AdventureNorth AmericaSightseeing

July 30: NYC to Isla Mujeres

NYC to Cancun
This adventure, courtesy of my dive buddy Eric Cheng and his insatiable wanderlust, knocks a big check off my bucket list: whale sharks. He emailed a few months ago to say he was planning a charter with a small group and I immediately signed up. Bonus that it was so easy to get to – Cancun is a quick, direct flight from JFK.

That flight was interesting, first because of the two Snookie-like girls in the row in front of me who were thrilled to go to Cancun. They took endless photos of each other in their plane seats, expressed their plans “Ohmigod we are TOTALLY going shopping!” and then wooped enthusiastically when the plane landed. I assumed many bars would be danced on that weekend. In addition to the Snookies, there was an American man named Juan who complimented me before the flight, “Has anyone ever told you that you look just like Julia Roberts?”, then passed me his business card with a note during the flight. And then – all through Mexican customs – peppered me with questions that I tried to evade. The most jaw-dropping question? When I told him I was meeting friends on an island he asked, “Oooohhh… an island. Do you have a sugar daddy?”

* Pause while my jaw drops with disgust and revulsion. *

In what part of the world is that not an offensive question? Ick. And off I ran with my taxi driver Luis, who was sweet and informative and didn’t ask offensive sugar daddy questions at all.

I arrived at the Isla Mujeres ferry mere minutes before it departed Cancun. Thirty minutes later I was on the island and in a taxi to our hotel, Playa de la Media Luna. I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting by the pool, reading my book and listening to the waves break on the shore a few yards away.

In the afternoon I wandered into town, but the heat was so bad and town so deserted that I fled back to my poolside perch.

Eric arrived around 5:00 after 4 days of diving the Cenotes – underwater caves which I knew nothing about but now have fully fired nature envy. The rest of the group consists of Sterling and Wolcott from DC, and Alexis and Nathalie from France. The six of us will share a boat for the next five days of whale shark fun.

While I waited for them to get settled I sat out on the deck and watched the sun set.

The six of us had dinner with the just-departing group Sean Henricks, Rob Stewart (of Shark Water fame, aka “The Shark Stud”), Brian, Bob, and Victoria. We secured a huge table at Café Mogagua where talk was of camera gear and 3D technology, which Eric and Sean are shooting videos in anticipation of the soon-to-be 3D networks that will want footage of… well… anything. The group also passed on lessons learned from their past 5 days of whale shark snorkeling:
• Apply sunscreen endlessly since you’re out all day, in and out of the water, and the sun is brutal
• Wear flexible and – if possible – full-footed fins since snorkeling with a heel strap causes blisters. (Wish I’d known this prior to packing the night before.)
• Don’t exhaust yourself swimming toward the whale sharks. Just sit there and eventually they’ll come to you

Wolcott, Sterling, Sean, and Rob

E and me

Me, Victoria, Brian, and Rob

Alex and Nathalie

Alex, me, and Nathalie in the golf cart – the best way to get around Isla Mujeres

Whale Sharks
I should take a moment to give background for those how aren’t familiar with whale sharks. They’re sharks, but much larger than normal. They have wide mouths and mainly eat plankton, fish eggs, and microscopic animals. Divers will often tell stories of being at a dive site on which a whale shark will decide to visit. Sometimes they swim slowly by and disappear back into the blue. Sometimes they stay for a while, feeding on the surface while patiently allowing divers to approach at a discreet distance. But always – always – these stories are told with awe and listened to with envy. For years I’ve gone to dive sites and hoped that maybe, hopefully, this would be the time I saw the elusive whale shark but my luck never ran that way.

As Eric often says, “If you want to see a special fish, you have to go where the fish are.” So we came to Isla Mujeres, where whale sharks gather each July and August to feed on bonito eggs. We’ll definitely see them.