Yup, I woke up and what a morning it was...
In all the years I've visited this coast, I don't believe I've ever seen four days of calmer seas, today, and the next three were like glass. Our 8:00am meeting turned into 9, but that's ok, this is Mexico. The boat was beautiful, and the twin 250 yamahas, safety gear, food, drinks, excellent snorkeling gear, radio, and life jackets were all loaded on, we were ready to go. Monkey Tours as I soon found out were professionals in every sense of the word. There are others on the island, and I'm sure they are fine, but these guys were top notch.
The only hitch, and I'm sorry, but my Spanish sucks after all these years, was that the guide and Captain spoke no English. My fault, I know, but the boat full of eight Europeans and one Aussie, reaped a young Spanish girl who gladly acted as our interpreter. What a blessing it was, the information not only on safety, the Whale Sharks themselves, and our intentions for the day, were indispensable. Before handing us the dagger, the guide explained all the rules and regulations on the boat and with the fish, how they feed, why and so on. Then he proceeded to explain, as I well knew, that our chances of seeing them were very slim, it was late in the season (Sept. 13), we probably will not get any snorkeling in. The excitement dropped to a simmer, we were devastated. I knew that the permits for taking guests out expires on the 15th, but I was hoping to get lucky in my last minute kind of way. They expressed hope, but didn't want to dissapoint, they explained they would search long and hard. We learned how they feed along the surface, diving only when they are not gorging on plankton and tiny fish. When the gill like mouths fill with material, the fish will dive, and open their massive mouths, allowing the hundreds of small companion fish constantly surrounding them, acting like dental floss, picking the mouth clean, so the fish can happily feed again. They went on to explain in great and compasionate detail, never to touch the Whale Sharks in the water, the soft membrane on the skin can be damaged, exposing the fish to harmful parasites. Ok we thought, lets get this opportunity, we were patient and hopeful as we skirted northeast along, and then past the deserted Holbox coast, all of us quiet and listening. Our guide explained the small fishing camps we would see along the coast, and how local fishermen would stay for a week, catching all they can, and heading back home to their families.
As we headed NE, the coast cut south towards Isla Blanca, we were an hour and fifteen minutes into it, the water this far out was still like glass. Land was scarce on the horizon until Isla Contoy came into view, no other boats in sight, we were probably 3-4 miles, maybe more, due north of Contoy.
When the boat slowed, and the guide stood up in back, I knew we had hit it, we all gazed across the surface, the first sight we had was a head, and the dorsal fin, and the water boiling with the companion fish around this massive fish, the captain slowed to a crawl as we neared. We only spotted one for now. He carefully manuevered the boat around the fish, staying 20 or so feet away, and the first pair donned their gear. He let the fish swim right next to the boat...............
..............circled again, and as the fish was heading right towards us, 15 feet away, he signaled for the first pair to go in. One suggestion, you should definetely have some good experience snorkeling, because when you get in the water, there is no time to adjust gear. Whale Sharks are not feeding and swimming at any fast rate of speed, BUT, you need to swim fairly hard to keep up. A minute and a half, to two minutes is a good run. It's kind of like keeping up with Mark Spitz on a practice lap, you'll usually be freestyling and kicking hard with your flippers.
My first time in this trip, the guide goes in first, and the gentleman that I am, well I had to let the Aussie lass go in next, and of course then when I got in, I was stuck behind their fins, AND bubbles, it was too late, I lost them and any close up. I did not make this mistake my second and third time out, those snorkels were fantastic, both close to two minutes, incredible and surreal, and exhausted you are at the end of each swim!
Our guide was incredible, a trip with each pair, three times, that would be 15 trips, I was dead tired after three, the man was the best, and in incredible shape. Remember what I said about knowing how to snorkel, you will be dissapointed if you don't know how. This is a wonderful trip for families as well, but young kids, especially under the age of maybe 16, might be best off staying in the boat, enjoying the view and the sight of this magnificent creature. Nothing is wrong at all with staying on board and taking pictures.
Another suggestion, choose your guide carefully. I have already heard reports of trips where the guide and Captain allow you to grab a fin and ride along like on a dolphin. Whale Sharks have not always come to this area and congregated, the popularity of these trips is great, but could be over before we know it if abused. Certified Captains is a general term, I don't know the answers, but all I can say is if you see abuse, or hear of it, report it, there can be no excuse whatsoever interfering with the migration of these fish.
Our ride back to Holbox was a thrill, we all made friends, the group was international, young and old, well I think I was the oldest, sigh............Though a Belgian couple and I met up a couple of days later on Isla and enjoyed Independence Day together on Fri. night. The first thing most of us did after reching Holbox again, was to rush for a cold one, and I headed for a freshwater shower in my room after that.
I won't tell you the price, because it was amazing, but depending on where you go from along the coast, whether from Playa, Tulum, Cozumel or Isla, it can range across the map, but directly from the horses mouth, from Holbox itself is what I would recommend. It's a lovely and quiet island, I won't go into the throwback to the old days thing, but believe me, you'll either love it or..............