Dec 12, 2010

Being a Tourist!

I’m sure we have all heard and most of us have said, that when we travel, we like to mix with the real people, the locals, the natives. That we don’t want to go just where the tourists go. That we don’t want to do just what the tourists do.
I betcha it is even more said/heard among RVers, because we are more likely to be adventurers and independent.
I know I have said to many people how much I like to visit the smaller towns and move among the locals and that this or that place was “too touristy”
When we go to places such as historic sites or buildings, Susan and I tend to stay clear of tour groups and guides. We have gone many places and wandered around, largely in some ignorance of the place’s history, pretending, at some level, that we were discovering the place for ourselves.
My excuse is that I would likely soon forget much of the information a guide might dispense. Furthermore, I do like to wander around, unscheduled, gathering my own impressions, and even speculating in the dark.

As this is our 10th year of spending some or most of the winter down here in Mexico, I have come to think of ourselves as “not tourists”. While we still travel on the FMM (tourist) visas, we are in Mexico for most of six months a year. We have invested in our palapa which is an asset we are committed to, and hopefully will enjoy for years to come.
I savour the difference between us and those visitors who come here to Mexico for a week or two. When we are out and about and we happen to be talking to these shorter term visitors, I sometimes mention that we spend our whole winters here, and that we drive down and back. It is a way to inviting them to join us, or at least consider retiring to beautiful Mexico.

So it was with some excitement and mixed feelings that we signed on last week to do a very touristy thing, a “Swim with the Dolphins”
Dolphins are renowned as one of the sweetest, most intelligent life forms on this earth. Being able to interact with them in the wild is rare. (Some years ago, Susan, who is almost a fish herself, was swimming a little off shore on a beach in Maui. As usual, I had a short dip and had retreated to dry land with a book. When I glanced up, I saw a bunch of black fins cutting through the water right towards Susan. In some alarm, ran into the water. They didn’t seem like large fins, and in fact were a pod of dolphins which gracefully swam close to her. They circled around and checked her out and then swam away. Lovely for Susan!)

Swimming with the Dolphins is quite an operation in tropical zones. Here in the Mayan Riviera, there are several places that feature this activity. Just a few kms down the highway, is a fairly big development, Puerto Aventuras (Hotels, Marina, restaurants, etc.) that has a well established program, called Dolphin Discovery. We have gone there several times to walk around, and watch the dolphin shows which run almost every hour. The people are obviously having fun and the dolphins too, seem to to be enjoying themselves. There are about 6 dolphin pools spread around, each one with one or two pair of dolphins. There are trainers who each work with a pair, and at peak times, two trainers each with two dolphins, will be working in the same large water pool, each with a group of people doing different exercises with them. I have watched them closely many times and am continually amazed at how well the dolphins know what to do and where to swim to in the pool to do it. They never seem to get lost or mixed up with the other dolphins, the other trainers, or the other group of people. The trainers use a little whistle and small hand gestures to instruct the dolphins and the dolphins are rewarded with some tasty fish.
We had friends, Ken and Shirley visiting from Vancouver BC, who wanted to give this a go. As a treat, they persuaded us to join them. And what a treat it was. We made some inquiries and picked a day and a time that was not busy. Perhaps ‘cause it was early in the season, it turned out we were the only four people going out that day for the mid day (12:30) slot, so we were a small group to ourselves. We signed up for the Royal swim, which gave us all the full range of exercises to enjoy. Our trainer, Ramon, was energetic and entertaining throughout.
Here is a rundown on some of the things we did.

First we touched their smooth skin as they slowly swam past upright, and then on their backs, closely examining their parts. Our dolphins were two males, Roman and Merlin
We were shown how to handle them without covering their blowholes or eyes.

We each got to swim out a bit and hold one in our arms for a moment.

As this was all being photographed by a staff photographer, every photo-op was covered, especially the kiss, both on the cheek and on the lips. My kissing dolphin, Merlin, had a real thing for me and we lip planted several times. The trainer thought he liked my beard!

We each did handshakes (fin-shakes), held a bar for a jump over, and were spun around in a circle like a clock.

The two show-stopper drills are the fin ride and the foot push.
In the fin ride, we swam out quite a way, holding still in the water in the shape of a “T”, the two dolphins would come up from behind, right under our hands, then cupping firmly over their dorsal fins, we were pulled along picking up speed back to the starting spot where they slid away, leaving us laughing and gasping .

The capper was the “foot push”. Again we were sent to a far spot in the pool, this time lying on our stomachs in the water with our toes down and our arms in front. The two dolphins came up from behind, each placing a nose in the middle of a foot, and driving us forward picking up speed, lifted us up and half out of the water and drove us back to the starting spot where once again, they released us and we settled gently into the water. This was done with total accuracy of position and coordination between the two dolphins, the water, and the funny pink human, screaming for joy on the surface. I had seen it done many times and it sometimes brought tears to my eyes. Experiencing it in the pool was a peak experience that I’ll remember forever.

The session ended with some clapping and splashing, a demonstration of their amazing speed and then coordinated jumps through the air. They even waved goodbye as we left the pool.

At some level,I feared that we were exploiting the dolphins in captivity, away from the wild. But it seems that they are being treated and handled well, fed well, and especially engaged in challenging exercises that utilize their impressive intelligence. They are beautiful graceful animals, and if they can sense our emotions, they are experiencing a lot of our respect and affection and awe.


John Kobak said...

Looked like fun. Great pictures

norm said...

Have you visited Calakmul? It is on a toll road off the road between Chetumal and Escarceda. There are quite a few ruins in that area centered around the little town of Xpuhil, the ruin at Calakmul is world class and a must see for anyone who enjoys the Mayan ruins. Calakmul is set in mature forest, a nature preserve of wildlife and majestic trees, the ruins have been uncovered just enough for one to get an idea of the vastness of the ruin.
It is a border area but I felt safe there-that was 4-5 years ago.