Whale sharks!

Sandy thought I was being obsessive as I read the directions given to us by the self appointed “Whale Shark Daddy” and tried to trace out the route on google maps.  He had told us to forget google… because it doesn’t work well in Mexico.  And that may be somewhat true, but the Whale Shark Daddies directions were absolutely horrible!  He’d have us heading north on the main highway and then tell us to turn right so we’re heading west -or- give us vague “turn right after the underpass” with no street names or identifiable landmarks.

So we navigated using his directions, my memories of what google had shown us, and a general principal that we should end up by the sea (as opposed to heading west, deeper into the city) and eventually we found our way to Marina Las Jaibas.

We listened to a quick briefing of what to expect and boarded the boat.  It was about an hour ride out when our captain spotted a gathering of tour boats indicating that the whale sharks have been found.

A couple dozen boats slowly putted around as snorkelers jumped off and splashed around in the ocean.  If we had anything to fear, it wasn’t from the whale sharks, it was the idea of some boat accidentally motoring over you while you swam about.  It did make us a little bit nervous.

We soon saw our first glimpse of these enormous fish when the dorsal fin broke the surface of the water as people swam after the whale shark, trying to keep up.

We were broken up into 5 groups of two.  Sandy and I were group number 2.  The idea is we were to sit on the side of the boat while the captain moved us into position.  He would then give us the go ahead and we’d jump in and swim like mad to get alongside the whale shark.  Then we’d just swim alongside as long as we could.  There was a guide on the boat, Carlos, who would join us in the water and help point us in the direction of the whale shark.

The boat ride out was uneventful, we sat there quietly waiting as we bounced across the waves.  As soon as we arrived though things started moving very quickly – the first couple was already in the water and the captain was yelling at us to get into position.  I quickly put my fins on and swung my legs over the side of boat so I was sitting there on the edge, ready to jump.  The first couples swim was already over and they were climbing up the ladder.  A moment later we were motoring into position alongside a whaleshark, maybe forty feet out and a little ahead of him.

Sandy swimming alongside a whaleshark. We were close enough to reach out and touch them – in fact, one of them gave Sandy a little bump with it’s tail.

“Go! Go! Go!”, the captain yelled and we were in the water.  It was fast and hectic – I was confused about where I was going at first but then we saw it.  A moment later Sandy and I were swimming right alongside.

Although the whalesharks had the ability to swim very fast, most of the time they were going slow enough that we had no problem keeping up.  We would swim along for several minutes until the would finally outdistance us or slowly descended out of sight.

On the first swim, I was so focused and watching Sandy swim alongside one of these giant beasts, that I didn’t even realize a second one was nearby.

Apparently my survival instincts were a little rusty - I managed to get a nice picture before I suddenly realized I should get the hell out of the way.

Apparently my survival instincts were a little rusty – I managed to get a nice picture before I suddenly realized I should get the hell out of the way.

Carlos grabbed my arm and pointed – now when they gave us the briefing, they told us about how the sharks could sense the electrical field we humans put off and how they have no problem avoided us as the swim by so we have nothing to worry about.  I know this.  But you still can’t help but feel a little scared when you turn and one of these creatures is coming straight at you.

I think we got five swims in before we finally decided to call it quits.  The whalesharks had dispersed – probably escaping the annoyance of dozens of boats buzzing around like mosquitoes spoiling a nice day out in the ocean.

On the return, we stopped to do a little snorkeling.  Unfortunately, the current was so strong everyone was getting blown off the reef.  Now if it were up to me, I’d just let it happen and wait for the boat to come pick me up (although I’d be a little happier if I had my safety sausage with me!)  But they decided instead to throw a line into the water for us to hang on to and then slowly motor over the reef.  Not exactly my favourite way to go snorkeling.  Especially when I saw a school of squid that I really want to go over and get a better look at.

After about 30 minutes of this, they reeled us in and it was time for lunch.

We anchored in a shallow sandy area that used to be beach before a hurricane came through a couple of years back.  The water was absolutely perfect and we splashed around as the crew handed out corona’s for us to enjoy.  They also prepared shrimp ceviche for us to enjoy as we lounged about.

We used the lifejackets to make little floating tables and feasted while we swapped stories about our adventure.

Following this link for more pictures.

Xel-Há

Oh… it’s already July 31st… and I really want to post pictures from our whale shark trip!  But we did go to Xel-Há on the 29th so I really should talk about that first.

We first went to Xel-Há eight or nine years ago and had a wonderful time snorkeling around in their waters.  We’ve talked about going back several times since then, bet never quite made it.  This time we did finally get there.

Well, maybe we’ve been spoiled from all the wonderful places we’ve gone snorkeling (and diving!) but Xel-Há wasn’t quite as exciting as we remembered from so many years ago.  Although there were some cool aspects of the trip.

We got some wonderful close up views of rays swimming around us (I thing they were going to a spot where they offered a “stingray experience“).  We got a taste of the experience without the extra fee!

Click here for more pictures from our snorkeling.

After snorkeling for a bit, we took a break, had some lunch and a little siesta in the crowded rows of chairs set up in an area next to the water.  We would occasionally have people stepping over our legs to get to their own chairs further down the row but we still managed to have a nice rest.  Of course after we were done with our siesta we found a nice area filled with hammocks.  I suppose it’s just as well we never got a chance to use the hammocks… they looked so comfortable we may have just slept through the rest of the afternoon.

I was beginning to collect keys around my neck as our belongings were left in different lockers around the park.

And we didn’t want to waster the entire afternoon… we still wanted to go tubing down the river.  So we got ourselves up and started hiking up to the river head.  Apparently it was a bit of a distance, long enough that they had a little train to take you up there.  Or at least they had signs for a train.  So we followed the signs, walking along the path, looking for the train.  And we walked.  And we walked.  I began to wonder if this was just a trick – there was no train, but they knew they could keep you walking as long as there was the promise of a train.

Here’s where the tubes gather before their migration down the river

The train did exist though… well it was more of a bus.  It was completely open with bench seats that did not have backs so you had to sit down and hold yourself in place while we bounced up the road into the mangrove trees and eventually found the tube farm where we choose a double tube so we could ride down the river together.

 

This is not nearly as comfortable as it looks

Okay, so we’re in our tube and the guy handing out the tubes kindly took our picture and then gave us a push off.  Now what?  Shouldn’t there be some sort of current?

We’re looking down the mangrove tunnel floating in our tube but not really going anywhere.  So we start grabbing branches and pulling ourselves down the river, occasionally spinning around out of control.  It’s kinda hard to do anything from the awkward position that we’re laying in.  But with a little bit of pushing and splashing and pulling we slowly make our way down the river until we saw the daylight at the end of the mangroves.

As we emerged into the sunlight, I continued to improve my technique.  I watched a ten year old kid move his flippers to his hands to improve his paddling… I immediately copied him and we picked up speed.  It was at this point I met my new enemy.  Wind.

We watched the cliff jumpers as we drifted down the river (by drifted – I mean I paddled like mad)

It was bad enough that we were in the world’s only currentless river but now with the wind, unless I kept my paddling up, we were being pushed back up river.  Oh – and Sandy had finally figured out how to be comfortable, by using me as a pillow, so now I had to paddle hard enough to defeat the wind, but gentle enough not to disturb the little princess.  Eventually we decided to abandon the tube and snorkled the rest of the way down the river.

Aventuras en Riveria Maya

The radio crackled to life as scheduled at 5:15am Friday morning.  It was soon accompanied by the sound of groans and I turned over just in time to see Sandy’s hand slam down on the snooze.  This was how most of our vacations began when an early morning flight was involved.  Actually, the flight for this vacation was later than normal, a direct flight from Dulles to Cancun leaving at 9:03am.

We got up, showered, had breakfast, fed the cats, I watched as Sandy apologized to the cats for leaving, and then caught a taxi to the airport.  Forty minutes and sixty dollars later we were checking in at the airport.  Our flight was uneventful, squished back in cargo class with the seat in front of mine reclined fully back into my lap.  We were delayed at immigration when their entire system crashed and we all stood about waiting patiently… no sorry… impatiently… for 15 minutes.  When the systems finally came back up people cheered and applauded, happy to be moving forward once again.

We took a very short shuttle ride to Dollar (I think we could have walked instead) for our car rental.  After discussing, negotiating, calling my credit card company, calling my car insurance company, we finally relented and bought the liability insurance.  $140 for renting the car… $180 for insurance… total price for nine days (with tax) was $385.

They brought our car up.  The rental agent had paperwork with an outline of the car and he put a little mark everywhere there was a dent.  The purpose of this is that if we brought back the car with a dent that wasn’t marked when we checked the car out, we were responsible for it.  But this car had so many dents and scratches, that the outline of the car looked like a porcupine with little needles poking out all over showing the various damages.

Then we were off!  Shooting off down the highway at speeds surpassing 100… which sounds impressive until you see the little km/h note on the speedometer.  It didn’t take too long before we arrived at our hotel.  We were spending the first week of our trip at the Grand Luxxe Residence Club Suites Riviera Maya followed by two nights in Cancun at Grand Melia (I think).

The main purpose of this trip was to go swimming with whale sharks.  We were going to go out with an outfit called Cancun Whale Shark Tours.  Both Sandy and I were pretty excited about this, although some of Sandy’s excitement got replaced with apprehension when I showed her this picture from the companies web site.

 

We checked into the Grand Luxxe and were given room 2705 but it wasn’t quite ready yet.  So we went down to the pool to hang out and eat a burger.  They played jazzy/elevator music around the pool… some okay and some was… well they had a slow jazzy version of Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb… it was awful!

Later we went back, got our room keys and went upstairs.  My first thought on opening the door to the room is that this is one of those optical illusions where the hallway seemed to go back for ever, gradually diminishing into a infinite horizon.  The place is huge!  You enter into the living room area which has a small kitchenette in a closet (sink, mini-fridge, microwave).  Down the hallway takes you to the bathroom with a larger shower, double sinks, and a jacuzzi tub.  Finally you end up in the bedroom which had two double beds which the put together into a… well not a king, it was much larger than that… I guess it was an emporer bed!  And we later found out that we had the smallest room in this part of the resort.