This week, it will be 2 years ago that Simba left us for heaven. As she is always in our hearts, I want to share this old blog post from another summer in her honor, when we were across the country and found Simba’s seaworthy, fin-filled counterpart…
Cancun; Summer, 2002. The day started out beautifully: a nice, sunny day; only a few clouds on the horizon. We had spent the night at Vidal’s brother Ricardo’s house, enjoying a lovely family evening together; we had 10:00am reservations to swim with dolphins in Cancun’s Interactive Aquarium. The company Vidal worked for was just starting to promote this excursion, and we wanted to see the difference between it and the program we experienced the year before. Okay, any excuse to swim with dolphins, right?
We arrived at 9:30am; nobody was at the ticket window. Someone finally showed up to let us in at 9:50. There were four sections of the aquarium; the first we saw was the indoor aquarium, which reminded me of a tiny version of Shedd Aquarium, one of our favorite places to visit in my hometown Chicago. From there, we were led outside past a raised pool with clear sides; inside of it were turtles, sand sharks and manta rays. Just past that was a huge pool with six dolphins playing; a big row of bleachers faced the pool and the lagoon as a beautiful backdrop. We were directed to go up to the bleachers, where the lot of us we would be split up into 3 groups: Education only, education & show, and education, show & play; we were in the latter.
As the trainers were setting up, we watched the dolphins play- swimming in circles, biting each other, jumping together, smiling. One of the trainers got into the middle of the pool, pulling out a plastic ‘wall’ to section off the pool. He whistled for some of the dolphins to go to the other side, but they all went, looking at him as they swam past, and it looked like they were laughing at him. He motioned for a few of them to go back to the other side; again, they all went. This repeated three times before another trainer jumped in and split the party up appropriately. Just as he almost got the wall closed, one dolphin raced back to the other side and he (the trainer, not the dolphin) yelled, “Simba!” I knew Simba was just laughing at him, seriously! Simba pulled that same stunt a few more times… All the while I was thinking of our own Simba, our precious kitty back home, who had the exact same personality; how many times had I told our Simba to get out of our room only to race back in the door a second before I shut it all the way, back when she was a kitten… In the end, Simba the dolphin was allowed to stay on her preferred side and another dolphin was asked to leave.
We got into our group of six. After a brief education of Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphins and what we would be doing, we jumped into the freezing cold salt water pool and got into circles, where we would let the dolphins come and get to know us. The first dolphin came around, and seemed to just loved Vidal – slowing down and snuggling up to him on every round it made around the circle. The trainer talked to it and we found out it was Simba. I was not surprised – our kitty Simba has always been a Daddy’s little girl! The other two dolphins assigned to our group came around next. We took a few minutes to pose for the obligatory pictures (dolphin hug and kiss), and then went back into our circle. This time, Vidal was on the other side. Simba came around, but this time she got cozy with the person in Vidal’s old spot… I saw her turn her head to the trainer- who was right behind that person, and we watched Simba beg him for fish… Vidal laughed and said it was not that dolphin Simba liked him, but that she wanted fish. I disagreed. Our Simba was also a foodaholic, doing anything to get a treat (stealing and opening a bag of food by herself was not beneath her); so this Simba’s actions came as no surprise. But, just like our Simba, Simba the dolphin did return once again to get all huggy with Vidal, despite his distance from the food!
Next, we got onto a platform with all of the groups combined to learn about a dolphin’s nose, mouth, teeth, spout, skin and belly, and how to listen to them talk. That was fascinating! We splashed water at them and they splashed back; I was thankful that we did not do the bouncing ball on the dolphin’s nose trick. Next, the divider wall was opened for the final part of the show: the Foot Push. I have to say, even though that seems like such a typical parlor trick with dolphins, it really is cool. One at a time, each person swims out to a designated spot, belly down, arms out, legs behind and toes pointed downward. Two dolphins come around, each placing their nose on the middle of one of your feet, and off you go! Unlike our experience the year before, we had an insider’s tip: arch your back to rise up above the water. It really made quite a difference, as it made it feel more like we were flying across the pool- it was so awesome!
Afterwards, we found the fourth section of the aquarium: a huge tank, two floors high with lot of fish, including sharks and barracudas. We went down a level for a better look up at it. There was a sunken ship at the bottom with fish swimming in and out; the sharks swam ominously close to the plate glass protecting us from it, glaring with their deadly, lifeless eyes. The barracuda hung out above near the top of the tank, fangs hanging out, like a gang of thieves ready to pounce on its unsuspecting prey. Something caught my eye at the bottom of the tank, slithering out of the sunken ship… an orange head, attached to a very long body: a huge sea serpent. It looked phony, like a bizarre Loch Ness Monster in a really tacky ‘B’ movie. It moved slowly and was pretty freaky looking. While the proximity of the sharks did not freak me out in the least, the sea serpent definitely did. It was just plain creepy. Although we were not allowed to take pictures, I was already dead set against doing so; a sneaking suspicion telling me that if I looked away for a second to get my camera out, that freaky serpent would break through the plate of glass between us and swallow me whole. Suddenly, it slithered backward quickly back into the ship, just as quickly as it had appeared. At that moment, a small enclosed tank was being lowered from above into the aquarium, with people inside. Part of the ‘fun’ one could have at this aquarium was to partake in feeding the sharks, up close and personal, for only $70 USD! The aquarium’s swim with the dolphins program cost between $150-200 USD (at that time in 2003), depending on which program you chose. The high cost was in part due to the high cost of maintenance required for the dolphins, and part to keep the crowds at a reasonable number. But feeding sharks, well let’s face it, if you don’t follow the rules, you become shark food yourself, and therefore the aquarium pays less for maintaining the sharks. Keeping that program’s numbers down to a reasonable crowd did NOT seem like a problem – how many people seriously were going to line up to take part in that? As it was, it was not this Taco’s cup of tea, and thank God, it was not Vidal’s, either…
The aquarium had a restaurant on the top level. It faced the dolphin pool and lagoon; the back wall was the shark/barracuda aquarium. We struck up a conversation with a nice elderly American couple next to us, who told us they had just retired to Belize. They told us there was an enticing retirement program there with lots of benefits, and that a beachfront house cost only $400 USD per month. Wow! We were just about to leave the restaurant to go wandering Cancun’s malls, when they told us a hurricane was headed toward Belize (six hours south) and was supposed to hit the next morning; they were worried they would have to leave their Cancun time share that day to head back to board up their house. We looked outside, and saw dark threatening clouds rolling in… We decided Cancun’s malls and a cheeseburger in paradise could wait for another day, and to head back to Ricardo’s house right away. The second we stepped foot on the parking lot, the wind picked up furiously, a cloud burst and the rain crashed down upon us. Once we got to his house, Ricardo advised us it was not yet a hurricane and it was still way out at sea, but it would be best to go back to our hotel, just in case the tropical storm turned into a hurricane and/or crossed our path. So, we hit the road, with a prayer to keep us safe… The rain had already stopped by the time we got to Ricardo’s house, and thanks to God, the wind did not pick up at all on our 1.5 hour ride back and the rain was minimal (the storm ended up turning its path, bypassing Belize and us, later hitting Texas instead). While our day of fun was cut off early, we were blessed with an awesome time with Simba and the other wonderful dolphins, and were blessed with a spectacular painter show of clouds the whole drive back… the Lord’s canvas, indeed it was!
- Excerpt from Seems Like Old Times: Returning to Frolic in Mayaland, Chapter 2