Since we were already awake, we decided on the spur of the moment to see if we could arrange a dolphin swim for later in the day. After being emboldened by snorkeling in a cenote the day before, my wife figured that she would probably be OK swimming with the dolphins as long as she had a life preserver, and as long as there was nothing in the water that could eat her. We went to the lobby and looked at some brochures, and there was one dolphin swim at a place called Delphinus World at XCaret that looked really nice. The water in the brochure was sapphire blue, the dolphins in the photos were clearly chosen for their movie-star good looks, and everything about the place looked new. When we brought the flyer over to our concierge, he pulled out his activities book, and started giving us available days and times for Dolphin Discovery, which was a completely different place. Apparently, the Dolphin Discovery shuttle picked up at our hotel and the other place didn't have one, so if we went to Dolphin Discovery, there would be no taxis required. The price was about the same, maybe even a little cheaper, and we figured that dolphins were dolphins, so how bad could it be? Plus, we had seen a friend's pictures when she went to Dolphin Discovery in the British Isles and the place looked nice.
We booked our trip for later that afternoon, and went and had some breakfast, then hung out on the beach. After lunch, we went down to the lobby to wait for our transportation. When the shuttle bus finally showed up, it was full of people who had already been riding around for an hour, since our hotel was at the end of the line. They were all complaining because they had to cover all the same ground twice, since our hotel was in the complete opposite direction from where we all needed to be. I immediately knew that our ride home was going to suck, because we had to drop all those other people off first. On the plus side, we'd get to see about 5 different resorts.
The other folks on the bus were all from either the US or Canada, and everyone was actually really friendly. Nobody on board had ever done a dolphin swim before and we were all excited. It was the first visit to Mexico for all of us, and my wife and I were the only ones not staying at one of the "All Inclusive" resorts. We got on the subject of how it seemed like the hotels went out of their way to avoid serving Mexican food, and how we all thought that was weird. Even at our hotel, which wasn't strictly considered AI, they had "Italian Night." We decide to try it, and it was every bit as bad as it had sounded like it would be. Asking a Mexican chef to cook Italian dishes is like asking Matthew McConaughey to leave his shirt on for an entire movie. He'll try to do it, and his intentions will be good - but he will most likely fail.
There was an Indian guy on the shuttle sitting behind us with his wife and daughter. They were from Canada, but he still had a pretty heavy accent and she was wearing a traditional head scarf and not saying much. He was friendly and talkative though, and after the "no Mexican food" conversation, he asked us if we had any good restaurant recommendations. My wife piped up and said, "If you like steak, there's a really great steak house right down the street from our hotel. We ate there last night and it was awesome." He did a little head-shake and said, "Ummmm, I am...not so much into steak." I don't know if he was Hindu or not, but even before the last syllable of the word "steak" hit her ears, she remembered the whole "I try not to eat animals that are sacred to me" thing. Oops.
He was telling us all about how he not only got suckered into attending a time-share presentation at his resort, but he got badgered into actually buying one. They had somehow managed to get him to cough up close to 20 grand, and he had a serious case of buyer's remorse itching in his trousers. He was asking everyone on the bus what their opinions were of the whole timeshare concept. He told us that he always got ripped off no matter what he tried to buy, and he seemed resigned to the high probability that the whole thing would turn out to be a complete clusterfuck. "I will probably lose all my money," he said a little wistfully, as if in his head it was already gone.
When we finally pulled up to the Dolphin Discovery place, it was kind of...well, how do I put this delicately? It was a shit hole. It was very run down, and there was a lot of half-finished construction going on. Or rather, not going on, because there didn't seem to be any actual workers. Just piles of bricks and cinderblocks and plywood. I wasn't even off the bus and I already felt sorry for the ghetto dolphins that lived there.
Inside it wasn't actually that horrible. It wasn't exactly nice, but compared to the parking lot and entrance, it was fairly well kept. They have it planned out for maximum tourist consumption. First, they make you walk past all the shops and restaurants to get your tickets. Once you get your tickets, you walk almost all the way back to the parking lot to where the lockers are, once more passing all the shops and restaurants and bars. You go into the "changing shack" and put your suit on, and then stuff everything else into a locker. When you're good to go, they size you up for a life preserver. The life preservers had seen better days, and looked like they had been gnawed on by sea beavers. My wife's was shredded so badly I could see the layers of foam inside.
After you're fitted up, they escort you past all the shops (one more time) to the prep area. The first thing you have to do is watch a video. The video is supposed to tell you what a fun time you are going to have, and it goes through all of the hand signals you have to remember in order to maximize your interactive experience. Since I have the attention span of a weasel on meth, the whole time the video was running, I was busy looking around for dolphins. From where I was sitting I could see two of them through an opening in the brush, just hanging out in this little pool. They were just sitting there next to each other, puffing out of their blowholes and treading water in one spot. They looked like two bus boys who had ducked out behind the restaurant to share a quick joint and talk about how much the customers suck.
After the video, we got ushered out to the actual "Dolphin Area," and we could see 3 dolphins swimming around, chasing each other in the water. Speaking of the water -- it wasn't what I expected. In the brochure, it's clear pale blue and it looks like you're in a natural cove. This was not a natural cove by any stretch of the imagination. I assumed it would be more or less open to the ocean, since -- hey, it's right there, but no. Instead it more closely resembled an algae covered wharf in Jersey. I had been spoiled by the clear aquamarine surf and white sand beach next to our hotel, and this water was greenish and smelled like dead fish. The trainer was already in the water, standing waist deep on a ledge, and she clearly wanted to get the show on the road. She beckoned to us, so we bit the bullet and walked down the stairs and onto the slimy submerged walkway.
This was the first part of our "interaction" and since there were only four of us in our group, it went pretty quickly. There were three dolphins -- one 4 year old, one 12 year old, and one baby. The baby wasn't trained yet, so it wasn't involved much. The dolphins swam by and you got to run your hands over their backs and stomachs. They feel very smooth, but not really slimy at all, which surprised me. It felt kind of like an inner tube full of meat. First on the list was the "Dolphin Kiss." They don't really have much in the way of lips, so it was more of a "Dolphin Face Nudge." Basically, you had to cross your hands over each other palms up, the dolphin would put her head in your hands and lean up to your cheek while you hammed it up for the camera. I was making up Prince lyrics in my head:
U don't have 2 be bottlenose 2 turn me on
I just need your blowhole, baby, from dusk till dawn
U don't need sardines 2 turn me out
U just leave it 2 me, I'm gonna show U what it's all about
U don't have 2 eat fish 2 be my girl
U don't have 2 be cool 2 rule seaworld
Ain't no particular fin I'm more compatible with
I just want your extra fish and your . . . . . kiss
Of course, like we all do, the dolphins expect to be rewarded for doing things right. The reward, in this case, came out of a disgusting fanny pack full of dead fish that the instructor had strapped to her waist. You know how wonderful spring lilacs smell when you get a whiff of them unexpectedly? This was the opposite of that. There was a greasy sheen on the water around the fanny pack, and every once in a while, you'd catch a whiff and it would remind you of what you were swimming around in.
The next thing they had you do was swim out about 30 feet into the middle of the pool and hold out your left arm. The dolphin then swam under you and flipped over, allowing you to grab her fins. As soon as you had a good grip, she took off across the pool, swimming upside down and towing you through the water. I kept waiting to get her fluke* smashed into my crotch, but it didn't happen. It was actually pretty amazing, and it gave you a good idea of how strong they actually are.
Last on our list of activities was something called the "boogie board foot push" which involved laying on a boogie board with your feet and knees in a locked position while the dolphin stuck her nose in your foot arch and proceeded to try to ram your foot-bones through your spine. They warned you over and over to keep your knees locked, your leg muscles tightened, and your feet pointing down. If you did this, the dolphin would push you across the pool at roughly 20 miles per hour. If you did not do this, then you ran the risk of having a dolphin nose shoved up your blowhole at roughly the same speed. Trust me, my muscles were so tight you could have bounced cinderblocks off my ass.
After that, you get to dance with the dolphins a bit, they do some additional tricks and then it's all over but the high pressure sales pitch to buy the pictures and DVD set. On the way back, they shuffle you into a room where you have to watch your video. Ours wasn't too good because we had gone later in the afternoon and the sun was getting low. This meant that most of the video was in silhouette and pretty poor quality, and they somehow managed to miss the upside-down fin-swim completely. After the video, you are shuffled off to the picture counter to look at the final prints.
Like most everything else in Mexico, there is the price and then there is "the real price." We actually did like two of the pictures, but we thought they were too expensive so we were going to just say no and leave them there. We watched the price go from $100, to $80 to $60 for the entire package, and then when we still turned that down, they started breaking things out into single items. Eventually, the deal became too good to refuse and we ended up buying a couple of 8x10's for about 25 bucks.
After that, we changed back into our clothes and met the rest of the crew for the return trip. We swapped pictures and stories, and someone brought up the variable pricing scheme that seemed to be in effect. The discounts ranged from about 35% to 70%, depending upon how hard you bargained. Of course, the only person who paid full price was the poor Indian guy. He just shook his head in disbelief and didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
After the grueling ride to five other resorts, I can honestly say that I liked ours better. The others were nice, but they had a very "corporate" feel to them. There was something a little stepford-y about them; they seemed soulless. As we were driving past all these fancy buildings, I remember thinking, "I'll bet you a month's pay that the people staying here aren't putting their crap into wastebaskets."
So that was our adventure for the day. They were beautiful, intelligent creatures and I'm glad we took advantage of the opportunity. I would highly recommend meeting a dolphin at least once in your life. But not like this. Warning: That link is probably not safe for work. Or anyone, anywhere. There are no pictures, just text, but the URL may get you into trouble. You will learn...things....that are better off remaining unlearned. Don't say I didn't warn you.
PS - I got this in my bag of chips:
*I wanted to use the correct term and not say "tail" so I looked up "dolphin physiology" and ended up on the page in that link. In retrospect, I should have just said "tail."
PPS - Who has Prince stuck in their heads now?