Whale Sharks & Peso Pinching

While planning this trip, Andrea and I often discussed this question: How broke can we go? How broke can we go? (Cue that one limbo song in your mind.) Now, as most of you know, we’re fortunate that we receive income from the business we established in Boise. However, I’ve never taken much money out of the business (I gotta fully retire one day, yo!). Thus, before we embarked on this trip, we knew we’d have a limited budget. We’ve hoped, and we continue to hope, that we can live within that budget, ensure our pesky ongoing life expenses (remind me why we need life insurance again?) and current travel expenses are near our income. Hence the dilemma we’ve already encountered a dozen or so times on this trip: Do we blow up our budget to experience, what we believe to be, a once-in-a-lifetime trip? In other words, how broke are we willing to go? The answer, though never quick or easy, is almost always, yes. It’s just money, right? As they say, whomever they are, you can always make more money, but you can never make more time….

Nevertheless, when confronted with the price tag of swimming with whale sharks, Andrea and I wavered. Squabbled even. Do we really need to swim with the largest shark in the world? I mean, we’d already seen, at arm-lengths proximity, gray whales. Plus, we’d visited the Mueseo de Ballena (Whale Museum) in La Paz — which also cost a pretty peso! — where we’d read, well had translated by our very knowledgeable guide, enough infographics to convince me that this shark is actually a whale. And whales are nice, right? I mean, I know Jonah had a bad go, and Capitan Ahab, but it seems like humans are more likely to inflict harm on whales, versus the other way around.

But I suppose, according to science and all that, whale sharks are still sharks. They filter feed and they’re large, like whales, but the comparisons end there. They don’t have bones — they’re the largest living non-mammalian vertebrates — and they certainly look like sharks. Large sharks.

We shared a boat with our friends from Canada (Francois and his two kids; Crystal, mom and wife, was unfortunately sick) and two other couples from Mexico. The other couples and Francois went first. Everett had actually spotted the whale shark in the distance, and when our guide confirmed what Everett had seen, she yelled, very much yelled, at everyone to jump in. They obeyed and spent twenty minutes swimming toward and around the whale shark. Then our boat picked them up. Then it was our turn.

It took another five minutes or so before we saw another whale shark. And this one, unlike the first one, surfaced within spitting distance of the boat. Our guide yelled to jump in. Everett decided not to. I quickly asked Francois if he could watch him. Then the guide, Andrea, and I dove overboard. Andrea, immediately, regretted that decision. She began flailing and hyperventilating and wailing for the boat to pick her back up. I briefly thought: I should probably go back and comfort her, right? That would be the gentlemanly, fatherly thing to do. But then I thought: Animals sense and respond to fear. Andrea had already demonstrated her fear. If the, supposedly benign, whale shark was going to eat one of us, it would certainly be her at this point. I knew I had to remain calm. I had to snorkel alongside the shark. I had kids to think about for God’s sake!

I snorkeled alongside the shark’s starboard side for a few minutes. Then the shark, which seemed either oblivious to or unconcerned with our presence (or both), suddenly shifted, nearly smacking me with its tail. A full bladder of my urine entered the ocean at that point. Then I swan alongside its port side for another couple minutes when, with what appeared to be no effort, it swam out of sight. The guide and I returned to the boat.

We hunted (bad verb?) a couple more sharks, mostly for sight-seeing purposes, before returning to shore. It was certainly worth the money. One of the early of what I hope to be many experiences in our effort to go broke.

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