The sun was still shining with gusto but clouds had started to form on the horizon of the Atlantic blue. A brief shadow passed over my face as I suddenly realised it was 4.30pm and I still hadn’t done what I’d come here to do.
I dutifully closed the magazine and gently levered myself out of the sunbed, bathed in a heady daze of hot skin and dehydration. I simply couldn’t face the failure of having walked all the way to the Lido bathing area in Funchal, just to return home having done nothing but lounged in the sun for three hours, without dipping a single toe into the sea. It was now or never. ‘And it might as well be now,’ I told myself sternly, ‘technically speaking, now is as good a time as any to carpe diem and get the bloody hell on with it.’
As I walked passed the lifeguard on duty I paused hopefully to ask if there was any possibility that the sea might be too rough for swimming, or temporarily off limits for some unforeseen reason. He happily assured me that this was not the case and so minutes later I found myself following the concrete steps down to the water’s edge, shooting poisonous looks at the waves and still wondering why I was intending to put myself through such a torturous ordeal. ‘It’s warm in the sun,’ I thought, ‘what on earth is the good of getting all cold and wet, just to say you’ve been in the sea?’ The body did not respond to the babble of internal monologue however, continuing to move slowly towards the rise and swell of the ocean, as reluctant as a small terrier approaching a cold bath.
It was on the fifth step down that I faltered. Waves burst over the concrete tide barriers and the swell heaved and roared in front of me. The cold, swirling water took in the sight of a small, pale English tourist and the small, pale English tourist glared back, equally as unimpressed. My mind was churning out every excuse possible:
‘Seriously Mads, it’s too cold, it’s really not worth it.’
‘Why do you have to swim today anyway? Just go next weekend.’
‘You could come back in a bit, it might be calmer then.’
‘Do you really want to jump in that??’
The romantic appeal of a dip in the Atlantic was receding rapidly. I backed up a few steps and looked over my shoulder, realising that I’d been standing there motionless for the past ten minutes.
There were now not one, but four lifeguards watching me. As I turned around, they shuffled about embarrassedly like a flock impatient seagulls and gave a small shout of encouragement to see if I was alright.
‘Vais?’ Are you going in?
‘Sim, sim vou!’ I waved with feigned enthusiasm.Yes, I’m going!
They waited there, expectant. I wondered if they were hedging bets on how long it was going to take me. I looked down at my feet, pensive. There was really no excuse left.
With a deep breath I turned and plunged into the swell. Not entirely without grace, I hoped. Surfacing again was another matter. Temporarily devoid of the ability to breathe by the shock of freezing water, I rose, gasping like a fish and tried to put on a convincing display of aquatic dexterity for the benefit of my audience. Below my legs were floundering against the strong current, which was dragging me away from the safety of the steps. After some success during the first twenty seconds of submersion, the tide turned and began to push me back inland, towards a sharp wall of rock. I saw a flicker of concern pass over the row of lifeguards who, I now realised, had in fact been more worried about my swimming abilities than whether I was ever going to enter the water or not. I tried not to let the panic reach my face as the swell picked up speed and the rocks loomed closer. I saw four figures poised, ready to jump to the rescue.
By some twist of fate I managed to desperately thrash through the water, just far enough to grab the side railings before the tide swept me past. Hauling myself out and shakily onto my feet I walked, trembling, back up the steps and to sanity. I passed the lifeguards, trying to brush off the terror from my face with a careless smile.
‘Por fim!’ I joked. Finally!
They laughed but weren’t entirely fooled, exchanging looks of relief that they hadn’t ended up with drowned foreigner on their hands.
I tripped back to the sun bed and sank thankfully into towel, warmth and comfort. I was exhausted but exhilarated. Thirty seconds of cold water was apparently all that was needed to quench my desire for adventure in one day, but I didn’t care. Work deadlines on Monday now seemed irrelevant, uncertain job prospects of no concern, the issue of what to cook for supper of minimal importance. I had conquered the wild seas of the Atlantic and was ready to face anything else life chose to throw at me.
Its amazing what perspective you gain from a short leap of faith into the unknown. Pouring cold water on life’s problems certainly makes you aware of how insignificant they really are.