Swimming with the whale sharks in Cancun


Sunrise on the beach at the Villa del Palmar in Playa Mujeres. (Kris Gulden )
October 17, 2013

Our readers share tales of their rambles around the world.

Who: Kris Gulden of Fairfax and her mother, Lana Turner, of Northumberland, Pa.

Where, when, why: We went to Playa Mujeres, Mexico, just north of Cancun, Aug. 2-8. I wanted to do something special with my mom because she turned 70 in September, so we went to Mexico to swim with the whale sharks. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for many years, and as a 47-year-old paraplegic, I believe that my options for adventurous travel will become more and more limited as I get older. The time to do it seemed right for both of us.

Highlights and high points: Being in the open ocean with all those whale sharks and manta rays was mind-blowing. It was nothing like the YouTube videos I’d watched before we went — a single person swimming beside a solitary animal. There were whale sharks longer than the boat we were on, and they were everywhere. They nearly swam into us when we were in the water. We went scuba diving one day and took turns having our knuckles bitten by a 2-inch-long damselfish. Apparently, damsel­fish can be very aggressive and territorial. One of the smallest fish in the sea posed more of a hazard than the biggest shark!

Cultural connection or disconnect: We really liked one of our taxi drivers, Fernando, so we gave him a few bags of toothbrushes that Mom’s dentist had donated. We knew that some of the poorer kids in Mexico have no awareness of the importance of oral hygiene, so we tried to make a difference by giving them toothbrushes.

Biggest laugh or cry: One cabdriver was telling us a story about driving to Mexico City. I asked him how long it took to drive there, and he said, “Twenty-two years. Driving, driving, driving. No stop for hungry, no stop for thirsty, just driving, driving, driving.” I think he meant 22 hours, but he said 22 years. And the “driving, driving, driving” — now we always use three verbs to describe what we’re doing. For example, I am typing, typing, typing.

How unexpected: We went scuba diving two days in Cancun. Cozumel has the reputation of being Mexico’s best dive destination, but we saw larger fish and bigger schools of fish in Cancun than we had two years earlier in Cozumel. I was surprised that the diving in Cancun was as excellent as it was.

Fondest memento or memory: I looked into the cavernous mouth of a hungry, 15-ton whale shark that was swimming at me. How many people get to do that?

To tell us about your own trip, go to www. washingtonpost.com/travel and fill out the What a Trip form with your best memories, finest moments and favorite photos.

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