Whale Sharks in Mexico
I absolutely love the ocean and need to be near it. But the truth is, it completely terrifies me. It is massive, full of life that I know nothing about, and can easily push you down on your ass whenever you start to think you are more powerful than it. (Also what I love about it.) I am the type of person who is drawn to things that scare me. It is thrilling to be uncomfortable and to challenge myself to see what fears I can overcome. Therefore, I decided to try and get over my fear of the ocean by swimming in it with the largest fish in the sea. Oh yea, they also happen to be sharks.
I found a place in Mexico called Isla Holbox, which is a popular destination for swimming with whale sharks. Before I could talk myself out of it, I asked off of work, booked my flight, and paid for the whale shark excursion all within a matter of minutes (I am rather impulsive at times) No turning back now.
If you could look at my Google history the week before I left, you would see a LOT of the following. Do whale sharks hang out with great whites? Do great white sharks and whale sharks swim in the same areas? Has a whale shark ever hurt a human? Even on accident? Then, I stumbled on a kindergarten class page where a 5 year old boy drew a photo of a whale shark and wrote about how much he loved them. I read his whole post about how sweet and gentle they are, like elephants of the sea. I just so happened to love elephants and if this little boy trusts whale sharks, I will too. Now I was actually excited.
1, 2, 3, GO.
It is my third day in Isla Holbox (which is a really chill place) and the time has come to go face my fear. They give me my snorkel gear and I get on the boat with about 10 others who are also visiting for the same reason. The boat ride is about 2 hours but luckily, I am too worried about my stomach hurting and there being no bathroom on the boat, for me to worry about what I am about to do. I also have never snorkeled before and have no idea how to breathe through the tube. These are my two main concerns as we start to enter calm, glassy water with no land in site.
Up ahead, we see some other boats circling a certain area. We head in that direction, as this is where the whale sharks must be. Our instructor asks who wants to go first. My hand goes up, probably because I am blacked out from fear and have no idea what I am doing. The main thing he tells us is to make sure not to touch them and to jump in near their head and then swim along side of them, following them. Okay, but how do I breathe through this mask? I tell him I don’t know how to use this and he says he will be right next to me to help if I need it. It is two at a time so another girl and I pair up and sit on the side of the boat, waiting for his cue.
He points out a whale shark and says okay when I count to 3 jump in. What? This is happening way too fast. “1, 2, 3, Go!” We jump in and I find myself immediately grabbing for his hand (I hope this is what he meant by “here to help”) and I put my head under water.
SWIMMING WITH A WHALE SHARK
Before this trip, I watched a video of this girl swimming elegantly alongside these beautiful creatures. I thought to myself, I am easily going to get a shot like that. Fast forward to the present moment. As I put my head under the water, the whale shark’s mouth is about 1 inch under my feet. Shit, I need to get out of the way. Good thing I am holding the guide’s hand. He pulls me away a bit and then we swim alongside of it for about 15 seconds before it is gone.
Well, the only video I got there was a bunch of commotion of me jumping in the water, seeing the whale shark head and then just the camera shaking with no shark in site as I try to steady myself away from it. This is actually pretty comical if you ever get the chance to watch it.
Our turn is over for now. We let everyone else in the group go and we get to go again. This time, I didn’t hold the guide’s hand (I promise!) and actually was able to swim along side of it and follow along without getting scared. While it all happened pretty fast, there were a few moments where I was just swimming there under the water, thinking wow. These sharks are not even fazed by us. They just continue along opening and closing their incredibly large mouths and swimming slowly ahead. What an amazing experience that I highly recommend.
CONQUERING MY FEAR
While I can’t say that my fear of the ocean is completely gone, I also must say that I don’t necessarily want it to be. The reason I love the ocean is because it makes me feel small. It reminds me that whatever I have going on in my head or whatever problems I am currently facing, are the size of an ant compared to the world around me. It is incredibly humbling. I think this experience strengthened that perspective even more. It also showed me how I was so scared of something (a whale shark) that actually doesn’t even care about me or seem to notice I exist. Whale sharks are super sweet and I wasted too much time being scared of them. Isn’t this true with so many of our fears?