Friday, July 29, 2016

Swimming with the Whale Sharks - again

Orectolobiformes Rhincodontidae
No matter how many times I swim with the Whale Sharks, those bus-sized sea creatures that include Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox in their annual migration, it is still a fabulous encounter.  

A group of island neighbours decided they wanted to experience swimming with the Whale Sharks.   
Did I want to join them?  Sure!  Count me in!
Yumiko, Andy, Julie and Rob

Until a short time ago I was convinced (via Wikipedia webpage) that Whale Sharks were neither whales nor sharks, instead they were considered the largest fish species in the world.

However a well-informed reader of our blog told me they are classed as Orectolobiformes (Carpet Sharks) and comprise the only member of its family, Rhincodontidae.  

If I knew how to pronounce those complex scientific names, I might be scared, but these big teddy-bears of the ocean eat plankton, krill, and tiny baby squid, not humans.  They have big scary names and gentle personalities. 

Victor Ancona
 Our friends, Julie and Rob Goth, recently established full-time islanders, booked our group outing with Xoc Lifestyles.  

It is a relatively new tour company owned by Victor Ancona and his Canadian wife Kasie Dobbs Ancona. The name Xoc, pronounced something like Shok, is Maya for shark.  

For generations Victor’s large and extended family group have been busy island residents.  

Victor’s younger sister Amaranta Ancona Cervera owns a hair and esthetics salon near the Poc Na Hostel on Isla.  

Omar Ancona
His well-known and popular uncle Victor Cervera Cervera has Casa Havana vacations, and previously Casa Havana Restaurante located behind the naval base on Juarez.  His beautiful mamá is Delia Cervera Cervera.  

Victor’s grandfather Wandy Ancona, who lives a couple of blocks south of our home, had a career in the Mexican Navy until his retirement.  Abuelo Wandy and Abuela Olga frequently enjoy sitting on their front porch in the cool of the evening, watching the street activities, and waving at passersby.

Victor’s love for the ocean is in his blood. He and his siblings learned how to operate boats at a young age, and he has many fond memories of staying two and three months at a time on nearby Isla Contoy while his papi, Esteban Ancona Argaez, fished in the surrounding ocean. 
Leaving Isla Mujeres behind

So off we go on our escapade; the five Musketeers, Julie, Rob, Andy, Yumiko and I.  Two more adventure seeking vacationers joined our wacky group, Shonna and Matt from Austin Texas.  

A quick run through of the rules and Victor cast off the lines, while his older brother Omar Ancona Cervera expertly backed the boat away from the family dock in the Makax Lagoon.  

Julie & Rob - let me at 'em!
Headed towards the northern end of Isla Mujeres we passed a number of marinas and beach bars, the car ferry, Playa Centro, and rounded the point by Playa Norte.   

We powered through relatively calm, turquoise seas to join the huge flotilla of tour boats gathered seventeen miles off-shore at the current location for the Whale Sharks.
Andy, check out this beauty!

Now comes the fun part – swimming with these beautiful creatures.
  Two people, per boat are allowed in the water at any one time.  Life jackets are mandatory.  And touching is not allowed.  Human contact can damage the delicate surface of their skin, and disrupt their feeding timetable. 

All set to go with dive mask, snorkel, and life vest Shonna and Matt are the first to jump in, swimming hard to catch up as the critters slid past with a lazy flick of the tail.  Two by two we take turns, some of us dive in more than once while others are content to watch from the boat.  The Whale Sharks swim continuously, like a shark, never stopping their effortless and but rapid movement forward.

Yumiko and Andy
The excitement of my adventure-mates is infectious.  

When it is my turn I am so electrified I forget to pull the diving mask over my eyes, wondering why my underwater vision is so damn blurry.  I sort out my mask, and eventually realize that ooo-ing and aah-ing underwater is not advised; it is a great way to ingest seawater.  

Craving a high-quality underwater camera, one of those stupendously expensive ones that take National-Geographic-worthy photos, I stare in open-mouthed awe as the black and white spotted leviathan cruises past my face.  

Wow, just wow!
Matt and Shonna
And then so quickly it was over, time to motor back to the island.  

Time for a bit of liquid refreshments and snacks.  

Playa Norte was a traffic jam of returning tour boats.  

Big and small, luxury and modest, dozens of boats anchored to allow excursionists a chance to swim, drink cervezas, and chow down on afternoon treats.

Playa Norte 

Our very able, and entertaining crew of the Brothers Ancona, Victor and Omar, dished up some tasty ceviche, quiche, with fresh fruit and of course cold cerveza.  

You just can’t go on a Mexican adventure without cold beer!

What a fun adventure!  Thanks to our neighbourhood friends for including me.  

Omar and Victor - our fabulous crew!
And you may have guessed; Lawrie didn’t join us.  He doesn’t swim with any creature that has the word Shark in its name.  

It’s that 1970’s Jaws-thing.

Hasta Pronto!

Lynda & Lawrie

Look carefully - he's there!

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