I'm sitting at the front of a 450-horsepower airboat, gliding over a foot of water at speeds so remarkable, the whole group of passengers—10 lesbians, my partner and me—has to lift our arms and swing them to the left each time we approach a corner. I can’t hear our cute Belizean Bak-a-Bush guide tell us this because of the protective earphones I’m wearing, but I can see her dimpled grin as she lifts her arms in imitation of the modern day stadium wave.
The ride, though exhilarating, wasn’t the best part. Indeed, as we slow down to go through Almond Hill Lagoon and Indian Creek to spy crocodiles, manatees, spider monkeys and at least 40 different types of birds (including a gorgeous toucan), I’m reminded of the shared humanity represented by the people here in Central America and the gay women on this Olivia Caribbean cruise. Whether we’re floating through a series of caves on inner tubes, swimming with stingrays, riding a zipline through the jungle, trudging through Mayan ruins or chugging down one too many margaritas with our fish tacos, here we’re all just one people trying to relate to each other.
At every port—Cozumel, Belize, Guatemala—I leap off the boat to find a cultural experience or natural adventure that my working class parents could never imagine. I send postcards home (“Mom, today I saw ancient Mayan ruins from 400 BC”) about the stalactites, the ruins and the reefs, leaving out the stuff about naked boobies at Key West’s Fantasy Fest and that wonderfully stationed tequila tasting in Cozumel. Each time I board the boat, I return to a floating festival—so many lesbian comics (Vickie Shaw and Julie Goldman, to name a few), musicians, parties, women of color events, dancing and food that it makes me imagine how much some of my fellow travelers need this. “I suddenly found myself lost,” admits 50-year-old Bella, who runs her own business and has four teenagers at home. “I was not sure who I am and where I am going.” Then, Bella won a free trip from Olivia via Twitter and she still hasn’t stopped singing the praises, not just of the women on the boat but of the sweat lodge experience she had at Temazcal Cozumel. “It helped me let go of all of the crap I had been carrying around for so long, and just be at peace.”
For me, acts as simple as getting my hair braided by a trans woman in Belize, looking at the shanty-style homes along the Gulf of Honduras or learning about the feminist underpinnings of Guatemalan culture were life changing. Though cruising on a lesbian boat is affordable now, it still feels like a luxury. That’s what vacations are all about, though. “I’ll never be able to explain this to my friends,” a perky, 26-year-old blonde named Amy told me. “It’s like, for one week the outside world didn’t exist.” Amy is a closeted nursing student in the San Francisco Bay Area. I met her at a pool party where the burlesque duo Wau Wau Sisters and curve advice guru Dipstick were leading teams in a dildo ring toss while the Good Vibrations girls talked about sex toys. Though she lives less than 20 miles from both the curve office and a Good Vibes store, she’d never heard of either one. “Maybe this is the push I need to tell people, to know I’m not alone.” The reality that we’re not alone, here and abroad, is the best vacation souvenir of all.