimming back toward the boat, but the thought of that freaked me out. Dark water, no light-up-surfboard-float, big fish….eels….sharks….ugh.

I looked back down to the depths below. Tiny plankton gathered to our light, thousands of little plankton swarmed around us like dust in sunlight. Then I saw a flash. Way down below our floating raft, at the ocean’s bottom were scuba divers projecting their own light toward the surface. Our guide told us that the light attracts the plankton, and the plankton attracts the mantas. Not even a second later I saw them. Three massive manta rays gliding into the light below. Each of their wing spans must have been at least 20 feet across. The mantas flew well below us, but it was beautiful to watch. This moment already made this trip worth it.

Even more plankton began to gather into our own surface light. We continued to float, continued to look down into the water. Then the mantas began to arrive to our inner circle. There were four of them. At first they danced right through our group. Mouths open wide filtering tiny plankton into their bellies. These gentle giants looked like birds flying through us, turning around as gracefully as an airplane and sailing back through just as delicate and graceful as the first.

Now I was already over the moon excited about this amazing, unreal experience. But once again, it continued to get even better. One of the mantas dove down below and then launched itself upward, coming straight toward…..me (and the pea pod). The giant manta began to tilt its open mouth backwards, and flip its body, showing me a white belly with grey spots. The manta continued to fly closer and closer, and did a barrel roll off of me only coming maybe a centimeter or two from touching my skin. The manta continued to dance with my husband, friend and myself. Flying upward, smiling open mouthed, and barreling off. Again and again and again. I could hear the others laughing through their snorkels as I also couldn’t contain my own laughter each time their spotted underbelly grazed mine. It was incredible, it was relaxing, it felt like magic, doing an ocean dance with these curious, playful (and obviously hungry) creatures. The other mantas began to join in on the fun (feeding) and barrel rolled off of each of us hanging from our glowing surfboard.

I could have stayed in the water all night watching the mantas play, but after almost two hours in the water, I was exhausted. This adventure was also a great workout. Our group left the plankton-filled open ocean and returned to the boat (and the ginger ale). I dried off, wrapped myself up in a blanket, and the boat captain gave us each a bowl of hot minestrone soup. Perfect.

No running, no tea cups, no sushi, or hot tubs, but there is one unique activity to add to your list of ‘can-do’s’ while pregnant. Night Manta Snorkeling on the Big Island of Hawaii. Random I know, but what an amazing, unique experience to share with my little ‘pea pod.’

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