Monday, June 23, 2008

heellooooo myyyyy naaammme is whale shaaark

Yes I will admit the description, "Oh shit! Today wins as the best day EVER." Was not a sufficient explanation for the titillating title. So I am making an attempt to explain what the hell happened out there off the coast of the northern Yucatan. First thing first, you need to know I have been hell bent on seeing a whale shark for a while now. I dragged an entire group of 15 people some of which had never snorkeled before out on the open ocean with out dramamine to suffer through 4 hours of rough seas, vomiting, and saw not a single whale shark. I will give that group credit, not a single one blamed me for the hard headed fiasco. All the same when it came time to encourage another group to accompany me on my second attempt, this time in Mexico, I felt a little apprehensive, but this new crowd of passengers would not be deterred. I will admit that even after my stunning defeat in Honduras I was still excited by Jose's description of ten whale sharks, manta rays, and huge sea turtles that he had seen the day prior.
To set the stage of the trip you need to know a couple things about the night preceeding our 7 am departure...
1. that night we went on a pre-dinner sunset cruise which concluded with me vomiting over the side of the boat (seasickness, not alcohol induced)
2. i didn't go to bed until 4 am that night
3. all i had for breakfast was a granola bar
So at 6:45 when we headed out to the dock I already felt like hell, but was also hell bent on seeing these HUGE fish. I made it all the way out to the feeding grounds without incident, but around the time of our first manta ray sighting I found myself hugging the gunwale and watching the remains of my granola bar float past the boat. By the time we saw the first whale shark I was already puking up florescent yellow bile. The seasickness really isn't that important, really the only reason I bring it up is to emphasize how amazing the whale sharks were. Because as soon as I saw them I didn't care that I had been vomiting all morning or was ass tired. All I could think was, "damn, that is a HUMONGOUS fish!!!!!!!!!!!!!" (And yes, Eva, whale sharks deserve multiple exclamation points, they are that f-ing cool.)
The amazing thing about this location in Mexico is that not only was there one whale shark, there are many whale sharks. All swimming around with their mouths open sucking down huge amounts of water. They are a nice slate gray with white spots and pink mouths. And man, can I say it again? They are really big.
We got to work right away sending the first two people into snorkel with the sharks. They were a Japanese couple and it was pretty funny to see their reaction to getting in the water with this animal. The boat captain kept yelling, "GO! GO! GO!" and then "SWIM! SWIM! SWIM!" And they kept lifting their heads out of the water and just staring at us like, "CRAZY! CRAZY! CRAZY!" And I kept thinking, "If these people are the only ones who get to swim with the whale sharks and the whole time they were staring at us, I am going to loose my shit." But it turns out, you just shit your pants when you get into the water with an animal like that, and it is hard to react, even to simple commands like, "go!" and "swim!"
Emily and I were the third group to go in the water. And I am jumping in thinking I am all hard core with my fancy snorkel and mask. Right away I start swimming after the shark, and then all of a sudden it hits me.... that marine biologist said something about what to do when the shark swims at you.... was it swim away like a crazy person or stay still or act big and growl or crap your pants? And right after that my thoughts go to the fact that though whale is in the name, shark is too. And sharks eat people right? Then I start to wonder who the hell is breathing so loudly and then I realize it is me, freaking out, and breathing like a crazy person. And then I see the damn thing, and it is even bigger when you are in the water with it. FUCK. Then I realize that what I am feeling is the most amazing adrenaline rush I have ever experienced and I start swimming after the shark all over again. My breathing slows down a bit, and I start to get closer and it is..... wow. I find Emily and grab her hand and we swim with the shark, and Jesus, our guide, for like five minutes. It keeps turning towards us, and though I am still scared, it is that type of scared that really should be called awe. Here we are out in the middle of the ocean swimming with the whale sharks.
We start to loose the shark and Jesus tells us to stay where we are and he is going to catch up with two other people in our group. So now Em and I are floating in the swells while the boat and Jesus swim away. Emily starts talking about other sharks and how she thinks that the whale sharks must scare them away with their size. But I am thinking that people-eating sharks aren't a good thought path to go down and am trying to focus on my happy place, about dappled whale sharks swimming through the green water.
After a rest of about half an hour, along with emptying my stomach again, I got to go back in. Though I was still a bit nervous I just swam after the damn thing, this time it was shark 542, a female. She cruised along for a long time about 2 meters under the water, I was swimming just off to her left, some how managing to keep up. Minutes went by and I kept staring at her gills flaring out, pulling the water through them. It was quiet, just the wooshing sound of water going by and my own breathing, and I began to feel like I had fallen into the deep peacefulness you can feel when diving.
I am realizing now that I am not sure I have been blessed with the vocabulary or writing prowess to really convey what an amazing experience the whole thing was. But there you go. I'll leave it at that.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

dios dice...

God is currently running an ad campaign in Guatemala city. This is not a joke. There are billboards all over the place encouraging you not to drink and drive, to enjoy each day, and they are all signed lovingly, “dios.” I think that God is a pretty convincing advocate against drunk driving, but it is to no avail. Back in April el Diaro, one of Guatemala’s papers printed alarming statistics about Chicken Bus drivers. Amongst those included were, drivers driving under the influence and those driving without a license. Just yesterday I was on a high speed bus drive through a fog laden mountain pass. It is a wonder that my grandmother hasn’t come down here with a posse of jewish bubbes and dragged my ass back to the States where the weather and the driving tend to be a bit more predictable. On the other hand I don’t think she is keeping up with the news in Central America.
The other thing that has been catching news lines is the prompt, or even early arrival of the hurricane season, on May 31st with the appearance of Alma. Her stint was over shortly, only to be followed up by Arturo, or Arthur for you gringos. Today is the first moderately dry day I’ve had since Honduras. Most of my passengers are fascinated or horrified by this change in the weather. Some of them have yet to see the sun down here, which is a shame, but hey it is all part of the experience right?