Uno, dos, tres! We all jumped in and I couldn’t catch my breath even though I had yet to even kick my fin once. Squealing commences. Literally 20 feet in front of us is the most massive animal I’ve ever seen in my life, it’s body is perpendicular to me and at a 45 degree angle, its mouth wide open at the surface. We kick kick kick as fast as we can to get within reaching distance and it swims right underneath us brushing my body and forcing us to watch that its fins didn’t knock us out. And just like that, it passed. I was so stunned that I forgot that I should probably try to keep up with it. After all, they move so slowly. So yeaaaaahhhhhh, they don’t. What looks like a snail’s pace from a distance is so lightning fast that is almost impossible to keep up with them. One whip of that tail and they are off into the great blue yonder.
Lucky for us, they were everywhere! But what I wasn’t ready for was the cardio that would be required to chase them down. Now I was beginning to understand the chase strategy. Let the boat get in position, jump in the water, kick like hell, ooo and ahhh, then hop back in the boat and do it all over. Otherwise, you might as well just sit in one spot and hope that one comes close enough. Given the vastness of the ocean, that’s not likely to happen. We kick around for a couple of minutes, I’m panting through my snorkel, and we just watch it swim around slurping its plankton soup from a distance. The boat pulls alongside us and we hop in.
I couldn’t even handle what I had just experienced, trembling with excitement.
Instantly, I notice some strange sandy bits on my hands and wasn’t sure what it was. Then I saw them in my hair and on my wetsuit. I looked up close and they were actually microscopic clear beads, likely fish eggs or plankton of some sort that the whale sharks themselves are feeding on. When I finally downloaded my photos, the layer of eggs was clearly visible floating on the surface, something I hadn’t noticed while in the water. Super neat.
The others on the boat were about to take their turn while my mom and I rested for a moment. That moment went by very quickly and before I knew it, Manny was yelling at us to get ready again. These sessions don’t last very long as, like I said, you just can’t keep up with them. Occasionally, you’ll stumble upon one that will just hang out in one spot but it’s not common.
Uno, dos, tres! Back in the water we go and we kick like hell to encounter another headed in our direction. It takes a sharp turn right before it feasts on us for lunch. Manny is practically dragging us at this point. Whew. This crap ain’t easy. We approach it and again, the tail narrowly misses my body as I reached out to cop a feel. It’s skin feels like a smooth rubber tire and its spots are so perfectly symmetrical. I’m beaming. Have you ever tried to smile with a snorkel in your mouth? I don’t recommend it. Unless you like drinking salty, fish egg filled water. Just five minutes had passed and we were back in the boat. I needed a break this time. A real break.
The other two were ready to jump in again and I was able to catch my breath for a few minutes. Once you’re on the whale sharks, you don’t really want to lose them so taking a long break isn’t a great idea.
Andres, the captain, yells down to us that there is a manta ray in the water. Seriously!? Could this dream get ANY better??? They ask if I want to get in and, well duh, so Manny hops in with me while the other guy is already in the water. Manny and I swim as fast as we can and he points down below. Absolutely colossal! Bucket list checked. Pinch me.! It gracefully glided through the water at a speed that was far too fast for me to keep up with. By the time we reached it, it was so deep that I couldn’t get great video but it was still unreal to watch. What a friggin dream. I’m completely out of breath and decide to give up chasing it so I casually look back up to the surface and BAM, almost get swallowed whole by a whale shark. You gotta watch the traffic at the surface or you could end up being lunch. Ok, not really. They are actually just filter feeders and only eat plankton, krill, and fish eggs. But that doesn’t mean it’s not frightening to see a mouth as big as a car coming your direction, with its gills spread wide. Eeeek! I screamed from the spook and could hear Manny laughing beside me.
I spent the next 15 or so minutes kicking around and chasing any of the whale sharks I could. Some I could catch up to and shared some great moments with but others were just too fast. I was so out of breath I started to get a little panicky, which is new for me. I am very comfortable in water but I’ve never been so exhausted in water before either. So I slowly kicked back to the boat and took a breather for a while. Andres asked if any of us wanted to go again. I could have stayed there all day but I felt like they wanted to leave so I didn’t want the whole boat to have to stay just for me. So we headed back to the island for fresh snapper ceviche made by Manny on the back of the boat. I was reluctant to try it but goodness it was amazing. It didn’t even have the slightest fish taste.
This experience was beyond what I could have imagined and beyond what I can possibly write here. Matter of fact, it was so incredible I might make it an annual event. Who knows. I still couldn’t get over how lucky we were to have almost the entire boat to ourselves. The boat crew was amazing, the weather absolutely perfect, and the frequency of whale shark encounters just unbelievable. And the manta ray! Gaahhhhhh. I was so happy to check this off my bucket list. If you’re interested in the video footage, here is a link. I also put it on my Facebook page (can’t post videos here or I’ll have to upgrade) but here are some pictures.
If you have any interest in doing something like this, call On Isla Mujeres Water Tours. They are a great bunch and they have a heartwarming story you should read on their site here. I’ll wrap up the trip with a summary of all of the bars, restaurants, and other venues we visited. Thanks for reading!