While my math and science grades probably wouldn't have supported a biology degree, I still maintained my love for whales and dolphins. Moving to Alaska at the end of my 9th grade year was also thrilling. Even though I never saw orcas in the wild, just knowing I lived where they did was pretty darn cool.
Jared and I got married in the San Diego LDS temple http://www.ldschurchtemples.com/sandiego/
and while we didn't have the means for a honeymoon, we did go to Sea World! We went early to the Shamu show because if they were doing it like they did it in the past, they would need some members of the audience to participate and I wanted to be one of them. I asked one of the workers if they needed a volunteer for the show because I'd gladly do it. She said they actually already had a female volunteer and just needed a male one. I was super disappointed for 1.2 seconds until I pushed Jared forward and said, "He'll do it!" The way I figured it, if I couldn't be in the show, one of us should be. Jared got to give Shamu several different commands and signals. Jared also got VERY wet too when Shamu splashed only him while "waving" with one of his fins. *sigh* So close, yet so far. One day....just maybe...
Who knew that 15 years later the opportunity would present itself for me to get up close and personal with marine life! Seriously...aside from being on our belated honeymoon, and not having to cook or clean or be mom for a week, swimming with the dolphins was what I was MOST giddy about. I'm really grateful Cozumel was our last port. It made the whole week exciting. The other happy thing about the dolphin excursion was the price. The most expensive one was our ziplining/kayaking in Jamaica (which got cancelled). It was $125 each. The beach experience and gourmet lunch we did in Jamaica, instead, was $49 each (and totally worth it!). The kayaking in Grand Cayman was $75 each. Imagine my surprise when I saw that to swim with dolphins, it was only $99 each. That made my little prudent heart leap!
When we woke up on Thursday, March 1st at 8am, we were already docked in Cozumel.
We ate breakfast and then we were off! Our excursion wasn't until 10:15, so we scoped out the shops and took notes so we could go straight to those places when we got back. Happily, there were a ton of little shops right beyond the dock so we didn't need to take a taxi anywhere. And the prices were great! Better than Cayman, same as Jamaica, which is no surprise there. Boy, did those vendors work hard to get you in their shop. I liked watching the locals create their art right out in the open.
We got a chuckle when we noticed you could pick up a certain (ahem) medicine at the local "Drug and Deli". Now that's convenience.
And of course, we had to get a picture in front of the mega ship. This was actually the first opportunity for us to get it in one frame.
Around 10:15, we gathered at the appointed place for the dolphin encounter. We drove just three miles away (on the right side of the road :) before arriving at Chankanaab State Park. We were told that we paid to get into the park, so after our encounter with the dolphins we would be able to stay and swim in the pool, go snorkeling in the cove, and watch the sea lion show. There were three different times for us to catch the shuttle back to the dock so as long as we got the last ride back, we could do as much or as little as we wanted. Very cool.
After putting our stuff in lockers, we gathered in two different groups and got some "dolphin 101" training. We practiced the things we'd do in the water with a stuffed dolphin :)
Then we broke off into smaller groups. We gravitated to a family of four to make our smaller group of 6. The couple had a son and a daughter and they looked to be about the ages of our kids. Turns out they're from Illinois just like Jared...not too far from where he grew up. They were kind enough to take this picture of us while we waited to get our life jackets on.
This link http://www.dolphindiscovery.com/cozumel/chankanaab-national-park.asp will show an aerial view of the park. We went all the way down the left ramp (as you look at the picture) and then across the only walkway that runs parallel to the back part of the entrance. We went down some metal steps and stood on a wire ledge where we were about thigh high in the water. It was a cool temperature at first, but it didn't take long to warm up. There was wire fence running from the top of the walkway down to the bottom of the enclosure. Obviously this lets the ocean water move in and out freely. We actually saw a sting ray right below us while we waited.
There was a sign posted outside before we got on the walkway that said NO Personal Cameras. I had ours with me and worried about that. (They make a lot of their money by taking pictures of you and the dolphins). I asked one of the park workers if it was okay that we had it. He said sure. I looked at the sign again wondering if he understood me. Once we made it to the end of the enclosure, I asked another gal the same thing. I didn't want to be dishonest or perceived as such. She said it was fine. I asked, "Are you sure?" She said yes. So I shrugged my shoulders and said "Okay."
Here we are making our way to the far end of the dolphin discovery area. There were smaller enclosures along both sides of the largest one that made a huge rectangle. We suspected those were for smaller interactions where you would, at most, get to pose with and kiss the dolphin. Our excursion however was the "Dolphin Push, Pull and Swim with Manatee Encounter." We made sure the excursion specifically said "swim" in it because there were a few different options and not all are created equal.
Meet Chaac! (Pronounced 'Chuck') Isn't he cute?? Jared took these awesome pictures with our camera.
He was our 18-year-old dolphin for the day.
Omar was the trainer. Oh, how I wish I could have Omar's job.
We got to pet Chaac as he swam past us. Then we took turns out in the water with him. We had to go 20 feet or more away. Just when we thought we were far enough, Omar told us to keep going. The first thing we did was we put our arms out, palms facing up, like we're going to hold something. Once he got his cue, Chaac would come and lie in our arms like a big baby.
Here he is with me. Definitely different than holding 6 month old JJ in my arms :)
Omar had Jared swim out and join me. (The nice couple from IL were kind enough to take pictures of us and we did the same for them). This is the dolphin "pull" part. First we had to put our right hand straight out and left hand on our heart. Then Omar sent Chaac out to us. We took turns, but when Chaac passed under our right arm on his back, we were supposed to grab the underside of his fins and hold on while he pulled us back to the platform! That was, in the words of my kids, EPIC!!
Jared got this picture of Chaac underwater. He looks Chinese :)
After everyone had a turn being pulled, it was time to get pushed. We took a little float board (about half the size of a boogie board) and went out even farther from the platform than we were before. We were instructed to keep our legs strong and straight with our knees locked. When Omar signaled, Chaac would swim out to us, put his nose on the bottom of one foot and he would push us back. What's interesting is Chaac had a hard time getting his nose on Jared's foot positioned right. But that dolphin didn't push until he was in the place he needed to be. Chaac then peeled off to the left when he had you propelled enough that you could glide the rest of the way. Wow those animals are STRONG!
After we made it back to the platform, Omar taught us some signals so we could personally interact with Chaac.
First, we kissed :)
Then we danced.
And finally, Chaac did a little trick. [The photographer is up on the platform above us. That's who we're looking at and posing for.]
We all lined up in the water one last time as Chaac splashed us with his tail fin to say goodbye.
Then it was off to another enclosure nearby to see and pet the manatees. The sliminess of their skin is algae that grows because they move so slow :) They can also eat an enormous amount of lettuce each day. Something like 150 pounds!
A "headless" manatee--not too bad considering Jared couldn't aim the camera underwater.
The manatee interaction didn't last long. Jared led the way out of the enclosure and when he turned around to see how I was doing, he saw that the two manatees had totally blocked the way for the family from IL. They were seriously stuck! Pretty funny! The trainers turned on the water "spigot" to divert the attention of the manatees and it worked ;)
After that, we had five minutes before the sea lion show started. Perfect timing! The performance was cute but it was bright out there. I didn't have my sunglasses with me so I squinted most the time. Man, those sea lions can get biiiig.
We got a picture taken with Carla (who was smaller than this bad boy). Right as the camera took the shot and before I had a chance to react, Carla planted a kiss on my cheek!
After the show, we rented some snorkeling gear and snorkeled around the lagoon for about a half hour. Then we got some super nachos for a snack and sat here to eat them.
We wanted to help support the local economy, so we bought all the dolphin encounter pictures on a CD and the sea lion one for my parents and waited for our ride back. We were on the last shuttle back to the dock.
I actually had a really bad headache starting to set in. I'm guessing it was from too much sun. After boarding the boat and passing through security, Jared suggested we take the elevator to our stateroom. No way. I'd done stairs only the whole time, I was not about to break the streak. Once back in the room though, I laid down and hoped the headache would go away. Jared massaged my temples and forehead which helped. We had just enough time to get ready for our last formal dinner.
The other two couples showed up, but Jen left before the appetizers because she felt nauseous. Sadly, Jen never came back that night. When our table mates heard about our excursion that day they were jealous. They had done a dolphin thing in Jamaica, but they couldn't use their own cameras and they didn't get to actually swim or play with the dolphins. That made me even more grateful we did it here in Mexico. We exchanged emails so we could share pictures and keep in touch and then I got my second and last massage with Amy again. Divine!!
When I got back, we totally crashed. What a day!! The dolphin encounter was, without a doubt, the highlight of the whole trip!