8/20/09

La Gran Aventura de Jeff & Gini, Parte Dos

Bright and early in the morning, we were met by the American owner of Holbox Whaleshark Tours, Rodd. Rodd, aka "Roddrigo," aka "Whale Shark Daddy," has lived on the island for several years and is dedicated to bringing people to see the amazing whale shark ethically and responsibly. We chatted about his life on the island during our 5-minute commute to "Whale Shark Central" in "downtown" Holbox.

Once there, we watched a short video, which outlined the rules of the road: don't touch the whalesharks, stay 2 meters away from them, swim in groups of
no more than two and always with the licensed guide, etc. After a hot cup of coffee with cookies, a short verbal briefing and an introduction to our boat crew (captain and guide) we were on our way!

The four of us opted for the VIP package. This meant we had the entire
boat and crew to ourselves. The other 14 boats we saw had anywhere from 8-10 passengers plus crew aboard. The VIP option was definitely worth the extra money. Additionally, our boat and crew would stay out with us and let us swim with the sharks as long as we could stand while the regular boat passengers were restricted to one to two swims apiece. Split four ways, this wasn't a bad deal at all.

After being served some yummy breakfast empanadas by Captain David
and our guide CheChe, our boat launched out toward the open sea. There was a long string of boats headed in the same direction. This is a very long trip, approximately 2 to 2 1/2 hours, depending on where they find thefish. The sea was virtually flat, however, so it was a nice smooth ride. Along the way we saw several sea turtles and huge schools of golden rays. Our crew was willing to stop and look at whatever we wanted.

We arrived at the first whale shark and were among 14 boats total. In spite of this large of a crowd, all of the boat captains were very courteous and organized, each taking its turn lining up and dropping off one set of swimmers (two guests and a guide per set) just in front of the whaleshark. As that group of swimmers wore out, the next captain was dropping off their guests. In a very orderly manner, everyone got to swim with the shark at least twice. The boat captains communicate by radio and they know exactly where and when to drop the swimmers so no one is left out and everyone gets a great view.

We then left the large group of boats to look for manta rays. We found one and slipped into the water as quietly as possible with it, but it dove deep so we couldn't photograph it. We dove with manta rays in Hawai'i, but the ones in the Caribbean appeared to be larger and darker in color.

We eventually joined another group of about 7 boats to swim with another whaleshark. This one turned out to be the biggest one of the day, probably around 30 feet. After each of us swam twice we took a break and joined another group of maybe 4 boats around another whaleshark. With each group we joined, there were fewer and fewer boats there, as the large group boats all had a set time they had to be back. Our final shark swim was just us and the whaleshark. We got some fantastic photos and were worn out from all the swimming.

If you've ever seen a 747 get ready to land, or a cruise ship under way, you know how slow they appear to be going. They're not really, but the optical illusion caused by their enormous size makes them appear slow. Whalesharks are a lot like that. They hardly move their giant tail fin and it propels them through the water at a pretty good clip. All four of us are excellent swimmers, but swimming full out for just a few minutes at a time wore us out!

Our crew then took us near the shore of a part of Isla Holbox that's a restricted bird sanctuary. There are thousands of nesting pelicans,
flamingos and frigates there. No humans are allowed to set foot on that part of the island, but we waded around in the bath-warm water and tossed sardines to the seagulls. We had a lunch of sandwiches, fresh fruit, and cold drinks.

Finally, we reluctantly agreed to go back to the island and call it a day. We got back to the hotel, cleaned up and walked downtown for a nice dinner and drinks. After dinner we went back out to the beach to enjoy a
gorgeous sunset and dream about the next time we could come back to this gorgeous place.

This was a fantastic trip. We decided to go on the spur of the moment and I'm so glad we did. I feel so lucky to be able to have seen some the things I have and even luckier to have been able to see them with people I love. Our friends Anna and Scott have been with us on some of our best trips and we've checked off
many of our "bucket list" items together. It's great to have good friends with whom to share these wonderful memories.

Please click on the blog title or any colored links in this entry for links to the Holbox Whale Shark Tours website and our other photos from this trip and others we've taken. Or click on any of my links in the left hand menu to see Jeff's photos (which are much better than mine) or the rest of our photos.

Our next adventure will be three weeks in Bonaire and a few days in Aruba in September, so stay tuned for that!


8/15/09

La Gran Aventura de Jeff & Gini, Parte Uno

This week we took a quick trip to Mexico. Jeff and I spent one night in Cancun at the Hilton and the next morning met our best friends, Anna and Scott, for our trip to Isla Holbox.
Lest you think that Mexico is all either tourist-trappy or dumpy, let me assure you, there are still phenomenally gorgeous, unsullied places to be seen there. And Isla Holbox is one of those places.

But it's not easy to get to, and I hope for the sake of the natural beauty of the place, it stays that way.

A two-hour van ride, much of it over dirt roads, leads you to the tiny Mexican town of Chiquilá. You then board a ferry that takes you another 45 minutes over to the island.

We were met by a golf-cart taxi (painted yellow, complete with illuminated "taxi" sign) which took us to our lodging.

The trip to the Casa Iguana took about 5 minutes (the island is only about 3km wide) and all the island's roads are sand.

It wasn't fancy or big (only had 9 rooms), but it was clean and had a hot shower and enough air conditioning to keep the room tolerable.

Anna and I immediately went to the beach (about a 50 yard walk) and got in the water.

Let me digress: I am a beach connoisseur. I've been to green beaches, pink beaches, white, tan, gray, black and salt-and-pepper beaches. But I have never seen a nicer, cleaner beach than the ones that surround Holbox. Nor have I ever truly seen "sugary white sand" like they have there. It is so incredibly soft and white, almost impossibly powdery. Prior to this trip, 7-mile beach on Grand Cayman came the closest, but the Holbox beaches blew them all out of the water (pun intended).

Anyway, so while we were basking in the gin-clear 90-ish degree water, our husbands had walked down the beach another 50 yards to a bar. Actually it was a tarp thrown over four poles with a tiny screened tent kitchen next to it. They had two brands of ice-cold beer (XX and Sol) for 20 pesos each (about $1.50) and a small menu of Mexican appetizers.

Let me summarize the trip for you so far:

best beach ever
white powdery sand
ice cold cheap beer
clear clean warm water
sun-filled blue skies
great friends to share it with

So far, so good.

We eventually dragged ourselves "downtown" to find a restaurant. The one we found was just okay, but we really didn't look very hard.

We walked back to our little inn and hit the sack early, in anticipation of a very early wakeup and long day ahead.
Stay tuned for parte dos!

Most of the photos above were taken by Jeff. You can see all of our photos of the trip by clicking on the title of the blog entry.

The aerial photo of Holbox and the photo of the taxi were taken by Scott Mitchell...the rest of his photos of the trip can be found by clicking on his name.