Saturday, March 31, 2018

Cozumel Diving Vacation: Part 2

Cozumel Diving Vacation: Part 2 - Diving and Exploring

Loading Tanks on a couple of the boats.

Diving Day 1

Our second dive was a shallow dive (50 feet max) on Paradise Reef,  just South of the International Cruise Ship pier. I have described our first dive for you previously in my "How you won't die doing a drift dive (probably)" section. Our second dive, as you might expect, was going to be even more fun since now, you know, I knew about the not dying thing.

So, we all get in line. We move toward the back of the boat, I grab my depth gauge and my mask and I do a giant stride entry. Just like I have done many times before. I come up in the water. I give an OK to the boat. And I feel something slipping. I shoot up high in the water and, Oh Shit !! I just lost my Weight Belt. Fuck, Fuck, Fuck. I yell to our dive master that I had lost my belt. He asks if I can see it. Duh. I look down. The bottom is down there. 40 feet or so. But since I didn't watch it fall, I can't pick it out. At 40 feet distance, the colors are all washed out so I can't see the pink of the belt webbing. And besides. We are Drifting. DAMN, DAMN, DAMN. If I can't see it, the chances of him finding it are small. I tell my partner to go ahead and descend with the group. I am not going down. Not with 22 pounds of positive bouncy pushing me to the surface. Without a weight belt, my dive is over. I watch my group down there for a while. I can see the dive master searching for my belt, but he can't spend too long doing it, because there is current and everyone has already begun to drift. So. Here I am. Just call me Bob.

Get it? NO weight belt so I am bobbing. LOL.

The boat came and picked me up. I was a little bummed, but I did get a chance to see what goes on with the expert boat crew during the dive. The answer is that they look for the Safety Sausage and talk about food. At least, I think they were talking about food. Does "La Bonita Fajita" sound like food to you?

A view from the boat. The Trascaribe is a car carrying ferry.

We had a little excitement when a pair of divers came up on an Orange Sausage (not one of ours) and just sort of floated there for a while with no one coming after them. The Captain decided to take action and we went over and picked them up. A young couple diving by themselves, but with one of the little boats around here someplace. Oh, here it comes. A little four person speedy dive boat. 

There really was nothing happening. The boat crew didn't seem interested in striking up a conversation with the gringo. Especially with the gringo who didn't know to hold on to his weight belt when he got into the water. Aye Carumba, es muy estupido este gringo. Actually they were probably just leaving me alone because they knew how embarrassed I felt.

I looked and looked and never did see the safety sausage. I was evidently looking in the wrong direction because Rolando (our ship captain) spotted it and our divers,  and was moving to pick them up before I knew what was going on.

Diving Day 2

After spendinig a good amount of time worrying about my weight belt, we did all get back on the boat and go out for two more dives today. We are on the Dive Cat again today with our Dive Master, Tony. I wonder if Tony is the guy they give the newbies to? Well, we might be newbies but we are certainly not spring chickens. The average age (for the divers) on that boat must have been around 50.

I used to do a lot of diving around the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California. The water is sort of cold and the visibility isn't great, but there were the kelp forests and a lot to see. A few of the islands, even back then, were nature parks. However, as I remember it, when my partner and I set up for a deep dive, we would do 60 or maybe 70 feet. Then our second dive would be a 30 foot dive. Just like the book says. Well here, and in Hawaii for that matter, your standard first dives are like 80 feet. Then your shallow dives are more like 40 to 50 feet. Perhaps that is where you have to go to see stuff and not be swamped by skin divers, but I would sort of like to stay down longer and I can't do that at 50 feet. At 20 or 30 feet, I could probably make a tank last an hour. Not at 60 feet. I am lucky to make it 30 minutes. I am not the first person that needs to head up, but I am usually the second. There is another group diving off of the Dive Cat at the same time as us. They usually enter the water first. They must be a lot better than me because even with the 5 or 10 minute head start on us they are still coming up after I am already back on the boat. (Editor's note); our shortest dive was actually 35 minutes, and that one ended because Tony called us all up, as the swift and unusual current had taken us to the end of the reef and was going to wash us out over the drop off to the abyss.  Usually we were down for 40-45 minutes before Jon ran low on air.  I was happy to not run out first, as men are supposed to use their air faster, and I ran low first every dive last year in Kona, the true sign of a woman diver who is a newbie.

Columbia Tunnels (Palisades?)

The First Dive on our Third Day. We are way off near the southern tip of the island near Columbia beach. We are going to be doing a landing on the sand at around 50 feet and then over a little reef and then along a small wall and through a set of 3 "tunnels". Tony says the last tunnel is the longest, perhaps 40 feet, and you shouldn't start on it unless you have at least 1000 psi of air left. If you don't want to go through a tunnel, just follow along above. The tunnel has a lot of holes and you will see the air bubbles from above. Fair enough.

My Partner and I ran into problems on the get go. Though she was diving with the same amount of weight as she had on previous dives, she was very light and couldn't sink down. I had to come back up and grab her arm and sink us both down. Now we were sinking a little faster than she was used to and when she went to equalize pressure in her ears, by grabbing her nose and blowing, she evidently pinched off the one way water clear valve on the nose of her dive mask. And by pinched off, I mean the plastic circle of the valve shot off her mask and into her hand. Well, she caught it. I couldn't figure out what she was playing with but she seemed very concerned. Then she tried to push it back in and that just woudn't work. She realized that if we were going to continue the dive, she was going to have to take off her mask and hand it to me to fix. Remember now, we are still sinking down slowly into 50 feet of water. She hands me the valve and lets it go before I can grab it.  She sees it floating past (through her flooded mask) and traps it between both hands, then hands it to me again. That is when I realized what was up. I am thinking, OK, this dive is over, but she then gestures that she is going to hand me her mask. Wow. That is pretty brave.

She hands me the mask and I figure out how to push the valve back in. I hand her back the mask and she can't clear the water, it just keeps flooding.  Ahrrgg. And now, we have drifted down without me paying attention and my ears are sudden locked up. Dammit. Ok, ears clear. She hands me the mask back. I realize I have the valve in backwards and I reverse it. Now she puts it on and it clears pretty well.  We look around. Where is the rest of our group? I see some bubbles coming up from behind some rocks. Good thing the visibility is so good. We swim over there where the group is waiting. My partner is really have a bad time of it, however. She cannot see very much at all and her mask just keeps flooding. We realized when we got back on the boat that the little stopper widget in the valve was bent over a bit, and so it wouldn't seal. At the time our choices were to end the dive or muddle through. I think she really wanted me to have my dive, so she kept pushing it. She even signaled me to swim through the first little tunnel, which was a lot of fun. (Once I left the group, and I had to navigate up over the coral by myself, I realized I'd made a mistake.  My mask was either foggy or full of water.  I could get about 20 seconds of clear vision, and then had either fog, or flood, and had to clear the water from my mask.  So finding and following the other diver's bubbles was no easy task.  Once I found everyone, I knew not to do that again.) It gave me 30 seconds or so to look around and try to see where we were. High reaching fingers of reef, coming up from the rock cliff. Over the cliff the sea went off to deep blue. We were around 80 feet. The rocks and multi-colored sponge were very beautiful. The current was minimal. We continued on with the group hugging the cliff wall and staying around 80 feet. When we got to the second tunnel, it was blocked by the first group. What were they doing here? Evidently they had been slowed looking for a camera that someone had dropped (they didn't find it). We ended up skipping that cave and moving on to the last one. I was going to try and go through it, but my partner was having a hard time. She later told me that she was pretty much blind the whole time. So I grabbed her and lead her by hand over the top of the tunnel to where the group was coming out the other side in a white sandy area. There was a pretty strong current coming from up hill down the sand. We had to kick a bit to stay put. Then I looked at my air and I was 800 lbs. Pretty much Bingo for me. I signaled to Tony and to my partner and we started our ascent.

Have I mentioned how much I hate the PADI manditory 3 minute safety stop? We never learned those at MIT from the NAUI course. Are they trying to tell me that they have learned something about air pressure and the human body in the last 30 years? I wonder if NAUI has a required safety stop. Why do I hate them so? Well, for one thing, you have to start up early so you have the 3 minutes of air to hang around at 15 feet. Second, it is HARD to hang around at 15 feet, if you don't actually have something, like an anchor line, to hold on to. You see, when you are floating in the water, you are not really a stable object. If you are real good, you can put just enough air into your BC (Buoncy Compensator) to make you neutral at a given depth. And then you can try to hang there. But if you are a little possitive, then you will float up a little. And when you float up a little, then the pressure on your BC changes and the air in your BC expands, and now you have MORE buoyancy. And so on. The opposite happens as you head down. Down is more water over your head, more pressure, air compresses, less buoyancy. You go down faster and faster. So, for me, I spend a lot of time and effort to make sure I am at 15 feet and not bopping to the surface or settling back to the bottom. You don't want to do either. You especially don't want to go to the surface until you are ready. Not because of some scuba bends death thing, but because the surface is where the boat traffic is. At 15 feet, you are just below the sharp pointy area with all of the death bludgeoning high speed bows and rapidly spinning propelers. Perhaps that is why the safety check. Anyway. You have to cool your heels at 15 feet for 3 minutes. 3 minutes is a long time. If you can only stay underwater for 30 minutes, then that is 10 percent of your scuba diving experience. Finally, your three minutes is done, You do a 360 and stare off looking for a boat. That might save you if one is coming right at you. Might not. Then you ascend. Once to the surface, you overinflate you vest so you are Way Up out of the water and hurtling motor craft can see you. Or if they don't, you have absolutely no chance to dump your air and sink beneath them. At this point, the CAT has always been real good at finding us and picking us up. Like today.
(Editor's note): I come from a family of divers, my brother is a boat captain and dive master, and had an air evacuation with a week in a deco chamber from the Solomon Islands.  My nephew recently got bent from his commercial diving job.  I take the safety stop very seriously.  More seriously than the 24 hours before you can fly rule.  I would've done a 15 foot shore dive 20 hours before we flew home, but would never skip a safety stop after an 80 foot dive.

Our next dive was at the same general location as the first dive we did on this trip, but this time we are doing the Wall instead of the Reef. Tony warned us that there might be a bit of a current and we should just go along with it and enjoy. Boy, he wasn't kidding. My partner had picked up another few pounds of lead and a loaner mask and we went down to the bottom (sandy at around 40 feet). Sure enough, it looked just like our first dive, flat and sandy with some rocks and lots of fish. But the water was moving like twice as fast. Zoom we skidded along. Tony was vectoring away from shore and we followed him cross current toward a line of reef rocks. We skimmed along this for awhile. Hard to really look at anything. Saw a nice puffer fish, but didn't get to stop and say hello. Then over a ridge in front of us and down into a little valley of sand, maybe 30 feet wide. There was a big rock overhang, and in the slow moving water in the lee of this cliff, we all regrouped. Tony was looking at something under the rock in the shadows. It was a HUGE green Moray. Then it was time to go. We were all just sort of sitting there in this eddy and Tony swims up around 5 feet and ZOOM he is off. down current at like 3 knots. Time to follow. I waved to my partner and swam up to the spot from whence Tony had been teleported and SWOOSH, off I went. Man, it was like flying. The reef is zipping by just below and just above to the right. Tony is off ahead a bit, but everyone else seemed to get the idea and they all swam into the slip stream. We looked like a little jet train of divers scooting along the reef. Toot!! Toot!! get out of our way, we are coming through.

After about ten minutes of this we slowed down in a little rocky area and Tony showed us a HUGE spiny lobster. Those are the kind with no claws. He had maybe a two foot long body? We drifted some more and then went over a ridge and into a sandy area with some reef off to landward a bit. There were some divers there from the other group playing with something and I saw that it was a large green sea turtle. It was swimming through a group of them. It didn't seem to be afraid, but it did seem to be a bit annoyed with their behavior. One diver was swimming as close as he could up beside and a little behind it with a goPro on a long selfie stick. He was extending the camera up in front of the swimming turtle and trying to take video of the turtle and himself. I didn't like that. Leave the poor thing alone, take your pictures from a distance. Of course, underwater, pictures from a distance are usually just blurs.

This thing has 5 lights or strobes on the arms.

Inside is a regular Camera.

Speaking of cameras, though many people are going with no camera, or perhaps more like me, with just a little GoPro (or the guy with one on a stick) we have seem some sets of camera gear around that look like some sort of minature space craft. They have the central body, about the size of a brick, then they have all sorts of things hanging off of them. I am thinking they are probably lights. But it seemed like some of these rigs had 4 lights on poles on them. Perhaps a couple were handles and controls... and perhaps batteries. Made me think that the things are so big they may as well have their own propelers and just follow a diver around taking pictures. Now that would be cool.

Ok. End of Dive. Time for 3 minute safety stop. I promise to have my camera working and get some underwater shots on the next dive.

Touring Cozumel.

The swimming beach at Punta Sur

We have taken a walk into the town of San Miguel a couple of times. The main drags, and pretty much anything within a block of the water is strictly tourist traps. Lots of people engaging with you to come into their store and buy something made in China. We did find a few of what may have been authentic Mexican art shops but they were few and far between. Well, unless you count the Cuban Cigars, Tequila, and Tatoo parlors as art. But on our forth day on the island, we decided to take a day off from boat diving and do a little touring. We snagged a cab at the entrance to our hotel and he said he would take us to Punta Sur (South Point) and back again for $70. There were 3 of us. This seemed reasonable. Orginally we thought we would just catch a cab there and then catch another back when we were done seeing the Mayan Ruins and swimming at the beach. But we had 2 drivers tell us that there were not any taxis to catch way down there. The driver would wait for us. OK.

So off we went. Driving South (and pretty much around the island) there is really only one road. We were taking it along with everyone else that was driving around. For a while it goes along the shore and we got to see the commercial pier (where cargo ferrires come in) and the second cruise ship landing (the one we have been going past in our dive boat). Our driver called it the International terminal. Perhaps the Cruise ship terminal that is in town is only for vessels that have already cleard customs in Mexico... perhaps in Cancun. We were now seeing many of the parts of the island that we had previously only seen from the water. But then the road changed. The Old Road continued south along the ocean, but now it was only for bicycles and for cars going south. We stayed on the New Road, which was for high speed traffic. There was not much to see now. The island of Cozumel is Very Flat. I have no idea what sort of geology is at work here, but it evidently isn't volcanic and anything else that raises islands. Flat Flat Flat. So the little trees that grow everywhere to a height of around 2 feet completely obscure all views of anything. My.

In due course we arrive a Punta Sur. And we find out the problem. There is a gate, where you pay to enter the Eco Park. But you are not allowed to walk on the road and it is 6 miles to where the beach is. 6 miles. But, our driver, you see, knew this. He knew he was going to take us out that 6 miles to the beach. He knew we would swim and he would wait for us, and he knew that we would want to stop at some of the other sight places and have a look. He knew that and so he INCLUDED that in the fee that he originally quoted to us. What a Deal!!

That stripped guy is a sergeant major

These guys were following us around...

We were greated at the end of the road by nice men that directed us to umbrella shaded chairs and brought us swimming fins (for only $5) and we went into the water to cool off and explore. It was a very lovely place to swim. Not too much to see while snorkeling. We did take some pictures of fish and stuff. And we saw some little Sargent Majors swimming in a small group of rocks. They were pretty cute. They either thought we were going to feed them or wanted to run us off, because they were the only fish in the group that wanted to come up off the bottom and look at me. One guy was certainly checking me out. Did I get a picture of him?

For a snack, our cabana guy lopped us off the ends of some coconuts and we drank those and then some of the yummy meat inside. Green coconut has more watery water and also has less coconuty meat. And then it was time to meet our driver.

When we got out to the parking lot, the place had been transformed. When we had arrived there had been a few cars around, but nothing much. Now the entire place was filled. And it wasn't filled with cars, it was filled with JEEPS. Jeep Wranglers just everywhere. It seemed like different groups had different colors. One group was all white. One was all the Safari Green. And they were everywhere. 50 Jeeps? 60 Jeeps? I have never seen so many wranglers together in one place even on a Jeep sales lot in the states. Why would that be the vehicle of choice? Certainly isn't because it carries a lot of people and luggage and has good air. They are fun to drive, however (though those were probably all automatic). And I doubt there is anywhere around here that they would let you take them off road, which is where they really shine. Oh, with their short wheel base, they are realy easy to back and to park, so perhaps that is it. No, my partner insists it is because they have the cache of a rich person's outting toy. Well. I but that too.


looking toward the swimming beach. Are those Jeeps?

Looking East, toward the park entrance. Are those Jeeps?

Looking pretty much straight up the island out over the lagoon. See how flat the island is? Are those Jeeps?

So we drive down the dirt road exiting the park. Our driver stops at the light house. He says we can go up in it and leads us to the entrace to the stairs going up. There doesn't seem to be anyone else interested in the climb, so my partner and I start our way up. It is a narrow (1 person at a time) winding stair with landings and windows placed randomly around. Half way up I was wishing I had left my backpack in the car. Not sure why I was toting it around, our driver wasn't going anyplace with my used towel and wet bathing suit.

I am sitting on the beach at our resort typing this right now and I hear an obnoxious noise. A buzzing. a buzzing on the beach. I realize what it is. There is a quad copter hovering around at around 100 or 200 feet. Taking my picture? Looking for contraband? A police camera or some guy? If I had a shotgun could I bring it down? Probably not, it is a bit high. It flew by the other day, however, right in skeet range.

OK. back to the story.

After the lighthouse we drove by the Mayan Ruin. Locally it is called a Mayan Relic. This is because it is just a little thing. Perhaps a little shack. Perhaps a fishermans dwelling? Made of bricks, however, and had little windows and doors. I have to come back sometime and see the real ruins. Our driver said they were impressive.

Our driver was named Julio. He had pretty good English and was very attentive. He told us that he didn't live on the island. He lives in Playa Del Carmen and he (and his taxi) come over by ferry everyday. How intriguing. Taxi rates are all either by posted fare or by negotiation out here. The cabs are clean and the drivers are good and they tell you the fare before you start off, so no surprises. I liked Julio. He also told us that the only business on the island is tourism (Cruise Ships and Scuba Divers). If you aren't working for the tourists you are not here. He said he didn't live over here because it was just too expensive to live on the island. Cheaper to bring his car over on the ferry every day. I wonder where the car ferry is. More research.


He stopped for us at a walkway out over the lagoon that is on the end of the island. We hoped to see crocodiles and Flamingos. We saw a crocildile, but the flamingo that we saw winging toward us turned out to be something else. A German tour guide told us it was a Scarlet Spoonbill. I will research. Wiki says it is a rosette spoonbill.


You can see the Bill. Obviously a spoon bill and not a flamingo.
So then, Juilo asked us where else we wanted to go. Would he take us up the East side of the island and back home the long way around? He certainly would. He named his price and off we went. What fun. That side of the island is pretty much unsettled. In fact, most of the island appears to be 20 foot high dense shrubs---- well, not jungle. It isn't so lush as a jungle. Not enough water. No big trees. Just little sticks of trees, but very closely crowed. In one area the sticks turned into closely packed 6 foot high palms of some kind. Every once in a while we would pass a swimming area with a bar and the occasional Rancho (a place for Tourists ride horses).

There are not very many beachs around the island. A lot of rock. I will research how the island was formed and place that here: Ok, everyone on the internets agree that Cozumel is flat (the highest point is only 45 feet) and that it is made of limestone and coral. But no one will tell me Why. So. I will guess. I think the entire area is old, shallow-water reefs. The coral builds up and forms flat limestone areas that are now exposed by rising land and lower sea levels. In fact, it is this flat geology in limestone that creates the Cenotes, the underground rivers that flow around Cozumel and the Yucatan mainland.

East side of the Island

About half way up the island, the road ends. Well, the shore road ends and you make a hard left into the mid island road. This is a perfectly straight road right across the middle of the island over to San Miguel. It goes past the road to the big Mayan Ruin and the place to do the Tequilla tour. I wonder if there is really a place that grows agave and makes tequilla there, or if it is just an excuse for a drunk tourist trap. All along here are what appear to be old abandonded cinderblok shacks. Some seem to suggest that they were an attempt at some sort of enterprise at one time. That one has some interesting statuary out frount, another has what might have been a stable. But most don't appear to be lived in. Is there water out here? I saw an old water pipe running down the side of the road for several miles. I'm not sure it looked like it could still be in use. I didn't see any power lines until we got closer into the town. And then we were in town and back at our hotel. Thanks for the ride, Julio. I hope you did better in money and tips with us than you would have with a bunch of short trips with other tourists (we certainly tried to make it worth his while, and he seemed happy when we said goodbye).

Hey, we made it back to the club in time for a late Lunch!!

Day 4 of Diving

Hey, things are changing around. People leaving (bye Connie and Gary) people coming in (Hello the loud drunk guys!!) and the Constant Vacation that is Cozumel just keeps rolling on. So many (quasi strange) things to do here on the island. All sorts of adventures and adult playgrounds are set up. Here is a partial list of the things we have seen (mainly from the Dive boat while we cruised up and down the coast).

1. Parasailing - speed boat pulls 1-3 people hung in seats below a parachute. Had a set of 3 go pretty much right over the boat.

2. Fury catamaran rides - big party boat catmaran. Sail up to the Cruise ships and get everyone on deck to perform YMCA.

3. Glass Bottom Boat. It looks sort of like it wants to be a submarine. But I am pretty sure it is just a glass bottomed boat that people get shuttled out to for a safe reef cruise.

4. Submarine. It looks sort of like it wants to be a glass bottom boat. I was thinking, oh that can't be a real sub. It's just supposed to look like one. It had a support boat on each side of it. One filling up with people from inside the sub, the other unloading and people gong on. Then Whoosh, Bubbles and Stuff and Son of A Bitch, it sunk!! I mean, safely submerged. The people we were with said it would cruise along the reef up to a depth of 200 feet. They knew all about it because they are Canadians. The sub was made in Canada.

5. Rent a Jeep. Shoot, rent a herd of Jeeps. Everyone is doing it.

6. Mass Snorkle Tour. Get 50 people. Give them all Mask Fins Snorkle and a life vest. Sail or motor or any boat your can find to take them out to some random place and dump them in the water. Then play snorkler cowboy and keep the herd together.

7. Modern Warrior Aquatic Challenge Course. Unclear if this was for adults or just for kids. An assortment of inflated structures floating just off shore of a big resort. Stairs and Slide. Walk the Plank. Climb the rope ladder. Balance on the ball.

8. Drink Challenge - this activity is all over the island. Just raise a hand and say "Cervesa" and see what happens.

9. Swim with Dolphins. There was a .... resort? Attraction? It looked like you were entering the lobby of a hotel but it closed at 5:00. It offered the "Swim with the Dolphins" experience. Right there in the saltwater pool on the other side of the lobby. I took a picture through a little hole in the wall from the street. Trust me, there were Dolphins in that pool.

Swim With Dolphins Experience

10. Scuba off the pier. Lots of people doing that at our club. That is because one of the perks of staying here is free shore dives. Really that just means you can borrow a tank whenever you want to and get free air fills.

But, we are doing diving. Today we are on a different boat, the Reef Star. This is a much bigger boat than the CAT. It has the scuba tank holders rigged on the side of the boat, which makes it easier to get into your gear. It also has a nicer Head. When we were diving in Hawaii, and you really needed to go, you could just jump overboard (when the boat was anchored) and swim around a bit. You can't really do that when you are drift diving because the engine is going so much of the time. So you have to go below and figure out the marine head. Just a lot nicer on Reef Star...

Up on the second level of the Reef Star. The Captain is one more flight up.

We headed way down South again today, to the border between Columbia and Palancar reefs. We are doing the caves there. I think this is the same caves that we did the other day, except today we are doing them from North going South. And why can we do this? Because there is no current today. No Drift Dive at this site today (well, some drift, just slow, we didn't anchor and come back to the boat but instead the boat followed along above us). Also, we had NO GEAR failures!!

We dropped down to 50 feet. Then everyone got together and got our ears working and then we set off single file. We dropped down another 20 feet and then along the ledge and through a bunch of steep little canyons and arches and caves. It is really cool to be floating through a little cavern and then look up through a hole in the roof. 80 feet up to sunlight. Or to look through a rift on the right, out over the ledge and out into blue water. How Blue? Tony says the drop is 4 miles. He says it is one of the deepest trenches in the world. Time for a fact check: Ok, maybe 2000 feet. Will do more research later. (my partner's brief research says 400 meters)

However, still enough to kill you dead if you go down that way. So don't.

Pretty Girls everywhere in Cozumel

On the Wall

Barracuda. Like 2-3 feet. Big for what we saw but not big in general.
Not only did we not have equipment failure today, we had equipment success!! We finally got our GoPro to operate correctly. Got the battery charged and got it out there and took some pictures. So I can show you what we saw. Isn't that cool? These pictures are not great, but they are good enough that it makes me want to go and get a better camera...

It seems like a camera can never really show what you are seeing down there. The range of light and depth and awesomeness just doesn't translate. But. It is something to jog one's memory.

Balloon Fish
60 foot selfie

I love these sponges.


There is a Huge crab in that sponge. Take my word for it.
Exiting a cave into the light

A little family of Spiny Lobster. That guy has a flashlight
My partner and I had a really good safety stop this time up. And then we got to bob in the water for a long bit before the boat came after us. But you don't really feel abandoned, there are a lot of boats tooling around picking up other divers, and everyone seems to be very alert to the fact that people are in the water. It probably wouldn't be good for business to be running over the customers of the competition.

A Trip into Town

In the afternoons, if we weren't just laying around in the hammocks enjoying the view of the passing cruise ships, we would go for a walk. Two directions to go, into town or out of town. We usually went into town. San Miguel is the only real town on the island. It is a strange mixture of two streets of tourist traps surrounded by less impressive construction where the locals live. Once again the cinder block construction is everywhere. Along the main street and perhaps a block off you have shops and stores and the occasional hidden hotel front (like that Scuba Hostel sitting right on the street). Most people that come as tourists don't bring cars, so the hotels don't seem to require much parking area. They can just be hanging out there on the street with no car entrance.
Downtown San Miguel

If you are staying someplace for a week, invariably you are going to need some little things to make life more comfortable. Perhaps some snacks or cold drinks. Perhaps a sun shirt. Perhaps a pair of flip flops. Perhaps some anti-itch lotion for those sand flea bites you picked up whilst sitting in those hammocks. Whatever the reason. It's nice to have a store close by.

It turns out there are two Mega stores (like big huge stores with everything. Think Walmart only nicer) just a couple of blocks from our resort. Two big stores on the island and they are both like a block from each other. Well. Take your pick.

My partner and I like going into stores like this in foreign lands. It is interesting to see both the things that are the same as the US and the things that are different. I remember we had a good time in the Walmart in Shanghai, for instance.
So what was unusual about these stores other than everything being in Spanish?
  • You had to check your bag at the door. Not a big deal, but unusual for a Walmart or a Fred Meyer.
  • The food area wasn't too different from the states. Lots of good produce (some unknown to me) and bread and such. 
  • The Egg section was much bigger than in the US. All of the eggs were on flats (not by the dozen but more by the 20 or so) and they were all the same (no different brands or "free range" options the I saw). And they were all out on the floor. Not Refrigerated.
  • The Beer Section. You hear a lot about Cerveza in the US and you think that it would be a big section in a Mexican store that is frequented by foreigners. But the beer section was tiny. See the picture. Less than a quarter of the space that would be seen in a grocery store in Portland. The Tequila section was bigger than the beer section. Of course, it may have been local tequila but it wasn't local beer (no local beer. Closest thing may have been Sol).
Unknown Fruit

Big Egg Section. Not Refrigerated.

The entire Beer section. Also not refrigerated.

Day 5 Diving

Our last day of diving. We are going to be flying out tomorrow, so we want to have all of our deep diving done 24 hours in advance of getting on a plane or we will swell up and die. Ok. I am joking. Here is the deal. The Dive Tables that are used for predicting and preventing the bends are based pretty much solely on studies done on people diving in the ocean and starting at ambient sea level pressure. If you change your pressure starting point, like by getting onto a plane and flying up into the sky, then you invalidate the dive tables. Not a whole lot of good research has been done on this (since this particular kind of research is frowned upon by polite society) and so the Powers That Be (the nice people at PADI) probably err on the safe side and say that you should just NOT do any diving for 24 hours before you get on a plane.  Fair enough.  (Editor's note; not just PADI, but NAUI and DAN and everyone else says don't dive within 24 hours of flying).

Not only was this our last day, it was probably our best Day of diving as well. We were dialed in. Our equipment was dialed in (that is, my partner had her mask fixed and I remembered to hold onto my weight belt on entry) the visibility was great and the current was minimal (at least on the first dive). We went to the far south to the Palancar Caves again on the first dive. We did a wonderful series of like 5 swim throughs at around 70 feet. It was gorgeous and all of us got to swim through this time. After going through the last cave, we came back up over the reef into 40 or 50 feet of water and hung out for a bit. What a great dive.


Really? We are going under there?

I guess so

For our second dive we went out on the North side of the commercial ferry pier. We thought we were going to be looking for sea turtles. There is some current. We are floating along a gentle slope at around 50 feet. Then our dive master starts acting a bit.... unusual. He is clearly looking for something on the bottom. I thought someone had dropped a camera or something, but he was a little bit out in the lead when he started looking, so how would some equipment get there. Then he is staying in the same area and I go floating past him. I swim to catch up and then the second group, with a bunch of photographers, comes floating into the area and now EVERYONE is looking for something. BUT WHAT ARE THEY (WE) LOOKING FOR. I have no idea.

Trigger Fish

After 5 minutes of this, there is some commotion amongst the photographers and everyone tries to jam around this one little rock. Tony goes and looks and gets very excited. He found what he is after. He waves to me and my partner to come take a look. And we do. It is a seahorse, maybe six inches tall holding on to some grass down underneath a rock. He pulls my partner over (she has the camera) and points it out to her and she gets a shot. To tell the truth, it was hard to see the thing with your eyes, so with a camera it didn't turn out so good. I wonder if the guys with the multi-thousand dollar camera rigs got any good shots.

Camera Guys going after the sea horse

That might be the seahorse. Maybe
During the 3 minute safety stop my partner found an interesting Jelly (A spot winged comb jelly) hovering at 15 feet. It is a 4 sided thing with 4 circular spot ("eyes") that she said had wild bio-lumenescent lights running up and down the sides. Got a picture of that too.

Spot Winged Comb Jelly. And Sister
Let's wrap this up.
Ok. Diving is over. Our visit is almost over. We have one last big and important thing that we need to take care of. 


The local works, running the hotel and the restaurant and the dive boats, all live pretty much on Tips. The resort goes a long way to explain this and give advice and recommended amounts and such. They also provide envelopes for you to write your name, the name of the Tippee and enclose the amount (in cash). They let you do this as you leave so you only have to do it once. However, this means that you have to keep track (a little) of the different people that helped you that you may want to reward. For us, it meant that we had two different boats and crews to tip. But we really only had the one Dive Master (go Tony) and wait staff. Still, we had 5 or 6 envelopes to stuff with the right amount of cash. We had a mixture of dollars and peso left over from our trip (and some that had been specifically set aside because we knew this activity was looming). We made up our lists and stuffed our envelopes. I sure hope that what we gave made people happy. We were certainly happy with the service. The moral here is don't forget that you will have to add a couple of hundred dollars to your trip and have that in cash at the end of the vacation. 

Bug Bites.

On the forth or fifth day, I started having bug bites show up. I had a bunch on my face (like 12) and also on my legs and hands. What in the hell was biting me? I was thinking Bed Bugs, since some of the bites were in a line, but my partner was right beside me and she didn't get any bites. Of course, all of the other places I was during the week she was also right beside me and yet still I was the one that got eaten. (I did get some itchy bites as well, but only around my ankles, and only a few) When we go to South Carolina, she usually gets the mosquitos. So what is going on? Well. Unclear. My best guess is that they were sand flea bites and everyone got them (from sitting out on the beach) but I was the only person that was allergic to them. It is a week after the trip and I still haven't gotten rid of all of those suckers yet. On the last dive, I also got tagged by something in the water. It burned like I had bumped into Fire Coral (and yes, I have done that before). Best guess on that is something called a stinging hydroid. It left a nasty 5 inch welt on my leg. That is also still healing.

From Wikipedia: