Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Ocean Adventure

Given the number of overseas trips Big A and I have made this year, we wanted to take Little A somewhere very special as a change of scenery from our usual mountain getaway (though we have visited that one twice this year already and have a thirs trip lined up for the second weekend in December).

About 18 months ago, I made a booking for Little A to meet some dolphins. He would play with them for about half an hour in the shallow water of a beach located just two hours out of the city. 

For most children this would be an amazing experience, but for a nonverbal autistic boy with a special affinity for animals, the encounter would be a dream come true.

Unfortunately, the weekend prior to D-Day, both Big and Little A fell ill with the bad cough and fever combo that was making the rounds. The Dolphin Encounter was shelved, and we didn't  manage to reschedule it within the year.

With another long weekend coming up, I dusted off the telephone number still written in my little notebook and dialled. After confirming that the date we wanted was available, the lady on the phone asked me how old Little A was. On replying that he was eight, she cheerfully informed me that his encounter would no longer be a shallow water one, but that he could swim with the dolphins already.

What a thrill for him this would be! While waiting to board our flight to Hawaii, Big A and I booked a hotel and settled payment details for the following weekend. On our return from Honolulu, I prepped Little A for the dolphin swim, showing him his and his dad's matching outfits and encouraging him to look up videos on YouTube.

The weekend arrived, bright and sunny, and off we went to Subic Bay. We checked in, unpacked, then drove to the small zoo where Little A saw some animals and got to ride a train.  He enjoyed himself, but we knew the best thing would come the following day.

D-Day arrived, and we arrived at the ocean side of the freeport with about half an hour to spare before the scheduled dolphin swim. It was perfect because a dolphin show was about to start, and Little A, who had always hated such things because of the noise and the crowds, saw four dolphins in open water and decided right there that he had to watch.

He found a space on the concrete steps leading to the water, outside of the main seating pavilion. With great excitement, he barely blinked as he watched the graceful mammals jump, splash and twirl.

When the show was over I told him it was his turn to meet the dolphins. He immediately started to take off his clothes and quickly donned his swimwear. I told him there would be a quick lecture first, and that he needed to sit and listen to the "teacher" before he could swim with the dolphins. 

With such reward in store for a little bit of sitting and listening, he complied (though he did run around a bit calling out with joy first). Finally, it was time. The trainer took his hand he raced toward the water, only to stop short and cling to Big A as the gentle animals approached.

The encounter started in shallow water, with the trainers showing two groups of four guests how to gently stroke and then interact with the dolphins before each animal towed them one at a time into the deep water. When Little A first laid his hand on a dolphin's skin, all fear evaporated instantly and he fell in love.

In the deep water, the humans donned life jackets and one at a time learnt how to instruct the dolphins to spin, jump and twirl. Little A found a pen with more animals, wild ones and young ones, and watched them jump in their contained space.

At the end of the allowed time, they were meant to be pulled back to the shallows to say goodbye. One animal, called Loki, ignored his trainer's commands for a few minutes and looked long and hard into my little boy's eyes. They had a bonding experience all their own, and then he allowed himself to go back to the shallow water. Come goodbye time, though, Little A swam out after his new friends and had to be firmly led back. Inconsolable, the only thing that stopped his crying was the promise of sea lion show starting in a few minutes.

He raced into the arena full of people and found a seat in the crowd. Expecting him to be overwhelmed by the noise and to want to leave soon, I stood near the entrance/exit only to be pleasantly surprised when Little A motioned me to climb up the bleachers and sit with him. He proceeded to wait for, and watch, the entire 25 minute show, clapping, cheering and all, with rapt attention.

At the end of that, when told there would be no swimming with the sea lions as night was falling, he cried a little. But only a little, and got into the car and rode back to the hotel with memories in his head and on our mobiles. We promised him another trip, with more sea animal encounters, and all look forward to the next one. 

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