I finally did it. I swam with the biggest fish in the sea! On Saturday I swam with the whale sharks (or well whale shark in this case) with Carey Dive Center on Isla Mujeres.
Let me tell you, it was AWESOME. Yep. All caps.
On Saturday morning I took the 7am ferry from Puerto Juarez to Isla Mujeres. I sat up top outside and it was beautiful and peaceful, albeit a bit windy.
There were a lot of other people heading to work, etc. but they all sat down below. I figured out why upon arrival, the outside seats were wet. Oh well, I was going to be getting wet anyway.
When I got to the island I took a few minutes to take some pictures. It is so peaceful early in the morning.
The Carey Dive Center tour leaves from Bally-Hoo, a very popular restaurant located right on the marina dock. Coffee and juice are included with the tour. I was pretty excited just about the boat ride. I rented an XXL (groan) wetsuit (my friends had informed me that it’s difficult to swim in the life vests) for 100 pesos and we were on our way.
It was an bumpy hour long boat ride out to open ocean, but I chatted with a nice lady from Mississippi the whole time, between giggling about the water that was spraying me in the face. On the advice of a friend I had taken Dramamine. No reason to risk this bucket list adventure being ruined by puking your guts out.
Now it seems that some days they find 30, or even 300 whale sharks, and other days, they are a bit more elusive. I noticed Captain Jorge was communicating with other boats but so far there were no whale sharks to be found.
Then we got lucky and found one.
I was the first one in the water, mostly because I speak Spanish and nobody else understood when the captain ordered two of us to get ready. Our guide Sergio (I think he is part fish) jumped in first to follow the big guy around so we wouldn’t lose him. I jumped in behind him and literally screamed with joy into my snorkel when I saw the enormous, breathtaking creature in front of me. He was probably about 20 feet long and absolutely majestic.
Photo: Ron Herrman
The whale shark looked like he wasn’t moving at all, but I had to swim hard to keep up with him, which was really difficult because the water was quite choppy. Plus I was really excited and noticed that I was breathing really hard. I swam alongside him for 5 or 10 minutes, but then I was really tired and needed a break so I got back into the boat.
Suddenly there were like 12 other boats there. Word had gotten out. When they asked us who wanted to get in again, most said no. I was a little nervous about how tired I was, but I knew that I was not going to give up another chance to see the whale shark. So I told myself to relax and control my breathing. After I jumped in with Sergio, I looked at him, he pointed, and the whale shark’s face was right there! It was literally like 5 feet away.
This time it was a whole different game. I swam calmly next to the whale shark, so very close to him, and studied the eye I could see, and how long he was. Then, he moved up, stuck his whole mouth out of the water, and came back down again in a swirl of thousands of bubbles.
I kind of wanted to stay in the water forever.
Photo: Ron Herrman
After those who wanted to had a second swim, we headed back to the island. They handed out sandwiches and during the ride we saw dolphins (the first time I have seen them in the wild) and huge sea turtles, um, “doing the cuchi-cuchi” as the captain said.
After snorkeling a reef close to the island we dined on ceviche, right on the boat. A friend later pointed out the humorous contradiction of snorkeling to see fish and then eating sushi.
We were back at the marina by noon.
This was a once in a lifetime experience. Except I am going to do it again.
Note: It is important to note that if you ever have a chance to swim with the whale sharks you should never touch or disturb them in any way. Wear biodegradable sun block or no sun block at all. One woman on our boat touched the whale shark and a person from another boat got in directly in front of him and the big guy ran into him. I felt so protective of him. It is important to respect all creatures, especially in their natural habitat.