22 February 2007

Cozumel Diving - Day 5

Tuesday we again got in the car, picked up the rest of our gang and headed back to Playa del Carmen. My ear was a little sore from the day before and later I would come to realize I was coming down with a cold, but this in no way affected my diving today. Playa del Carmen was jam packed. We drove down the streets where we parked on Sunday and there were no spaces so we ended up paying for parking.

A short walk later we were at the ferry terminal buying tickets. This is a passenger only ferry. I don't know if they have an auto ferry or not, maybe out of Cancun, but a car really isn't necessary over there, especially if you are just going to hop on a dive boat. While waiting in line the seas were getting a little choppy, waves were crashing on the seawall, spraying all of us and then it started to rain pretty hard. I was glad I took my sea sickness pills this morning. I saw a few people on the ferry turning green. But as we approached Cozumel the storm had already blown over and we were now on the leeward side of the island, protecting us from the wind. The sea was now calm. The sun came out.

There are dive shops everywhere in Cozumel. Although they are nothing like the shops here in the states, with their fancy showrooms and gear galore. Our plan was to walk from shop to shop and find a nice one that didn't run a cattle call boat but right on the ferry dock there were some podiums set up where you could sign up to dive. Since it was already around 11 we took a chance with one of these. It turned out to be OK. The man at the podium called up the shop and signed us up. Take a left, walked about two blocks down the street, take a right and on your left is the shop.

When you walk in Scuba Staff Divers looks more like an office then a dive shop. There is a little equipment for sale to the left, a long desk with computers to the right and straight back is where they have the rental gear and rinse tank. Although I didn't use the rinse tank as it smelled of soap, there is a waterspout just above it. We didn't want to be hauling our gear around all day so we rented much of the stuff. I just brought my reg, fins and mask. They gave me a 3mm shorty which was a little cold even though the water is 80F. I'm pretty thin but you might ask for a 3mm full.







We signed in, tried on, picked up our gear, got in the taxi (van) that they had called and all headed out to the boat. The drive was about 15 minutes. The boat, I believe was the Enigma. Their website says it holds 8 passengers and 2 crew members. Besides the crew I believe we only had 4 divers with us. Despite how it looked the Enigma turned out to be quite nice. I never felt crowded, there were nets under the canopy to hold your dry stuff and only holding about 8 it definitely was no cattle call. The procedure for entry and exit was the same as for the Akumal dives. Gear up, sit up on the side, roll off, meet at the back of the boat and all descend together. But this time we would do so as the captain told us, two at a time. Our dive guide was Julian, and assistant instructor according to their website. He was good. Friendly, informative, good pre-dive briefings.




Santa Rosa Wall, Cozumel, Mexico

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  • Dive site 1 - Santa Rosa Wall

  • Site depth - 1000+ feet

  • My maximum depth - 82 feet

  • Visibility - 80 to 100 feet

  • Coldest water temperature - 80F

  • Bottom time - 40 minutes

  • From what I read on the web, the Santa Rosa Wall is an advanced dive. I didn't see what was so advanced about it but then we are "advanced" certified. It is a drift dive. We had a nice slow current taking us past the beautiful coral outcroppings and fish. They say this wall descends down below 1000 feet. We floated at about 70 - 80. We saw much of the same fish/coral I listed in the Akumal dives with the addition of one nurse shark. We focused most of our attention on the wall but I believe one should keep a lookout away from the wall for larger pelagics. Video here - Santa Rosa Wall

  • Dive 2 - Paradise Reef
  • Site Depth - 40 to 50
  • My maximum depth - 41
  • Visibility - 80 to 100
  • Coldest water temperature - 80
  • Bottom time - 48 Minutes
  • Another drift dive over reef and sandy patches. Much the same life as before.

Cozumel itself has a nice little town square, resturants and shopping for you or your non-diving friends. There are also many hotels and if I were doing a pure dive trip with no other family/friends I would probably stay here on the island.

19 February 2007

Akumal Diving - Day 4

We drove our car a mile south to Eric/Adriana's hotel and spent the day there. Christine, Adriana and Emma hung out at the beach while Eric and I did three more dives through the Bahia Principe Dive Center.

It was a short walk from the dive shop down to the beach and the awaiting boat. Our dive instructor/guide's name was Nester which really didn't fit his local appearance. Nester was a good guide, funny and informative. His 8 year old son, you guessed it, little Nester, rode on the dive boat with us. Each dive was about 15 minutes from the shore. The boat was a decent size and it wasn't overcrowded. The standard method of entry was to get into your gear, sit up on the side of the boat, back roll off, meet behind the boat and descend. Although there was little or no current here the procedure was to all follow Nester. When someone was low on air Nester took out an inflatable buoy, on a reel, and sent it up. The person low on air would either ascend, along the buoy line, with their buddy or if two buddy teams agreed they would swap buddies so the 2 lowest on air could ascend together and the other two could get some more bottom time. The boat would follow our bubbles and then the buoy to pick us all up via a ladder of the side. Weights were handed up first, then fins and the BC/tank. The crew switched our tanks for us. All the dives had some surge but it was nothing bad.



  • Dive site 1 - End of the World

  • Site Depth - 100 feet?

  • My maximum depth - 94 feet

  • Visibility was 60 + feet

  • Coldest water temperature was 81F
  • Bottom time - 39 minutes

  • This was probably my favorite of the 3 dives this day. We reached the bottom and I was surprised to see 94 feet on my depth gauge. Maybe this is because of how light it was compared to the murky waters of the Pacific Northwest. I think most of our dive was spent at about 60-70 feet. Although I didn't see any large pelagics there was still plenty of beautiful fish and reef to look at and it was just good to be in warm, open water again.

As I may have stated there had been a storm blowing in and the reported visibility 2 days before was about 10 feet. The ferries to Cozumel had even stopped running. But the storm blew over and the vis must have been returning. I thought it was quite good but I'm sure it gets better.


We returned to shore to drop off some divers, pick up some others, grab some burgers for ourselves, the captain, the deck hand (plus a cup full of jalapenos), and headed back out.



  • Dive site 2 - ? reef close by

  • Site depth - 70 feet?

  • My maximum depth - 61 feet

  • Vis - 60 + feet

  • Water temp - 79F
  • Bottom time - 47 minutes

  • As we hit the water I looked down to see about a 5 foot green moray on the reef which everyone soon proceeded to scare under the reef. Shortly after Nester pointed out a turtle, the Eric (my buddy) pointed out 2 more above us. Sadly all were fleeing away, apparently late to some very important turtle meeting. Otherwise we saw the usual beautiful fish and reef. I did experience some pain in my right ear while I was at depth for about 30 seconds. I think I turned to the left and swam into the surge while equalizing. This went away and I had no trouble over the next few days/dives.

Back to the shore for the diver exchange again. This time we lost Nester to another dive instructor/guide. This one I really didn't like at all. I don't remember his name. He seemed to have a stuck up attitude, but it in no way ruined my dive.

  • Dive site 3 - Paradise?
  • Site depth - 50 feet
  • My max depth - 41 feet
  • Vis was less here - 40 - 50 feet
  • Water temperature - 81 F
  • Bottom time - 52 minutes
  • Nothing too notable but still a good dive.

Other then previously noted sea life seen on the dives this day included french grunts, blue striped grunts, stoplight parrot fish, blue tang, yellow tail damsel fish, great barracuda, several different types of wrasse, spot fin butterfly fish, trigger fish, blue chromis, sergeant major, puffer, trumpet fish, yellow tail snapper, sea fans, sea whips, sea rod, brain coral, elk horn coral and mountainous star coral.

18 February 2007

Eagle

Just a little break from our Mexico vacation stories to show some photos of a Bald Eagle that came to visit us yesterday. The view right off our balcony looks on to the roof top of the building next door. Their roof has very poor drainage. Bad news for them, sort of nice for us as it brings various birds to drink the fresh water. Most of the time there is anywhere from 1 to 8 seagulls sitting there but for a brief 2 minutes this eagle came down. The whole time being harassed by the territorial crows.


15 February 2007

Playa del Carmen - Tulum - Day 3

On day three Eric and Adriana had something planned during the morning and so we got in our rental car, broke our of our all inclusive compound and drove 30 minutes north to the small town of Playa del Carmen. Playa del Carmen is a small town made up mostly of one way streets. There are about 5 or 6 stop lights on 307 where you can cut into the town. The town is divided in half by the highway. There is tourist shopping on 5th, by the water, as well as supermarkets and a Walmart. This town is where the ferry runs to Cozumel. Driving here can be extremely busy, not is a fast sence but as in gridlock. Sunday was a great day to go there. Driving was easy. We did some touristy shopping on 5th for a while and headed back out.






This time we drove back south, past our hotel for about another 20 minutes and met the rest of our gang at the Mayan ruins of Tulum. I found the walled city to be facinating. Probably more so then Coba (Coming in a future post). Tulum is built on a cliff overlooking the beautiful blue Caribbean sea. After visiting the ruins one could hike down the stairs and spend the rest of the day at the beach but you won't find bathrooms or waiters bringing you drinks.

14 February 2007

Dos Ojos Cenote - Day 2



The first night that we arrived we received a message from Eric that he had scheduled a 2 tank cenote dive for us in the morning. The weather had been very windy for the last few days and no dive boats were going out. But the cenote's are fresh water cave systems unaffected by the wind. For a more complete description see my blog entry - Cozumel/Cancun trip update. We went with the Bahia Principe Dive Center that is located in Eric/Adriana's resort. They drove us from the shop, in a van, about 30-40 minutes to the Dos Ojos cenote. When we got there you walk down about 30 or so stairs to the cave/cenote opening. It's a beautiful crystal clear pool with a small wooden platform extending from the edge. You can jump off the platform, take some stairs or a ladder. Many people come just to swim in the pool but it was by no means crowded. Dos Ojos means two eyes and just below the surface on the far side are two caves. So, of course, we did 2 dives, one in each cave. What we did is "cavern" diving which means you are never very far from light or an exit to the surface. To dive deeper into the system requires full cave diving certification. Our guide, Victor M. is full cave certified. No more then 4 people go with one guide. We swam single file over a guide line that is laid out on the bottom. Keeping 6 feet between each diver. Good lights are a must and I'm glad to say mine worked out very well. The lights are also used for signaling. We used the rule of thirds with our air supply. One third to go in, one third to go out and one third only for emergency. We used the frog kick technique so as not to stir up any sediment and to protect the cave formations on the bottom. Dive one was called the Barbie Line and dive two is the Bat Cave. Halfway through the Bat Cave we surfaced in a room that is cut off from the outside. The cave formations all along the dive are fantastic. In the places where the sunlight comes through it is spectacular. There were many small freshwater fish very closely resembling the fish I used to have in my aquarium. I believe they were some sort of tetras. We also saw two fresh water shrimp. By doing these cavern dives I've come to realize I will never need to do full cave diving. That's just two much risk and what I saw is amazing enough. I do recommend these dives though to any divers out there seeking something a little different. While we were diving, our dive shop also took Christine, Adriana and Emma snorkeling in the cenote. And . . . they got to play with monkeys.
  • Dive 1 - The Barbie Line
  • Site depth - 35 feet?
  • My maximum depth - 27
  • Vis - 100 + feet
  • Coldest water temperature - 77F
  • Bottom time - 40 minutes

  • Dive 2 - The Bat Cave
  • Site depth - 35 feet?
  • My maximum depth - 32
  • Vis - 100 + feet
  • Coldest water temperature - 76F
  • Bottom time - 31 minutes

12 February 2007

Travel Day - Day 1



We woke up to the alarm sometime around 2:30 in the morning. We had only slept something like 4 hours. We figured we could sleep on the plane. I think our taxi came about 3:30 am. We were checked in by probably 4:00 and on our way to the gate, sipping our Starbucks lattes. Double, tall, hazelnut latte for me. Grande, decaf, soy, peppermint, mocha for Christine. Yeah, she has a long winded order. Our bags were checked, we made it through all the security check points. Christine laughed when I said,"I like airports."
"Why?" she said.
"I like them because when we are in them we are usually traveling someplace new and exciting." I said. My feelings for airports would change on our return trip but this was my mood in the beginning.

One Boeing 757 to Phoenix and Airbus A 319 to Cancun. Now we were going through customs and dodging the time share hustlers on the way to the Thrifty car rental. Thrifty set us up with a nice silver Nissan Altima which I somehow managed to get through our whole trip on that crazy mexican highway 307 and through crowded the one way streets of Playa del Carmen without a scratch. All in all driving in this part of Mexico was quite painless. We drove for about one and a half hours, through the jungle, 60 miles, to our hotel.

Hotel Grand Oasis Riviera Maya is an all inclusive resort. Gated. With lots of marble (marble and tile is something they don't appear to be short of in this part of the world), a friendly staff, and just about everything you could want. I believe it's owned by Italians. One wing of the resort is for Italians and the other is international although anyone is allowed to all pools, amenities, restaurants (there are like 5 restaurants here) of the hotel. It is located on the beach. They have a dive shop but the dive boat that I saw is sort of rink-e-dink. I talked with 2 of the dive staff. One of them, an Italian and co-owner, Vittorio didn't speak much english. Enough but not enough to have a good conversation with. The other one, a lady, was very friendly, and full of knowledge. Still we didn't dive with them. It was very rare that I saw anyone leave a tip at this place. I don't know if this is because most of the guests are European of something to do with the all-inclusive thing. To make matters worse, there is no where in the resort to get money. No ATM. Not even the front desk can help you. Although I believe the staff will accept them. We left some during some of our meals and for housekeeping. Ah, I did mention it is "all inclusive" right? For this reason if you are going down there with some friends or family you had better all being staying at the same resort. When you check in you will get wrist bands. If any members of your party aren't staying with you they will have a very hard time getting in to visit and will not be able to drink or dine at the restaurants. It is so obvious but we made this mistake. Our hotel was next to the hotel that Eric (my brother-in-law), Adriana (Christine's sister) and their daughter Emma were at. Both hotels were all inclusive and it made things difficult.
Anyway . . . we checked in, passed the peacocks, geckos, and made it to our second floor room. Our room had, yes, more marble, a nice shower, minibar, balcony, safe, TV, and 2 king beds. Ummmmmm . . . beds. We slept.

Mexico/Yucatan Trip

We are back. It was a great trip. We saw the ruins, we swam the seas, we shopped the shops and ate the food. The weather was good. About 85 degrees, humid. Most days were partly cloudy. The first few days were real windy so open water dive conditions weren't that good. Most every day it rained at some point during the day but then the sun would come out. Our rental car really came in handy. We were about 45 minutes drive south from Playa del Carmen. Eric and I did 7 dives. 3 of Akumal (where our hotel were), 2 in Cozumel, and 2 cenote. We visited
the ruins of Chichen Itza, Coba and Tulum. I've got a ton of photos and posts to do about our trip but no time to do it right now so here's just a few pics to keep you going. I'll post more tomorrow when I have the day off.