Sunday, July 24, 2011

Swimming with Whale Sharks Cancun

"Go go go!" the captain yells and we throw our bodies off the side of the boat, landing in the sea and coming face to face with the gaping maw of an 8 meter long shark. "MMMMM" I yell through my snorkel (everything sounds like "mmmm" in a snorkel, the translation here is something along the lines of "Holy Cow!"). Though the enormous mouth coming at me is about 1 meter wide, I do know that this whale shark is really only interested in eating plankton. I manoeuvre myself out of her direct path and try to remember to breathe, it is an intimidating mouth regardless of whether I am considered lunch or not. We follow along with her, using our flippers like mad to race to stay alongside her rippled and dotted body. Her mouth opens and closes and the cleaner fish cling to her side and she finally outraces us and we pause for a breath.

This is whale shark season. Every year between May and September, whale sharks gather in large numbers off the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. While whale sharks are found in a few other places in the world, the aggregation in the Mexican Caribbean is by far the largest and most easily accessible for scientists and adventurers. Visitors to Cancun, Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox can find themselves in the midst of hundreds of these gentle giants, known locally as "dominoes" for their spotted and dotted skin. Scientists regularly visit the region to investigate this still mysterious animal, tagging the animals in an effort to gain a deeper understanding of their migration routes and mating habits.

The whale shark is indeed a member of the shark family, the biggest fish in the sea. The largest recorded whale shark was more than 12 meters long and the heaviest weighed 36 tonnes!. They live in warm-temperate and tropical waters and feed on plankton, algae and fish eggs through filters in their large mouths. Whale sharks are "ovoviviparous" animals, meaning they reproduce through eggs, then give birth to live young, perhaps up to 300 offspring at a time. Whale sharks reach sexual maturity around 30 years of age and it's estimated that they have a lifespan of between 70 and 100 years.

I am an incredibly fortunate woman to live where I do. This was my third time swimming with the whale sharks and it doesn't get old. Today's adventure was once again "unbelievable, out of this world, unreal, super chingon!" The sky was blue with white fluffy clouds, the sun shone down, the guides from Ecocolors were superb as they always are and our boat mates were a lot of fun. We found a group of about 100 sharks today and we each got five "jumps" and pretty much unlimited time sharing the underwater home of these incredible creatures. I really don't think it's possible to express the power of the experience through mere words or photos or even video, it's something you'll just have to try for yourself. Swimming with whale sharks in the Mexican Caribbean is just one of a million reasons why you should visit Mexico, a unique, natural experience that you will remember for a lifetime. This is definitely "bucket list" material.

Click here for more "Whale Shark Photos" from today's excursion.

Marca País – Imagen de México, is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination. This program is designed to shine a light on the Mexico that its people experience every day.

Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own.

Disclosure: My whale shark adventure was provided courtesy Ecocolors Tours, though all opinions expressed are my own.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

OUT on Isla Mujeres on a Sunday

Sundays were made for getting the heck out of Dodge. Fresh air, maybe some ocean, maybe some jungle, just OUT. The Whale Shark Festival was in Isla Mujeres so that made Max's "Where we goin' this weekend?" question easy to answer. Tia Lisa had to go to Isla for an errand and another sweet friend was going with her so we all headed out together.

Sitting on the top of the Puerto Juarez ferry, the sun coming down hot and hard, a musician started playing his guitar. He even managed to get some of us singing along to "Guantanamera" and "Cancion de Mariachi". We girlies gossiped and caught up and Max hung over the railing looking for I don't know what in the water and the crossing seemed to go by quickly.

We docked on Isla, made our way through the "Snorkeling lady?" guys holding up their fish photos and onto the main (still under construction) street. We were on the hunt for the Whale Shark Fest. We headed over to the Malecon, expecting to find a display/event/entertainment and pft, nada. Hm. We walked down the beach on the east side heading north, the rocky shores creating their private jacuzzi pools and the waves crashing in. Up around the bend at the Avalon, we spied the private boats at anchor, partying in the water with their music blasting. Walking along Playa Norte, we see lots of people, but no nada nothing of the whale sharks. We know there is supposed to be a sand castle contest so we finally just ask someone. "Around the corner, Playa Posada". Ooook. Sweat pouring down now, feet burning, my shingles on fire (see previous post) and dying for water, we drag our dehydrated bodies up and around the corner. Max repeatedly chanting "I want to get in the water, I want to get in the water, I'm going to DIE!"

Playa Posada, finally, fest action. We almost walked on the "sand castles". We had been expecting something spectacular, professional cool. Let's just say to be kind that that is not what we saw. Didn't even take a photo.

Festival hopes abandoned, we make our way back to the beach club with free chairs and umbrellas, dump our stuff, get some drinks and hit the water. I'm pretty sure there was a "SSszzzzzzzzzzzz" sizzle sound as the hot skin met the cool sea. We frolicked and floated, splashed and dove and Max repeatedly jumped off the dock. We ate tacos and guayas, gulped water and Coca Colas and naranjadas. We enjoyed loads of sun and sand and sea and chisme.

It was a groovy Sunday, the festival may have been a bust but I was OUT, with fine weather, the healing sea, good friends and my chango. I can't ask for much more than that. But can I ask for it to be Sunday again tomorrow?

Visit my Facebook page to see the rest of today's Isla Mujeres photos.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Good Days, Bad Luck

Contenta. Herida, pero contenta. The last month has been filled with emotional and physical assaults, but I am somehow content. In the last month I have sprained my ankle, traveled to Oaxaca, spent five days in the hospital after a slip and fall, started work on exciting projects, returned to the hospital for a reaction to the medication, met fascinating new people, lost relationships, had great days with my kid and now I have shingles. Yes, I am a regular at the hospital, I need a danged preferred customer card. I walk in and they smile and call me by name. Sad really. But on the other hand somehow hysterically funny. And there are great things in the mix too.

Laying on the couch this morning, a bag of frozen peas on my back and mixed veggies on my chest, I play music for Max and he dances, doing his best Chayanne or Justin Bieber or Michael Jackson. We go to the hospital and Max says "Again??" but when we get there he knows people and tells the doctor how the blood pressure cuff works. We go to a birthday party for the son of a good friend and he laughs and plays and runs around happily. We have to leave early but he doesn't complain, we're going to a baseball game, Tigres de Quintana Roo vs. Los Diablos Rojos de Quick. (Quick is the radio personality we listen to every afternoon for our 80's music appreciation hour). Max got a signed game ball, met Quick, played on the Tigres field, ran around with a mob of kids and told me he had the best day ever.

So, days like today, that's why I am still smiling. The Monty Python song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" rolls through my head. All kinds of bad luck, but I am still feeling lucky. Shit happens. We suffer heartbreak, loss, physical pain, but there is always a "bright side". I know, Pollyanna horse hockey, corny, cursi, whatever. There is value to every experience, good or bad, it's only measure is intensity. I would rather have intensely good or intensely bad times, the middle parts where nothing happens is rather boring, don't you think?

The shingles are burning like the demon fires of hell. The only way to describe it. But I have a tiny kitten purring on my lap, an amazing, happy kid sleeping upstairs, Ella Fitzgerald singing, and a bowl of pretzels. I have good insurance, cheap prescriptions and supportive friends. On paper my life is looking like a telenovela, but I'm hoping I come out as the heroine. Standing on the cliff at Punta Sur Isla Mujeres, my long white dress blowing in the wind and a serene smile on my face as the sun beats down. Bring it universe, give me your best shot, I'm ready for it. And I'll take it all with a smile.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Cancun Beach Therapy

Twitchy. Itchy. Restless. Legs bouncing all around even while laid up in a neck brace. Being indoors, forced indoors, ugh. It has been raining in Cancun (following along? slip and fall on wet floor?) so indoors we have been. I woke up Sunday morning and saw grey skies and threw the pillow over my head and went back to sleep. The next time I came out of my cave I saw glorious sunshine and jumped out of bed. Midday, a bit late, but better late than never.

I did coffee like a tequila shot and ran out the door. First day with no pain and no rain in at least two weeks. I've got my pareo, a torta, a bottle of Coca Cola. The radio is always set to 93.1 Mix FM, 80's of course, and I was cruising through the hotel zone with the window open screaming along to Whitesnake. "Like a drifter I was born to walk alone" to be precise, one handed air guitaring and head banging at the stop lights. Well, very gentle head banging. The palms look green after all the rain and the sky is Cancun blue, I smell the sea before I see the sea.

I pulled up next to the giganto Beetlejuice statue outside of Coco Bongo and went down the ramp to the underground parking. I counted 15 people getting out of one SUV while they blocked my way to a spot. They carried coolers/floaties/chairs/tables/umbrellas/radios/ice/beer/Blackberries/strollers/baby chairs. I parked and went directly to the balcony of the Forum, one of my favourite views in the HZ. I let it hit me in the chest like it always does, took a deep breath in and listened to the tourists around me. "Increible" "No puede ser tan hermosisimo", "Awesome dude", "Unreal", "Bellisima". "Whoa".

I made my way back down past the tourist shops and the glittery chaos that is the "party center" of Cancun and walked down the path to the public access beach called Playa Gaviotas Azul. Or just "Gaviotas". Or, "The beach behind the Forum". However you choose. Dropped my gear, dropped my dress and put on a little bit of sun protection.

I was still feeling restless, couldn't relax so picked up the camera and went for a walk around. Watched families playing, lifeguards endlessly blowing whistles and directing people around the ocean. Sand castles, tables full of empties and coolers full of cold ones, the woman carrying a tray on her head chanting "mango, mango, mango, jiiiiiiiiiiiicama, coooooocoooooo". The donut guy. The cotton candy kid. The weekend dads. The drunk group of friends goofing around throwing sand. Tourists gaping and standing out with their translucent white skin or first day lobster sunburn. The teenage girls giggling at the teenage boys. Body surfers, boogie boarders, floaters and bobbers in the sea.

I made my way back to my pareo and lay my body down.Nudged a little hole in the sand for my head to rest comfortably. Wiggled around until the shape of the sand formed to me. Closed my eyes and felt the sun on my face. Sweat trickled down my neck and occasionally flies would tickle my legs. Letting myself go, letting the crazy whirl of thoughts settle, I focused on the sound of the ocean and the feel of the breeze and relaxed. Divine. Happy place. Life. Is. Pretty. Darned. Good. And restless and twitchy no more.

(More photos are up on my new Facebook page, have a look and "like" "A Canuck in Cancun"!)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


So, if you've been following along, I had just had a happy happy joy joy weekend in Oaxaca and was feeling great. The Sunday night I returned home I was chatting with a good friend and mentioned that the universe wouldn't allow me to be this happy, that something bad was going to happen. (Duuuuuuuh, it might be true or what you think, but never, ever say this out loud, er, type it in chat). I went to bed content and looking forward to going to work the next day to share my tales.

It was a dark and stormy morning (I have always wanted to say that) and the streets of Cancun were flooded. I had on my pink flowery happy boots though, and was in a good mood. I walked into the little store at my office to get my coffee and suddenly both feet were in front of my eyes and I landed on my arm and back on the floor. I imagine it looked hysterical really, like the ole banana peel slip and fall without the banana. People surrounded me, told me not to move, called the ambulance. While the paramedics checked me out I kept saying, "Take my phone and take a picture!", thinking like a blogger or an idiot. I got to ride in an ambulance, neck brace, back board, the whole treat. (And nobody took my picture, I was being serious, ahem).

(Finally convinced someone to take my picture!)

X-rays, poked, prodded and hooked up to an IV and drugged mightily. Nothing broken. Whiplash, small dislocation of the shoulder and contusions and pulled tendons. Crap. They bring me up to my deluxe private room, roll me on to the bed and knock me out. I woke up occasionally to eat, always papaya and jello and papaya and jello. Friends came. Papaya. Bed pan. Dear Goddess a bed pan. Papaya.

How high was I? I have no idea what was so funny when my friends visited

Five days later.....I beg to be let out, must go home. I get discharged, my Super Heroine friend comes to pick me up in her car of many colours and got me out of floaty dreamy Druglandia. (Valium and a morphine-like drug all week).

So you think everything would be cool, get better, rock on. But oh no, I have to have an intense reaction to the pills they'd sent me home with. Back to the hospital today where I was greeted like an old friend. (Did I mention that the week before I went to Oaxaca I sprained my ankle and was in Galenia for treatment?) Yeah, a bit of a run of bad health luck. It's bad when orderlies treat you like an old friend.

I am ready to be well again, so ready. I have things to do! Places to go, people to meet. Litter boxes to clean. I am trying to have a sense of humour about the whole thing, I mean it is kind of funny, painful but funny. I will forever have the image of my happy boots flying before my eyes, but dangit, all you peeps with your Blackberries and there is no video or photo? Shame......

Monday, July 4, 2011

Mexico Today: Oaxacan Surprise

Dancers in the Calenda

My whole body vibrates with the sounds of the brass band, my heart taking on the beat of the tuba that seems to be ever present in Oaxaca. A beautiful girl in a swirl of colourful skirts smiles and presses yet another cup of Mezcal in my hands as the fireworks POP in the air then sputter at the feet of the dancers. Giant puppets bob and weave in the light of the candles carried by the crowd and cameras flash and the man wearing the fireworks machine on his back spins down the street. This is "Calenda", the traditional way of announcing and inviting people to a party in Oaxaca. It's a parade of colour and music and spectacle that proceeds any good fiesta and this is my first.

The Mountains of Oaxaca

I really thought that I was going on a simple business trip to Oaxaca last weekend for the launch of the Mexico Today project. I figured I would meet some cool people, get the lay of the land of the job and see a little bit of Oaxaca. What I didn't expect was to have an emotional experience. Of course we enjoyed the taste of Oaxacan culture, the food, the Guelaguetza, the Calenda, the local artisans creating "alebrijes", the market and Colonial architecture. But I think the thing I enjoyed most of all was sharing those moments with an extraordinary group of people. The diversity of the contributors to the Mexico Today project is divine, people who write about finance, food, culture, travel, family, language, of all ages and stations in life and all with a passion for Mexico. I had some great conversations, lots of laughs and even shed a few tears. Totally cornball, I know, like a corporate bonding retreat that actually worked, but if felt great and it was a lovely surprise after thinking I'd just come home with a pile of notes, photos and maybe some souvenirs.

The wise man of San Martin Tilcajete

After the exhilaration of the Calenda and a first class meal at Casa Oaxaca, I found myself on a rooftop overlooking the centuries old city. Students laughed as they made their way into the cafes and nightclubs, a nearby cathedral was lit up in hues of gold and I couldn't help but smile. Really, I tried, I couldn't stop smiling. And it wasn't just the Mezcalini. I was simply content. Warm on the inside. All fuzzy and stuff, with little fireworks going off inside my belly. Professional life going well, real friends, old and new permeating my life and of course the pride of having a most spectacular child and living in this incredible country of Mexico. I have so much to learn and see, Oaxaca awakened something inside of me, not just for discovering more of Mexico, but more of myself as well. I gave my head a shake thinking I couldn't possibly be THAT happy, but the feeling stayed and lingered. I walked back to the hotel down the cobblestone streets and fell asleep with a contented little grin.

Some "business meeting". Viva Mexico!

Check out my Oaxaca photos on Flickr for the full picture!

Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Contribtor for the México Today Program. I am also being invited to an all-expenses paid trip to Oaxaca as part of my role. All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own.

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