Wednesday, September 23, 2009

ISLA MUJERES: Whale Sharks

"Hello, and welcome to our underwater paradise... " That's what I imagine dolphins say when you jump in the ocean.

“Do you want to do it again?” our guide asked us. We had already been in the water twice. I was kind of tired, but I wanted to do it again. I looked at Tania. Tania shook her head, no. She was seasick. I’ve never had the pleasure of being seasick. And neither had Tania before this. But she was definitely sick. I had watched her puking overboard earlier. I wanted to take pictures of her puking, but I didn’t. One reason was because Tania is very vain and I wasn’t sure how she’d feel about being photographed in that position, but mostly because I was worried what I might look like to the other passengers. “What kind of a man takes pictures of his wife getting sick off the side of a boat? Disgusting!” And now both Tania and I are bummed I didn’t.

“No,” I said to the guide, “we’ll pass.”

Our guide looked at me, shrugged his shoulders and offered it to the next couple. They looked at me and asked, “Really?” I explained that Tania was sick and that I was going to stay with her.

Ole Pukedelic Patty. Blehhhhh...

A few minutes later while I was consoling Tania, I had a great big, “What the fuck is wrong with me?” We were on a little boat out in the middle of the ocean surrounded by whale sharks, the largest fish in the world. When the hell am I going to get the opportunity to swim with these giant motherfuckers ever again? We’d be crazy not to.

“No, no, no, we’ll go,” I told our guide, “we’ll go, we’ll go.”

We convinced Tania that she’d feel better OFF the boat and in the water, and she agreed. I don’t think that was actually the case, but it’s probably better to be sick and doing something cool, like swimming with whale sharks, than it is to be sick and sitting on a stupid little boat.

We wanted to swim with the sharks while we were in Belize. They were migrating at that time as well. But it sounded sketchy to me, for instance you might not see them, which would mean a big waste of time and money, and I was having a fine time without the whale sharks. “Fuck a whale shark,” I said. But Tania insisted that we do it on this trip. I’m glad she did because while it was a total tourist experience, it’s an experience I won’t forget for the rest of my life. Absolutely amazing.

We were going to buy our whale shark tour online, but thankfully we waited ‘til we got to the island and ended up booking a cheaper one at our hotel. At first we didn’t want to make a mistake and choose The Crappy One, but in hindsight, they’re all more or less exactly the same. Well, they all go to the same place anyway. Because when they all take off from the docks in the morning, they’re all using the same GPS to find the schools of feeding sharks. And all the boats are on the radio to each other. Once one boat finds the sharks, that’s where all the boats go. After sailing about an hour due east into the Gulf of Mexico, sure enough, we came upon a small armada of whale shark tour boats exactly like ours all filled with the sleepy eyed tourists we’d seen scattered about the deserted city at dawn.

Aircraft carrier? Oh, no, it's a whale shark.

We pulled in alongside all the boats and everyone’s jaws dropped. The whale sharks were everywhere. There were dozens of the giant creatures, some as long as the boat, slowly swimming just below the surface, with their tail and dorsal fins sticking out of the water, and their giant mouths open wide, trying to capture as much plankton as they could. It was bizarre and slightly eerie, and it was one of those instances where I ask myself, “I wonder, who was the first person that thought this was a good idea?” I think that when I eat raw oysters, too.

"Cage goes in the water. You go in the water. Shark's in the water… our shark."

By law, only two people (plus a guide) per boat are allowed in the water at a time. So that everyone can enjoy it, you only get about five or ten minutes in the water with the sharks. Unfortunately, our first dive with the sharks was just retarded. You could say I “biffed it.” I know how to snorkel, but I only get to do it like twice a year at best. So this wasn’t the most ideal time to reacquaint myself with the sport. It was kind of like not skating for six months, and then the first time back on the board I have to roll in on the mega ramp. “Okay, GO!”

“Okay. Shit. Flippers—flippers don’t fit, oh well fuck it—mask, snorkel, don’t forget to breathe, oh and you have to swim too, kick your feet, why can’t I see out of my mask? Oh it’s filled with water? Why is it filled with water? Don’t forget to breathe—NO! Not through your nose you idiot, through your mouth, through the snorkel! Watch out for the sharks. Wait, where is everybody? Where’s the boat?” Etc.

Yeah, I guess that could be a good screen saver, but that's what my first dive looked like.

On top of all that, I hit the wrong fucking button on the stupid camera. While I’ve been using the Canon Elph for years, and I know it inside and out, it was on the inside of a waterproof camera bag/case thing (these things are kind of ghetto and janky, but they work, and for $30, why not?) that makes operation a little clumsy. So while Tania and our guide were having a fine time swimming around dodging sharks, I was not only trying to stay afloat, but also trying to get out of “stitch assistant mode.” First run = no bueno.

Back on the boat, I fixed the camera and got ready for dive number two. Dive number two, as it turned out, was a complete success. Confident that the camera was working, I was able to take pictures without aiming and instead enjoy my time with Tania and the sharks. On that second dive we really were swimming with the whale sharks. They don’t move very fast when they’re feeding. They just kind of cruise along, so you can swim right alongside of them. Close enough to touch them. Which is illegal, but I did it anyway. It was hard to get close enough because, while you’re right next to the beasts, they seem to have this weird sixth sense and they know exactly where you are and my hand was always inches away from their skin. I finally reached out really hard and grabbed one. Upon feeling my hand upon him, the beast gave a flutter and he was off in a flash, not before whacking me in the knee with his tail.

Woooo! Got some tail in Mexico! Spring breeeeeeak!

Tania's fixin' to get some. I was trying to get her to puke on a shark, but she said, "I can't." "You say you can't," I said, "but you really mean you won't."

They were all over the place and visibility wasn’t that great, so we shouldn’t really have been surprised when we found ourselves right in the path of a shark with its mouth wide open and coming straight for us. Tania screamed into her snorkel under water. I pointed the camera in the direction of the monster and feverishly pressed the shutter button like I was playing a video game while kicking as hard as I could to get out of its way. At the time, we felt we were lucky to have not ended up in the belly of the whale like Jonas, but in hindsight, I wish I had played chicken with the leviathan.

"AAAGGHHHH!" Shooting whale sharks is a lot like shooting skate photos. Some tricks deserve sequences. Like this drive-by by… actually I don't remember who this is? I think this is either PANCHO BUBBLES, or PETER PANCAKES. Some of our other underwater friends were RUSTY (he had a rusty tag in his fin), PICKLES, PINTO BEANS, and TORRALBA. The last of which is a sheperdess in Don Quixote that Sancho describes as, "A buxom, rollicking wench, a bit mannish, for she had a slight mustache."

I haven’t felt that thrilled in a long time. And that’s why I convinced ole Pukey to get back in the water for a third outing. Plus I had forgotten to get some video of us swimming with the animals. This task I left to Tania, and as you can see below, she got a fine shot.

When it was all over and we were heading back to shore, they handed out some ham sandwiches. I hadn’t realized how hungry I was until they busted out that lunch. It was basically a prison baloney sandwich, but it was one of the finest sandwiches I have ever eaten.

I don't really remember the sandwich thing from the Dagwood cartoons. I just remember he always left the house without his pants on. I'm not sure why that was so funny... over and over again? Anyway, this is what that baloney sandwich looked like to me. Nom, nom, nom.

After the whale shark swim, they took us back to the island where we were given the opportunity to swim around this janky old reef with a bunch of stupid little fish. Pfft. I just swam with a 20 fucking foot long shark!

But the reef expedition was more of a stalling tactic so that the captain could whip up a proper ceviche lunch. Like the baloney sandwich before it, this was probably nothing more than a styrofoam cup filled with some fish and pico de gallo, but at the time, it was the best ceviche EVER.

At one point I wondered, "Does anybody eat whale shark?" After a quick internet search for "whale shark recipes," nothing really came up. The only evidence I found came from—where else?—the Chinese. I would love to see what Rachel Ray could do with that in 30 minutes. Yummo!




That fat white thing swimming next to the shark is not a Beluga. Although the "Carnluga" is a related species.

5 comments:

Tom said...

Now I call you Chum!

C&H said...

I like how in the top photo, you're not looking at the camera, but into the distance where surely a big-ass motherfuckin' shark is approaching.

C&H said...

This dude's on some Carnie wildlife photography shit.

gbrl said...

dude, forget about what rachel ray could do with this in 30 minutes. imagine what the neelys or that guy with big, homo-hooped earrings from big daddy's house would do with that shit.

Juegos de Ben 10 said...

Now I call you Chum!