They say that you leave the jungle, the jungle never leaves you…
As many who have explored the deep deep brush as well as their loved ones know it is very difficult to assimilate once back into normal life. There is a distance… a lack of connection among the sky scrappers, supermarkets, and business suits.
In only a few short weeks I felt alone and isolated. Why could I not find him? What did I do wrong? I made up my mind there and then on aisle five of Kroger’s grabbing a can of cut corn and a swarm of newly born bot flies above my head. I had to go back out and continue my search for Carcharhinus Leucas. I grab my bags and take the first flight out.
I travel to Cozumel, a small island up the coast from Belize that is part of Mexico, known for its massively large and cunning killer — the Bull shark. Like Belize it too was a Mayan refuge and sacred to Ix Chel, the Maya Moon Goddess, and the temples here were a place of pilgrimage by Mesopotamian women desiring fertility.
Cozumel factors in our own short history as Abraham Lincoln, anxious for a solution to assimilate the large and newly free slave population sent his secretary of state, Seward, to Mexico to buy Cozumel to relocate free slaves to the island. It was then Mexican President Benito Juarez who thought the idea a bit ridiculous and shot the deal down.
I opt for a new travel companion this time. Still smarting that I don’t have a cool crusty 70 year old Mayan sea lord for my Facebook friend I decided I needed someone else; someone not quite as good at catching bone fish. After hundreds of interviews I find the right guide — a young coed who has studied sharks her entire 21 years of life. She brings her dad, my brother, to the trip as her interpreter. At the airport, she gives me a look, like the subtle movement of the pinky finger between two accomplished swordsmen as they pass on horseback, she knows she is with a learned zoological scientist with an acute sense of observation. I give her a slight smile back. It is a sign of respect among the small fraternity of genius.
I ask her what to expect. “The most important thing is to stay calm. The bull shark, like all sharks, has a neuro-sense. They can hear or even taste the electric currents in our bodies. The more excited you are the more it will drive themselves into a frenzy.”
At 30 thousand feet above sea level and the predator so distant below this seems surreal. She continues, “Also, leave. Just get out. My professor taught me that.”
I sit and look at the expanse of clouds and deep blue ocean through the pressurized double window glass and grab another cocktail (business class…).
We land at Cozumel along with one of the strongest storms of the season they call el norté. We decide to go into the water heedless of the warnings of many of the locals on shore.
It is important when diving in hunt of the bull shark in foreign waters to think through every aspect of your dive. Unlike most sharks, this predator doesn’t not tap you or try to figure you out before a potential life threatening bite. Instead its instinct is to immediately eat without care. We painstakingly rehearse every move and procedure to prevent a potentially dangerous mishap.
The pressure is beginning to get to us. Do we dare brave these torrential waters and pit ourselves against this man-killer?
We hire a special guide. The only one on the island willing to go out in the storm. We pull together out equipment. I opt for a bit more weight than normal so that I can hug the sea floor and try to conserve air should the beast swim above.
Now in the water we come across a variety of sea life including a large rockfish that is more deadly than any fish in the sea. You can stare at the rock for a very long time before ever recognizing it is a fish. The venom from its fins creates a heart attack and it is a rare dive master that can get you to surface and to a hospital in time to save your life. We swim on.
Further on I am with my brother and I point out a camouflaged ray and point it out. Comfortable with this depth I play with it fondly as the fish responds to my caressing gesture. My brother Mike takes his turn fondling this loving sea animal as our guide comes over, looks at Mike and makes a slash sign across his neck and grimaces. It is an electric ray found only in Cozumel. I move along pretending I didn’t see what he was doing, moving rocks about and marveling at a small Banded Coral Shrimp (Stenopus hispidus) as the guide chastises him for his careless ingnorance.
There were many more fish including a enormous spotted puffer, a group of lobsters, these black coral fish that kept on attacking my hands when I got close, and a lone barracuda — Sphyraena chrysotaenia.
Now out of the water after a long dive and no bull shark we decide to immerse ourselves into the indigenous culture. We treat ourselves to a very exclusive high end dining experience. There is only one thing on the menu, hurrachas with homemade tortillas and some kind of meat that we didn’t ask about.
We decide to find something a little quieter. We want to feel Cozumel and its people. To hear their fireside myths and lore. To see how they interact with their children and elders. What medicine to the practice?
We find just the place we were looking for.
Now safely home we ponder our next day. We remain undaunted. Rain or shine we will find our bullshark.