Swimming with whale sharks!

Whale shark!!!! AMAZING.
From May to September, the northern tip of the Yucatan is whale shark country. The huge beasts (the world’s largest fish!) flock to feed in the plankton-rich waters. Swimming with whale sharks is most definitely a must-do bucket list activity in the Caribbean that I had yet to experience. I had to go! We were in Isla Mujeres at the right time, whale shark snorkel tours were hawked by every other shop on the main strip. The price tag gave me sticker shock: $75 for a *snorkel* tour?!? But prices are fixed across vendors (they all seem to funnel together to fill boats anyway) and they have a monopoly on the experience. And where else are you going to find an experience like this? Price would soon be forgotten once I fell under the whale shark spell.
We got up early (again, after not nearly enough sleep the night before… recognize a pattern?), rushed to the hostel to be on time for our pick up, of course ended up waiting for 15 minutes, were walked to another meeting point at the docks, ate a slice of provided cake and the world’s tiniest juice box, then boarded a semi-ghetto boat. Our guide passed out fins incredibly slowly, one by one. Good thing we got up at 7am so he could take his time! When he finally finished, we motored out to sea, chatting and shooting the shit with fellow travelers.
After about an hour, we arrived where dozens of other boats were collected. I guess this must be the place. Suddenly we saw a whale shark. Then another, and another! There were dozens all around us, the size of small busses, coming right up to the boat! You could practically reach down into the water and touch them. Giant white manta rays with eight-feet wingspans cruised under the boat. They were all so massive! And didn’t care whatsoever that there were boats and snorkelers all around them. They just didn’t give a fuck. Incredible.

To keep the area from being over crowded, only three snorkelers per boat are allowed in the water at any given time. Each person on our boat got three ten-minute snorkels. We rolled off the edge and went hunting. They were everywhere around us. Madness. Two whale sharks almost ran me over. Actually. I kept forgetting how to swim as the excitement of being near these beasts overwhelmed me. I somehow managed to snap a few photos while in a state of near-hysteria.

They move more swiftly underwater than you might imagine, and when one comes towards you with its mouth open it is easy to freak a little. But they always avoid the snorkelers somehow. Whale shark are just so freakin’ cool!

Yes, they get thisclose!
Attempted selfie with me+whale shark. I got his tail in the background!
Even back on the boat our snorkel surface intervals were awesome. I lay on the bow playing spot-the-whale-shark, not a very difficult game in these waters. The plankton keep the sharks near the surface so even when you aren’t in the water you can still watch and be in awe. The whole time felt exciting, like we were experiencing a miracle that kept happening.
Exhausted, I crashed on the ride back, falling asleep with my head in Richard’s lap. The rest of the boat was in a similar condition. I woke when I started to get cold. Suddenly, rain started to pour. Cold rain. Everyone woke up as the captain told us to quickly! get in the bottom of the boat! We huddled together, shivering, barricading ourselves with lifevests, and laughing. Luckily we were close to shore so made a beeline for the beach to pick up our lunches. When we arrived, everyone jumped into the water to warm up. Within moments, the sky cleared, the sun came out, and we drank beer and ate ceviche while lounging in the warm water. 
What a rough way to spend an afternoon.
Just another day in paradise. No big deal… except that it was freakin’ kick ass bucket list shit! I’m finally a member of the whale shark club.

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