As I stood in line at the omelet station at the Barcelo resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico on the (late) morning of January 15th, 2017 I still had not decided whether or not to use the free dolphin experience I had won during a lackadaisical poolside deckchair daiquiri-fuelled BINGO game the previous afternoon. Discussing the issue over breakfast, I rebuffed m’lady’s argument that I should do it if only because it was free and it was something I would never, ever pay to do, but she finally convinced me when she reasoned that if I utilized the coupon I would prevent a paying customer from taking my slot and hence I would be taking $120 or so out of the pockets of Big-Dolphin.
And so I made my appointment and lo I discovered that I had taken one of the last two spots available that day, so I suppose it’s true that I ate up a chunk of their daily business after all. When I arrived at the resort’s onsite dolphin pool the dad in front of me was holding his two children by the shoulders, staring them in the eyes and asking them; pleading with them, “Now you’re absolutely sure you really want to do this, right? You won’t get bored and want to leave, right?” before shelling out almost $700 for their full-on experience (yes, almost $700 – of course when you have to pay such an outrageous amount of money for a family of four to do something you’re going to opt in for the ride-the-dolphin upgrade and the full photo package).
I was handed a lifejacket and directed towards a shower for a pre-pool rinse before meeting the dolphin handler. She was very nice and did a lot of explaining before I jumped in the pool along with and a couple from Regina and their one-year-old son, who I would be sharing my dolphin experience with.
And then I met Alex.
I suppose Alex is just his human-name; I never asked what his actual dolphin name was. He was surprisingly big and thick and very friendly. The handler showed me how to stand so that Alex would swim up and rest buoyantly in my arms. He laid still while I admired the remarkable lines of such an amazing, aeronautical creature. I looked into his goop-covered eye (the goop protects his lidless eyes from the seawater) and apologized for the situation that brought us together. I found out where his ears were (tiny holes behind his eyes) and whispered that I’d do what I could to get him out of there.
He responded, and though I couldn’t make out his accent at all I did learn that his response came not out of his mouth, but out of his blowhole. All dolphins (not just Alex) make their dolphiny sounds though their blowholes. Crazy, huh?
Petting Alex was weird for several reasons. First, petting a strange dude who is in his twenties and is pretty much as smart as most humans and smarter than many of them is just a strange thing to do in the first place, but the fact that dolphins shed their entire skin every two hours means that when you give one a little belly-rub you come away with a handful of dead skin. So yeah, weird.
I only did a minimal amount of petting. I also bailed on what I considered the more demeaning enforced contact, like shaking hands and having Alex come out of the water to “kiss” the side of my face. A couple of belly-rubs aside we didn’t know each other nearly well enough for that sort of thing.
In all I was in the water with Alex for over an hour, which surprised me. And while I’ll freely admit that there’s no reason at all for resorts to resort to imprisoning such wonderful and intelligent beings and conditioning them to perform on cue, I did learn a heck of a lot. Like, the only thing you ever see a dolphin do that they don’t already do in nature is interact with humans. Wild dolphins naturally jump around together and do that tail-dance thing out in the ocean, these people are just teaching them to these natural acts on command. I also learned that enclosed dolphins generally outlive wild dolphins by twenty years, and at the age of forty the dolphins are retired from interactions and spend the rest of their time at the same facility, just swimming around.
Oh, and it turns out that dolphins aren’t fish, they’re mammals. Crazy, right? You’d think that a prerequisite for being a mammal would be to have hair, and if you thought that you’d be right. And dolphins don’t have hair. But they used to! Dolphins are born blind, and for their first week or so they feel their way around using short hairs growing out of their snout. Once their eyes open up they lose the hairs but it’s enough to get them in the club, so mammals they are.
Apparently catfish on the whole are up in arms about the whole thing, or at least they would be, had they arms. Maybe they do…I’ve never won a catfish experience so I don’t know a lot about them.
But now I know a lot about dolphins, which aren’t fish*.
And speaking of not being fish, after bidding Alex goodbye and good luck I ate a heck of a meal (not seafood, out of respect for Alex and the fact that I don’t eat seafood) and sauntered down the beach for the final night of Phish Mexico.
And it was glorious.
Bouncing between parties after the concert I found myself outside the dolphin enclosure in the wee hours of the night. I was about to start calling for Alex to see about busting him and his buddies out Bless-The-Beasts-And-The-Children-style when I noticed a couple of drunken loopy-lous hop the fence and approach the pools. Who knows, maybe they had the same idea, but it turns out the dolphins have their own security detail so I got out of there just as the barefooted chase commenced.
And thus ended Mach II of Phish Mexico, except for the fact that m’lady and I had been astute enough to tack an extra day onto the end of our resort stay so we got to sleep in the next morning while the majority of our fellow Phishy-friends groggily checked out of the resort. And so – after one more day of super-relaxation – thus ended the aforementioned Mach II of Phish Mexico.
Which was nothing short of magnificent, all-told.
*Them just jokes! Of course I knew that dolphins are mammals. I grew up watching Flipper. Faster than lightning.