Caleb has always been a reader. He favored non-fiction, so I had the opportunity to learn alongside him when he was small. His interests varied, but there was usually an animal book or two in the large stack we brought home from the library or purchased ourselves. We were both fascinated with whale sharks, and he owned multiple books about this amazing animal.
So there was absolutely no way we were going to miss out on the opportunity to snorkel with them while we were in Baja California Sur- -even if it meant Caleb needed to wake up two hours earlier than he would have liked to during a break from school and spend hours in a cramped van with 15 strangers. Interestingly, we had no problems locating him this time when our ride picked us up at the hotel.
We were first taken to the company “hub”. While Steve and I checked in, Caleb located a Starbucks. (His day just kept getting better and better). We met our fellow snorkelers and guides and loaded onto another van for the trip to La Paz, about an hour and forty-five minutes north of Cabo San Lucas. We scanned the Pacific Ocean on our left for humpback whales and enjoyed the beautiful desert vista on our right. It was the best of both worlds, and the trip went quickly.
Once we arrived in La Paz, we did not mess around! We lined up for wetsuits, flippers. snorkels, and masks. In mere minutes, we were heading down the malecón toward the panga boats waiting for us at the dock.
During our walk, our guide explained that La Paz had recently moved to protect the bay where the whale sharks feed. Mangrove trees, lining an island in the middle of the bay, were important in the creation of plankton, the whale sharks’ food source. All boats entering the bay were chipped and monitored from shore to insure they did not violate the rules in place. If they did, captains risked losing their boating licenses for the following year.
Due to the protections, there was a limit to the number of boats allowed in the bay at a time. While we waited our turn, we chatted with the guide and learned that his parents lived in Guaymas. Granted, we probably should have used this time to cover snorkeling basics, but it was much more fun to listen to him reminisce about his favorite beach bar in San Carlos and discuss other hot spots. Hindsight being 20/20, the tips probably would have been a better idea!
Basically, our instructions were to jump over the side of the boat and move toward the whale shark, giving him six feet of space on the sides and front and nine feet around the tail. That sounded simple enough. I jumped in, not at all expecting the entire Sea of Cortez to come streaming in my snorkel. As soon as I cleared it out, I was smacked in the face by a wave.
Some whale sharks stay in one place and feast; others like to play tag. We had a lot of swimmers! This meant we were constantly on the move (and constantly being smacked in the face by waves). Cough, clear snorkel, take a breath, get hit in the face with a wave, drink some sea water, repeat. Eventually, I abandoned the snorkel and just held my breath.
I am not complaining. I had it much better than the guy whose wife planned this outing for their second wedding anniversary. While she gave chase to the whale shark, he was pummeled over and over by the sea, never once getting the opportunity to catch his breath and never getting further than three feet from the boat. I have a feeling he will be planning next year’s anniversary trip, if the marriage survived this one.
Fortunately, we had one older whale shark who was not at all bothered by people watching him eat. The sea was teeming with plankton. He found his spot and was not moving. I was in awe. There could not be anything more incredible than experiencing this. I was completely lost in the moment…
Until I remembered the six/nine rule! Holy crap! It looked like I was close enough to touch this guy. I vaguely remembered the guide mentioning that the whale shark might startle and accidentally hit a person with one of his fins. The current that had been feeding me waves was now holding me in place under water! Or was it moving me even closer? (It is, of course, quite possible that I had no idea what I was doing with those flippers and causing my own problems.) Eventually, I surfaced and made it back to the boat, only to learn that our face masks made things look closer than they actually were.
It was impossible to keep up with what Caleb and Steve were doing underwater, so I was very pleased to see the two of them on the boat and happy as we headed back to shore. The trip included a delicious fish taco and fettuccine Alfredo lunch. Wait. What? And the tequila shots took the taste of any salt water out of Steve and Caleb’s mouths. And they also probably saved that one marriage.
It was an unforgettable day on the water. The ride back was very quiet (again, thanks to the tequila). I said a little prayer thanking God for making my son a reader and an animal lover. I also thanked him for giving me Steve, who should have learned his lesson by now but continues to let me plan our vacations anyway.