My experience was really divided. The times I did get to engage with the dolphin were magical – touching her, swimming with her, having her come up and engage with me – amazing. Their skin is silky soft, and fragile. We weren’t allowed to wear jewellery of any kind.
I have to say, I was amazed all over again at people. It’s stated very clearly in the information you get about this that you can’t wear any jewellery, so I left all mine at the ship- my rings and cross. I didn’t want to risk losing any of it, or have it stolen (something I do at home, too, when I swim). But sure enough, at least two of the people in my group hadn’t read or had forgotten and wanted exceptions – since “they couldn’t get the rings off”. The trainers joked about cutting off the finger, but you could see they were exasperated with the people – turns out they can bandage them up so they won’t hurt the dolphins, but oi gevalt – what’s so hard about reading the instructions? And if you can’t get them off, maybe you better check to see your circulation is not impaired? I mean, really!
One thing that did surprise me was that I had to take my hair ties out too (which hadn’t been explained in the write up). They had no metal that could hurt the skin, but that wasn’t the point. The dolphins were young (Nauri was, I think only a year or two old). If they came out, she might eat them and get sick. We were very closely supervised in how we touched them – no fingertips, no nails, just the flat of the palm, no patting, just stroking, and never in front of the blow hole or on the nose (with one exception – we were allowed to kiss them (fishy and salty, but neat.) But those times were very, very limited. I think I spent, all totaled, less than 5 minutes engaging with Nauri in the whole 40 minutes we were in or near the water.
She did tricks – it was all tricks, really – she was well trained and responded to hand signals from her trainer, so from her point of view, she was just doing a job and was definitely more interested in the food bucket and playing with the other dolphins and her trainer than the people who’d come to swim with her.
I was very conscious that this wasn’t part of a research facility or a sanctuary, which I’d hoped for. At least I didn’t think so. They did have two other places, one in Cancun and another one elsewhere, and the dolphins were moved when they were pregnant and they weren’t allowed to give birth here in Cabo San Lucas, so the company might have been at least partly research, but my feeling was this was done just to make money, and that tarnished it for me.
Over all, I’m glad I had the experience, but I don’t think I’d do it again, simply because they’re too intelligent to be exploited like this. And I wanted to actually engage with a personality, not just be part of somebody’s work day. I could see the dolphins had personalities and that they enjoyed playing and interacting with each other and their trainers. That’s what I wanted, not just the semblance of that. But I’m grateful for being able to be that close to something, someone, so wonderful.
I also felt a bit ripped off. There were two excursions to choose from involving dolphins. One was the swimming, the other was billed “Encounter with Dolphins”. I don’t remember the price difference, but they weren’t minor – there was a significant difference between them. The write up for swimming promised “40 minutes in the water with ‘your’ dolphin.” I naively thought it would be one on one, and all 40 minutes would be in the water. We were in a group of six, and people who had signed up with the Encounter were in our group with us. The trainer didn’t know who was who and relied on us being honest about what we had chosen. If you define “in the water” as being in any more than one inch of water, the brochure was correct, but 30 of those 40 minutes were on the edge of the pool in about six inches of water, and only 5 to ten were actually swimming or treading water in deep water with the dolphin near us. Less than five minutes of the entire time was spent actually interacting with her, one on one. Had I chosen just the encounter, and had I been less honest than I am, I could have had a swim with the dolphin without having to have paid the extra money – and given what I got, if I’d known this going in, I probably wouldn’t have done either. (FWIW, I don’t think anybody else in my group cheated – there were people who didn’t try to get into the deep water with her.)
Afterward, we walked back to the ship and the sea had calmed down wonderfully, so the tender trip out was much calmer (and more boring). It was also a different tender with a different operator who seemed to know what he was doing.
My overall impression of Cabo San Lucas is that it exists for tourism. It’s a little tattered around the edges right now, since it was hit by a hurricane, but they’re 90% back up and running from it, which is good. But it does give an impression of a slightly seedy city, which will no doubt be cleared up quickly.
Living in a city that depends a great deal for it’s livelihood on tourism, I’m aware that in any city like that there are really two cities – one for the tourists and one for the people who live there. And I saw nothing but the harbour, so can’t really assess what the city is like or the people or the living conditions for the majority of the population. (And I’m aware that any impressions I do get are skewed by the fact that I’m there for less than 24 hours). There are huge condo developments (or resort hotel complexes) along the beach front, and the city itself extends back into the hills and valleys behind the waterfront.
(Added at home: In the photo above, the white line above the condos are a part of the city that extends back inland. Click on the photo to see how large the city actually is.)
One thing I did note was the overwhelming presence of both the police and the armed forces. Far more than I noticed on the pier when I first arrived. We had a military helicopter flying escort on our approach. Al said that naval patrol vessels were obvious around the ship, not just one, but several and at the harbour everywhere I looked around the waterfront there were cops – all over the main pier, at least 6 of them between our tender dock and the land, and at least four soldiers, with sniffer dogs and guns. I saw three cop cars from the windows of the dolphin centre and more cops and cop cars along the streets on the opposite side of the harbour.
There are four dune police dune buggies patrolling up and down the beach in front of the condo/resort complexes as I write this. Why, I don’t know. I don’t know if that was normal or they were expecting some kind of trouble, or its related to the hurricane and its aftermath or to the violence associated with the drug trade in Mexico, or whether this is unusual and just a coincidence with us being here (we were the only cruise ship in port today), or if they’re just having dune buggy races. But it’s unsettling, especially the presence of the soldiers (although the dog was gorgeous and really well trained. Golden lab retriever.)
Cabo san Lucas’s main claim to fame is the fishing and the nightlife – neither of which I’m interested in, although one of the members of Van Halen owns a nightclub here at which he plays, which would be interesting if we were a) staying overnight and b) could be guaranteed that we’d hear him (except that most of the rest of the ship probably would beat us there). So I don’t have an opinion about the city or the people in it, or about Mexico in general. I do want to see more of the people and how they live, and what other things they do to keep body and soul together. But that will have to wait for the next two ports of call – Huatulco and Puerto Chiapas. Tomorrow and the day after are sea days, with another wine tasting before we get to Huatulco.