"Let's swim over to where the sharks are". This isn't a sentence that I ever thought I would be pleased to hear, especially while in the water, but by the time Anne Cleveland uttered it during my first dip in La Jolla Cove, I was feeling positively blase about the whole wildlife thing - after all, you have to trust local knowledge about what's safe and what's not...and how often do you get to see a nursery of (perfectly harmless, but still very sharky-looking) leopard sharks? We swam in to the shallows where they are known to hang out, and I was still trying to get my head around the warning not to put my feet down because there were stingrays on the sea floor when the figure of a leopard shark, probably about 4-5 ft long, drifted lazily along the sea floor below me. I have to confess that I felt a momentary jolt of fear when I saw it - I am of the generation for whom "Jaws" was the primary reference point for ocean swimming in the US after all - but it was also incredibly beautiful, and I suddenly found myself scouring around hoping to see more. Who would have thought it?
We then finished our swim by heading through some caves and arches, passing between two stone platforms, each with a slick pile of sea lions on them, barking and craning their necks upwards, trying to look impressive and intimidating to their competitors. Below the surface, bright gold gariboldi fish, about the size of a hand, bobbed about lazily among the weeds and rocks, along with a host of other less strikingly coloured, but equally numerous fish.
I am starting to see now why the local swimmers don't have that fear of aggressive wildlife that I arrived with - they know about the possibility, of course, but their everyday experience is of this fairly benign aquatic menagerie. For me, it was a revelation to be able to be around sea life without feeling afraid (albeit accompanied by knowledgeable and confident locals). An amazing swim.