We drove the length of the island, the four of us, in a handful of hours. The landscape moved from cityscape to jungle to farmland to beach, in just the duration of a couple of good conversations. There weren’t any signs, a map or Siri telling us how to get to where we wanted to be. Instead, we made a steady spiral toward our goal, sticking our heads out the window to ask whoever might be within asking distance. We pulled up to the unmarked beach, looking like it was set to receive hordes of tourists that never came. Out of a row of barebones shacks came a couple of amicable, older Dominicans with a cooler. It contained the fish that they had caught not a few hours earlier. There were bigger than my hand in all dimensions and colored the most vibrant hues of geeen, yellow, red and blue. For a miniscule amount of money the family would cook us up a fish each of our choosing, along with some cold drinks. We passed the time running into the ocean and jumping off sandbars into a meeting of fresh river water and the salty sea.

The meal was simple as are most meals I’ve come across while travelling. Two pieces of tomato and one of lettuce made a salad, a helping of rice and beans and the gloriously cooked fish. To this day, it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had and the best fish I’ve ever eaten. No sauce, no spices. just the flavors of the foods ands some salt. We spent an hour or so talking and digesting. Then, moved down the island coastline checking out several uninhabited beaches, each one more incomparably beautiful than the last.

The water was warm, pristine and calm. One of the beaches was so tame that schools of fish swam around and through us. Sometimes nibbling our legs and feet, other times leaping out of the water.

The last beach we went to, the shore ran to the horizon on end and the other stopped at a rock outcropping that poked its way into the sea. In that outcrop there was a particularly large rock jutting out. With no one to tell us no, three of us swam out to jump off of it. As we pushed deeper and deeper toward the rock, the gradient of the blue of the sea darkened. Light blue, blue, dark blue, darker blue, darkest. The old fear of the deep end of the pool came rushing back to me the further out we got, as images of what lay below me clouded my thoughts. Sharks, squids, the kraken. The water was so dark you could reason it was black.

We got close to the rock and just a few feet under the surface of the water was a sort of rock flooring. Happy for the chance to stand and rest my arms I put my feet down. First thing my feet touch are the spines of a sea anemone. Tons of them are nestled all over the rocks. Looking more like a mine field than a sanctuary I decided to forego navigating the sea anemone with my feet and just keep swimming. We get to a point where the rock sloped upward out of the sea and into the sky. Unfortunately, father time and the tide has not looked favorably on this batch of rocks as they were chipped and battered into a series of razors that made climbing it near impossible without cutting into bare feet worse than a sea anemone could. We were about 20 minutes out from our spot along the shore and nothing to rest on save these barbed rocks. I stopped and floated above the colonies of anemones. The barbs were matte black and the orb they protected was a velvet red. Any nook worth resting in had one of these guys poking out. On either side I was walled in by sheer rock faces. Just the path behind me and the one in front that wound its way around these gigantic rocks. Occasionally, the flooring below me would fall away to nothing but the depths of the sea. Nothing fogged up the view down, no shapes looming below just infinite blue. I took my time swimming around this path laid out by water.

Rather fatigued, eventually, we swam back to shore against the current away from all of the sharp objects we had just come across. We would successfully jump off all variety of jumpable cliffs we could handle, including a rope swing off a 30-40 foot cliff into sinkhole and into pools etched out by waterfalls.

Even though we did not make it to the top, the journey to the cliff and many parts of that trip were liberating due to the thrill of saying yes and the rush of adrenaline and panic as you think of all that could go wrong then jump anyway and see yourself alive and fine afterward.

In my travels I’ve found that hesitation will lose you once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. By saying no, I would not have actually felt the spine of wild sea anemones, never experienced the relentless downpour of the amazon rains are capable of, nor would I have met the countless exciting and interesting people on the road, in hostels, bars or river trips. Never tasted the indescribably delightful tastes of the handfuls of fruits that look poisonous, rotten and/or alien.

Sometimes you forget your swimsuit in your last hostel half a country away. Sometimes a mysterious, red fungus grows on the top of your foot. But I’d never trade them if it means I get to ride an elephant in a Thai jungle, camp in the Amazon, lay on pure Dominican beaches, travel like a Brazilian and live like a Spaniard.