When you first set off traveling you imagine a certain type of life for yourself. You imagine mystery and culture, challenges and adventure. And you imagine it at every turn. Fortunately long term travel is not like this, especially for us. I say thankfully because if it were I would be beyond tired by now and thinking about packing the whole thing in for the easier option of a full time job.
For us travel has become about large periods of absolute freedom, mixed with shorter periods of work we choose, with the occasional adventure thrown in followed by recovery time. So far this formula works great and aside from the bits of “am I truly happy” and “what should I do with my life” which comes with being human, we are pretty damn happy.
To continue that happiness it was time for an adventure. A month or so ago we returned from a yucky but adventurous trip to Belize. Then Holly, my sister-of-sorts showed up to spend some time with us. While she was here we did a few things around Playa, showed her our favorite sites and eating spots, and decided to share an adventure with her. Swimming with the whale sharks.
For those who don’t know, which is most of you, I have a completely rational fear of being eaten by a shark. It is completely rational because sharks eat people, especially in Perth, Australia. Despite this completely rational fear I don’t let it stop me swimming in the sea / ocean, and I don’t let it interfere with anything as cool as swimming with whale sharks.
So when Sarah managed to get us some free and discounted tours, I was like, “hell yeah. lets do it!” Cancun is the place in the world to go swimming with whale sharks. More whale sharks congregate here than anywhere else in the world, and you are guaranteed to see them. It also cost a hell of a lot less than places like Australia, running around $160 US per person which includes pickup and drop off, swimming with the sharks (including snorkel gear), breakfast, and a delicious ceviche lunch while parked on the boat off the island of Isla Mujeres, basically everything.
It starts with a 0630 pickup, and then an hour or so drive to Cancun. We are dropped off at a little harbor and fed breakfast. A brief run down of what’s what is given. Don’t touch this, remember to breathe, people can still hear you scream underwater, and we were on our way.
About an hour into the boat ride (after spotting a few dolphins and watching land fade to nothing) the boat slowed. Other boats were visible along with their payloads/people. And all around us were giant fins sticking out of the water, dozens of them. I experienced a few butterflies at the thought of having nothing but ocean and predators swimming below me, but the thought of swimming with these big beautiful fish in their natural environment threw all that into a hidden recess of my mind and allowed excitement to flourish.
I was not quite prepared for the spectacle of these giant creatures floating around us and under us. At one point a huge blue form floated from beneath the boat and then silently on. Heads lifted above the water line showing gaping mouths sucking in tons of water like underwater hoovers. Cool beans.
In groups of three we donned our flippers and masks and dived in to swim with the beasts. Like icebergs, they are bigger under the water than above, and unlike icebergs they move around a lot, and fast. It was not what we expected. In my mind we would jump in the water and watch them swimming around while we huddled together in a group. In reality you have to chase the buggers who have a habit of veering away from you at the last second, man-swallowing sized mouths gaping open as they take in their invisible breakfast.
It’s awesome as hell. They appear from nowhere, sometimes two or three at a time, only acknowledging you enough to avoid a collision. There is no touching but as you swim alongside them you sometimes find yourself no more than a meter away, staring into their tiny eyes or watching their giant gills flush through with tons of disposed water. Huge fish which appear tiny next to their benefactor cruise along under enormous fins, breaking off occasionally as you come near.
“There’s one!” And the race is on to swim alongside.
“There’s another one!” Reverse and go for it!
“Holy shit one just swam underneath me!”
And on it goes for as long as you have the energy to keep swimming. For an hour or two we swim alongside them, chase them and get left in their bubbly dust. It is incredible to witness. To glide along the surface alongside these giant beasts while they just do what whale sharks do. To be in their natural environment and watch them eat and cruise. Wow.
Through all this I barely even thought about how deep the water below me was, about how I could see nothing from the depths. My focus was just on these marvelous fish and their incredible girth. It was a hell of an experience and one I would recommend wholeheartedly.
Adventure? Tick! Unique and spectacular coolery? Tick! Making up a word which should be included in the English language? Yep! Now it’s time to recover while you check out the video. (For HD you gotta go to Vimeo, but come right back and tell me how awesome it is if you do).
[vimeo 73638623 w=900 h=506]
Thanks to The Snorkel Shop for organizing this incredible day. For more adventures and/or lack thereof subscribe up on the right there. Or follow on facebook (up on the right there as well).