HEY BOATING: If I don't get out of this cubicle soon, I'm going to go nuts. I need an adventure and heard you can swim with giant whale sharks. How risky is it to trailer my boat down into Mexico to dive with these monsters? Michael Johnson Hesperia, CA
This unscheduled ABS test on our rig whips my neck forward like a bobble-head doll. A dog on a suicide mission just misses being our hood ornament, then trots to the roadside undisturbed by the commotion. I check with my amigo Dave, the driver, to make sure he survived. He's laughing like a crazy man, which makes me wonder what the hell I'm doing here. Oh yeah - I'm supposed to trailer a Zodiac 650 Pro Open with this spankin'-new Honda Ridgeline, from Newport Beach, California, through the hardscrabble villages, low-slung fishing towns, and taco stands of Baja California to swim with the biggest fish in the world - the whale shark.
I dislodge the seatbelt from my sternum and turn to stare out the window at Mexico's emerald Pacific. We've already cheated the Angel of Death once, and we've only been here for 30 minutes. I hope our luck holds.
Below the Borderline
Anyone with the slightest bit of adventure in his soul and fortitude in his gut has longed to explore the rugged interior and 2,000-mile coastline of that giant chili-shaped landmass below California - Baja. South of San Diego, an older version of the world exists. Pangas are hand-painted bright colors and burros have the right of way. Life is slower and, many claim, better. To get there, though, you have to pass through Tijuana.
Border crossings are nerve-wracking even if you have nothing to fear. But no one notices our entry into Mexico, no one asks for our papers, no one even waves. We just drive in and that's that. We're in Tijuana. It's a city of hillside dwellings and billboards bigger than the buildings below, painted in lively purple, yellow, and red. The ads for Tecate beer ask: "Are you of legal age?" Si, senor.
Thirty miles south, I have a vision, the first of many. Can it be? A wooden frigate from 1805 perched on the roadside? A sign nearby explains: Fox Studios Baja. The tall ship is the HMS Surprise from the movie Master and Commander. Strangely, I'm not surprised.
Farther south, we stop for the night in the seaside resort town of Ensenada. It's a mixed bag, an Americanized Mexico with Corona poncho hoodies hanging everywhere. First order of business - food. Full-dressed Mariachis serenade us as I get my first taste of the second order of business - tequila. The word rolls off the tongue, the liquid sears the throat. My fish arrives fresh and fantastic looking. Taking a mouthful, I consider that if we do find an elusive whale shark tomorrow, the tables could turn and I could be the meal.
In reality there's little chance I'll be fish food. Though the misnamed whale shark is the world's biggest fish (some grow to 46 feet and 30,000 pounds) and has 3,000 or so teeth, it's indifferent to divers. This enormous shark is a filter-feeder and sieves plankton through its gills as it swims along at about 3 mph. It's estimated to live to 100 to 150 years. Whale sharks are found only in five warm-water spots - Belize, the Philippines, the Seychelles, Western Australia, and, during October, in the Sea of Cortez, off the eastern shore of Baja.