I apologize for the long waits for my blogs. When I committed to my goal of blogging my entire season, I knew it was going to to be a tough goal to accomplish. But damn, I didnt realize how hard and exhausting it really is to do. Especially while trying to accomplish everything else as well. You know, marketing, email writing, hosting, editing images and videos and spending time with my family.
Of course I admit, it was easier when all I did was record videos. But I have gotten deeply into photography as well. Something I had not concentrated on for a very long time. But I fell in love with it again and I have been enjoying my time behind a shutter. The thing is, I am not just shooting underwater wildlife, but also topside animals as well.
Which is why I changed the name of my blog from "Notes from a Shark Junkies Journal." to "Notes from a wildlife junkies journal." Because I am shooting everything now. Every type of animal that flies, runs, crawls, swims and hops. I haven't quite gotten into bugs yet... but if they are birds, reptiles or mammals, I want to shoot it. Of course my true passion is the ocean and everything in it, especially sharks. But I am enjoying the land life as well.
This new direction is exhausting though. Because of my addictive personality I am shooting all the time now. When I set off on a dive trip, I shoot all day in the water. Then when I return to port, I clean up, refresh the batteries and cards, change lenses and set off to find more animals to shoot. It is fun as hell, but it has been physically taxing.
Anyway, on to my blog...for two months I have been on the road; traveling, shooting and diving with the SDM crew. I haven't done anything like this since we filmed Summer of the Sharks back in 2006. That was a road trip doco I filmed with my bro, Andy Murch. However this time I did it with my loves, which was amazing. The trip was full of fun, craziness and of course headaches because yup, you're traveling with your loves. So here is a quick recap of what I did during my time on the road;
I started my adventure on June 17 in Mexico, where I took a group of happy crazies, to swim with American crocodiles off Banco Chinchorro. This is an annual trip we run through SDM diving every summer. As usual, when I bring people to a place, I am always a mess, worrying about whether the animals we advertise will show up. Thankfully, I didn't have to worry for very long. Upon our arrival, we had crocs swimming up to our boat. And when they arrived, it was on. They stayed the entire two days we were there. (we lost our third day to a storm that rolled in.)
We also visited the island to check out the ranger station. This was a great opportunity to check out the wildlife on the island. The island is pretty much just a huge mangrove. It is thick with marshes, small estuaries and trees. Here I found a few different bird species, two iguana species and some mating land crabs to photograph.
When the trip ended I hooked up with my family (June 22), and spent the following two weeks (on a mini photography vacation), hanging out in Playa del Carmen with my son David, who lives and works there, seeking out loggerhead sea turtles to photograph. I didn't score any though. We shot an Atlantic green and a bunch of hawksbill sea turtles, but no loggers. I have photographed one before, but I am not happy with how those images came out, so I really want to reshoot it.
During our time, me and the SDM crew, (my wife Maritza, Sophia C. and my boy Gabriel), rented a car, (a small little box car, we dubbed the Red Ruby), and went on a road trip through the Yucatan. We visited Rio Lagartos, Coba, Punta Lagua and Tulum. We were in search of birds, monkeys and Mayan ruins. It was a lot of fun and we photographed a lot of animals.
Rio Lagartos was an amazing place to visit. We hired a boat and went out birding. This place is a birders paradise. It is also known for it's Pink lakes. These lakes are where flamingos get their color from. The salty minerals turn the plankton and the shrimp pink. The birds eat the shrimp and that is how they get their color. Pretty wild. The lake itself is beautiful and the wildlife here is all time.
Birding in the Yucatan
The highlight of this road trip was visiting the wildlife preserve to seek out spider monkeys and howler monkeys. These animals roam free throughout the forest. The best time to visit the reserve is at dawn and dusk. That is when the spider monkeys are easiest to find. Many of the fruit trees they enjoy are close to the reserve entrance. So we found them pretty quickly. The howler monkeys however are not. It took us two hours to find them. When we did, it was unreal
The howler monkeys have this crazy loud roar. If I was walking through the forest and I heard that roar and I didnt know what animal made it. It would scare the crap out of me. It is loud. The howlers are small but thick. They look like mini gorillas. Beautiful little guys.
When our time in Playa ran out, we said goodbye to my son David and made our way to Isla Mujeres (July 7), for our annual whale shark expedition. We have been bringing people to swim with whale sharks here since 2005. I have experienced some amazing moments with these sharks and this year was no exception. The sharks were on fire. We arrived at the right time and had hundreds of sharks all around us. Always an amazing time. Thankfully the governing body that manages the whale sharks gave out less permits to the operators and there was not as many boats out there. Which is so much better for the sharks. So many of these sharks have been cut and banged up by boat propellers. You would think they would require all boats to have prop guards. But sadly, so far nothing.
Whale Shark Gallery
After we said goodbye, we headed home (July 14). I was only there for less than 24 hours, then I boarded a plane and was off to Churchill Canada (July 15), for our annual beluga and polar bear expedition. It was an amazing trip, the water visibility was not the greatest due to a colder than normal winter with record snow fall. The snow melt mucked up the river. But despite the poor vis, we did find some areas with decent visibility , plus we had hundreds of belugas and that always makes for an amazing time.
Everyday we went out in search of polar bears and other wildlife. (the birding in Churchill is insane). We were driving around for hours trying to find bears. Sadly, we didn't find any while driving, it was a bit early in the season for them, but we did find one while out on the boat. Seeing that one polar bear made everyone's trip. He was a big battle scarred male, with blood on his face. It looked like he just got into a major scrap. Bears are just freaking awesome. Next season, when we go back to Churchill, I am going to spend a few more days with them. I want some quality bear time.
Beluga Whale Expedition
The trip ended and I reluctantly left Churchill. I took an early morning flight to LA (July 23), and met up with my wife, Maritza and my girl Sophia. We hooked up and jumped on a plane (July 24), bound for Fiji and Tonga. 12 hours of flying is tough to deal with but so worth it when you climb out of the plane and your in Fiji.
We spent a couple of days exploring Fiji. We rented a car and drove around the island. The birding is great here, which I loved, but I really wanted to photograph a fruit bat. They are commonly seen here and are huge animals. They have been nicknamed the flying fox. After a couple days of seeing the land and scanning the skies for birds and bats, we flew to Tonga (July 28), for a week of humpback whales. I was able to photograph a lot of bird species in Fiji, but sadly no bats.
Birding in Fiji
Tonga was epic. There are so many whales here it is crazy. I have been to other places for humpbacks; Salt Cay, Baja, but really there is no comparison. Don't get me wrong, Salt Cay and Baja are really good and very special places. But Tonga is mind blowing. There were so many whales, lots of moms and very friendly calves. And that is because we arrived early in the season, the big migration of whales had not arrived yet. I also added a new shark species to my seen it life list. The zebra shark. I have seen one in an aquarium , but that was a captive shark and it does not count.
The main reason we went was to see if we wanted to add Tonga humpback whales as a destination for us to take our friends to...and hell yea it is! The whales are unreal with great visibility, the reefs are beautiful and the island just rocks. This is a new home away from home for us. I can't wait to get back there.
A huge highlight for me on the Tonga trip was watching my Sophia in the water with these beautiful whales. She is so much fun to hang out with and dive with. Every moment with her is a privilege. She was a total mermaid on this trip. She never wanted to get out of the water. She was trying hard to improve her free diving skills and set a personal record of 6 meters. Which was insane to see. I was on fire!
On our final night in Tonga, they took me to a small island to see is I could find fruit bats. Our host Darren swore they see fruit bats fly from the island at dusk. So we walked around the entire island without seeing a single bat. However right at dusk, fruit bats began emerging from the interior of the island. hundreds of them began flying around. I was not prepared for it and I did not have lights to photograph the few bats that came close to us in the failing light, so I took a few proof of life pictures. I am more determined for next season to bring lights to get some good images of these big beautiful bats.
We ended our time on Tonga and headed back to Fiji (Aug. 5), for a few days to hang out with Mike and the crew from BAD divers. It was time to introduce Mari and Sophia to the Fiji bull sharks. This was my Sophie's first real shark dive. She was blown away. She was super cold, so she only did one dive but she rocked it. She was very comfortable around the sharks and blew everyone's mind. She is the youngest diver they have ever taken on their shark dive, which was really cool. Another nice little personal memory for her (and us).
Fiji Dive Gallery
We ended our trip on the other side of the world and jumped on our plane bound for California (Aug. 9). We scheduled a few more days in California to visit with friends and my Cali. cousins before we flew home back to Texas (Aug. 14) to relax, catch up on emails, work and more importantly spend time with our families.
As I write this and post the images and videos, I am finding it hard to believe this all happened in a two month period. It feels like a weird dream. Everyday was amazing and special, and crazy, and hard, and frustrating all in its own special way. I am very happy the two months are over, but also sad that they are over. I have been home for a week now and I have already forgotten how exhausting the travel life is. All I can think about is dropping everything, packing up my gear again and getting back out there to seek out more craziness with my crew. September looks like a good month to make that happen... So why the hell not?
Thank you all for reading.