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September 2013    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 28, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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An Alternative Whale Shark Dive

from the September, 2013 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

One of our longtime travel writers also dived with the Yucatan whale sharks in August, and here is her report.

I went with Andy Murch, owner of Big Fish Expeditions ( www.bigfishexpeditions.com ), with whom I traveled last year to snorkel with sailfish. I stayed at the Na Balam Hotel on Isla Mujeres ( www.nabalam.com ). Each morning, my group of eight had the included continental breakfast around 7:15 a.m., then waded out to the boat. About an hour later, we were usually one of the first boats to arrive at our destinations. We spent four days snorkeling with whale sharks, manta rays and a few smaller mobula rays. The first and fourth days were mellow, but days two and three were kick-ass, with four or five whale sharks often in view at the same time, and sharks and rays swimming side by side. I had to continually look in all directions; the whale sharks seemed to enjoy running us over if we weren't paying attention!

My group was met at the Cancun airport by Na Balam's Andy and Laura, then taxied 30 minutes to the ferry depot for a 20-minute ferry ride to Isla Mujeres. Two-thirds of the hotel is on the beach side of the road; I was on the other side of the road, with the small pool. My room was large, with plenty of storage. It was airconditioned but the maids turned it off during the day, and it took until late evening to cool down sufficiently. Na Balam is a couple blocks from the main town, where I enjoyed different restaurants each evening, usually with outdoor dining. One complaint: the extremely loud music that carried on until 2 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday nights from the Fenix bar (not part of the hotel) across the street from my room. Get a low-numbered room far, far away from the loud music.

By 9 a.m. each day, there were 30 or 40 boats spread over a wide area, so there wasn't really any crowding; just wait and the sharks come to you. I had read that only two snorkelers from each boat were allowed in the water at the same time, but we all jumped in together, remaining for up to two hours, then we climbed into the boat for food, water and rest. Solo Buceo, the dive operator ( www.solobuceo.com ), provided plenty of water, sandwiches, soda, fruit drinks, cookies and even beer. Then back into the water for a couple more hours. By 2 p.m., the whale shark activity started dying down as they went deeper, and we headed back to Isla Mujeres, exhausted and happy.

Big Fish Expedition's trips next year are $1,960, double occupancy.

-- J.D.

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