Xinalani: Swimming with Dolphins & Dinner on the Beach

I’ve contemplated writing a post on here on how to not be a travel snob, so what I’m about to say is going to sound like it flies in the face of that, but it doesn’t.

If you’ve “swam” with dolphins before, and they were in an enclosure, or a pen, or a marine park, or anything where they aren’t in your natural habitat, then you haven’t actually swam with dolphins.  You went to a petting zoo where the most intelligent creatures on the planet (outside of us) were basically put against their will so they could be enjoyed by us.

If you didn’t know that ahead of time, I’m not judging.  I’ve done three dolphin “encounters” in the past and didn’t know the specifics of how they’re run.  I’m sure there are some good ones.  But do yourself a favour, find and watch The Cove, do some reading, and then don’t go to the caged dolphins.

So yesterday was a chance to “redeem” the dolphin experience in a way.  A host of us from Xinalani were picked up by water taxi and taken to Puerto Vallarta’s harbour, where I saw the old cruise ship dock that I would pull into once a week for months at a time, many years ago.  We were taken to Wildlife Connections, an outfit that specializes in dolphin and whale watching tours.  They gave us a scientific briefing on whales and dolphins, talked about their physiological makeup, and how we were to interact with them once we got in the water.

Basically, we would be taken by boat into the harbour, where the guides would find pods of dolphins.  A few of us would jump in the water as “bait”, dive under the water, and if the dolphins were interested, they’d swim with us.  If they weren’t, they’d swim away.  No pressure on their part, no guarantees on our part.

So we loaded up into their boat and, within a few minutes, we saw dolphins splashing around in the water.  The boat got to a safe distance, a few meters away, and they marine biologists asked who wanted to be the “bait”.  I jumped at the chance, as did a guy from San Diego named Eric, who basically became our “Dolphin Whisperer” for the day, as he was the best swimmer and wasn’t stopping to try and take underwater pictures, as I was.

Within seconds of our first dive in the water, the dolphins were all over us.  If you stay at surface level, they lose interest, but once you dive down, they follow you, maybe around a meter or two away, whipping by to see how you’re done.  On that very first try, one of the dolphins actually jumped out of the water in front of me, sun shining behind it in one of those dream images you see but are almost never actually a part of.  My camera had a misfire (hadn’t opened it up properly), so I missed that shot, but more opportunities would come.

I was “geared up” with a pair of flippers, a mask and a swim shirt that I picked up in Sri Lanka, but quickly found that combination to be a bit cumbersome, as the mask had no snorkel, so I couldn’t swim as comfortably as I would while snorkeling, and the shirt was getting heavy, so as the day went, both the shirt and flippers came off, and I found it much more comfortable.  So long as you were diving and moving around, the dolphins would check you out and then swim away when bored.

Best bad picture EVER!!!

I got a few shots of them checking me out underwater, some of their fins cresting right in front of me.  My most “amazing” shot was actually horrible, as there was a big water blob on my lens, but the dolphin fin was literally a meter away from me above the water.  Simply amazing and highly recommended.

We got back to the harbour after a few dives with no fuss and then we were back on our water taxi to Xinalani.  That boat actually blew its transmission and we were stuck on the water for about 20 minutes before they got a new one out to us, but from there it was clear sailing to home.

Was lunch fantastic?  Yes!  After that, made the walk down to Los Cocos down the beach for some cheap Corona and sandy beach, jumping into the water for what would be my last time on this trip.  Back at Xinalani, Catalina led us through an intense Vinyasa practice, a “fire practice” in the greenhouse, which had basically turned into a hot yoga studio for the day.  The group then headed down to Cliffside Charlie’s for margarita’s and a sunset before a beautiful dinner spread on the beach and, of all things, salsa lessons.  And no, there are no pictures of me dancing, nor is there (hopefully) any video evidence.

At around ten o’clock, I had drank several tequilas, was sated with food, and was feeling the effects of the day.  I took a break from the craziness of the bar and found a beach chair, laid down and looked up at one of the clearest night skies I had ever seen.  After a few minutes there I thought “I’m good” and headed to bed.

Next morning, a nice and easy movement practice to get us mobile for the long trip home.

This has been a totally different experience than any other trip I’ve been on, in the most fantastic way possible.  The location was amazing, the staff at Xinalani incredible, the food out of this world and, most of all, the practices that were led by Andre and Catalina were something that everybody needs to experience.  I think I got lucky this year and the stars aligned to make a March Break retreat work for me, but this would be one heck of an experience to have again!  Probably never be duplicated, but it would sure be fun to try.


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