Tag Archives: Mexico

Power to the people

Apparently, Mexico’s drug cartels have expanded ops into this and the other countries that lie between it and South America. Makes sense. The drugs have gotta get through somehow.

So there’s allegations of under the table payments to political candidates, to protect said business interests. That results in unregulated political campaign spending (there’s supposedly a US$6 million cap that each party can spend on elections) And of course then, there’s the issue of vote-buying.

Today the people of Guatemala will vote for their new president. Well, an estimated 40% of them will. This only the 4th election since the civil war ended in 1996. A civil war that lasted more than 35 years, took an estimated 200,000 lives and left more than a million refugees.

It’s interesting watching another country go to the polls. Campaigning here is a lot more colorful and a helluva lot noisier than back home. There’s a lot of firecrackers. Protests. Campaigning rallies. Cars with loudspeakers affixed to the roofed. We’re currently in the midst of a 48 hour alcohol sales ban (It’s okay, folks. No need to be alarmed. I stocked up.)

One of the two main contenders is a retired army general. Who evidently had nothing to do with anything except of course the peace negotations. He looks a little too much like Malcolm Turnbull for my liking. And his logo is a closed fist. Where’s he gunna put that if he gets in, I wonder? Although apparently he is tipped as the favorite.

The other candidate is my preferred choice only because he looks a bit like Buddy Holly. At 41, he’s the youngest candidate and only just qualifies to run for office. His logo is a much happier thumbs up. Apparently, all the youngns like him. Problem is, he doesn’t necessarily look like he’s got what it takes to do what’s needed in just 4 years (no subsequent terms allowed.)

I don’t want to be too flippant about this. It’s important that whoever gets in is going to get stuck into rectifying this country’s two most prevalent problems: poverty and crime.

Evidently some 43% of children under the age of 5 are chronically malnourished. And the murder rate last year was 40 per 100,000 people. One of the highest in the world. Those figures are staggering.

Guatemala is a ridiculously gorgeous country. And the people here seem, for the most part, happy. They’re very family orientated. It seems to me, to be a very united nation. What they need is a leader with balls to stand up to the leaders of criminal gangs, and the ability to make real headway in redressing poverty. Easier said than done, I suppose.

May the better man win.

(Oh, and as a postscript … that woman i mentioned in a previous post. The only female candidate. The one who got divorced so she could qualify to run. Two things: she is, well was, married to the current President. And a month ago, the Supreme Court upheld a sentence preventing her from continuing to run.)

11 Sept

My thoughts are also with those impacted by the tragic events in the US, a decade ago.

You can’t always get what you want

The following night, I linked up with Mr Belize. His brother and his sister-in-law, from Cayo, were visiting. They were up for a big night and I had a dive planned in a place called Shark-Ray Alley the next day, so I called it early.

The next morning, I used the coconut wire to tell Mr Belize to meet me at Hurricanes for lunch at 1. And went on to have another great splash about in the big drink. I saw my mate on my way back, and he confirmed Mr Belize would indeed, be meeting me.

I showered and went to the jetty bar for a Michelada and some ceviche. While waiting (Belizeans are even less concerned about time than Mexicans), I got talking to a lovely Polish lady who had been raised in Italy and lived the last few years in Belize. She was an English teacher. I have a feeling I will be in contact with her again.

I was headed to Caye Caulker that afternoon, a tiny island about 30mins away from San Pedro. Mr Belize offered to take me there on one of his mate’s boats. Sahweet! Russell was black as the ace of spades, sported a big gap between his two front tooth and wore his dreadlocks short and neat. He was from the dive shop I’d been out with, that same day, an outfit called DownUnder, which I thought was quite amusing. All the boys wore Australia tee shirts. I’d met them on day 1 and asked them if they were Aboriginals. They knew I was taking the piss immediately.

The boat comes around to collect me from my hotel’s jetty (which sounds a lot fancier than it really is). We go and collect the brother and sister-in-law and a ‘niece’. The boat stops about 1/2 way across, and we all jump out for a snorkel. Mr Belize catches a snapper with a spear, which I must admit, I found a bit sexy in a Mills & Boon kinda way.

We cruised into the lagoon called The Split at Caye Caulker, with a bar built over the point, and reggae was pumping out of a massive sound system. There was a mix of locals and tourists hanging out in the water, drinks in hand. A sweet smell of ganga perfumed the dusk air. We watched the sun set; i got eaten by mosquitoes; and Mr Belize decided he’d stay the night. He ended up staying two. Again I was lucky to jag the top floor of my hotel with sweeping views of the Reef. We scored a little Jamaican goodness and had a lovely couple of days, just lazing about the hotel, chatting, drinking, sleeping…

I feel compelled to let you know, that while this all sounds very romantic – I do feel a bit compromised.

You see, Mr Belize had come across to Caye Caulker, without his wallet. I had invited him to stay the night, knowing that in all likelihood, he wouldn’t be taking me out to dinner. Everybody here is just getting by. I had a great time, and got me a bit of much needed lovin-  but in retrospect, there’s a part of me that feels like a rather silly gringo girl. Okay, so he cost me a total of $50, mas o menos… It’s nothing to write home about, in the grand scheme of things. However, there’s a part if me which feels like I just participated in a transaction of the oldest kind.

They call these guys, ‘sharks’ here. A lot of them don’t have regular work, if indeed they work at all. They cruise the tourist bars, making the lonely, old or ugly feel desirable. In return, they might get dinner, drinks or at the very worse, *just sex*. And they’re good at their jobs.

At the end of the day, I don’t have any fanciful ideas of having an enduring relationship with a boy I met in Belize in a bar. But do I want to pay for a fling? I suppose that even if it’s not cash – there’s always a cost of some sort, isn’t there?

Am starting to sound like Carrie Bradshaw, so will stop now. But I am interested to know what you think. Hit me up with a comment, a judgment, a story or a bit of advice.

Mon 8 August

Three little birds

Belize welcomed me with a big shiny white toothed grin and a proper Caribbean accent, mohn.

I’ve crossed borders where I didn’t have the right paperwork, I’ve crossed borders where no one can speak a word of English, I’ve crossed borders with machine guns pointed at me. Crossing into the Czech Republic from Poland, 13 years ago- it was all three.

I made a deal with myself once, that I would never cross a border at night.
And so of course, crossing the border from Mexico to Belize happened at night.

Anything to declare? A bottle of vodka and an apple. You’re fine to go through, Miss. Welcome to Belize.

Right then.

I spent the first two nights in a place called Corozal. I rocked up to the Sea Breeze Hotel, and was welcomed by Gwyn. The Lonely Planet describes his place “as reminiscent of the kind of cheap and pleasant Key West hotel where Ernest Hemingway might have spent his last years.” The Welsh innkeeper, who used to be a tour manager for The Who and had toured with Queen, instructed me to dump my bags, and come to the bar – we would sort out paperwork in the morning. There were 7 people seated on stools around the bar, where talk was pattering between places, philosophy and the deeply personal.
After a few drinks, a very sweet older American couple drove me around the corner so I could get some Belizean dollars and a feed. We chatted over various meals made from pork, and then they drove me home. I was beat.
I spent the next morning strolling around the sleepy little seaside village with it’s sporadically set out marketplace, a few dinky shops and a couple of quiet restaurants. Not much happening in this here lil place.
I spent the afternoon writing, drinking and sharing easy chat with a well travelled English couple, while avoiding a maybe mad, maybe alcoholic older dude who wanted to talk AT me about union strikes, his family tartan and all manner of things I wasn’t particularly interested in. I had to blank him after he told me to google a religious site.
That night I had dinner with Angelo & Kirsty, and a beautiful interesting older gentle man called Mike, who quietly shared snippets of his life with a self deprecating sense of humor: his divorce, his path from rich to poor, his successful career, his acid taking days, his journey in and out of depression… I could have talked with him forever.
The next morning, Gwyn put on a pot of coffee. He necked a clove of garlic, and then took me to the ferry.

The ride to Caye Ambergris was 2 hours and gentle enough for me to snooze.
I arrived at San Pedro and asked for a room at Ruby’s on the Beach, a very simple wooden guesthouse, not dissimilar to a Queenslander, with sweeping views of the Barrier Reef.
I was immediately transported. A completely different Caribbean from the one I’d just left. More Rastas, reggae and reefers than I’ve ever seen in one place for starters.

My hotel neighbor, Kevin from LA was a highly strung ex alcy who thought too much about everything, offered too much information, asked no questions, and was of the view, he knew all he needed to know about a place after a mere 3 days. He was a high school teacher, who’d completed his Masters in Behavioral Psychology. After doing 2 years of psych at uni, I can categorically tell you empiracle studies have proven that 98.72% of people who undertake studies in psychology are absolute fucking nutbags. I later had an early afternoon dinner with Kevin. He wasn’t altogether uninteresting.

The next morning, I did a couple of dives on the Belizean Barrier Reef, which is home to more than 100 different types of coral and more than 500 different kinds of fish. And the scientists reckon they only know about 10% of what’s out there. Scientists also say that around 40% of the reef is damaged by bleaching, which is caused by rising sea temps. And i saw it with my own eyes.
The exact same thing is happening in Australia. I don’t know about you, and at the risk of sounding like a bourgeois-fucking-hippy, my religion (if i have one at all) is pure immersion into an underwater world, watching the sun explode into a million versions of red, and dancing to a full moon in a faraway forest… I like Nature. She’s pretty. And she makes me feel good. And I want my kids and your kids to see stuff made by Nature. Climate change is real. I should be doing more. We all should.
So it was shallow diving in warm, crystal clear tropical waters – the DM was movin at Belizean pace. Firsts included no wetsuit of any kind, a Spotted Eagle Ray (majestic), a 1:1 dive, and a hooked angle grinder shaped fish, whose name I will remember at 3.33am tomorrow. And then there were the usual suspects of sharks, rays, and ridiculous numbers of brightly colored, “ooh look at me… I’m so pretttteeyyy!!!” tropical fish. Anyways, suffice to say, it was everything you’d want your first dive at one of the world’s most incredible dive sites to be.

We were done by mid morning, so I went and had a second breakfast, and spent the day just mooching about the tiny town. I got my haircut (AUD$10!) and my nails done and treated myself to a new dress and a new pair of pretty panties. Do I miss Westfields Bondi Junction. Fuck no. Do I miss a bit of pampering and a damn good buy. Shit, yes.

Later, as i was having a Belikin at one of the communal wooden tables on the balcony of my hotel… A tall handsome black Belizean man stopped by for a hello. We chatted for a few minutes before I invited him to sit with me. Mr Belize was articulate and spoke in a soft brown velvety voice. At age 32, the youngest boy in a family of 8, he had lived a while in in Los Angeles, and harbored dreams of building a sophisticated camp site on his granddaddy’s land, where he grew up – a place near Crooked Tree. Coincidentally (?) he was a Dive Master at the shop I had dived with, that morning.

He offered to take me around in a boat to a reggae bar by the lagoon, to watch the sunset on the other side of the Caye. The Eat Pray Love chick would say, “some opportunities only come once, right?”. And as much as I loathe saying so, she’d be right.

The bar was perched precariously over the water, thatched roof, simple log stools, music blaring out of a massive sound system. The Belizean flag, a picture of Bob Marley and one of Che Guevara adorned the back wall of the bar where tequila had been replaced by rum. We smoked a spliff with the bartender, and watched alligators bubble up and then bubble back below the water’s surface.

We stayed for the sunset and a second drink and then headed back. Mr Belize wanted to take me to the Chicken Drop. A weekly event on the social calendar, this Belizean form of bingo featuring a chicken who has been primed for pooping, is dropped (kindly) into a pen which has a bunch of numbers of the ground. Tickets are sold for the corresponding numbers, and well – you get the idea.

It was a fun night. I met some of his mates & we shared a few drinks and laughs. I bought a strip of tickets, and a few games later, my number came up! I shared the winnings of BZD$100 with another gringo and the winnings more or less paid for our entire nite. (If I ever run out of things to write about, you can remind me of this potential post, “Why men from tourist towns never seem to have any money, and why women are prepared to pay.”)

We grabbed a burrito in the market square where kids were still up playing. And then he walked me home.

Black men have got THE best lips. That’s all I’m saying.

Fri 5 August

La Isla Bonita

For the last 2 weeks of my stay on Isla, I fell into an easy pattern: coffee chats with Coleena, classes in the morning, ambling around the town and practicing my Spanish with various cafe owners & shop keepers I’d befriended, a meal at a different loncheria or cafe every day,  back to my bed for some reading, writing, and napping, swims until sunset, then catching up with friends for dinner and drinks.

I did take a day tour to Contoy with Dahlia before she left. Contoy Island is completely uninhabited and teeming with wildlife. “Capitan” Tony has a very interesting life story and he was “all over it like a fat kid on a smartie” to quote a good mate of mine. He had us ahead of the Cancun tourists by about 2 hours. One of the highlights was meeting Samantha, a very flirtatious ray and some pretty spectacular snorkeling.

I spent one afternoon on a fuck-off swanky yacht- owned by one of Isla’s richest men, a friend of Coleena’s. We partied like rockstars to extraordinarily bad 80s music, whilst cruising around the island.

Coleena also introduced me to Pamela, a talented artist with a big heart and a smile to match (you can check out her work here: pamelasplanet.com) She had also been renting a casa for a month. She invited me to her farewell party, a fun tequila fueled night!

And I was absolutely chuffed when a wee group of friends I’d made through Coleena, decided to join us for a beautiful seafood dinner on my last night. Jill, the effervescent social butterfly, who’d chucked it all in to manage a boutique hotel on the island. Chris, the Canadian nightclub owner, who I met and shared great conversation at a 4th of July party. And the absolutely one-of-a-kind Rowdy, the muso from Nashville who constantly had me in stitches.

It was the perfect way to end an idyllic month living on a Caribbean island.

I lived on a Caribbean Island!
“Now, you don’t get to say that every day,” as my mate Dave would say.

So here’s 31 reasons why Yo heart Isla. One for every day spent on the island.

1. I thought I’d get bored. I didn’t. In fact, I ran out of time to get through everything I wanted to do.
2. I may have kissed a rather cute young Mexican man with gorgeous skin.
3. I can now get my point across in a slightly Special staccato style of Spanglish after 60 hours of lessons.
4. I wrote some 7500 words in 8 posts and my blog reached almost 1000 hits.
5. I finally got to swim with (and throw up all over) whale sharks!
6. Almost every day I watch the sun set and I can now say with some authority: no two are the same and some really do deserve applause!
7. Ceviche!
8. Micheladas, made by Jose at Buho’s.
9. Max –  the noisy town dog who walked me home late one night.
10. Rami – for getting me properly stoned and the philosophical chats.
11. Jacob – the lil pocket rocket entrepreneurial candy seller.
12. Dahlia’s sun lounger bloke, who I adopted for free luxury
13. Tony “I’m so lonely” – the barman from Argentine Steak & Grill for all those free tequila shots.
14. Mario and Omar, from La Terraza for drinking games, salsa lessons, Mexican Bingo and stuff.
15. Gloria, the gorgeous Italian gal who helped me get the keys to mi casa.
16. Carlos and Mariano, for the daily practicar.
17. Fausto for being the first person on the island to extend his hand, and also for my private snorkeling tour.
18. Every shop keeper who let me practice my Spanish with them, when what they really wanted was for me to buy something.
19. Coleena – thanks for the coffees, and the girly chats… You made conjugating irregular verbs on a hangover so much easier x
20. Dahlia – things could have been a lot different had I NOT missed you, when I was vomiting in your general direction. Thx for being the best vacation buddy, I could have wished for x
21. I met a bunch of really interesting, quirky, downrightfucking gorgeous people in Jill, Pamela, Rowdy & Chris (amigos: mi casa, tu casa)
22. I’ve left my legacy at La Luna (top right hand corner on the black wall, in big drunken writing: “IT’S ALRIGHT CHRIS, I’M AUSTRALIAN! xChelle”
23. The Texan Swingers (let’s just say they’re not a baseball team. And no- Derek, I didn’t play with them.)
24. Tortugas! On the sand, in the sea. Oh my gosh, you guys know how  to make a day feel special.
25. There is no MacDonalds or Starfucks on the Island.
26. That I got to party like a rockstar with one of the island’s richest men
27. Its perfect blue water and perfect white white sand, and crazy colorful underbelly
28. My postries lady (jamon y queso para dulce!)
29. Goran, my lovely Spanish speaking, Bosnian neighbor, who bared his soul and brought me cakes.
30. My feet and bed have never been more sandy than they are right now.
31. I get to say to my granddaughter one day, “you know, your grandma once lived on a Caribbean island…”

Muchas gracias, Isla Mujeres y su gente. Tu tienes un lugar especial en mi corazon.

You must be my lucky star

On Sat 16 July, I went for my first night dive ever. The full moon was a night old.

Our Dive Master gave a clear brief as to how the dive would pan out and how he was going to communicate with us, via torch light in the dead of a deep night sea. I must admit, i was glad to hear that we were only going down 12 metres.

I boarded the boat filled with nervous excitement. I remembered a story an old friend had told me about her equipment fucking up on her first ever night dive. She was with her fiancé at the time, who was close by and quick to respond by sharing his air. I was, truth be told, a little scared too.

We motored up to the south end of the island and dropped anchor. While I’m a very relaxed and competent diver, i sometimes find descending a tad tricky. I was relieved when I managed to get down to the floor without too much trouble.

It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the big blackness that bellowed around me. Torches of the other divers flashed in every direction. It was all very disorientating. I located the DM and made mental notes of the color of his tank & fins. And then i looked around me.

I’ve been deep inside the sea’s soul on some 100 occasions. While every dive site is different, there are generally some consistencies in the ‘land’scape, just as there is above sea level. There’s fishes & stuff, plants & rocks & coral. Nothing, Absolutely Nothing looked familiar to me.

I know my heart was beating a lot faster than it normally does. My brain was finding it difficult to make connections with what my eyes were seeing. Once I calmed myself a bit, shapes shifted into the familiar. We started off around the shallow reef. For a little while we didn’t see much in the way of fish and the like. But this gave me time to see the colors of the coral… Under the flashlight, they were a lot more vivid. Rusty ruby reds, luscious lime greens…

We followed the reef wall around a corner, and then the space opened up… I saw sparse schools of queen angel fish (pretty blue and yellow, things they are), parrot fish (who seem to change color as they move about), spotted trunkfish (they’re real dudes, these guys), groupers (I call them the labradors of the sea) and barracuda (who can be a bit too macho for my liking).

I finally had my breathing under control and focused on looking out for the big boys. Sharks, turtles, rays, lobster, squid… This is what I was really hankering to see.

Part of the group had convened near a rock so I finned over quickly to take a look. A big ole turtle had poked his head out, and was scoping for an escape route. He saw an opening and went for it. The group parted ways to make room for him.

We continued on our way, and we came to a bit of a clearing, the DM made the signal for us to all to switch off our torches. We each found a spot to rest in the sand. One by one the lights all went off. Complete darkness surrounded me, swallowing me up, sucking me in. My heart started thumping again. Then I saw some twinkly flashes of light in front of my face. I had been waiting a long time to see this underwater.

Phosphorescence is a light phenomenon which in the sea, is caused by millions of microscopic organisms such as plankton. Sometimes you can see this on the incoming waves when walking by the ocean at night. Check out YouTube for some pretty cool clips. To see it underwater in the utter blackness though, is another thing altogether. As the organisms darted about, I saw tiny lights, about the size of a match head, maybe a bit bigger, sparkle on and off in the blink of an eye.

I decided to have some fun with this. I took a big deep breath and removed the reg from my mouth and held my breath. The regulator is the link between your tank and your mouth, so is basically your air source. On the reverse side of the bit which you put in your mouth, there is a big round purge button which you use to clear it if it becomes blocked (for example, with vomit). When you purge, it pumps out a quick shot of air, so the result is a really big burst of bubbles.

When I did this, there was a flash of sparkles all around me. I started purging like a woman possessed, and then when i realized that simply waving my arms around, also sparked off the sparkles, i began a crazy conductor of a symphony routine. Sparkles! sparkles! sparkles! I started to trip out a bit. When I was a l’il nipper, Disney cartoon films all ended with Tinkerbell waving her magic wand around in circles, which would set off a trail of sparkly fairy dust. I felt like Tinkerbell on acid!

I could have played like that for a very long time. But alas, our DM turned on his light and the game was over. Poor little organisms were probably very pleased when we moved on.

The final highlight of the dive was a second sighting of a grand old dame of a turtle. I was just fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time. She popped her head out from under a rock. Another diver and I just waited nearby. The others come over. She eventually figured it was safe and glided straight past us. I could have given her a little smooch she came so close. I kinda wish I had, in retrospect. She was so big and old and looked so sleepy.

Some of the others in our group were starting to get low on air, so we had to end the dive. A quick safety stop, and then we were back on the boat, swapping sightings and excitedly recounting our playtime in the phosphorescent lights.

For the second time that week, I had had an unforgettable experience. I went to bed feeling 4 kinds of lucky.

Sun 17 July

Little yellow spider

I hired a golf cart so i could get around and see the rest of the island. The island is some 7 km long and 650m wide. You could feasibly cycle or even walk / run it. The only issue is, the average tempature at the moment is around 30 degrees with anywhere between 60 – 90% humidity, so you can add 5 or 10 degrees to that which makes for pretty hot exercise weather.

I took my time, poking around in various small beaches and some of the grander hotels with their lifestyles of the rich & famous type pools. One such place being the elegant Casa Zama where you can drop your swag for the night, if you’ve got a cool USD$800 to blow.

When i first arrived on the island, I met an older French man by the name of John in the cafe / hotel which he owns. John is essentially a sweet older gentleman (although I did get the sense he thought he was in with a chance when i accepted a couple of dinner invitations from him.)

I’m glad I did though, because I got to hear some interesting things about Isla Mujeres, including a story about a man who had built a floating island made entirely out of plastic bottles and other recycled materials. I came across it on my little golf cart expedition. The man-made island is the second one built by an eccentric British artist (the first was destroyed by the 2005 hurricane). It’s 25m in diameter and made from some 100,000 bottles. It has 3 beaches surrounding a house with a garden (including a solar powered waterfall).

I also visited Punta Sur (the South Point) to stand on Mexico’s most easterly point, having done the same thing in Byron Bay, Australia on many occasions. Not sure why but i get a kick out these sorts of things.

The remains of the only Mayan ruin on the island stand here – the structure was largely destroyed by a hurricane.

And there is also a lighthouse which is surrounded by some seriously strange rusting structures which are supposed to be art. The lighthouse also housed the temple which was built for the Goddess Ixchel, the Mayan Goddess of fertility, reason, medicine, happiness and the moon.

There’s a ‘modern day’ statue of her standing there today, which is accompanied a handwritten sign warning those who touch her, to do so with caution. I tentatively touched her hand, asking if I could have the love part before the baby bit, please. I don’t really fancy the idea of being a single mum, if I can possibly avoid it.

A little bit of history… When the Spanish landed here in 1515, they found many female shaped idols and this is how Isla Mujeres came to be named. For the next 300 years, the island was completely uninhabited. In 1821 following the Independence of Mexico, a small village of Mayan fisherman begun to form. At the end of the 19th Century, there were 650 people living here. There is now nearly 13,000. Fishing remains one of the main sources of income for the island, with Tourism being the biggest. My friend Fausto a descendant of one of the original fisherman.

I returned to Centro but not before stopping in at a place which promised me “beer so cold it would make your teeth hurt”. I had to buy the stubby holder. My first so far. I think I’ve been incredibly restrained given my penchant for collecting coolers.

I picked up my laundry and had a chat with Rogelio (pronounced with a lot of rolling Rs upfront… Ro-heh-lee-oh. Love it.) He’s a super lovely bloke. We started chatting about tortugas (turtles) and he gave me a tip off about the fact that they were currently in season, laying their eggs. He told me where to go look for them and suggested the best time would be sometime between 9 & 10pm. The next day was a full moon, so it would be a well lit night.

I met up with Dahlia and her two houseguests, Rachel and Mike and invited them to come along. They were all dead keen. We got some dinner, had a couple of drinks and headed off in the golf cart.

About 1/2 way up the island on what is referred to as the Caribbean side, we came across some locals standing near the side of the road on a cliff overlooking the ocean. We called out to them, “¿Tortugas?” “Si! Si!” they responded, waving us over.

When we looked over the edge we saw 2 guys on the beach carving out what I initially thought were channels to make it easier for the mammoth old girl to leave. Dahlia thought it was more likely they were collecting the eggs for the Tortuga Farm, which has been set up to protect the eggs from being stolen. Apparently, despite being considered an endangered species, there are still some locals who like to eat the eggs (and turtle meat).

Talking to a local lad on the cliff, who volunteers up there and doing a bit of my own research, I learned that she was a green turtle, probably about 40 years old when she hauls her 300 & something kilogram arse up on the sand to lay her eggs (to give you more of an idea of her size, turtles can grow up to 150cm in length. I stand at 163cm.)

Using her hind flippers, she digs a circular hole around 45cm deep. She’ll then start depositing anywhere up to 200 soft-shelled eggs one by one. She then ensures her babies are protected by covering up the hole so it’s relatively undetectable. This entire process can take anywhere up to an hour. Which I thought was relatively speedy work. She then returns to the ocean, leaving the eggs to fend for themselves. Incubation takes about two months. Once they hatch, the baby turtles head for the sea (usually) at night. Apparently they all go their separate ways. And they are usually greeted by a variety of sea life who want to eat them. They must be good eating I guess.

So this is the reason why they set up sanctuaries to allow the hatchlings to grow up and make their own babies.

Anyway, so we saw the first turtle just as she was starting to head out to sea. It was like being in our own personal National Geographic documentary. It all happened in under 1/2 an hour. We were all there willing her on, in a shared sublime silence. When she got to the shoreline and swam off into the night sea, I felt awash with a sense of relief… It was truly a spectacle to behold. Awesome in the truest sense of the word. We all stumbled over a bunch of ridiculously inadequate accolades such as “Wow!” and “That was amazing!” as we climbed back in the golf cart.

We proceeded up to Punta Sur for a night walk. The moon was big and bosomly and lit up a big black sea. We walked to the end, Mike pissed over the edge, and we admired the view until clouds crept over, giving us all the chills. We scurried back to the golf cart with a quick step. A chain which was cordoning off the pathway when we walked down to the point had been dropped, when we returned. We couldn’t see anyone around. We were all a bit jumpy when a car alarm went off in the carpark.

We set off for home back down the same road we came up on, and saw the same group of locals but in a different location. Again they waved us down. It felt a bit special that we were the only gringos there.

This time we saw a grand old mama turtle coming in to lay her eggs. We stayed and watched her for about 1/2 an hour, maybe more. She moved slowly from one part of the beach to another and began digging, but the rate she was moving, it looked like it was going to take her all night, and we couldn’t rally see as much from our vantage point on the cliff. We decided to leave her in peace.

I drifted off to sleep that night, counting my blessings. I felt so incredibly lucky to have witnessed such a thing, and am so glad Dahlia (and her friends) were there with me. I love traveling solo, but it’s these sorts of moments you absolutely want to be recalling with a friend in years to come.

Thurs 14 July

I’d like to be under the sea

Whale sharks are both the biggest sharks, and the biggest cartilaginous fish in the sea – with official reports of the largest being 22 tonnes (19,958kg) in weight and 13.6m in length.

To put this in perspective – the largest land animal is the African Bush Elephant. The largest on record was a bull weighing 12,274 kg and standing 4.2 metres high. The average human weighs anywhere between 54 and 83kg and is around 1.65m tall.

So, yeh – they’re big motherfuckers. I find it absolutely fascinating that despite their size – it is not presently known exactly where they go to mate.

They’re migratory creatures who make an annual pilgrimage to the continental shelf on the west coast of Australia between March & mid July.

The coral spawning around Ningaloo Reef provides the whale sharks with an abundant supply of plankton, which is what they like to eat. As opposed to humans. Which is a good thing. Because they could totally eat us if they wanted to.

A couple of years ago, I went to Western Australia for the purpose of attending Dave & Jen’s wedding, to visit my old party pal Janine, and to go swim with the whale sharks. After traveling more than 1,100kms from Perth to tiny township of Coral Bay (never mind the 4,300km from Sydney to Perth) – I was greeted by a storm which lasted the entire time I was there. The storm was great news for a town that exists on bore water and hadn’t seen a drop of rain for 15 months. Not so great news for me. The whake shark operators in Australia use light planes to spot the fish, but due to the inclement weather either: couldn’t get out; or when they could get out – couldn’t get under the clouds to be able to spot. 385 bucks and 4 days later, the only fish I’d seen was a piece of red emperor. Tasty but not quite what I was hoping for.

So, Isla Mujeres has provided me with a second chance. Isla has the biggest concentration of whale sharks in the world. The usually solitary animals actually convene here for a bit of a social, just 11km off the coast of the island. There are frequently sightings of up to 50 whale sharks between July and September. They don’t use spotter planes here. The whale sharks come with such regularity to the same spot and there’s so many of them, they don’t need to.

I have been in and on the ocean all my life. I learned how to swim at the age of 2 at Coledale Beach, north of Wollongong, NSW. I “compete” in ocean swims (distances of up to 5km). I body surf most weekends from October through to April each year. I have done more than 100 dives, most of them from boats. I love snorkeling, and have introduced many people to the activity. I have been on more than i can count yachts, cruisers, speed boats and tinnies, sometimes in pretty big swell. I have never been sea sick in my life.

We spent close to 2 hours being tossed around on a tiny boat on massive swell. We headed straight into the centre of a horrifically black storm.

And I’m concentrating – eyes closed – with every fibre of my being – on breathing in very deeply, breathing out very deeply.

The boat stops. I immediately hurl up breakfast. I don’t stop spewing for a good 10 minutes. 10 minutes is a long time to be consistently vomiting while still being tossed around on a rough rough sea. In the distance, i could hear someone else doing the same. Except he sounded like he was in The Exorcism. There was a lot of yelling going on all around me.

When I finally lifted my head, to kit up – I saw why. It was utter chaos. There were maybe 15, 20 boats, all with some 1/2 dozen people aboard, a good portion of whom were being sick. The boats were forming a loose wide circle around a bunch of whale sharks, and all the captains and their crews were yelling out to each other, indicating which way the whale sharks were heading.

Then i saw a dark shadow with spots move past. The captain of our boat was crazily yelling at us to hurry up! get ready! someone get in the water! and ironically, “GO RELAX WITH THE WHALES!!!”

When you’re feeling sea sick, you’re usually best off in the water. Without any regard for my fellow passengers, I basically insisted on getting in the water first. I got my mask, snorkel and fins on as quickly as possible and dived right into that rough sea. Almost right on top of a poor whale shark. I swallowed so much water through my snorkel, I nearly threw up again. I tried to snorkel alongside the mammoth animal but he was swift to move on. I needed to calm myself down, so I just floated on the surface, snorkel out, trying to breathe in air as opposed to water. Or 2 stroke engine fumes.

There was supposedly a 2-people-from-each-boat-in-the-water-at-any-one-time rule. I was wasting time in the water. I thought it best, if i got back on the boat and compose myself there, so someone else could get in.

Once I was back on the boat, I started feeling sick again. I saw that the remaining passengers of my boat were all feeling ill as well. One started throwing up. I couldn’t look at her.

Shortly, it was my turn to go into the big blue again… I was a lot more together when i dove off the boat this time. I was greeted by an enormous, enigmatic whale shark coming right towards me, her colossal mouth, spanning the width of her head, gaping open. I started finning slow and strong, lying on my side (I seem to get more speed and am much more relaxed in this position). I was keeping with her pace. They don’t really swim all that fast. She was just so gentle and graceful. I was awestruck and internally open mouthed. I think I stopped breathing at one point. It was unfathomable that I wasn’t inside a documentary dream. I followed her for a few minutes, observing her pretty white and yellow speckled skin, all the fish who were hitching a ride on her underside, her gigantic gills fanning ever so slowly… Her body just went on and on, like a freight train…

She eventually paced up, or I slowed down – I can’t be sure which, as time was warping as it does when you’re witnessing some kind of wonderful. I came face to face with the top fin of her tail which was bigger than all of me. Suddenly it occurred to she could accidentally whack me with it and send me flying through the water, so I started pulling back.

I surfaced to see where my boat was, and Again: all I heard and saw was carnage. People throwing up, lots of yelling, boats circling. Many, many whale sharks were visible from the surface. I hadn’t expected any of this, and it was all very disconcerting. The swell was still huge and I still had the taste of vomit and seawater in my mouth. I took off my mask and cleared it, and was trying to locate my boat – when the 1st mate swam up towards me and started frantically yelling and pointing behind me… I purged my snorkel and quickly submerged my face under the surface. It was a heck of a lot quieter underwater.

I immediately forgot about how hectic everything was and how crook i was feeling – and started swimming with the whale shark. This guy was setting a much quicker pace than the first one. I was semi-conscious there were other snorkelers around and out of the corner of my eye I could see other whale sharks, but I was so completely focused on the animal beside me…He made a bit of a turn towards me at one point, I could have reached out to give him a pat. However there is a 2m distance rule. I also personally generally shy away from touching wildlife unless they specifically come to me seeking it.

Being beside this big beautiful beast, was like getting sucked into a vortex. One where I was happy to go. I don’t recall anything different about the second one from my observations of the first… This time was more about the sensation of swimming with such a magnificent creature. I struggle for words. Needless to say, it is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

After I got back on the boat, a couple more people went out for their second chance. And then there seemed to be a bit of a unanimous vote to go back to shore. It was clear to me that pretty much everyone on the boat was feeling seriously ill and was just over it. I started feeling decidedly green again, and must have looked it. The first mate made a makeshift bed for me on the floor of the boat, and I half passed out. I do remember being thrown around violently for what seemed the longest trip back.

Part and parcel of the tour is lunch and a snorkel at a spot near the Norte Playa of Isla. The captain of our boat offered me shrimp ceviche (raw prawns) and a beer. Umm. That would be a negative. One girl started vomiting again. We were close enough to shore and in shallow enough waters that we could walk home. I didn’t hesitate. I just wanted a shower and my bed. I was absolutely spent. I wasn’t the only one. I managed to squeeze out somewhat of a goodbye to two lovely American girls, who had somehow managed to keep their breakfasts down but only just. They had been very sympathetic and sweet towards me – when they could speak.

I later caught up with them at a bar, when I went out for dinner the next night. Hailing from New York, Dahlia was renting an apartment for 3 weeks and was going to be on the island for mostly the same time as me. She was on her own too, and her oldest friend, Liz was visiting on a long weekend. We bonded over a drink and a very therapeutic debrief. While we agreed we were particularly unlucky with the weather and the seas, we also suspected we had a bit of a maniac for a captain. Another New Yorker who had also been on the tour on the previous day came along and chimed in. I had to agree with him when he said it was disappointing that there was absolutely no educational aspect to the tour. He was also of the view that it was being run by a bunch of cowboys and could do with a bit more regulation.

While this was an utterly extraordinary experience and one I will never forget, nor regret having – I do feel somewhat compromised. All these boats descend upon these poor unsuspecting animals… They’re having a peaceful morning swim together, when suddenly they’ve got a bunch of tourists vomiting all over them, chasing them around… I dunno, I wouldn’t dig it so much if it was me… Granted, they really didn’t seem phased in the slightest, but really – how could we tell? Dahlia likened this to a game safari in Africa.

I also realize it’s all very well for me to say this now I’ve had the experience…

I’d love to see how it’s done in other parts of the world. Maybe what is needed is benchmarking. The people here need to take an ecologically sustainable view to this incredible opportunity they have. I know there are many here, who do. Last weekend the 4th Annual Whale Shark Festival was held here. A raft of people from all around the world, including the local Mayans got together to share their knowledge. I heard that Sir Richard Branson was here. This has to be a good thing for these amazing animals (Virgin logos not withstanding.)

Note: Stats re weights & heights are for storytelling purposes only and have been sourced from the all-knowing Wikipedia. If you know better, tell them. Not me.

10 July