28 January 2009

Cozumel 2009 - Part X - Last Day.

This was our last free day. Tomorrow would be another travel day back home. We rented a car and drove around the island. We headed south from San Miguel in a counter clockwise loop. Sometimes the low lying jungle was on both sides, sometimes the sea was to the right.

In the south east corner of the island there was a nice Reggae bar. We got a few drinks and walked out into the beach. This was the one of the closest things I saw to a sandy beach. It turned rocky as you got closer to the sea. We sat there for about a half hour and just chilled. I imagined Cuba just 170 miles away across the sea. In reality I was staring more in the direction of the Caymen Islands about 370 miles away. We got back in the car. The road turned north and we were on the east side of the island. To our right was the open sea, to the left the jungle now mixed with swamp land.

About 20 minutes up the road we repeated the routine at another bar, this time sitting down on some stone stairs that went down to a rocky beach. Our conversation took us to the beneficial effects of negative ions. Negative ions released by such things as thunderstorms, waterfalls, or the waves crashing on the rocks in front of us. Then we just zoned out again staring at the sea. There was some crappy rap song playing in the bar but it was so drowned out by the waves that all I heard was a low beat. I imagined it as some tribal drum. My mind drifted between natives, canoes and the memories of all the diving we did over the week. The stony shore made that crackly sound that all stony shores do as every wave pulled away. I thought about the huge cycles of the Earth, the currents that flow past the island, seasons, the barn swallows I saw nesting in the Cenote. They could very well have been the same swallows who were nesting on our building last summer, now at the other end of their migratory journey.

About 5 to 10 minutes further up the road we ate our last dinner in Cozumel at Coconuts. This is a nice bar and grill above the sea. Apparently it can be quite a party place. Take a look at their photo albums on the bar. There is no power to this place and if you listen close, behind the music you can hear a generator. They closed at about 6 and that was just fine because all the mosquitos that live in the swamp land we just drove past came to dinner at sunset.

A few more minutes north and the road again turns, this time west, across the island back to San Miguel. Back to our hotel. Back to airports, big cities and the daily routine.

26 January 2009

Cozumel 2009 - Part IX - Last Day Diving

We had booked for a night dive and our dive operator kept pushing it back due to the weather conditions. It was to be a single tank dive. Finally we just agreed to just add another two tank morning dive day. We paid a little extra for the second dive. Today was windy and we once again had to meet at the dive shop. We didn't get the cool boat this time however it wasn't raining.

Dive site 1 -
  • Palancar Caves
  • Site depth - 20 to 100+ feet
  • My max depth - 82 feet
  • Vis - 80+ feet
  • Coldest water temp - 73F
  • Bottom time - 44 minutes
  • As stated in my Cozumel souvinear dive map, " . . . has uncountable caves, cracks, coral canyons, with towering pinnacles, sheet coral . . . " "The caves have little current, but some current flows beyond the outer wall of the reef." It's true this is the first time, in Cozumel, I had to actually swim to keep up with our guide. Not as many fish as some other dives.

Our last dive was -

  • Paso del Cedral
  • Site depth - 33 to 100+ feet depending on if you are at Paso Reef or Paso Wall.
  • My max depth - 54 feet
  • Vis - 80+ feet
  • Coldest water temp - 79F (Our second warmest of the trip.)
  • Bottom time - 48 min.
  • Nice reef, fish. I chilled out a little, this being our last dive. Tried sneaking up on some grouper, barracuda

23 January 2009

Cozumel 2009 - Part VIII - Dive Day 4

Our dive operator (Dive with Martin) does not offer Cenote diving so a few days earlier we started inquiring with some of the other local dive shops, in the afternoons. One of the shops recommended German Yanez and his company of Yucatech Expeditions. I had inquired with Dive with Martin, via email, about Cenote diving before our trip and they also recommended Yucatech so we gave German (pronounced Herman) a call. He quoted a price of $150.oo US dollars for a 2 tank Cenote dive. This price included tanks, weights, ferry tickets to and from the mainland, shuttle transportation and lunch. The ferry tickets themselves are $11.00 US dollars each way so it sounded like a pretty good deal to us. German scheduled a meeting with us at our hotel lobby that night to discuss the details. During that meeting he proposed the option of doing a 1 tank Cenote dive and a visit to the Mayan ruins of Tulum on the same trip. This is something which we were sort of planning to do anyway and thus save us an extra ferry trip to the main land and car rental so we agreed. Our new plan was still the same price and included the admission tickets to Tulum.

For those of you who don't know there are no above ground rivers on the Yucatan. All water seeps through the limestone to subterranean river systems and then flows to the sea. There are places in the jungle where the roof of these cave systems has collapsed. These are what the Mayan's referred to as Dzonot (ZO-note). The Spanish called them Cenote (say-NOH-tay). During the last ice age the water receded and dripping rain water into the caverns formed beautiful formations. After the ice age the caves again flooded. These are now popular for cavern and cave diving.

In 2007 I did a cavern dive in Dos Ojos. Today German took us to Grand Cenote.
  • Dive site - Grand Cenote

  • Site depth - 35 feet?

  • My max depth - 31 feet

  • Visibility - 100+

  • Coldest water temperature - 72F

  • Bottom time - 47 minutes

  • To access Grand Cenote there is a stair case that splits to the left and the right. Our cavern dive followed a loop from one side to the other and then the reverse back. While still a beautiful cavern dive which I would recommend to anyone who never has done it, I preferred Dos Ojos Cenote.

German Yanez is a very knowledgeable and experienced technical/cave diving instructor and was an all around nice guy. Easy to talk to. I would recommend him to anyone.

22 January 2009

Cozumel 2009 - Part VII - Dive Day 3

Today we expected the same routine. We got up, went down and enjoyed our free breakfast again but when we got back to our room the phone rang. It was Dive With Martin. They said due to the weather we would have to go down to the marina if we wanted to dive today. They couldn't pick us up at our hotel dock. Well it had been raining all night and it was quite windy. So we hopped in a cab and rode down. The water was a little bit choppy and the marina is sheltered so it all made sense. On the plus side we got a bigger boat that had cover from the rain and we still only took 8 - 9 people. Two of which did get picked up on the way but it was tricky. I noticed a lot of people don't wait for the crew to tell them to get on. They'd just go for it and slip, fall, or come close to smashing their face into the concrete pier when the boat suddenly drops 4 feet on a wave. If a boat crew picks you up, let them do their job. Wait until they tell you to board and hand down your equipment first. As it turned out the closer we got to the dive site the smoother the water became. We must have been more leeward.
Anyway dive site 1 was -
  • French Lady (La Francesa)
  • Site depth - 40 to 66 feet
  • My maximum depth - 65 feet
  • Visibility - 80 to 100 feet
  • Coldest water temperature - 72 F
  • Bottom time - 47 minutes
  • This was a nice healthy reef.

Dive site 2 -

  • Punta Dalila
  • Site depth - 25 to 80 feet
  • My max depth - 61 (Our plan was to dive 50 feet for 50 minutes. One we used for many of our second dives.)
  • Visibility - 60 to 100 feet
  • Coldest water temp - 74 F
  • Bottom time - 53 minutes
  • Some of what I saw included beautiful coral, good size grouper, cozumel toadfish, coral crab, a 4 foot green moray swimming freely about the reef, an octopus, sitting out in the open, on the reef (probably due to the overcast sky) and a 5 foot nurse shark and a nice school of horse-eye jacks. There had been some talk about the small jelly fish we had been seeing in the water. Some people were stung and had some small welts the next day. I felt pretty save wearing my 3mm full wet suit but about 2 minutes into this dive one of them got me right between my reg and my mask, on my upper lip and across my left cheek. I felt a tingling, reached up and, sure enough, pulled of a tentacle. I wasn't sure how bad it would get so I quickly wrote a note to my buddy just to let him know followed by and OK. It just became a mild burning and tingling lasting for a few hours. No welts.

21 January 2009

Cozumel 2009 - Part VI - Dive Day 2

The plan today was the same as the first. We got up at about 6:15, took our Dramamine, went down for breakfast, grabbed our gear and headed for the dock. This was one of the best parts of diving here. We would just walk a few hundred feet from our room to the dock and get picked up. We had a different guide today, Raymundo. Raymundo was just as good of a dive master as David but maybe a little more reserved. He was our dive master for the rest of the week. Very helpful, friendly.

Dive site 1 was -
  • Santa Rosa Wall

  • Site depth 33 to 100+ feet. Our plan was a multi level dive, drifting at about 70 along the wall then 50 on top of the reef. The actual wall drops off several thousand feet but everything good to see is in this range.

  • My maximum depth - 88 feet

  • Visibility - 80 to 100 feet

  • Coldest water temperature - 75

  • Bottom time - 39 minutes

  • I've done this site before on my last trip here and I would do it again. Fairly strong current picks us if you drift away from the wall, not so strong near the reef. Has some caves and swim-throughs. Saw yellow stingray in the beginning, barracuda, grouper and many others.

Dive site 2 was -

  • Tormentos

  • Site depth - 30 to 66 feet

  • My max depth - 70 feet

  • Visibility - 80 to 100 feet

  • Coldest water temp - 76 F

  • Bottom time - 49 minutes

  • Tormentos has lots of reef and fish life including spiny lobster, splendid toadfish, huge black grouper and barracuda, to name a few. The fish seemed to grow larger the longer we drifted on.

20 January 2009

Cozumel 2009 - Part V - First Day Diving

Sometime in the wee morning hours we got a phone call, in our room, from Dive With Martin saying that they would pick us up at our hotel boat dock at 7:30. I think it was like 6:30. We scrambled out of bed, ran down and ate breakfast, ran back, got out gear and made it out there at like 7:35 or so. Our dive master was David and he really broke everything down for us such as the reef were going to dive on was Palancar but it is borken up into 4 parts - Palancar Gardens, Palancar Horseshoe, Palancar Caves and Palancar Deep. He was very helpful, great at finding/pointing stuff out and noticed/corrected quickly when divers were having problems and had a pretty good sence of humor.

Dive Site 1 was -
  • Palancar Gardens

  • Site Depth - 16 to 69 feet

  • My maximun depth - 79 feet (Hm figure that out)

  • Visibility - 80 to 100 feet

  • Coldest water temperature - 76F

  • Bottom time - 34 minutes

  • Great first dive of the day. Great dive. Many coral caves and recesses.

Dive Site 2 was -

  • Paradise Reef

  • Site depth - 22 to 40 feet

  • My maximum depth - 41 feet

  • Visibility - 80 to 100 feet

  • Coldest water temp - 80F (warmest of the week)

  • Bottom time - 52 minutes

  • I've been to this site before. It's an ok second dive. Notible fish included barracuda, spotted moray, spiny lobster, puffer, queen conch, yellow stingray, ocean triggerfish, horse - eye jacks, blue chromis, parrotfish, yellowtail damselfish (a personal favorite), angels french grunts, bearded fireworm, sea horse and many more.

Dive with Martin mostly used small fast boats with little shade. This wasn't a problem as it rained most of the week we were there. Getting in the boat at 7:30 was a blessing and a curse. We had to get up early but we were at the sites before everyone else. Clifford needed to rent his gear and they included it in the price. He never had anything bad to report except for the wet suit. He was always a little cold as his rental wet suit was a 2mm shorty. Water temperatures were colder then I had expected for the week, around 73F at depth. I was just slightly on the cold side with my full 3mm. I noticed some people wearing 5/3's and hoods. Our guide/divemaster wore a ratty old shorty but he quickly removed it and dried off between dives.

This was the only day the hot tub was sort of hot at our hotel.

19 January 2009

Cozumel 2009 Part IV - Travel Day

It started early. Sunday. I got to the airport somewhere around 5am, Seattle time, checked in, did the security dance, sat at the gate, boarded the plane and finally took off somewhere around 7:30. About 4 hours later I made it to Houston. It was something like 13:00, Texas time, and I met my buddy, Clifford at the Fox sports above our gate for some beers and lunch. We boarded around 14:00 for a fairly short flight to Cancun by 16:30, made our way through customs and found our shuttle driver rep outside. I'm glad we booked with the shuttle in advance. It worked out smooth and sped things along. The shared shuttle dropped us off in Playa del Carmen about a block from our ferry to Cozumel.

It had just become dark and we had about 40 minutes to spare so we dragged all our luggage into Senior Frogs for another beer and a huge platter of chicken nachos. We waved off the annoying, whistle blowing shot girl. I don't know who thought this was a cool thing. You know the girl. She comes over, tooting that sports whistle, pours a shot of tequila in the same glass she uses for everyone else, then shakes your head around while you try to drink it. Yeah . . . not for us.

The line to board the ferry was getting pretty big so we decided it was time to jump in. I don't know why, really. At this ferry all the tourists line up and when boarding begins the locals just go straight to the front in a big mob. Doesn't matter. We always got a seat. These ferries hold something like 300 people. If you have some full size luggage they will check it in the front or the back. You may or may not get a claim ticket. Kind of freaked us out but the 4 times we used this ferry we always got our luggage back, no problems. It drops you off in the heart of San Miguel the only real town on the island.

Cozumel has several hundred taxis on the island, dealing in pesos or American dollars. Although, for some reason they won't take coin, only paper. They never have change so have small bills or expect to be leaving them a tip. I've been told to agree with the driver on a rate up front, before getting in, but they seem to be pretty fixed depending on where to where you are traveling. Although it would have cost us only about 4 bucks, for some reason we choose to walk the 3/4 of a mile to our hotel, in the dark. As we walked farther away from the tourist zone towards our hotel we sort of freaked ourselves out. We had to laugh at this a few days later after making the walk a couple times. The town is actually quite safe.

We were the last of the day to check in. Hotel Cozumel turned out to be quite decent. For the rate it was great. Clean, swimming pools, dive shop, restaurant, activities (however lame). I'm not sure I would say it's 4 star. In fact I think the 4 stars are just part of the name and not a rating. Our room did not have the refrigerator as stated on the web site. The front desk staff told us that this was only for people who had medications that needed to be kept cold, etc. Our shower drained veeeeery slowly. What I did like was the wooden hooks on the balcony where we could hang our dive equipment to dry. The hot tubs were not hot. After diving you just wanted to plunge into one and that sort of sucked.

After several attempts at trying to make a local call from their phone and failing (impatience and misunderstanding on my part) I broke down and used my mobile to leave a message with our dive operator. T-Mobile worked great all over the island although their web site shows no coverage.

We did a little walk around and went to bed.

07 January 2009

BCD Maintenance

As we know there are many different types of BC's on the market. My BC, the Zeagle Stiletto had integrated weights (I don't wear a weight belt) and uses a ripcord system for ditching the weight in an emergency. They ripcord system is a little different then most BC's. Most with integrated weight systems have the weight in little pockets the pull out and are ditched with the lead, possibly never to be recovered. With the ripcord the weight does goe into little sleeves and placed into side pockets but the bottom of the pockets are laced with the plastic ripcord holding it all together. Upon pulling the ripcord, the bottom of the pockets open up and the weight falls out. The lacing of the pockets is a little complex. Nothing to hard to tackle but I decided I would like to get familiar with it should I ever have to re-lace it on a dive trip. I hung my BC on a hanger and gave the ripcord a pull. A little to my surprise, once the Velcro gave way the ripcord pulled smoothly and easily. The pockets opened up and had there been any weight in there I'm sure it would have fallen straight to the floor. Re-lacing took about 10 minutes. I recommend looking closely at how everything is laced together first before pulling the cord. It's all stated in the directions but helpful to look first anyway. Even so, after finishing I noticed I missed a few loops and had to go back. All in all no big deal but it will take a few minutes.

Afterwards I put on the BC and inflated it through the mouth piece. I heard a little leak. Oh no! This scared me since our new kitten was just walking around on it. Could his little claws have poked a hole in it? I'm going to Cozumel next week! I took off the BC and re-inflated. The leak was coming from one of the bottom dump, pull valves. I pulled on the valve and inflated again. Still leaking. Upon taking a closer look at the valve I realized they unscrew and did so. And there, plain as day, was the problem. Salt crystals. Some 1/8th of an inch in size. There must have been some salt water inside the BC. Not uncommon, but I'm pretty good at rinsing my gear, inside and out. I unscrewed the other two valves, also having salt, rinsed them and the inside of the BC. This will be my regular routine now after a dive trip. I re-inflated the BC, as much as I could, orally and it's now holding tight. I'm glad it wasn't the cat.