AdventureNorth AmericaScuba

August 2 – Isla Mujeres

Another early morning with our daily routine: sunscreen, cameras, dive skins, and off to the boat. The conditions are still amazing. Not the smooth water from yesterday but so much better than most. Often this trip gets three out of five days worth of whale sharks and already we’ve had three days of hundreds upon hundreds of sharks.

More Snorkeling
Sterling, Wolcott and I were the first snorkelers in the water, and the effect of the low morning light, slightly-cloudy conditions, and egg-filled water was a spooky, cloudy water with only ten feet of visibility. Sharks emerged from the darkness with no warning, making my heart jump the first few sightings. After a while the eye begins to make adjustments for large shadows and I could recognize the approach of a shark before it arrived. They kept coming, though. The pod was densely packed today and many of the whales fed about 4-6 feet underwater. More than once I was surprised by a bump on my fin when a shark snuck in from behind and swam directly underneath me.

Sterling and I ran into each other (not literally) in the water and found a botella to photograph. I played model for him while he snuck various pictures of the whale’s mouth and body.

Post-snorkel picture check
Within 30 minutes of our entry time the surface was filled with 30 other boats. A group of Americans from our hotel were on a nearby boat. Eric and I dubbed them “The Texans” the day they arrived because they descended on the pool area with a few cowboy hats, loud drink orders, and a memorable shout-out from one of the ladies, “Take that, Bitches!” That day, Eric and I decided it was time to leave the pool area. Today, we moved to the far side of the pod where the ocean was less crowded.

Nathalie, Alex, and Eric in the water

Rojelio and Juan love to fish, and after they return us to the dock this evening they’ll take out an afternoon/evening fishing trip. So Rojelio was preparing his bait.

Fish eyeballs

Each day Rojelio and Juan pack a cooler full of food: apples, water, sodas, and two sandwiches per person. Sandwiches are two slices of bread, a slice of turkey meat, a slice of cheese, lettuce, and (I think) pepper. Nothing I would ever order if given a choice, but during these long days I eat my full share of two sandwiches. Plus chips. Plus an apple. Snorkeling with whale sharks is hungry work.

The Ocean is a Small Place
Each day, all the tourist boats clear out around noon and leave us with an ocean full of sharks. Today the wind had picked up and blew the boat away from the pod so Rejulio gave us a lift to the far end. Here we could see a definite pattern in the movement of the whale sharks – they zig-zag across the surface: back and forth across large sections of water. I stood on the boat and watched them for a while before jumping in for our last two hours before we had to leave.

Some of the sharks have been tagged by researchers, and each day both Eric and I (snorkeling completely separately) have seen #803. I’ve also seen #805 two days in a row. It’s amazing to think that I would see the same sharks among all of these hundreds of creatures. Even more amazing to think that the sharks stay in the same place – or return to the same place – every day. But then again, that’s exactly what we’re doing: returning to the same place every day. Maybe #803 thinks to herself, “There’s that snorkeler with the little camera again.”

Remoras beneath a shark

Noteworthy sighting: three mobila rays swimming past me.

Naptime during the hour-long trip back to land
Post-Whale-Shark Routine
After we return to the hotel, Eric and I make a beeline to the pool for a quick dunk and a lie around on the lounge chairs. I read my book and he reads his iPad before we get hungry enough to get ready for dinner.

As an aside, my hair is a nasty nest of tangles and knots after floating in an ocean with a bunch of little fish eggs (and whale sh*t) all day. The pool + extra-long conditioning in the shower helps. But I had no idea my hair could be this tangled. No one will care about that but me, but it’s my journal so… yeah.

The lobby in the hotel is the only place that has wireless connection, so every evening the couches are filled with people like us. It’s unfortunate that the lobby is veritable mosquito factory – they’re everywhere. Today Eric came back from posting videos and said he’d been attached by bugs. “Without my sacrificial Alex and my sacrificial Heidi, I have to resort to actual bug spray.”

Sunset Dinner
Dinner was at a seaside fisherman’s restaurant called “Social Justice”, named so because a group of fishermen got together to buy the land and to create a restaurant for fisherman. We ordered ceviche and grilled/cooked/fried fish (regardless of how you order it – it’s the same fish, prepared the same way) and watched the sun set over the water.

Sunset via a Sol bottle (photo by Eric Cheng)

Me and E – self-portrait (photo by Eric Cheng)


Dusk Drive
Between the six of us we have two golf carts to tool around the island. After dinner Eric and I got in our golf cart and Sterling/Wolcott got in theirs. Alex and Nathalie debated and then climbed in the back of Sterling’s, so I teased E this was because Alex and Nathalie think Sterling is a better driver. He’s definitely slower. Since we had an empty golf cart we went for a sunset/dusk tour of the island to take in local culture.

When E was in the Dominican Republic with his friend Tony, they noticed that the speed bump signs differ between signs with three humps and signs with four humps. So we went on a quest to get pictures of each different type of sign – two humps, three humps, and four humps. At one point I thought I saw a sign with five humps but it turns out that was just because of Eric’s driving.

Ice Cream
After our drive we went for homemade ice cream at a little place on the Avenito Hildelgo called COOL. The little lady who runs it – and who makes the ice cream on the spot – recognized us from the other night and asked where we were from. (In Spanish, which I really need to learn to speak) When E told her the United States she told us that she wants to go there but is afraid to fly. Then, for no reason other than to be nice, she scooped me another scoop of her Oreo Cookie ice cream and put it in my cup.

Funny comment of the evening: E, on editing his photos from three days of unbelievable whale shark activity and gorgeous pictures: “I’m throwing away pictures that some people would die for. Like this one here. This one’s only slightly awesome.” Delete.