A Philosophy of Radical Aliveness

A Philosophy of Radical Aliveness

"Yesterday is already a dream, and tomorrow is only a vision; but today well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope."

John Kerestes


Saturday, July 2, 2011

JUNE, 2011: Isla Mujeres, Mexico: WHALE SHARKS!

Photo of the whale shark & Mike taken by John Pierce

My view of the whale shark

This trip was focused on snorkeling off the coast of Isla Mujeres with whale sharks. They are feeding on plankton, close to the surface. After two days of scuba diving in Cozumel we spent a day trekking to Isla Mujeres: a van, two ferries, another van and a taxi. It took us all day. Isla Mujeres is a manageable size island with a great selection of restaurants, catering to tourists. Our hotel, Playa La Media Luna is relatively new with pool, palms, beach and all that you would want... (although the continental breakfast left us wanting).

The next day we set out at 8am on a 30 foot boat called The Lilly, in search of our whale shark quarry. The boat bounced and banged through the waves for three hours before we got in the right part of the ocean. There was lots of chatter between boats in the area, as we circled without a sighting. Some of our party were looking pretty green, despite ordinarily being immune to sea sickness. The first two sightings we came upon were one whale shark with a line of thirty boats waiting to unload their tourists into the water for the chase. Each boat could only have two divers in the water at any one time, and the boats were politely taking turns. Even so, there were many people hovering over the shark all at the same time. So we continued on. We were told on other days there were dozens of whale sharks, all in the same area. A satellite photo taken two seasons ago, showed 420 sharks in the vicinity, often also with dolphins, and turtles. After at least another hour of bobbing and swaying we found another solo whale shark, this time with only eight boats in the area. We hurriedly put on our wet suits, booties & fins, masks, and I grabbed my underwater camera. We would sit on the back end of the boat in pairs until the captain maneuvered us just ahead of the shark, and then would say, "Go, go, go!" It was reminiscent of parachuting out of a plane: "Go, go, go!" We'd dive into the water and start looking under the surface. I was able to go four times, each time swimming as fast as I could until I ran out of steam. Then the boat would pick us up, and another pair would be positioned for their sprint. The shark we followed was about thirty feet long, and I was about six feet above him. He was so close I could have grabbed his dorsal fin (but didn't: he would have dove deeper if I did). My camera was wide angle, but not wide enough: all I got was spots and portions of the shark -- a fin here, a tail there. I resolved that on the second day of diving I'd take video, so you could see him sliding beneath me until I could no longer keep up and you'd see his giant tail gracefully pushing him ahead of me. John Pierce, another diver on the trip with us, had a fish-eye lens on a Nikon, in a large housing. He got some great photos, showing the whole fish. A whale shark is the largest fish in the ocean, ranging in size from 20-60 feet. They aren't whales (which are mammals), but related to other sharks, yet have gaping mouths built for plankton collection. There is no threat to humans, and they basically ignore our presence.

Despite the long boat ride back and forth, and having to wait interminably for the shark encounter; I left feeling quite high from the experience. The only downside was my being responsible for losing Judy's first engagement ring: I had noticed she was wearing it, and suggested she put it in one of my waterproof cases (where I put my glasses and hearing aids). She wears it on trips, versus her more expensive one. Her ring is a zircon that would easily hook on things. At the end of the day it was gone! It apparently came out when I took out bills for a tip, before we left the boat. It was of little monetary, but much sentimental value.

So today is Sunday, June 26th and I was all packed up with my gear, ready for our second shark encounter. However, yesterday -- our day in between encounters -- a storm came in. It poured intensely for 20 minutes at a time, every 2 hours or so, but as the day went along this was accompanied by wind and lightening. By this morning the ocean waves were high and the forecast was 80% chance of more of the same. The boat cancelled, so we lost our second chance at the shark encounters. We would have all gotten sea sick, and sighting the sharks in that kind of choppy seas would have been close to impossible. As my father used to say, "Another shitty day in paradise." We'll just console ourselves with a few great meals, the beach, pool, and reading in the hammock.

Oh, and the lost ring was found by the boat crew!