10 Days, 9 Hours, 19 Minutes, 6 seconds…
…Not everyone times their vacations to the second, but that’s what the parking ticket had on it as I picked up the car at DFW’s south shuttle airport after returning from another wonderful time on Isla Cozumel.
Home again from home, this year’s adventure was truly all about diving for me; I went out every day but one on this trip. My poor wife still recovering from what is medically described as a "giant" ulcer, had to lie out a couple of days from diving, but didn’t let it ruin it for her.
Day 1, Friday, April 25-
American Airlines flight 367 arrives on time after a short smooth two and a half hour jaunt from Dallas to Cozumel. We make it through customs, go to the taxi window and buy a one-way transfer to ‘Casa Sharky", otherwise known as the Hotel Caribe Blu, where we are welcomed with a warm greeting and promptly given the keys to the room with the octopus icon on the floor. All the rooms at Caribe Blu have sea animal icons cut into the concrete floor, made of smooth river rocks, like a small mosaic.
We get our first look at the newly built "sting ray encounter" enclosure, it's huge! Good for the rays I guess, but it seems to have taken up quite a bit of what used to be the beginning of a pretty good shore dive. We are told by Jeanie that it almost makes it better for shore diving because it gives you a better bearing as to where to head south at the beginning of the dive and a big landmark to spot on the way back.
I make a note of the daily cruise ship inventory, 2 today, 1 downtown, (DT) and one at the International Pier (IP). I’m not sure why I keep track of it, but I’ve made the notes in my travel journal since 2002 of the daily cruise ship stops to Cozumel, maybe the info will come in handy one day. There were definitely more Carnival ships in port than any others on this trip.
After lunch at Rendez Blu the little restaurant on top of Blue Angel dive shop, we unpacked the gear and suited up for an equipment check shore dive off Caribe Blu.
Things did not start off well; Lore had just purchased a new Atomic low profile mask as her old mask gave up the ghost the previous year. The mask comes in 2 sizes and apparently, the sales guy gave her the larger mask because she couldn’t even make the thing seal to her face at all.
A quick shout to Martin at the dive shop and a rental mask was defogged and brought right to her, straight away. So we finally drop down and get a good look from below at the stingray enclosure next door. I only got to see one of the rays in the tank during our short dive.
We made our way around the end of the enclosure and tried swimming south against the current towards Villablanca shallows, but the current proved to be too much and since we didn’t want to have to walk back from downtown with our gear on our backs, we packed it in making for a successful equipment check, however a short dive.
Lore did find a huge fire worm on the way back; it must have been 5 inches long. I usually find them closer to 1" and I got a shot of a small puffer cruising by.
Fireworm at Caribe Blu
A little leisure time, a quick clean up, and we are off to downtown San Miguel for diner at one of Cozumel’s oldest and most loved restaurants, Casa Denis.
The best mango margaritas in town, 2 of those por favor! Chicken tostadas for me, and the house’s cream spinach soup, her favorite, and a shrimp cocktail for the Mrs. The tostadas were very tasty, fresh white meat chicken on crispy corn tortillas, topped with fresh crunchy lettuce, white cheese and a dollop of sour cream.
A quick stop at Chedraui, the local "Wal-Mart" for supplies and it’s back home to get a good nights sleep for the first day of boat diving.
Day 2, Saturday, April 26 –
My new dive day routine, wake up around 6:30a.m., take a seasick pill…try to focus…brush teeth…try to focus…take Sudafed & benedryl. Open curtains, look outside, see if any cruise ships are arriving yet, look for by buddy the pelican that stops by every morning to land on one of the pool’s palapas…try to focus…plug batteries into charger and get out camera equipment…try to focus…get some yogurt and granola for breakfast and sit on the patio setting up my camera equipment…did I mention, try to focus.
The morning activities are just beginning, early bird scuba boats like Dive with Martin’s Anna Maria, an old friend, zipps by. "Pilito" as we call him in our gringo spanish, the harbor master Pilot boat awaits the arrival of the first of 3 cruise ships to visit the island on this sunny Saturday. I think there are actually 3 pilot boats, the smallest one we call "Pequeno Piloto", Little Pilot, we, of course, mispronounce it as "pequito polito", it just rolls off the tongue better.
The cabin cruiser sized fishing boats lumber their way out to the open sea channel between Coz and the Yucatan coastline known as the Mayan Riviera. Hmm, maybe grouper for diner!
The little sparrow sized swallows for which the island’s name was derived from; The Mayan words, Cuzam for "swallow" and Lumil for "land of"; buzz about in the morning air.
I manage to get the eyes to work the best they do nowadays, "Don't get old", that's my advice. I rouse the boss and pack the dry bag, mesh scuba equipment bag and soft side cooler I use to keep my camera in. Yes, at first it does look like we are moving into the dive boat, but after everything is set up, the rest fits nicely in the boat stowaways under the seats.
By 8:00a.m. we are as awake as we’re going to get at this time of day, neither of us are morning people, and head down to the dive shop area, wet suits donned to the waist, t-shirt or tank top cover-up and booties or "Locals", our Hawaiian flip flops on the feet. Note to self, get back to Hawaii to get new Locals…Good as an excuse as any!
Today we're diving onboard the 6-pack, as we call them, "Jibara" with an 8:30a.m. cast off. The boats will actually take up to 8 divers and 2 crewmembers, (Dive Master or DM and Captain, need someone to drive the thing).
Speaking of DM’s it’s one of my favorites, Matt or Mateo as they call him here, the Chicago transplant, and a homeboy, being an Illinois native myself.
First stop, Palancar Horseshoe, one of the 4 Palancar dive sites on Cozumel. Starting with the northern most one Palancar Gardens, ¾ of the way down the island along the channel side or the resort side if you will. Horseshoe is next, followed by Palancar Caves and finally Bricks at the south. Palancar Bricks is named for the actual bricks still found scattered about from a shipwreck back in the ‘50’s.
The general idea for this dive is drop down in the sandy bottom of the natural u-shaped coral formation from which the site gets its name, from at around 40’ and then move down the sandy slope to the wall.
Currents this entire trip were stronger than I have usually experienced this time of year although all the local dive people said that odd currents were normal for this time of year.
One of the first things we encounter after dropping to the wall and swimming in and out of the crevices fingering their way out into the deep blue, is a tube sponge spawning. By the time I got positioned in the current I didn’t get a real good shot of it, but did manage to snap a couple.
We saw a couple of hawksbill turtles, one of them was huge! On this trip I saw the largest hawksbills I’ve ever seen on many of our dives. One or two to rival some of the Green sea turtles I’ve seen in Hawaii.
Several barracuda float by, along with us in the current. Blue midnight parrotfish in large schools zip over the reef and blue chromis are everywhere.
This reef, like almost all the dive sites this year, seemed to have more sand on them than they did last year, I’m sure it’s due to the current, current conditions. Sand was blowing around everywhere, making photography very difficult.
A couple of years ago the Cozumel diving community lost one of its most beloved dive operator owners. Martin Aguilar Perera of Dive with Martin was a wonderful person who did a lot of charity works in the Caribbean community and his family has placed a plaque on Horseshoe in remembrance of him.
After a leisurely surface interval with Jibara puttering slowly back up the coastline to mid-island range, we drop down on Cedral Pass or Paso del Cedral, named for Cozumel’s original 100 year old city found a few miles inland from the new highway C-1.
Ok, so the current was a little strong at Horseshoe, now on Cedral it’s rippin’. Sand blowing through the water at times taking visibility down to 50’, it felt like a Topeka snowstorm. This from recent experience, my wife and I were in Topeka to visit her family for Christmas, this past year, when a blizzard hit.
The Saturday before Christmas it snowed 8" over the course of one afternoon. It was a new record for one-day snow falls for the city. Being from Northern Illinois, it was just another snow for me, but getting caught in a white out blizzard condition while trying to transverse the roads around Lake Shawnee was just a little unsettling.
A small school of barracuda cruised along with us for a while. We zipped by lots of large Gray, French and Queen angels, butterfly fish of different varieties, the ever-present blue chromis, grunts and snappers.
Quick note of the 4 cruise ships, 2 DT/ 2 IP, as we zip back to the dock of Caribe Blu.
Back on dry land, we head to the room to view the "dailies". I take the video out cord for my camera and plug it into the TV and put the TV on the 'AV' channel and I can review my daily photos right there in the room.
Then it was time for a light lunch at Papa Hog’s, Ice tea and split a plat of mixed nachos. Enough to hold us over for the evening’s treat of the newest "high end" restaurant on Cozumel, Kinta, owned by Kris Wallenta, the former chef of one of our other favorite haunts Guito’s.
Lunch was very relaxing, we kicked back and watched the boat people chug by on the dune buggy island tour and the endless daily parade of scuba shop vehicles and taxi cabs, each having to slow to a near stop to go over the combination road hump and cross walk. We noticed the crew of the newly opened Scuba Mau, walking back and forth across the street from their office directly under Papa Hog's over to the piers across the street.
Scuba Mau is owned by former Blue Angel employees and has just gotten off the ground. It will be interesting to see how things work out, with them starting a new shop in a low season when there is already so much competition.
A little sun time, beach combing and it was time to get cleaned up for diner.
As I mentioned Kinta is Cozumel’s latest offering for the foodies out there. Upscale versions of Yucatan traditional meals, is how I would describe it. I had a glass of red with the "Porki pipian", tender sliced pork tenderloin medallions in a fig reductions sauce, awesome, just awesome. Lore a glass of white and the Shrimp in a chipotle tamarind sauce.
The house specialty, an amazing bread pudding and decaf cappuccinos for dessert. It was so impressive we made a reservation for the following Friday on the way out. I would highly recommend making a reservation, the place is very small, maybe 6 tables inside and possibly 8 out on the patio, which has a bit of an Asian feel to it.
Day 3, Sunday, April 27 –
No cruise ships on Sunday, seems like it's always been that way.
Pelican at Caribe Blu.
Do the morning routine…focus, focus, focus…Oh! By the way, I forgot that the water works as a lens and everything is magnified underwater, so I discovered another pleasure of diving, seeing pretty close to normal again.
I had purchased a set of Dive Optix mask inserts for this trip in anticipation of not being able to see my camera settings. The little reading glasses inserts stick to the inside of you mask and work like bifocals. They worked very well when I called upon them and in my Cressi ‘Big Eyes’ mask, they were well out of they way when I didn’t need the extra boost.
So day 2 of boat diving, and once again we are with Matt aboard Jibara. First stop, Santa Rosa wall.
Santa Rosa is one of the great classic wall dives, a must-do of the many must-do dives on Cozumel. Like most wall dives you drop down over the shallows to about 40’ and swim to the edge of the reef. From there you can go as deep as your dive profile will allow. Usually drifting south to north the reef wall to your right and the deep blue dropping off to your left.
I drifted along between 65-75’ usually with most of the dive group below me. Currents again were quite odd, changing directions and speed and at times completely disappearing. Visibility was better than the yesterday, which helps quite a bit.
We spy another one of those huge hawksbills, several small, (I call a 2’ grouper small), groupers of different types float along and past. This is when we start to notice the angels, very large French and Gray angels in particular, but even the Queens had good size to them.
Another leisurely surface interval and it’s Yucab for the second tank.
Yucab is a shallow reef dive over a low-rise garden reef, perfect for the underwater photographer and fish spotters alike.
Current was almost non-existent, and the reef was teeming with life. Schools of grunts, snapper, blue chromis and midnight parrotfish dart about. Soft corals, hard corals and sponges dot the landscape, with black coral branches everywhere. The soft branch corals and the occasional sea fan floating back and forth in the gentle breeze like current.
The loss of sea fans were probably hurricane Wilma’s biggest devastation to the reefs, but they are trying to make a comeback, although the ones’ I did see this year seemed to have some kind of algae growing on them and I only saw one, count ‘em, one flamingo tongue on he entire trip.
I take advantage of the first real good vis and low current to search for little critters. Christmas tree tube fans poke their little fuzzy bodies out of coral head along with the occasional blenny. I spy a small spotted yellow moray eel, again the angels are out in numbers. Then one of the dive group, Karen from Austin, I believe if was, is waving to get my attention and is holding up 8 fingers…8?…Octo?
Sure enough, backed up against a small coral head and thinking about scooting further back into it is an octopus.
I think because we always have a hard time working night dives into our scheme, I have only seen 2 others in all my years on Coz, one zipped out of the plane over to a coral head at Airplane Flats, off La Ceiba, (El Cid), one sunny day and the other someone found on Columbia Shallows a couple years back, but he was so far back in the coral you could only see his inquisitive eye looking out at you.
This fine fellow, or lady, was still mostly out in the open and I managed to get a shot off before he backed up into his little cubbyhole where I took one more pic before continuing with my explorations.
Octopus at Yucab.
I came across a red sponge covered with brittle sea stars that made a nice photo and a huge lobster on a morning walk seemed to pay little attention to anyone coming in for a closer look.
A little relaxation time and it was time for a late lunch at another long time Coz favorite, Ernesto’s Fajita Factory. A pitcher of margaritas, shrimp quesadillas for her and the Cozmelino plato, mixed Mexican food plate for me.
We just sat in the open air restaurant watching the traffic pass by on each side of us, to one side boats, to the other, cabs, mopeds, jeeps, dune buggies and delivery trucks.
Eventually we moseyed back up the road to Caribe Blu and got cleaned up to go downtown.
Sunday night is fiesta night at the town square, live music is played and entire families show up for the festivities. We arrived a little late, but walked around for a while and did a little shopping. Eventually deciding we were hungry again and ended up at Palmero.
Located right on the Ave. Melgar, just in front of the ferry pier, a prominent piece of the landscape on "The Plaza" and another long time Cozumel establishment, this was our first time to eat there for some reason.
It was getting late for a big diner so we split a Caesar’s salad & club sandwich over ice teas and again people watched.
Day 4, Monday, April 28 –
No ships on Monday? This is a new concept.
Lore’s recovering stomach decided to give her a hard time for the first of several nights, so we decided to opt out of diving for the day and get out and about.
After sleeping in a bit, we walked the short mile to town and had a late breakfast at Jeanie’s Waffle House. Another glorious day, not very hot, low humidity knocked down by a cool breeze off the ocean & the occasional cloud to cool things off just about the time you think you might be getting a little too warm.
Eel shower at Jeanie's.
Lore had the pecan waffle, one big fluffy sweet tasting waffle filled with crunchy pecans, the state nut of Texas! The waffle was so sweet on it’s own it didn’t need syrup.
I had the Americano, 2 scrambled farm fresh tasting eggs, a big plate of fresh fruit, hash browns, coffee & o.j., very good. The service was exceptional, the waiter took very good care of us, and thus, we took very good care of him. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
After breakfast it was just a short walk to the No-Name Internet place to make sure everything was cool at home, it apparently was, no emergency e-mails from work or the home front.
Then just a couple steps away also located in the building that houses the Hotel Barracuda, is Less-Pay car rental. We have been using Less-Pay for several years and although you are not going to get the most fancy vehicle on the island, you will get a good deal.
$45 per day for a Geo Trekker, price includes car, all insurance and taxes. The Trekker is the perfect car for 2 people on Coz if you are not interested in air conditioning. The little jeep is small enough to park and maneuver through the ever increasing traffic of downtown, but large enough to stick your scuba gear and tanks in to go make a shore dive somewhere.
Looking across the street we notice a construction site with a very large steel frame building being erected on the site of the old electric company grounds. I ask the guy at Less-Pay what’s going up he just kind of shrugged and said "supermarket".
Lore and I looked at each other and had the exact same thought, "Wal-Mart". Hey, they over in Playa del Carmen, why not here. Turns out it is a Mexican store chain, much like Wal-Mart and although the location is quite in your face, a lot of people I have heard from since like the idea of the store moving in as they are not really too happy with Chedraui’s services.
We got the "jeep" and Lore wanted to find a colorful t-shirt so we went to one of our little souvenir shops we have frequented in the past that makes hand made T’s. Lore was found just what she was looking for and a Coz ball cap and silver necklace with a turquoise pendant to boot. It is what girls call a "good shopping day".
Jumping in the jeep we head south out of town and the hotel zone to where the new highway and the old beach road split, we take the beach road.
The old beach road as we call it was the road for many years, it runs adjacent to Chankanaab Park on the land side and ends up running right along the water line pretty much from there until it meets up again and runs parallel to the new C-1 at the newly renamed Wyndam, formerly the Reef Club.
Passing the mangroves to the left of the road I notice they are pretty much dried up, this is the first sign that the rainy season needs to get here pretty soon. The second sign was a bit more disturbing and just a few miles down the road.
We stayed on the old road so we could drive slow and look for flora and fauna along the road to Punta Sur, (south point).
Now I have written many times in my trip reports about the old Ceiba tree at the southern end of the island. We call him simply "Tree" out of a funny story passed on by my buddy Gordon Gunn from Austin, Texas that I won’t drag you through again.
Tree is like family to us, it is, to me, the symbol of Cozumel; it should be on the crest with the swallows.
Anyway, Tree looks like hell! He has lost at least 85% of his foliage, the island must be in a serious drought awaiting June and the rain. One good thing about it is all the weeds that usually surround Tree are gone and you can actually walk up to him and really get a feel for the girth of this giant.
"Tree" needs water!!
Lore took a picture of me with my arms stretched out standing in front of the trunk and it was almost as wide as my wingspan…I’m nearly 6’-4" tall.
The massive trunk of the old guy.
After going through our usual "Ooos" and "Ahhs" and marveling at how old he must be, be continue south to Punta Sur, stop at Rasta’s for refreshments and continue the circumference of the island.
No stopping at Coconut’s or any of the other beach restaurants along the Caribbean side today, just a "Sunday drive" to break things up.
Back at the hotel we had lunch at Rendez Blu, I ordered chicken tacos and asked for them on corn tortillas, like they should be, (some places have started to cater to the average American pallet and serve their tacos on flower tortillas rather then the traditional corn), and ended up with a big chicken burrito with a spicy salsa verde on it, a very tasty mistake. Lore had the grilled chicken sandwich with fries.
Then we headed to the pool, her to work on a Steven King offering, he creeps me out. I opted for the more traditional vacation oriented sport of beach combing and found a couple pristine cowry shells for the old collection and a some broken shells that I plan to photograph and use for educational purposes at the Dallas Aquarium at Fair Park where I volunteer.
For diner we ran up to Guito’s and ordered their 4 seasons pizza and house salad to go and sat on our balcony and enjoyed the cool evening.
Day 5, Tuesday, April 29-
Focus, focus, focus…Dive.
2 ships, one up, one down.
This morning it’s divemaster Jose’ aboard what I believe is one of the fastest boats on Cozumel, Chiquimax. I have seen boats that are considered "fast boats" leave as much as 10 minutes before us to head out to the reef and Chiquimax will pass them before they get half way to the island to the Palancars.
Mike Buscher, who manages the Hotel Caribe Blu with his wife Jeanie was along for the dive with his brother visiting from Missouri, actually Mike’s 3 brothers and nephew were visiting, but brother Bob was the only other certified member of the family.
Speaking of the Palancars, it’s Palancar Bricks for the first dive. Bricks is the southern most of the four Palancar dives and is very pretty.
Tall coral pinnacles rise from the reef drop off giving it more of a cathedral feel than a sheer wall. I guess this kind of appropriate considering Jose is a priest. Hey, never hurts to have a priest along.
I found one of only two scorpion fish I would find on this trip, last year they were everywhere. Some of the other divers said they saw some juvenile scorps, but they eluded me.
I found a gold loop earring in the sand while poking around for Nudibrach and pipefish at the edge of a swim-thru…whoo hoo! Sunken treasure!!
Then, after a very short surface interval, it was off to a dive site that it’s self is a surface interval and what could easily be one of my favorite top 3 dive sites, Columbia Shallows. I could dive Columbia Shallows every day.
Shallows is just what the name implies, shallow, "If you want to go below 30’, you better bring a shovel." as Mateo puts it.
The site is made up of scattered coral heads of various sizes from the size of a bowling ball to the size of an average living room, covered with shallow growing corals, sponges and algae and teeming with fish.
Christmas tree and fan tubes and blennies poke their little heads out of their coral fortresses. Large schools of grunts and sweet lips hang close to the coral heads and part as you swim through them. The little yellow spotted stingrays are all about and around every corner is photo op in the abundant light.
Visibility wasn’t was it could be, actually a bit murky at times, but there had already been several dive groups go through that morning.
We spend a mere 1hour and 19 minutes on the reef, felt more like just the 20 minutes, but even at 27’, your air supply eventually runs out or fatigue or chill set in. I’d love to get a good nights sleep and do a double tank on this reef someday.
The only Flamingo Tongue of the trip.
After the daily rinse routine and a view of the dailies, it was off to Cozumel’s "wild side" to one of its "wild places".
Coconuts sits on the highest natural elevation on Cozumel, at least I haven’t seen any natural elevation that higher than the cliffs over looking the Caribbean Sea that this crazy little restaurant/bar sits on top of.
Coconuts is know for its "family albums", a very large collection of photo albums of women that have removed their tops, usually after one too many of their infamous margaritas. I personally have never been there when this madness happens, darn the bad luck, but the evidence speaks for it’s self.
We ran into a couple of the weeks diving buddies, Lee and Karen are from Austin, Texas, and Lee is a full-time Lt. Colonel in the Texas National Guard and at the moment is caught up in a game of trying to hook a ring that is on a string, (poet and don’t know it), on a hook on the wall by swinging it pendulum like to the hook…seems simple enough. Fortunately for me it’s not as easy as it looks, because the prize for making the hook is a shot of tequila, my margarita has plenty, thanks.
Speaking of margaritas, and the such, this is the type of place that my ol’ pal Jimmy Buffet would hang out at, not that commercial place over along the Melgar that bears his name, in fact I’ve often referred to this place as "My Margaritaville."
We order up a couple of the lime concoctions, Lore has shrimp quesadillas and I order the fish burger, by far the best grilled fish sandwich I’ve ever had.
The four of us were just about to exit when Big Mike and his brothers come walking up the limestone steps. That did it, game over; we ended up shutting the place down. Of course, Coconuts doesn’t have electricity and has to close at sundown, so it isn’t quite as bad as it sounds.
Day 6, Wednesday, April 30- what!? The trip’s half over already? Say it ain't so!!
3 cruise ships in port, 2 Carnivals D.T. and Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Sea at the I.P.
Lore wasn’t feeling well again so it was DM Jose as my dive partner for the day, diving off of Jibara again.
This was the smoothest the ocean had looked in the morning this trip and I was excited with the prospect of good visibility on the reef. First stop of the day, Palancar Gardens, the northern most of the 4 Palancar dives.
"Gardens" is another one of those dives that inspire wonder; it pretty much has it all. Tall pinnacles, numerous swim-thrus and crevices to explore, lots of sea life, both large and small and the full array of corals and sponges Cozumel has to offer, simply, it is a garden.
We are guided over the edge of the wall by 18" parrotfish and I soon run across anemones and a large king crab backed up under a shelf. At the lower depths, Deep Water Sea Fans hung thick along the wall, stretching their boney fingers to the deep blue beyond. I bottomed out at 77’, Jose’s dive profile went deeper, but I chose to cut my own path a bit above most of the group.
Just as we came up to the shallow sandy bottom to begin our safety stop, we ran across 2 southern stingrays buried in the sand. Both took off with streamers of sand running off their bodies as I approached to get a pic.
Another surface interval and off to San Francisco reef.
San Francisco can be done as either a first or second dive, although I believe most people do the shallower version as a second dive. I was anxious to get back to S.F. because last year this was our last dive of the trip and we found no less than 3 splendid toadfish, only found in Cozumel waters, none were to be seen today.
This is what we would be doing today, zipping along in stronger than normal current over the top of the reef, occasionally dropping down in the little valleys and openings in the reef to hunt for critters hanging out under the overhangs or perhaps to find a sleeping nurse shark or large grouper with a big green moray eel as a diner companion.
The 2 animals often share an outcrop or small cave to feed off each other’s meals. I'm not sure which benefits the most, but the relationship seems to work.
I spy the most anemone I have seen to date and then, there she is, a 4 and half foot plus green moray laying in the sand along a coral shelf. As usual, I’m one of the last in the group and am able to get off several shots when I notice the eel has a deformed lower jaw, interesting information for future dives on this site. Then I see his buddy, and I take a couple of shots of the 2-foot long grouper as well.
Moray eel with deformed jaw.
More anemones, a very large puffer, a couple of lobsters and one of only 2 scorpion fish I saw on the trip.
The weather had changed quite a bit over the course of the morning, the blue skies in the south had been giving way to grey and the wind had picked up quite a bit and was causing white caps to start to pitch in the dark blue waters to the east.
After lunch at Papa Hog’s of Chicken tacos for me, Southwestern quesadillas for her and iced tea for both, we jumped in the jeep and headed south to see if any of those morning clouds had actually produced some much needed water for the island.
Just north of Fiesta Americana we encountered wet roads and when we reached the mangroves on the ‘S’ curves just up the road, we noticed that they were no longer completely dry, although still not at a level acceptable for good nursery habitat which many fish rely on in the spring.
Some more p.m. relaxation time and we got cleaned up to meet our new buds, Lee and Karen for diner at El Moro.
Ok, I don’t know what rock we’ve been under, but we have never been to El Moro in a dozen years of visiting the island.
A shocking statement to all "old timers" of the Cozumel diving community I’m sure, because this little restaurant tucked back in a neighborhood, behind the gas station that sits at the beginning of the trans-island highway, has been a long time favorite of divers for years.
Lore had by suggestion the "shrimp on a wire", a fire grilled shrimp kabob and I had the Mayan pork chop, I’m not exactly sure why the Maya departed from their cities, but I don’t think it was because of bad food. Possibly lack of it, but I have had several meals, in Mexico and here at home in Texas that claim to be Mayan recipes or Mayan influenced, and I have loved them all.
Us with Lee & Karen from Austin at El Moro
A couple of margaritas and some good conversation made for a very nice evening.
Lee and Karen’s last full day on the island was the following day and they we going to opt out of diving, but invited us to send them off the next evening at "the Casino" restaurant for mojitos, the lime and mint rum concoction from Cuba. Sounds like a date.
Day 7, Thursday, May 1 –
No ships on Thursday…remember?
Morning dive for me with Jose aboard the Blue Angel II, first stop Palancar Caves, this would make all four Palancar dives for me on this trip.
There aren’t really caves at Palancar Caves, but large swim-thrus and tunnels where the coral pinnacles have grown together or possibly been eroded out by time.
Finally, the currents have subsided and the vis is much more back to what I call normal. Although many people have commented that the odd currents and low vis are not unusually for this time of year, it is not what I have experienced at this time of year.
We spot a couple of hawksbill turtles along the way, I find a large red scallop in the coral and a small fire scallop backed way back into a hole.
Beautiful red scallop
Sarah and Nick, the retired university professors from Massachusetts help spot a couple small eels as angels and parrot fish zip about trying to avoid my lens.
We kept wondering why the lady from Massachusetts could speak Spanish better than anyone on the boat, turns out Sarah used to teach Spanish.
I run across a king crab and Jose finds a small fire worm amongst the algae and seaweed on a small piece of coral.
Then it was off to my first of 2 visits to Tormentos on this trip.
The current was very slow on Tormentos and likewise the visibility was much more close to normal. The reef is a shallow reef line between the shore and the reef wall drop off, surrounded by a sandy bottom, teeming with fish of all colors and sizes.
Small grouper abound, again, I call a 2’ grouper "small" as some can max out at over 5’ and weigh more than 300 lbs. when fully grown. I see arrow crabs, Christmas tree tubes and finally a splendid toadfish, but the most exciting find of all is a small coral head with several bunches of tube fans on it. All on full display and paying no mind to the big creature swimming all around it snapping as many pictures as I can before the dive team moves too far away.
After the "dailies" we were off to Rock-n-Java for lunch. Another one of our hangouts, Rock-n-Java is well known for it’s owner Lisa’s wonderful desserts, but you can get a fine meal there any time of day as well.
Lore had the pasta with Gorgonzola cheese and spinach and I had the teriyaki marinated chicken breast served over a bed of rice with Caribbean mango salsa, ice tea for 2, por favor.
Originally, today was the day we had planned to go to the Yucatan so I could get my Mayan fix by visiting the archeological site of Ek Balam, located just north of the peninsula city of Valladolid.
The diving had been going so well that we decided to put the Ek Balam trip off for now and do it on another trip, so I needed some sort of adventure to appease the above water explorer in me.
My lovely and patient wife agreed to a little adventure to Punta Norte, the "north point" of Cozumel Island.
Now, Punta Norte is not quite as accessible as Punta Sur, there is a road that goes up there, but it isn’t a highway…it’s not even paved!
Taking the Ave. Melgar north out of town the two-lane road that runs along the beachfront between the tourist shops and restaurants of downtown San Miguel and the ocean soon splits into a 4-lane road, (sort of) with a large boulevard between it that recently has been updated with new statues and Mayan temple mock-ups.
Just past the harbor, you come to some new high-rise condominiums and the north hotel zone and the Cozumel Country Club, with its neatly trimmed lawns of the Nicklaus designed golf course.
Immediately past the Country Club, the nice paved road gives way to sand, what we would call a gravel road back home, but a lot less dusty. Even at the slow 5-10 mile per hour rate on a gravel road back home on a dry dusty day it would be a big dusty mess. The sand being heavier than the fine dust that a typical gravel road produces, there was very little if any of a cloud to follow us down the road and catch up and engulf us if we decided to stop.
We pass the water treatment plant and the terrain takes a dramatic change, to the right the trees give way to what looks like a mangrove covered with some kind of ivy, and mean covered! Most of the vegetation that is under the ground cover, is pretty low-rise, maybe 6’ at the most above the ground, but every now and again a taller tree truck sticks up above the leafy carpet poking up like an Edward Scissorhand topiary.
Ed's been at it again.
Continuing down the moon like landscape trail, being lead the entire way by swallows swirling in and out of the valley created by the foliage on each side of the road, we spy a very pretty yellow and black finch and then, out of the bushes I see a little masked face.
Raccoon? On Coz? Yep it’s a raccoon! No, it’s 2 raccoons! My first reaction is that they are not raccoons at all but coatimundi, the South American version of the little bandit faced rodent, but after getting home and doing some research, I’m pretty sure they are a sub species of their U.S. cousins and not coatimundi at all.
Moving up the road we finally come to the sea once again, the sign reads welcome to the "Isla de Pasion", Island of Passion, which is a little islet just at the mouth of the natural bay. Most likely named by the Spanish from either deriving the Mayan name as in Cozumel, or from the fact that the Maya used to come here to perform their fertility rites.
The road opens up to the large natural bay of Laguna Ciega, on a map of Cozumel; it is the area that looks like someone took a big bite out of the island.
Fishing boats are tied up side by side or pulled to the shore waiting to be put into service. There are a few abandoned palapa roofed buildings in disrepair and a couple local families are hanging about, but for the most part the area is taken over by the turkey vultures and more raccoons.
8 to 10 of the little guys are going through the trashcans filling themselves with fish scraps and what they can find. Keeping one eye on me, they show little or no fear as I approach as close as my wife will allow for some photos.
Raccoonzez! On Cozumel?
When I get too near and 2 of them start walking towards me, I get summoned back to the car; I bet the guys at National Geographic don’t have that problem.
It was after 6:00pm and we not only had a appointment with some mojitos, but also had a bit of drive back to the paved road before the sun set in just one hour.
By the time we got back to town, the sun was setting, so we grabbed a quick snack in the room and got freshened up to meet Lee and Karen at the little side street restaurant/bar called the Casino.
Running late, as usual, we arrived at the Casino the same time our friends did, I love living on "island time". The Casino is located on Ave. 5 Sur, almost right between Prima’s and The French Quarter.
Lee introduced us to Alex the Cuban transplant and owner and we promptly ordered 3 mojitos and a cerveza for Lore as hard liquor was giving her stomach a bit of a hard time.
They were right; these were the best mojitos I’ve ever had. The mint was fresh, but not too prominent, rum subtle, but effective and the secret of making them with soda water rather than a clear soda pop like 7-UP or Sprite like a lot of places do here in the States.
I’m no mojito connoisseur, by any means, I may have only had 4 before this evening in my life, but I nursed 2 down over conversation and Lore helped with the third, agreeing that they were quite tasty.
We stopped by to see the where Lee and Karen were staying, it’s what those of who are regulars at Caribe Blu call Caribe Blu’s "other place".
Villas Los Anclas is a small, unassuming condominium complex just a few short doors from the Casino. The wrought iron security gate leads to a beautifully landscaped inner courtyard.
The apartment is set up in a loft arrangement with the bedroom and bath up top and a cozy living room and small kitchenette and dining area at the bottom of the spiral staircase.
Day 8, Friday, May 2-
One ship up, one ship down.
The day started off pretty good, focus, focus, focus, get set up to go diving. Lore opted for a day in the sun and a chance to finish Steven King, did I mention he creeps me out.
Again this morning the wind was up more than usual and white caps were noticeable out in the channel, could be a bumpy ride, little did I know.
We jump on board our old pal Chiquimax with Jorge doing the DM duties for the day. The dive boat consists of now regular faces to all, Randy and Michelle from Denver, retired professors, Nick and Sarah, and my buddy Rob the independent truck driver who has worked with the Skip Barber racing schools and most recently drove a rig for a man while he walked across the country to raise money for charity, he also happens to be a Deep Tech Scuba Instructor Trainer, with over 5000 dives.
Rob has been here for a month and a half and is going to be here for at least two more weeks…Rob is my hero! Jorge and of course the captain and I, fill out the crew.
On the ride out it’s the usual question, "Where do we go today my friends", someone brings up Chun-Chacaab.
Chun-Chacaab is located south of Punta Sur, it is number 22 of 23 numbered dive sites in the "Cozumel Guide dive & log book", by the way if don’t have one and dive in Cozumel, go get one. I wish all diving destinations had such a nice dive site description book.
What I’m trying to tell you is that Chun-Chacaab is just about the longest boat ride you can do without doing some of the advanced dives outside of the protection of the channel.
Jorge hesitates just a little and puts it to the vote; we get mostly yeses and a couple nervous OK’s. Mine is a 'Yes' vote... ignorance is blind. Jorge instructs the captain and we are on our way.
As we get closer and closer to the southern tip of the island the seas get choppier and choppier. We all start pulling up our wetsuits because of the over spray on the boat.
The worst only lasted a few minutes and must have been where the open sea currents meet those of the channel because we came out of the nearly 5-6’ swells into a choppy, but much more manageable sea as we approached the site.
I have heard of this site for years, but this would be my first opportunity to dive it. It was worth the boat ride.
We all quickly suiting up we all flopped overboard and dropped down to the reef.
This dive site is different than most we dive on Coz; it is made of a series of coral ridges that run parallel to each other with the current generally running the length of the ridge.
Man, this could be Cozumel’s prettiest reef. I don’t know if the hurricanes didn’t affect these lower reefs or if the currents just bring so many nutrients to the party that it just can’t help but be this healthy, but this reef is spectacular.
Not very deep at all, I think if you went to the sand you couldn’t go below 80’, it is covered with sea fans, the most I’ve seen since Wilma for sure. Branch corals and large sponges are everywhere.
And then there’s the stuff that can swim, large trunk fish are all about, we come across a coral head with no less than 12, count them one dozen, 6"-8" trunk fish just hanging out. I’ve never seen any more than 2 individuals together at one time.
I drop down over a ridge as someone gives me the shark sign. Sure enough there she is, a 6’ nurse shark laying in the sand under a shallow outcrop, I look straight down and a slipper lobster is just below me out in the open, I look to my left and a huge hawksbill turtle peers out from behind a rock.
Holy photo dilemma Batman! Where do point the camera in this situation!! Quick calculations, the shark is asleep, more than likely, I’ve seen gobs of turtles on this trip and I figure the lobster is probably the most jumpy of the group, so I settle to the sand and shoot a couple shots of the bug, thinking he’s probably playing possum to keep from being eaten by the other 2 players in this dance.
Moving over to the shark, I buddy up along side and take a couple shots, and just take a tiny bit of time to enjoy her presence, I love these animals.
Sleeping nurse shark
Glancing over my shoulder I see the turtle is still about and go to her for one quick pick before it is time to catch back up with the group that is moving remarkably slow down the reef considering the somewhat swift current.
I really liked diving with this group; it varied from day to day, but consisted of the main group of people I have mentioned so far in the report. They were mostly experienced divers and have learned that swimming down the reef as fast as you can isn’t the way to see things diving. On all dives except when the currents were to heavy and going slow just wasn’t an option, we all got to take our time moving up the dives sites at our leisure.
If I couldn’t dive every day with my best buddy, then this group was a good substitute.
Diving with experienced divers on the days that Lore didn’t dive helped me quite a bit as well, as my lovely wife works as my spotter for photos. She finds things by looking more at the big picture while I have my nose stuck down in the coral looking for little critters.
We see no less than 6 turtles on the dive and a couple of lobster along the way.
One of many Hawksbill sea turtles on this trip.
Back on the boat, things start to go down hill for me, I’m sure I had swallowed some sea water on the ride out and towards the end of the dive was feeling a little queasy. The old familiar feelings of seasickness started to set in…quick. I laid on the foredeck of the boat trying to keep my eyes on the horizon hoping that it would go away.
Jorge came over and asked if I wanted to die and I replied I thought I was already on my way. He had me sit up and gave me some water instructing me to keep an eye on the island.
Too late, this was the first time in almost 48 years of getting seasick I actually got sick. Usually I just feel horrible until either I’m out to sea for a couple of days and get used to the roll and feel great like nothing ever happened, which is what usually happened when I was in the Navy, or once I get back to dry land, I sleep it off.
Neither was an option at this point in time as we still had one dive stop to make before hitting the beach. After earning the new nickname "chunks",(very funny), and hugging the boat’s pier bumper for the rest of the surface interval, we arrived at dive site number 2 for the day, Tormentos.
A quick note to divers who get seasick, a lot of times if you get under the water, the motion sickness will go away and you can actually have a pleasant dive.
I dropped over the side of the boat for my second dive on Tormentos in as many days.
I felt better almost immediately getting below the surface and thought I could make the entire dive. The current and vis were not as forgiving as they had been the day before and we zipped along over the reef.
I spied a lobster, a couple of trunkfish and grey and queen angles jetting in and out of the reefs hiding places.
About 15 minutes into the dive I started having sinus pressure and feeling not quite well again. I moved to 30’ to relieve the pressure and tried several times to clear my head to no avail. I must have had something to do with hurling my guts out earlier, but feeling weak and headachy I gave Jorge the safety stop sign and indicated my situation by holding my head and rocking it back and forth. He understood and gave me the ok sign. I floated along above the group tying to stay over the shallow sandy area to the island side of the reef and not drift off into the deep water so when I did surface, the boat would be able to find me better.
Back on board I managed to get down a breakfast bar and some water and once again stretched out on the foredeck keeping one eye on the island for reference.
I felt good enough when we got back to the hotel to rinse my equipment, but that was it for me for the afternoon and most of the early evening.
I slept till nearly 7:30p and it was way after 8:00 when I both felt good enough to get cleaned up and realized we had missed our second reservation at Kinta, still thinking that a big meal just wasn’t what I was up to.
I drank a yogurt and some Gaterade and after a shower I started to feel half human again, maybe I can eat.
By the time we got downtown it was close to 9:00p and hunger pains were setting in. We decided on one of our old favorite haunts, the French Quarter.
We originally came here by Holly at Island Photo’s recommendation for dessert, and stayed for the food, as they say.
Mike’s specialty is ribs, now after a bout of seasickness you wouldn’t think that ribs would sound appetizing, but for some reason they did, along with a twice baked potato, salad, lots of water and a glass of wine, I was starting to feel pretty good.
Lore had the scallops, which she said that although it was good, it wasn’t the best dish she had gotten there.
The fore mentioned Island Passion cake and decaf cappuccino for dessert and I was ready for another siesta.
Us at French Quarter
On the way down the stairs from the second story dining room we found our pal Christi from BlueXTSea diving sitting at the bar with Mekala, I hope I got that right, I’m sure I’ve butchered the spelling, the owner of Liquid Blue.
Christi was trying to talk her into picking up the extra seat on the Fiji live-aboard trip she is making later this year.
I had noticed her across the street earlier at Liquid Blue and commented on how good she looked to Lore. Christi is getting married later this year and like all brides is on the work-out train trying to look her very best for her best day, and is doing a very fine job of it.
Day 9, Saturday, May 3 –
3 cruise ships today, 2 downtown and one at the I.P., all Carnival, there seemed to be more of that brand than any stopping in on this trip.
Morning dive with Jose aboard the Blue Angel II, first stop Columbia Deep.
Columbia Deep is THE wall dive of Cozumel, when you think wall dive, think Columbia Deep.
From the 60’ sandy bottom we drop over the edge of the wall with its towering pinnacles, outcrops, caverns and swim-thrus, this is just a great dive.
The current is quite light but the sand storm continues to drop visibility down just a touch.
This is one of my favorite sites for taking reef shots, light passing through a cavern or coming to rest on a large sponge or piece of coral makes for a great postcard shot.
Barrel sponge with divers
We find a small spotted eel and juvenile drum along the way, along with the usual suspects; the angels in particular are huge and abundant.
Second stop Paso del Cedral, Cedral Pass for the second time this trip.
Earlier in the week the current had been very strong and visibility was quite hampered by the prevailing sand storm.
Today however, it was a completely different reef, the current was very light and the vis had improved, but still not great.
This was a great dive; I spied a yellow stingray almost immediately, we saw numerous barracuda, 3 nurse sharks, a big moray eel was laying in the sand against a couple of small coral heads, a large Scrawled Filefish cruised by, a couple more turtles. One young one made a quick break for the surface to get a gulp of air and shot right back to the security of the reef.
Nurse shark at Cedral Pass
We came across a trumpet fish hanging upside down in a branch coral as they do. Of course as soon as I approached for a pic, he moved to the backside of the branch and when I tried to do the same he leveled off and made a break for it.
A juvenile drum, darted in and out of his little hiding place and some of the local jack population cruised by to check out the bubble blowers.
This is the day that my buddy Gordon Gunn, from Austin, ggunn to ScubaBoarders, was to arrive with his family for their annual 2 week extravaganza of diving and deep sea fishing.
As we disembark from Blue Angel II and make our way to the dive shop to do the daily rinse, Gordon comes out of the open air lobby of Caribe Blue with a big grin, warm hand shake and hug for the Mrs.
2 years ago, the first post Wilma trip for us, we spent most of the vacation hanging out with Gordon and his family, which consists of his wife, Carol, daughter Annie, Mom Barbara, her husband Jim, Gordon’s sister Clair and her husband Wayne, the fisherman, along with usually a couple of family friends, this makes up "The Thundering Herd".
Annie would not make this trip as she recently joined the work force and didn’t have the vacation time to come this year. Wayne and Clair and a couple of friends would show up later in the day, making this year’s version of T.T.H. a total of 8.
Lore and I have lunch at Rendez Blu of chicken fajitas and a BLT and fries allowing our friend time to get settled a little.
We drove down to Punta Sur, stopping at the Freedom Bar or Bob Marley’s as most call it to pick up refreshments. We ran into Mateo and his brother and a friend visiting from Chicago. They were about to head to Cedral for the festivities of the fiesta as were the employees of the bar who were in the process of trying to close.
The Caribbean side was the windiest and had the roughest waves we had seen to this point on the trip. Lore didn’t have a window on her side of the truck and by the time we reached Playa Bonita, she had enough of the wind, so we turned around so my side of the truck was to the wind and she wasn’t getting beat to death.
We just made a leisurely drive back to the hotel, stopping along the old beach road to watch boat traffic and the sun starting to sink towards the Yucatan.
Late afternoon shower on the peninsula.
Getting back to the hotel we greet Wayne and Clair and the rest of the crew we haven’t seen yet and start to make plans for diner. Several names are kicked around, but in the back of my mind I somehow knew we would end up at the Sonora Grill, we did.
Now making a decision between my wife and myself as to where to go to diner is hard enough, but add 8 more people to the mix, especially when most of them haven’t had much sleep and it is their first day on the island, the discussion can last longer than the diner you finally decide on.
Sonora Grill is located just a block or so to the back of the plaza downtown. Facing away from the ocean, take the street/walkway that is to the left leading out of the plaza towards the heart of San Miguel, past the little church at the back of the square and it will be on the left.
They do a wonderful grilled fish, which was my choice of the evening and Lore went for the Mexican classic fish Vera Cruz. Shrimp, fish and octopus served in a cream sauce, (the house specialty), and in garlic, a non-menu item, but will always be prepared upon request filled out the meals for the rest of the crew.
Like I said, the Gunn’s hadn’t had a lot of sleep, so we all decided to head to the hacienda. Gordon and his brother had been working on their band, Crystal Flavola(‘s) first full studio CD, trying to get the mix down before he went on vacation. Carol and Annie have done the artwork and photography for the project and have been working on finishing the graphics package.
The idea is to get it pressed before the Kerrville Folk Festival, May 22-June 8, in Kerrville, Texas where the band will be playing.
Gordon gave me a pre-release demo of some of the songs on the CD; I’ve been playing the heck out of it since we got home.
Day 10, Sunday, May 4th – the end is near…
No ships on Sunday. I do the daily focus and set-up routine and it is time for the last 2 dives of the trip.
Usually the last 2 dives of a dive trip are the best dives yet and you can’t believe that you have to go home and start working schemes to extend the trip or retire early, like today.
We head out to very calm seas on Chiquimax with Jorge and once again, the name Chun-Chacaab is brought up. Jorge looks at me and grins, remembering the episode earlier in the week, I shrug, "why not?"
Everyone nods a "yes" and we are off to the southern tip of the island again.
The water is much calmer than earlier in the week, just getting a little bumpy at the tidal mix area again.
We all drop in the water, I went below immediately as a "just in case" mode to keep motion sickness out of the picture. Lore was having trouble on the surface, I assumed she was having clearing problems, something we both deal with, we are both usually the last to the sand.
The real problem was her mask and do-rag to help hold her hair in had gotten messed up on entry and she had to deal with that. To make things worse, current was very strong. I was about to ascend when I saw Jorge check on her and get a "OK" signal as she started to drop down.
At this point, kneeling in the sand, I looked down to turn on my camera, took a quick look around the reef to get my bearings, and…she was gone, no, everyone was gone.
She had drifted over me following the group in the swift current and rather than being behind me like I thought she was ahead of me.
I popped up to the top of the reef into the current and extremely low visibility, for Coz anyway. I could see shadows of divers maybe just 50’ away and what I hoped were my wife’s pink fins, thank God for those pink fins, they have helped me locate her on more than one occasion.
Ok, this should be no problem, just put the old JetFins to work and I’ll catch up to the group in no time. Even with a full kick and panned out as flat as I could; it took several minutes to catch the group.
Every time I would stop the group would get a little more separation as she tried to keep herself between them and me.
We managed to get back together briefly. Lore and I stopped to check out a turtle and the group were just shadows in the distance again. Once again I figured we are all going the same direction, so stay calm and do the dive, I’m not sure she was thinking the same thing.
Yellow and orange sponges.
We did see several other turtles along the way, wanting us to rename the site Los Tortugas and that same group of trunkfish hanging out, very odd.
We made our safety stop and surfaced to see the boat about 75 yards away with the rest of the group climbing aboard. I signaled with my whistle and popped the "OK" sign by making an ‘O’ with my arm by touching my fingers to the top of my head.
I was really disappointed in the whole dive because it is such a beautiful reef and Lore didn’t get to enjoy it like I had the previous Friday. Even with the seasick episode, it was a great dive.
And today with the calmer seas, I thought for sure it would be an even better dive, but that’s diving for you. You can dive the same stretch of reef every day for a month and it will not be the same dive twice because of weather and ocean conditions, animal movement, the moon and million other factors…that’s what makes diving cool.
For the second dive Jorge suggested something new, at least for us anyway. He suggested doing the "topside" of Palancar reef. Basically starting at the top of the reef at Palancar Bricks and just seeing how far the current will take us.
The current varied quite a bit throughout the dive, at times almost non-existent and at others, quite swift. I have no idea how far we made it up the chain, but it was a very cool dive and I would love to do it again.
Usually on these dive sites, we are over the wall and at least 20’ deeper than we were cruising today.
Lore spotted a beautiful anemone with blue tips and Jorge found a king crab in a hole. We passed several small groupers of different varieties. I found a couple little blennies as I tried in vain to shoot some cleaner gobies awaiting a charge on a Large Star coral head.
This was the most anemones I’d seen on a dive other than Chun-Chacaab, the first day. A large Scrawled Filefish paralleled us along with the tangs and Midnight parrotfish and of course we couldn’t finish up the trip without seeing another turtle.
The boat ride home was all smiles as the cruise over the Palancar reef system was a great way to end a dive trip and for our friends the Gunn’s, a great way to kick off what they have to look forward to over the next two weeks.
While we were getting ready to go to lunch, we heard a very loud crash from downstairs, I went out to the balcony to see glass scattered across the first level patio deck.
Wayne, Gordon’s brother-in-law, had walked into the closed patio door thinking it was open as he had just passed through it just a couple minutes before and left it open, but Clair had came behind him and closed it.
He was very lucky although he did suffer some abrasions and cuts on his knee requiring some stitches. Fortunately for him his wife is a nurse and a wife of a fisherman so she had a full first aid kit to clean and patch him up to take him to the hospital to get some thread.
After all that excitement and with the knowledge our friends would be tied up with that situation for a while we decided we could not go home without one last meal at Coconuts. The truth is Lore was still jonesing over the fact that I ordered the fish burger earlier in the week and she didn’t.
The trip over was much less windy than the day before and although crowded at places the "wild side" wasn’t as busy as it usually is due to the fact that the majority of people with the day off were going to Cedral for the big blowout of the fiesta that evening rather than going to the beach like they normally do.
Coconuts was packed! It seems the word has gotten out and with the new trans-island highway being redone and widened, more people are making the trip.
We found a table in the sand, the palapa didn’t have an open seat other than sitting at the bar. A light breeze oozed through the immature palm trees dotting the cliff top and the large table umbrella supplied some shade.
View from Coconuts
I ordered a "marg" and she had a cerveza and we each ordered a fish burger with cheese.
Shortly after we arrived, another couple came in and with most of the seats being taken, took a table in the sun at the edge of the cliff. We noticed that neither one of them really needed any more sun until they took at bath in aloe vera, we invited them to some shade.
We all introduced ourselves and found out their names were Woody and Kim and they were from Denver, this was at least the third couple we had met from Denver on this trip.
He was a diver and had been diving with Dive with Martin, we told him how much we liked them and Kim being a non-diver said she was relieved to hear a good recommendation. We assured her he was in good hands.
We sat and enjoyed the afternoon and conversation and let time slip away. We didn’t quite close the place as we had earlier in the week, but it was late after noon when we said our good-bys to all and headed down the limestone steps to the jeep.
Chimichanga at Coconuts
Making our way towards Mescalitos in the north along the old road and up to the trans-island highway, which is now an actual 4 lane highway, not just another paved road on the island, I drive as slow as possible to take it all in.
There are many nice haciendas along the way, with neatly trimmed and landscaped yards cut out of the jungle. We pass the entrance to San Gervasio archeological site and the quirky named "Pee Pee Station" gift shop, that wasn’t open any time we passed it on this trip.
Coming into the edge of town, we pass the gas station that El Moro sits off behind, Cozumel’s "second" gas station. For years there was only one, there are no less than 3 now! The second one showed up about the same time the first stoplight was hung on the island, you’d think it was the end of humanity, as we knew it.
First McDonalds now this! Stoplights!? Yes, our little island is growing up. Wilma both slowed the growth and contributed to it. By all but completely alienating the newly built Mayan Pier next to the International Pier, it cut the cruise ship visits down quite a bit. The last visit we had to Cozumel before Wilma, on more than one day 5 ships were in port and on one occasion 7, count them SEVEN, cruise ships were harbored at Cozumel.
We got back to the hotel and I settled the hotel and dive bill with Martin at the dive shop so it would be one less thing to deal with in the morning.
The Thundering Herd were pretty much ready for diner, but we still had to shower and get cleaned up, so we said we would try to catch up to them somewhere on the Plaza after diner.
We had a great plan, end the vacation where you started, Casa Denis.
Casa Denis was closed! I don’t know if it was closed for the Fiesta Cedral or if they are normally closed on Sunday, but we were stopped dead in our tracks.
Plan ‘B’. We don’t have a Plan ‘B’. The easiest solution, walk next door to that restaurant.
Us at Casablanca
I guess because we have always eaten at Casa Denis we have never tried the place next door, Casablanca or Casa Blanca, not sure if it’s 2 words or one. Nonetheless it was quite good. I had the classic Chicken Mole, a full chicken breast and a thigh smothered in rich mole sauce. Lore had what she came to Casa Denis for, Swiss Enchiladas, chicken enchiladas with verde (green) sauce and oozing with cheese. She said they weren’t Casa Denis’, but were quite tasty. We had strawberry and peach margaritas, which were good, but didn’t stand up to Casa Denis’ mango version, but not much does.
The service was very good and we chatted with our waiter for a while before walking around the Plaza once although most of the evening’s activities had died down.
We went back to the room and sat on the balcony listening to the waves wash on the rocks below, trying to not come to the realization that this was our last night.
Day 11, Monday, May 5, Cinco de Mayo-
They make us go home.
There is something ironic about leaving Mexico on Cinco de Mayo. The holiday is more revered by American beer manufacturers and ad companies than it is in Mexico other than the town of Puebla where the celebration originates to commemorate a handful of Mexicans fending off the French army over a load dispute between the two countries.
Although this is our last day, we don’t leave until 2:00p and as usual, we have a system.
We get to the airport early as possible, which turns out to be 3 hours before the flight. We showed up 3 ½ hours early and had to wait for the American Airlines gate to open.
After checking the bags, we get back in the jeep and headed to the Museum for "brunch". I love going to eat at the museum breakfast or lunch. The second story open air deck restaurants sits overlooking the Ave. Melgar and all the activities just north of the ferry pier.
As usual we over order, I have a craving for French toast with crispy bacon and Lore wants the ham and cheese breakfast croissant, they are out of croissant and offer the sandwich on Baggett instead, which she agrees to. A fruit plate of apples, melons, papaya and bananas, mixed carrot and orange juice and coffee round out the menu. You don’t get a meal any more on the plane, so a big meal before getting on is a good idea.
After eating we head back to the hotel to get the carry-on luggage, turn in the keys and make our final Alohas.
I found Pony to give him a tip for the week’s services and say good-bye to Matt as he prepares to take some students out for a dive.
We hug Carol and let her know we are planning to come to Austin later in the summer, wishing we had more time to spend with them. We had seen off the rest of the crew that morning as they climbed aboard a fishing boat for their first day of deep-sea fishing across the channel.
Which by the way turned out to be a great day for Gordon, he completed his grand slam of deep sea fishing by landing a Blue Marlin that day. Something that was very exciting for him as we have had conversations about the blue eluding him through the years. Congrats again amigo!!
We had just enough time to drive down to Punta Sur and look out over the ocean and soak in the blue variety one last time before heading north with a quick stop to wish Tree well and drop the Trekker off at Less-Pay.
The Less-Pay guy had someone come and drive us to the airport and drop us off.
We arrived at about 1:25p, just in time to go through security, get a bottle of water to hydrate quickly and go through security again as you head out on the flight deck to find our seats on American Airlines Flight 367 to Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport…perfect timing.
One time I leave my camera in my carry on and put it in the overhead bin, I get a window seat with a crystal clear window.
As I sit on the right hand side of the plane and it powers off the runway towards the Caribbean Sea, I notice the number of new roads cut through the trees, jetting off of the new 4 lane highway to seemingly nowhere, yes, our little island is growing up whether we want it to or not.
The plane makes a hard left bank and we pass over the north end of the island, that’s when it hits me, I don’t have my camera on me. I could really use some aerial photos of the north end of the island, I’m sure there’s pirate treasure out there.
Oh, well, I’ll feed that fantasy another day. The plane scoots over the channel passing by many fishing boats, just grains of rice on the deep blue water laced with the occasional white cap.
We pass over a large tanker and the Yucatan peninsula comes into view. The man made hotel zone island of Cancun stretches out below and I can see streamers of jet ski wakes cutting through the mangroves to the interior, now I’m really wishing I had my camera.
I guess I had never realized how big the city of Cancun really is, it stretches on for miles and miles before giving up space to the Yucatan Jungle.
I settled back in my seat, the best a guy my size can in an airline coach seat, and reflected on the trip.
Relaxing on the balcony at sunset
By far the most diving in 10 days I’ve done since leaving Midway Island in the early 80’s. Splashed every day but one, and although the conditions we not the best I have ever seen on Cozumel. It was a very enjoyable trip.
Reef synopsis & Diving notes:
I tried something new this year, because of taking photos, I swim back and forth across the reef more than most, so I have a tendency to burn air quickly on occasion. So this year on the first dive of the day I would use a larger 100 cu. ft. tank rather than the typical steel 72' and aluminum 80's that are typically used in diving. The extra air really helped as my bottom times were much closer to the rest of the group.
Looking past the sand deposits that seemed heavier than last year, so I highly doubt the anything to do with residual Wilma damage, the reefs continue to recover.
The currents were stronger than what we have experienced this time of year before although several people mentioned that the odd currents were normal. I believe the currents had a lot to do with the sand deposits on the reef.
The branch corals of all kinds are abundant and getting large. Tube and barrel sponges although sometimes full of sand, looked very healthy.
Some coral "bleaching" is still visible here and there, but in general the hard corals looked very healthy also. Many blennies and cleaner gobies are hanging about on most hard coral heads. The lettuce coral and finger corals are making a slow comeback and small black coral branches are everywhere.
The sea fans, gorgonian corals, are still very sparse, and as I mentioned before, I only saw one Flamingo Tongue on the entire trip. The fans that we did see, seemed to have a grey algae growing on them, covering up much of the purple color and making them look like they needed to have a good dusting.
Conch and other seashell animals of good size, 3" and better, were scattered all over the reef at all depths and on all sites.
Fish populations seemed good, very large Gray, French and even Queen angels were on almost all dives. I saw a lot of different kinds of jack and tuna, several large morays, lots of barracuda, several varieties of grouper and several nurse sharks making me believe the predator population is high because the food chain is doing well.
All the schooling fish, grunts, snappers, chromis, those little blue parrots, Midnight Parrotfish I think they are, and tangs were in full force on most dives.
The coral huggers, damselfish, butterflies, trunkfish, sergeant majors and drums all made appearances as well as our old dive buddy the arrow crabs. Oh, and the one splendid toadfish.
Getting close to nesting season the turtles were also out in force, we saw turtles on many dives and so many on Chun-Chacaab, we want to rename it to Los Tortugas or Turtle Town.
The island it’s self needs rain, and lots of it, pretty much has since Wilma. Vegetation looking out over the jungle is still not filled in although it does look a lot better in general than last year. Our old pal Tree could use a good watering that’s for sure.
As usual the weather couldn’t have cooperated any more. Most days in the upper 80’s with a couple afternoons jumping into the lower 90’s. A light to moderate breeze prevailed most of the time to knock down any humidity that was about in the air.
The evenings were cool and comfortable, with temps in the mid 70 to upper 70’s and a light breeze blowing about.
Thanks again to all at Caribe Blu, Blue Angel dive shop, and Rendez Blu restaurant can’t wait to get back to "Casa Sharky" for more fun in the sun.
Thanks always to the generous people of Cozumel for letting us gringos come in and take over your piece of paradise.
Sunset at Caribe Blu
This year’s equipment reviews:
The afore mentioned Dive Optix, mask reading glasses inserts worked very well although I washed one of them out rinsing my mask overboard.
We had both purchased several items from ScubaToys as a matter of fact. ScubaToys is an online scuba store, but their home base is in Carrolton, Texas, which is located in the Dallas "Metroplex" area. They also have an actual store in Carrolton, which makes them a Local Dive Shop (LDS) as well, the best of both worlds.
I check to see if they have what I want online and to save shipping charges or if it’s something we need to try on like wetsuits, we can just drive up to the shop and pick it up.
Speaking of wet suits, we had each purchased new 3mil Henderson thermoprene wet suits. Mine was on a great 2007 model close-out sale, and with my 10% ScubaBoard member discount, I got it for $109! Lore bought the 2008 model with a flashy pink stripe to match the rest of her gear. Both suits performed very well.
We also purchased a large backpack dry bag that was normally $40 on sale for $15, and came in very handy on the boat and tucked up into the storage below the seats when not in use.
My 25+ year old ScubaPro second stage air/bc inflator I have used instead of an octopus for my entire diving career has finally gotten to the age where they don’t make parts for it anymore, so it can no longer get it serviced. So I was forced to buy an octo. I got a Mares "Brigade" which is pretty much the same reg as the old "Viper" made by Tusla. It did it’s job hanging at my side on ready if needed.
Now to the mask, as I mentioned earlier on our equipment check-out shore dive Lore had discovered that somehow she had gotten out of ScubaToys with the wrong sized Atomic low profile mask.
In the mean time, just a couple of days after getting back from Coz, one of the electrical contractors I work with gave me a virtually new Sea Vision mask. A practically brand new mask that sold in 2003 for $100 according to the price tag still attached to the hard shell case.
The mask fits Lore perfectly, so now we have a dilemma, we have a brand new mask that doesn’t fit, that we purchased over a month ago, that we don’t need anymore.
I was worried that ScubaToys would only do an exchange because of the time that had passed, but I was wrong.
They couldn’t have been nicer about it. We showed them the mask didn’t fit her and explained she now didn’t need a mask and with out hesitation he said we could exchange it for other merchandise.
The hose on my Conshelf XIV regulator was starting to split at the first stage end so I needed to get that replaced and we wanted to get a reel for the safety sausage. Lore found a T-shirt she liked and the owner rang it all up.
The price of the reel and the replacement of the regulator hose came to just .94 shy of the cost of the mask. "I’ll throw the t-shirt in for 94 cents and we’ll call it even, how’s that?" said the owner of the shop. "It’s a deal" I agreed.
On the way out we defiantly agreed ScubaToys is our LDS.