Gringo's Whale Shark Adventure
I turned the key on my Isleno friend's ten-year-old Honda moto. I was borrowing it this afternoon. He was working with customers in his busy dive shop Mexico Divers behind the OXXO store on Hidalgo Street – Isla Mujeres's main street. A couple of families were interested in the ‘Whale Shark Experience’ tomorrow morning. And more people would be here soon. Other than a golf cart or bicycle; scooters were the best way to get around here. A small island surrounded by gorgeous coral located 25 minutes from Cancun, Isla Mujeres was a gem missed by many visiting the Rivera Maya and some that cursed Cancun's hotel horizon from our beaches swearing to never leave its shores. From May through September hundreds of whale sharks gathered in the waters near the Caribbean island, with the peak season of their migration in July and August. The annual Whale Shark Festival takes place mid-July with the festival kicking off with a cultural parade followed by children's activities like sand sculpting, games and crafting amusements. And for the adults, live music, fantastic food, and excellent tequila. It is an exciting time to visit for the young and young at heart.
El Gallito(Little Rooster) his moto resisted a few more key turns before I yanked on the choke, and grinded my teeth at a possibility of missing sunset. I hadn't missed one since my arrival! The little guy eventually woke with mean hungover most locals master nursing by noon and roared to life as we headed towards one of my favorite spots on Isla Mujeres, Mexico - The statue of my friend Gringo, the whale shark. Mounted in the open winds close to the airstrip, he welcomed foreigners and locals to this tropical island daily. He had a better selfie collection than most Hollywood hotshots, and he’s also been trusted writing companion for my new novel - High Season: The Learnings of Mohammad Wang. Gringo is not his given name. I've never been privy to this information from the locals, but I like to think 'Gringo' will catch on some day. Him, magically enjoying the humorous namesake with a chuckle at sunset. One day, both of us staring out at the Caribe Sea; laughing at his increased popularity among his tourist fan club on twitter. Gringo's little Beliebers! All fun things to look forward to on this Neverland. Drifting and overtaking every golf cart and red taxi in sight, I barreled El Gallito towards the small abandoned airstrip and felt mesmerized at the thoughts of a positive humanizing experience I had shared with Gringo's Amigos a few years ago. Remembering the moment I first swam with these magnificent creatures, I understood a little more on why I continued to return to Isla Mujeres and popped by to spend late afternoons with Gringo. The large slow-moving filter feeding fish were gentle elephants of the underwater world and a very humbling reminder of nature’s rawness and awe-inspiring power to teach us to connect back to the animal kingdom. It's an epic surrender in trusting the elements around you and letting yourself go!
Belonging to the Rhincodontidae family (Shark family), the species are set apart from other sharks by a set of distinct features. One being the biggest fish in the ocean and other, they won't eat you! Despite its massive size, the whale shark does not pose a danger to humans. They are a docile fish and sometimes allow swimmers to catch a ride. Although this practice is discouraged by shark scientists, conservationists, primarily most people because of the disturbance to the sharks, and its very douche-like behavior. Fortunately, they are a protected species so if you get caught riding them like a jackass, not only will you have ended your adventure experience, the tour will end for everyone on board(all wishing for your at-sea burial), and you get to explain yourself to the police. But if you get the urge to touch one, you are welcome to visit my buddy, Gringo. He's not as shy as his wild amigos, and you don’t want to visit the Isla Mujeres Policia Station. Whale sharks mouths can be up to five feet wide, but there’s no danger of accidental lurking inside this monstrous dotted friend. They have 300 rows of tiny teeth and are only just sturdy enough to cope with a delicate diet of small fish eggs and plankton. So, you are safe from shitting yourself when they swim directly at you. They gather here for fish eggs that float to the surface in the summer months. It’s this feast that triggers their ascent from deep depths where they usually diet of plankton. These small tuna eggs are their favorite treat and why we get to see so many of Gringo’s amigos.
Considered a tropical and sub-tropical fish—Whale sharks can be encountered between the 30° N and 35° S latitudes. These guys move around the tropics as much as most backpackers. In a year, a single whale shark can travel 2000 miles or more. Though scientists still understand minuscule about their migration habits, they know that the fish gather en masse in particular places at specific times. For example, large schools of them love visiting exotic locations like Australia, the Galapagos Islands, and Yucatan Peninsula. They visit every summer to gorge on plankton, fish eggs and lounge in warm waters. It's kind of like noisy spring-breakers flocking to Rivera Maya every year. They say it's for yoga and to climb Chichen Itza, but they are upon our shores to gorge just like Gringo's amigos. Tacos and Ron y Tequila being their preferred fish eggs and plankton. The unique filter/feeder feature on this creature is used by only three shark species; making these guys the perfect diving buddy. These rare gentle giants are found only in a few parts of the world, but it’s well worth the trek to enjoy their company. Please make sure you swim with care and respect in all waters encountering whale sharks and marine life. Find an organization that follows the laws that protect and enforce the conservation of these underwater elephants. I jumped on the back of my buddy Gringo as the sun slowly began to fade away, always creeping away as if it could fall off the edge of the sea in a blink. The sky looked as if someone with colorful paintbrush went a little crazy with magenta and lavender. I grabbed my journal and pen and slowly allowed swimming with Gringo’s amigos unfold in my mind. I feel alive and inspired.
A fun tip: The younger ones are more gentle
and tend to play with divers.
Mexico Diver's Underwater expert/photographer such as Misael Fernandez-Estermann and his crew have photographed them swimming close to humans without any danger. He also provides an excellent Whale Shark excursion that will surely enchant your spirit on your next visit to Isla Mujeres. Please check out the Whale Shark Experience and other adventures at Mexico Divers
And be sure you swing by and hang out with my buddy, Gringo. After swimming with his wild amigos. He has one of the best sunset spots Isla Mujeres, Mexico has to offer, and he takes excellent selfies :)
If you are interested in the rich history and tales of Isla Mujeres, please grab a copy of my newest fictional novel – High Season: The Learnings of Mohammad Wang today!