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Snorkeling Tour Oaxaca Mexico

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Or, The Mexico Snorkeling Tour That Wasn’t

PUERTO ANGEL, Mexico- After a week of hanging out on the beaches of Puerto Angel watching snorkeling tour boats full of tourists coming in from and going out to sea, I found myself the acquaintance of a fisherman. We would drink beer in the shade together as he worked on his boat and I took notes or played with my daughter. Sometimes we would talk about fishing. One day the fishermen invited me and my family to go out snorkeling with him to spear some octopuses.

This was precisely what I wanted to have happen, though I agreed with hesitation:

The boat men here run snorkeling tours for tourists. In such a scenario it is easy to find yourself agreeing to going out fishing and end up another tourist in a tour boat. There is also a general rule in travel that states that if a local approaches you unprovoked with a seemingly friendly proposition to do something interesting the outcome has a far greater chance of going south than if you approach them. It is the great asker/ askee dichotomy of travel: I trust a situation more if I put myself in it than if I am invited into it by another.

This fisherman was asking me if I wanted to go fishing with him, I immediately asked him how much it would cost — it was unclear if he was inviting me out to accompany him as a companion or if this was a sly way to get me onto a tour boat.

“A tank of gas,” he told me would be the price.

Fair enough.

I figured this deal had a 75% chance of not going right, that I would need to nip it done before it even got started. In point, I would often talk with this fisherman in the shade of a big sign advertising fishing tours. The foreshadowing was clear.

“We can make it a family event, I will bring my family and you can bring yours” the fisherman told me, and I began to trust the situation a little more.

On the 25% chance that I was be offered an interesting experience — going out and spearing octopuses off the coast of Oaxaca — I agreed to go.

Tourist boat from Oaxaca Mexico

————-

For a few days the fisherman kept changing the date of when we would go out to fish for octopuses. I grew more and more suspicious. Then one day he asked if I would like to go out the following morning.

“Of course,” I replied.

“Ok, you are going to go with my friend because I have to work.”

Shit. It was a lock in prop.

I woke up the next morning and, with my family, walked down to the beach to check out the situation on his “friend.” We were prepared to just head down and tell him that we were not interested in going.

The “friend” ended up being a snorkling tour.

No shit, even a newbie traveler could see this coming from a mile away.

But my fisherman friend was there to greet us on the beach (and collect on his commission, I am sure). We skeptically asked how much this tour was going to cost. The price he quoted was remarkably low.

Normally, I would have told this guy to go shit in his hat, but the price that he arranged for us to go on this tour was drastically under the going rate. The cost was clearly in the why not? price range.

“Do you want to go?” I asked my wife hesitantly.

“Why not?” she proclaimed.

Why not? Because this guy railroaded us.

But the price was very low . . .

Why not?

We cut our loses and agreed to go anyway. Pride in such a case would only be an obstacle. We took the cheap tour.

————–

We jumped into a boat with around a dozen other tourists. They were normal tourists, nothing to really describe about them except for the fact that one was a very voluptuous English girl who had difficulty keeping all of herself tucked inside of a way too small bikini.

The boat went out to sea, then it stopped. We floated. We were looking for ocean things, animals or something. We floated. It then became apparent to me that I was on a seasick tour. The boat rose and fell at least two feet with each gyration of the waves, and bobbed and bobbed and bobbed.

“Sea turtle! Sea turtle! Where!?! Where!?!”

Everybody freaked out about a sea turtle, a crowd of cameras rushed over to one side of the boat. The boat tilted in the waves in the direction of the migrating mob as it continued to bob up and down in the waves.

My one and a half year old daughter, Petra, saw the turtle and yelled “Tuga!”

That was cool.

Then some dick American tourist wanted to have a precious life defining moment swimming with a sea turtle. He jumped into the sea and swam out to it while everybody else sat on the boat, just bobbing up and down in the waves waiting for him to return.

I began not feeling so well.

The tourist finished up his magical Mexico experience and returned to the boat.

“There is a turtle!”

“There is a manta ray!”

“Are those dolphins?”

“There is a coconut!”

I was on a tour, and, suddenly, I remembered why I don’t go on tours: I don’t like them. Money has nothing to do with why I avoid tours (I could go on just about any tour that I wanted for free just by offering to write about it on this blog, but this is a practice I gave up on long ago — I am too honest for this line of work).

My enjoyment of travel is found in subtle explorations, talking with people, living life on my own volition. Travel soon becomes a psychosis — an obsessive urge have control of yourself in your surroundings at all times, the drive to do exactly what you want to do when you want to do it. This liberty, once matured fully, is far more enjoyable than being lead around by the bit on any tour.

Sitting on a tour boat bobbing in the ocean with tour guides at the helm is simply not a place that I really enjoy being. I wanted out.

Travelers are nothing if not big, stubborn, selfish babies.

But finding, living out, and fully enjoying the inner infant is part of the subtle art of travel.

I feel like a head of a cattle herded up and locked into a flatbed when on tours. I cannot shake this feeling as much as I try. I truly looked for ways to make this snorkeling tour interesting, enjoyable — I tried to make the best of it. I considered talking with the guides running the tour, but thought better of it as I figured they would just lie to me. I had tried before the tour started:

“Can I go fishing for octopus?” I asked just to see what one of the guides would say.

“Of course you can.”

This was a lie, and I knew it. The guide spoke to me like I was some dumb tourist, and I did not want to be spoken to like this again. So I figured that starting a conversation with another one of these guides would not be in my best interest.

I remembered traveling for a stretch in the Peruvian Amazon with an old English traveler. This guy had been traveling the world for 20 years, he told me that he hated tours. Why? “Because I hate people telling me where to look.”

Long term travel is a psychosis.

——————–

Of course I could have milked the guides for information about the sea, the animals in it, made them into characters, selectively taken photos, and then wrote this story up like I had an exotic Mexican adventure.

I very easily could have cooked this story up to be sold, but this would have run a little too flush with the world of mainstream travel writing for me to stomach. I am a writer not a liar, and I will not lie to make a living writing.

—————

I sat and watched the waves from the boat, at least I was out at sea. Well, sort of. The boat kept stopping at regular intervals just to bob in the waves. It is my impression that we were looking for animals. I began not feeling so well.

I am naturally inclined to seasickness. But upon learning this aspect of my biology I immediately set out to come up with methods to subvert it. I found ways to do so, and I have not been seasick since I was 17 years old. But on this small tourist boat, just bobbing up and down in the waves, the tourists running from side to side yelling out the names of ocean creatures both seen and unseen, I felt my grip on my stomach loosen.

“Petra is seasick,” my wife informed me in timely fashion.

I turned to find that my poor little daughter had doubled over and puked all over herself. She sat with her head hung over her lap, limply bobbing up and down with the waves. She blew chunks everywhere. My own stomach rose to my mouth.

No matter how little money I paid, this tour was not worth it. I realized that I would happily pay 10X what I did to get on this boat just to get off of it. I was trapped.

Beach in Mexico

The boat then pulled into a little bay that had a beach. There were houses and a restaurant on this beach, it seemed as if it may have had road access. But the boat stopped short of pulling up onto the sand. Shit.

“Can we snorkel now? Can we snorkel now?” the excited tourists asked.

“Normally, we go snorkeling here,” the boat captain told the tourists, “but today there are jelly fish in the water so we can’t.”

The boat just bobbed in place for five minutes. Nobody really did anything. The turtle guy jumped out and tried to snorkel anyway. He returned to say that he could not see anything and that the jellyfish stung him, but it did not really hurt. The boat then went off to find another place to snorkel.

“If we can’t snorkel here what makes you think that it is going to be different anywhere else?” one of the tourists asked the guides.

The guides did not answer. Rather, they pulled the boat into another bay.

“Can we snorkel now? Can we snorkel now?” the excited tourists asked.

“No, the water isn’t clear enough. We came here to jump off a rock.”

One of the guides demonstrated how someone could jump off a rock into the water. The boat sat bobbing in the surf, filling with exhaust fumes. I felt even sicker. My poor daughter was comatose, seasick green, miserable. Nobody wanted to jump off a rock, they wanted to snorkel — this was suppose to be a snorkeling tour. The guides were insistent though that we needed to jump of a rock, and some tourists obliged them.

After ten minutes of this, the boat collected up the more adventurous tourists from the water and made way out to sea once again. Once there, of course, it stopped to continued its idle bobbing in the waves.

“Can we snorkel now? Can we snorkel now?” the excited tourists asked.

“No, this spot is just for swimming.”

It soon became clear that their would be no snorkeling on this snorkeling tour.

Eventually, the boat pulled up to a beach. The feel of freedom came with the feel of sand on my feet.

A view of the Pacific ocean from the hills near Puerto Angel

I gathered up my wife, my baby, bought a cold Coca-Cola and a lime and ran far, far away from the boat. We jumped ship on the no snorkeling snorkeling tour. We went for a hike instead — a hike on our own volition, able to go wherever we wanted to go. Like big babies we walked through the hills of coastal Mexico, stopping where we chose, looking at whatever we wanted. Petra found fun in a heap of organic debris, I found fun photographing the normal houses where normal people live, my poor wife found solace in the fact that she was no longer being puked on by her little baby or hearing the complaints of her big one.

This simple walk through the neighborhoods in the hills back to Puerto Angel was better than any tour I could ever take. Alas, this is travel.

Publishing travelogue entries such as this ensure that I will never be a successful travel writer, but they do keep my soul intact — which is more important?

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Filed under: Beaches, Mexico, North America, Tourism

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3048 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Polis, Republic of CyprusMap