Thursday, January 14, 2016

Travel Report: 2016 PCA, Day 8: The Stingray Experience

It was one-thirty in the morning. I was more than a little fatigued, nearing the end of my eighth straight day reporting from the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure at the Atlantis in Nassau, Bahamas, and also the end of what was turning out to be the longest day of work out of the eight.

I followed the $25,000 High Roller field play down to just nine players from what turned out to be a 225-entry field, with 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event runner-up Josh Beckley ending the night with the chip lead. With a little bit of time left to go, I still had another hour-plus of work left to do for the night.

Standing there in the middle of the tournament area, I started to imagine the players and staff surrounding me begin to move in a counterclockwise direction, as though revolving around me. Of course, what I was really thinking about was what I had done yesterday morning -- the “Stingray Experience” here at the Atlantis in which I had a chance to feed and then swim around with approximately 130 cownose stingrays in one of the shallow lagoons not far from my hotel room.

I tried during the day to explain what it was like to various people, but never felt like I was able to relate precisely how strange and fun and in a surprising way calming the experience had been. While normally a group of people do the “Experience,” I turned out to be the only one to do so at my scheduled time. “You have all 130 of them to yourself,” explained my guide,” and sure enough once I shuffled carefully out into the middle of the lagoon with my pail of crawfish, squid, and other edibles, I was easily the center of attention.

They bumped into me with their hard little noses, almost like little fists, and also nipped at my legs with their toothless gums, located underneath the stingray’s flat surface. Yes, they have their barbs -- it’s arduous to remove them, apparently, and they grow ‘em back, anyway. But I was safe from being stung as long as I moved slowly and avoided stepping on anyone, causing them to attack in self-defense.

The little brown diamonds waved around, looking as though they were flying underneath the surface of the water. To feed I grabbed a handful of chum and held it under the water, letting one glide over my hand to take what I had to offer while holding my hand flat. It reminded me a lot of feeding the horses a sugar cube or piece of apple, where it’s also recommended to keep your hand flat and your fingers out of harm’s way.

I wasn’t nervous at all, despite expecting that I would be. Perhaps it was because there weren’t others there feeding also, and so I couldn’t pick up on anyone else’s anxiety over what was going on. Once the feeding was done, I donned a mask and snorkel and swam around for a while, looking up close at several of the stingrays, the various tropical fish, and even a couple of small sharks. The snorkeling, too, was quite serene, the calm further enhanced, I think, by the necessary consciousness of breathing.

The picture of above I snapped afterwards -- alas, I have no photos from my time in the water -- and doesn’t really do the scene all that much justice, only capturing a handful of the stingrays looking like so many oversized fall leaves floating about.

Finally my time was up, and I trudged back to my room, got some lunch, and eventually began my long day. But as I say I kept thinking of the stingrays, and probably will for some time to come.

Heading back down for one last day of poker, as both the Main Event and High Roller will play down to winners. Swim over to the PokerStars blog to see how the cards and chips go round and round. Might have to take my souvenir snorkel down there to use while I’m reporting, if they start splashing around too much.

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