What amazing adventure have I found for you this time??
WHALE SHARKS!! (I exclaim in my outdoor voice.)
Is it a whale? Is it a shark?? Is it a whale of a shark??
From my unique perspective, snorkeling alongside these pelagic creatures, a whale shark looks like a 50-foot, plankton-eating, docile, (not so) little darling. Let’s call him, Baby Huey.
I know what you must be thinking: This girl (I still refer to myself as a girl) must be crazy!! And while that may be true, I still continue to scour the globe looking for fun, awe-inspiring, life-changing trips that You — yes, you! — can experience too. As a wise old woman once said (I refer to myself as a wise old woman sometimes too), the wonders of travel are best savored… and shared.
As it turns out, this particular adventure is quick, easy and right outside your front door in the bea-u-ti-ful Gulf of Mexico… at least for those of us Americans reading this blog. You savvy, adventure-seeking Europeans have a little further to travel, but still worth it!
You see, I’ve had snorkeling with whale sharks on my bucket list forever but always thought I’d have to go to some far flung place to do it.
Imagine my utter delight when I learned I could take a direct flight from South Florida and be up to my snorkel in whale sharks in less than two hours thus making it the ideal destination for an impromptu adventure. Road Trip!! (Well, sort of.)
I am ensconced on the small island of Isla Mujeres which is located just a short ferry ride from Cancun, Mexico. The island is so small it is only four narrow miles long with “town” located on the wider northern end, which also happens to be where the ubiquitous ferry docks.
Although this part of Isla Mujeres has a definite touristy vibe, the bright clear waters, quaint neighborly charm and warm welcoming people (not to mention outstanding food and excellent Margaritas) make the land portion of this trip very relaxing indeed.
BUT WAIT… WE ARE HERE FOR THE WHALE SHARKS!!!
Since I like to support the locals whenever I travel, I booked with a small, Isla Mujeres based company and am thrilled with the results. Enter Ramon, owner of Isla Whale Shark Tours by Searious Diving.
A naturalist and ecologist long before it was fashionable, Ramon brings a palpable love of the sea and all that lies within to these amazing encounters. And just like the humpbacks and grey whales, there are rules in place to minimize the impact on both the animals and the environment. All boats need to be out of the area by 2pm, no scuba allowed and just two people per boat in the water at one time. It is just you, the wide-open ocean and gobs of whale sharks.
Seriously, they are everywhere! Huge herds of them in fact! Gazing out on the water reminds me of I-95 during rush hour. There are literally hundreds of whale sharks feeding liberally off the blow-by from recent spawning activity by local reef fish. They are crisscrossing this way and that with giant mouths agape, skimming the currents for the delectable morsels that have lured them here.
Since I have no fear of the ocean (or whales) I am chosen to be one of the first into the water. Standing here all geared up, I find myself thinking… where?? Mesmerized, I get into the chaotic rhythm of the mighty giants and (like jump rope) make a mad dash for it the minute I see an opening and…. OH MY!!
Almost twice as big as a full size SUV these babies look huge from water level and there are several coming at me full steam ahead. I don’t know if they can’t see me (with their tiny black eyes) or if this spawning stuff is like a crack buffet to them, but I find myself scrambling to get out of the way so I don’t end up in a head on collision. The giant passes me by with complete indifference; not even a subtle nod of recognition marks my passing.
I wait a couple of seconds for the next whale shark to come by and fall into line beside him. He is majestic and calm, totally focused on the task at hand while I’m a giddy little school girl eyes alight with shear unadulterated glee.
I commune with this one for a while then turn to catch the next when my in the water guide points excitedly behind me. As I quickly turn I see… Manta Rays! What an unexpected surprise! There are at least a dozen Mantas with their twenty foot wing spans soaring and twirling through the water greedily indulging in the feast. That they don’t collide with the multitude of whale sharks is a feat unto itself seemingly controlled by the invisible forces of electrical impulse engineering. You can rest assured that although the Manta Ray looks like its’ (potentially) dangerous cousin the Sting Ray, Mantas don’t have a barb so you can feel free to just relax and enjoy the show.
With two sets of two anxiously awaiting their turn in this liquid blue paradise, I head back to the boat secure in the knowledge that I get to interact with these gentle giants 3 more times before the day is through and that my friends is my kinda’ heaven.
Here’s a tidy tip for ya: Out for my second foray in as many weeks, the seas were much rougher, and by that I mean much rougher so be prepared. Meaning, don’t skimp on the dramamine. Don’t drink too much the night before. And if you need to get sick, don’t fight it. Like most purges, you’ll feel much better after a little heave-ho. Also, spawning occurs two weeks before and two weeks after the full moon, so plan your trip accordingly.