A whale shark and a charmless boat crew

One single whale shark being chased by dozens of snorkelers.

I’ve seen whale sharks before. The best time being when one magically appeared during a dive in Puerto Vallarta. So rare was the appearance, the dive master was accepting kudos from co-workers for weeks.

The other time was in La Paz, Mexico when the whale shark snorkeling expedition I was on after a day of scuba diving turned into stampede of people chasing one animal. Horrible.

I wanted to visit Isla Mujeres, a 20-minute ferry ride from Cancun. An island famous for whale shark tours during the summer months.

I’d heard reports of dozens upon dozens of whale sharks nearby – so many that boats wouldn’t converge in one spot and unleash large groups of tourists to harass them. So, I booked a trip. Crazy expensive — $125 USD.

The tour operator met us the night before. Nice, funny guy. Said all the right things. Wouldn’t be with us on the excursion, he said. He had an appointment with the harbourmaster the next day. A spanking of sorts for speaking to the media about problems with other tour operators. Problems I was about to see firsthand.

The next day at 7:00 am, we were handed over to Toro (the bull) and an older man who may have been his father. The captain and guide. You couldn’t have met two less charming people working in the tourism industry.

Where to begin: they yelled at us to swim faster to chase the whale shark, didn’t offer us cold drinks until three hours into the trip, didn’t help us re-board the boat after our short sojourns in the water. They looked miserable and seemed they couldn’t wait to get back to dry land.

In all, I had roughly eight minutes in the water watching a single whale shark swim away from me.

SINGLE whale shark. One. Surrounded by boats. Including one boat that allowed ALL of its ten or so passengers in the water at once. A violation of the law that permits only two passengers per boat in the water at one time, accompanied by a guide.

It was mayhem. Dozens of snorkelers stampeding in the direction of the one whale shark, kicking it and other snorkelers. Chasing the poor thing. I ignored the captains yells to swim after it.

Our crew did strictly adhere to the rules — the only positive of the entire trip.

I couldn’t wait for the excursion to be over.

I get that tourism is key to the economies of these destinations. People depend on it for basic life necessities. My experiences with expensive guided tours has been mixed, a couple of good road trips operated out of Puerto Vallarta and a sightseeing trip in Palau. Awful experiences in Thailand.

I have no idea how to wrap this up expect to say I’m done with whale shark trips. This is one life experience I wish I’d not had.

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