Burt’s having a rough week around here. First he sliced his finger with a hand saw and now an old filling has gone bad. Dr. Talamantes gave him an on the spot root canal this morning. Our plans to sing with the Bridge to English kids were scuttled as the local anesthesia wore off and the pain set in. Burt can’t play guitar yet because his finger wound is still a little oozy but we had made plans to use harmonicas as tuning forks and go acapella this week. The best of intentions and best laid plans and all that. We have so little control.
I called Dad today and he had me swooning with his litany of the disabled and dead around his parts. It would almost be funny if it weren’t so sad. He suggested I put him, my mom, and Burt all in one house and hire a team of Mexicans to care take everyone while I, the supposedly fit and young one, enjoy myself. I do admit I hate cooking and washing the dishes but I am optimistic Burt will make a full recovery and be returned to his status as the “Great Maker” around here. I fully expect him to outlast me.
Oh yeah, the root canal and crown should come to about $650 US. I hear that’s about 35% of the going rate in South Carolina. It’s $200 less than what I paid for non-root canal crowns 20 years ago.
When I think of dinosaurs walking amongst us now I think of crocodiles, alligators and cockroaches. These creatures were around way back then and they are still amongst us now. But, to me anyway, they are kind of small compared to our concept of dinosaurs as they ruled the world. Yesterday I met my first whale shark. Whale sharks are the biggest fish in the sea. They pretty much qualify as a huge dinosaur living now. There’s all kinds of weird facts about them that you can find on wikipedia. What I retained is that the species is about 60 million years old, they live in warm waters all over the world, they filter feed and nobody has ever seen them mate or give birth. Many parts of the reproductive process remains hidden to humans. We do know that when they give birth they use oviviparity. Oviviparity is complicated. I took it to mean they have fertilized eggs that they hold inside and once in a while the eggs hatch (inside) and a live baby whale shark is born. It is thought the female whale shark can hold several hundred fertilized eggs at one time and give birth to a live off-spring (one at a time?) when conditions are right.
Burt and I had been hoping to swim with our local population of whale sharks for a year or so. I didn’t even know these things existed until last year. How embarrassing. The biggest fish in the sea and I had no idea. Last year we learned a group of about twenty-five of these fish swim into the bay at La Paz every winter to feed. Tours are available for a wide array of budgets. Thanks to our friend Bobbi, we took a very reasonably priced tour. Five of us plus a driver/guide piled into a 20′ boat with an outboard motor and headed out late in the morning to try and find a whale shark. We brought our own food, water and snorkeling gear. Ten minutes after leaving shore we found the boats that had already found the closest whales. Conditions were murky. One whale was surrounded by 8 wetsuit, mask and fin clad swimmers. The whale swam and people pursued. It was weird to watch from above. Our driver, Paco, maneuvered or much smaller craft around to another fish and the boys slipped in. Here was the moment I dreaded: Would I go in or watch from above?
I really wanted to swim but so many normal people had told me how surprisingly scary it was to get in the water with a fish (a filter feeder but still, It’s mouth is 4′ wide) twice to four times their size. I am not a normal person when it comes to this type of activity. There are three main obstacles. First, I am afraid of open water. I prefer streams and rivers. Big lakes and the oceans scare me. Second, I am claustrophobic. Putting on a mask and snorkel makes my heart pound and chest ache. Third I have a deep, abiding fear of large creatures swimming up from the deep. Thank Jaws and stories of the Loch Ness Monster. So there I was. I focused on cleaning my mask, adjusting the precarious lenses, fitting my fins on. Paco pointed and said, “sit there.” I dangled my flippered feet over the edge of the boat. Cool water lapped my legs and I pondered my forgotten wetsuit at home. The boys came in. Paco said, “GO!” And I slid in without a thought. I couldn’t see anything but green murk. I looked over my shoulder to a chorus of well wishers pointing the way and encouraging me. I swam blindly to where they pointed telling myself, “You won’t see it until it’s really close. Stay calm.” This was my mantra as I replayed the memory loop of snorkeling in a river and screaming bloody murder when I came face to face with a 24″ brown trout. Here I was swimming blindly towards a 24′ fish with a mouth bigger than the entire brown trout that had scared me. And then there she was. I had to take evasive maneuvers to avoid crashing. She glided right by as I hung suspended on the surface. She was two feet away. I could have touched her but didn’t. It’s not good for their skin. She was so big, my glasses so old and the water so murky I could only see the bits that were right in front of me. Her mottled skin was beautiful, She had a yellow tag with a number that some seaweed was growing on. Her tail fin came right at me and I was glad I remembered it would be vertical like a ship’s mast because she is a fish not a whale and I got out of the way just in time. And that was that. It was the most peaceful underwater experience I have ever had. Maybe it was from being in the presence of a species that had been on this earth for so long or maybe it was from the whale shark’s utter ambivalence to us. Like Burt told me about a swarm of bees, you can tell if their intention is good or bad if you stay calm and present. Maybe this shark was happy. I got out of the water entirely satisfied with my 3 minutes.
After everybody got a swim we headed out to sea a colony of California Sea Lions and then we had a picnic lunch at Playa Balandra. On the way we watched a humpback whale surface to breath as it swam across the bay. Whales are much bigger than whale sharks but whales aren’t fishes.
Stay tuned. Soon we should have an interesting post about our excursion to see whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez. I am semi-excited. Last year I was all riled up to do this and we missed out. We waited too long and the whale sharks swum off to wherever they go. This year I’ve collected some data from people that have gone in with the sharks and my enthusiasm is somewhat tempered. There are two reasons. First is the report that the whale shark is a fish and when it sees you it is as devoid of expression as a gold fish in a fish tank. Unlike whales and dolphins and other sea mammals the whale shark is vacant and small brained. There is no rush of inter-species communication. The second reason is the ballsiest (yes, that’s the right term) woman I know admitted to feeling scared when she got in the water with these behemoths. They are just so large and even though they are vegetarians their mouths are more than ample to appear to be able to eat you. You know they can’t eat you but it feels like they can and this gives a person the willies.
So tomorrow we’ll drive over to La Paz and get in a boat and take a four hour cruise around the Bahia de California. We’ll fish and visit some pretty beaches and, hopefully, swim with the giant, small brained, cold blooded fishes.