New Sites…new chow…same great place…

Cozumel, Mexico April 16-25, 2009

 

 

 Cozumel has been our vacation home since 1996, with one or two years off for other diversions, and every year I consider myself blessed to be able to visit this wonderful island, it’s people and the world class diving that is to be found there.

 

 I have also been blessed with a wife that not only indulges me in my Parrothead passion for the island life and the ocean world, but also has grown to share the passion with me.

 

 These travel logs have not only been a great way for us to go back and see what we have done over the past dozen years or so, but also give me a chance to share my passion with others and hopefully spark a passion of their own…

 

…Let’s go to Mexico!!!

 

Day 1 – Thurs. 4/16 –

 

 Why is it always easier to get up early for vacation than it is to get up and go to work?

 

 Such was the case on this day. I jumped up at 6:30 ready to face the day determined not to let the hassles of “modern day travel” get me down. If it weren’t for the traveling, going places would be a lot more fun.

 

 So, we arrived at Dallas/Ft. Worth International airport at 9:00a.m. Check baggage, take the car to the remote parking, go through security and stop a the Mickey D’s in International terminal ‘D’ for the last of ANY fast food for the next 9 days…good food is just over the horizon.

 

 The gate was just across the corridor from McDonalds and we saw people starting to gather to board so we made our way over to the main waiting area for the gate and wait…and wait…and wait.  

 

  About five minutes before the plane is to depart, and no one has got on yet, we get a call over the loud speaker telling us that we are waiting to board because the plane is waiting for it’s security clearance…it should be about another ten minutes. What!? The PLANE needs a security clearance? Something smells like fish and I’m not on the seashore yet.

 

 An hour later… we are on the plane and taxiing to the runway and our adventure is finally underway.

 

 We arrive in Cozumel with the one-hour delay, make it through security and buy a transfer ticket to ‘Casa Sharky’ for the next 9 nights, the newly renamed Blue Angel Resort, formerly Hotel Caribe Blu. We are greeted with warm smiles and welcomes from familiar faces as well as the new owner Eva, whom offers us a complementary “welcome” drink.

 

 We had planned on doing our check-out shore dive after checking in, but with the hour delay, it seemed to be getting a little late for that and opted to have a couple of cervezas to celebrate being back.

 

 The new owners have made some nice changes to the hotel. The restaurant deck has been expanded; they have raising the lawn between the pool and the hotel to pool level. On one hand it is a lot easier to get to the pool, and it looks very nice, but by raising the lawn they covered the sides of the pool that were designed to look like the sides of a Mayan temple. The architect and Mayanist in me cringe a little over it, but you can still see the sides of the pool on 2 sides so the effect isn’t totally lost.

 

 The check-in desk is now in a small open-air office and the lobby has new furniture, it seems the new owners are promoting a more social interactive setting in the lobby, with the furniture being at bar height and new things like free coffee in the lobby in the morning.

 

 After checking out the new digs we headed up town to see our buddy Maximo at Less Pay car rentals located in the Hotel Barracuda shopping strip to get a Geo Trekker for the duration of our stay. Less Pay may not have the fanciest cars in town, but they run and they always cut us a good price for extended rentals.

 

 I take note of the three cruise ships at the southern piers, the International Pier and the newly rebuilt Puerto Mayan pier, and one ship at the downtown pier. A daily census I take for no particular reason, I just started it one year and do it my nature now.

 

 We make a quick trip to the new Mega superstore for room supplies and then we are off to one of our favorite places to eat on Cozumel.

 

 Ernesto’s Fajita Factory is located just across the street from Tiki Village Resort and the Park Royal Resort .Boy, talk about opposite ends of the spectrum, Tiki Village is a tiny little no-frills divers hotel and the Park Royal is a massive twin tower all-inclusive resort.

 

 Ernesto’s is also the very first restaurant my wife ate at in Cozumel after staying at what was then the Sol Caribe, (now the Park Royal), and the food was less than adequate and we decided to “take our chances” eating off campus. The first of MANY successful culinary adventures.

 

 Cozumeleno Plate for me, nice variety of mixed Mexican food. Grouper for her, just wonderful, grouper is the best! Unless you are in Hawaii, then Ono is. Ono literally means “the best” in Hawaiian. It is similar to grouper, white, fluffy and yummy. Ernesto’s also has great strawberry margaritas…dos por favor!!

 

 

DAY 2 – Fri. 4/17 –

 

 Three cruise ships at the southern piers, 2 Carnivals and one Royal Caribbean.

 

 After sleeping in just a bit and having yogurt and granola for breakfast, our regular breakfast routine, we unpacked the scuba gear and headed down to the dive shop to check in and do a shore dive on Villablanca Shallows, the area from just off Caribe Blu south to Pappa Hogs dive shop and the hotel Villablanca that the site gets it’s name from.

 

 We spend just under and hour in the shallow water finding lots of anemones, in fact there were lots of anemones on every dive this year. Also running across a couple big sea stars, brittle stars in their tube sponge hideouts, a “garden” of spiny urchins, I’ve never seen so many bunched together on Cozumel before, and a couple of flamingo tongues on a sad looking sea fan, they still have not recovered from Wilma. The big purple sea fans, called Gorgonians used to be everywhere on all dives, but are quite rare since hurricane Wilma came through here in the fall of 2005.

 

 After rinsing equipment, and selves, we jumped in the Trekker and headed down to see if the town of Cedral was beginning to set up for the big annual festival set to begin the day after we go home, oh well, you can’t win them all.

 

 Just sough of the Mayan Pier complex, we turned off highway C-1 to the old road that runs along the seashore, taking note of the Money Bar, Playa Corona and the Fiesta Americana along the way. The old road catches back up to the new road at the old Reef Club, currently a Wyndam property and the two run parallel all the way to Punta Sur where they merge and head across the island to “wild side” as the island opens to the Caribbean Sea.

 

 Not much happening in Cedral yet, we head south to see how our old buddy “Tree” the massive Ceiba tree just shy of Punta Sur is doing.

 

 Tree doesn’t have a single leaf on him, but has some new branch growth and lots of seed pods hanging from the barren branches. A quick survey around the island and it seems most Ceiba trees are in the same condition, so I guess everything’s ok with the old guy.

 

 By this time we are getting hungry and stop at The Freedom Bar, or Bob Marley’s as it’s more commonly called, at Punta Sur for nachos, shrimp quesadillas, fish tacos and cerveza, all quite tasty. We have stopped at the Rasta bar across the street before, but this was our first time to eat at the restaurant/bar that sits on the ocean side of the street.

 

 Back to the hotel for some chillin’ time by the pool, until sunset where we moved to the hammocks and enjoyed the tropical sky turning from blue to orange to red to deep purple…how ‘bout some dinner?

 

 We decided on dinner to go from Prima’s Pasta of pizza and salad. Prima’s is another long-time haunt of ours, the pizza used to be better, but the Gorgonzola blue cheese salad was as good as ever.

 

Day 3- Sat. 4/18 –

 

 3 cruise ships to the south, most mornings I awoke and opened the curtain to see the first ship of the day sailing past our window on it’s way to the big pier.

 

 The morning routine begins…get up, try to make my eyes focus enough to see the o-rings of my camera equipment to clean and lube them. Set up the photo equipment, bag the scuba equipment, pack a couple of breakfast bars for the surface interval, attempt to choke down some breakfast, (I have to be up for some time before I actually get hungry, so eating breakfast before diving is a challenge for me some days, but if I don’t eat something, I’m sure to get sea sick).

 

 Let’s see, I’m forgetting something…. Oh yes! Wake the wife!

 

 Just kidding, I go to the lobby and get the Mrs. a cup of coffee, now complementary in the mornings at the hotel, as I mentioned, and get my dive buddy up for our first day of boat diving.

 

 We head out aboard the six-pack, Blue Angel II, with a full crew and DM, Jose, as our guide for the day.

 

 Let’s get wet!!!

 

First stop, Palancar Gardens, on of my favorite dive sites. Gardens is the furthest north of the four Palancar dive sites with Horseshoe next to the south, then Caves and finally Bricks, named for the bricks that were dumped there in a shipwreck some time ago, being the furthest south.

 

Palancar Gardens is pretty much just that, a garden of corals and sponges, it is basically a wall dive with canyons, crevices and swim-thrus. We find lots of Deep Sea fans, tube sponges and branch corals hanging from the outcrops. We spend 45 minutes maxing out at 90 feet exploring the site.

 

 Jose finds the first Splendid Toadfish of the trip, they can only be found on Cozumel, and a tiny Dragon Pipefish. We spot several small yellow spotted morays along the way and lots of large angelfish. A King crab scurries up under his enclosure and Coral banded shrimp hang out under shelves as we drift by.

 

 Just as we are ascending for our safety stop Lore spies a large Southern stingray in the sand and swam over to investigate.

 

 After the mandatory surface interval, it was off to visit La Francesa, a shallow reef sitting in the sand flats between the island and the drop-off.

 

 We drop down to max out at 57 feet and spend nearly an hour floating in the mild current from south to north.

 

 I find the only scorpion fish I manage to find on the trip, usually they are everywhere, but I must have just overlooked them this time around. We run across lots of anemones, Jose spots a very small nurse shark early in the dive and about half way through the dive we spot another small shark swimming about.

 

A hawksbill turtle grazes among the coral and wrasse of all sorts dart about the reef. In fact the wrasse population seemed quite high all over the place. I snap a couple shots of a Queen Triggerfish and find a black and white spotted eel hiding in the coral.

 

 Sand deposits from Wilma are still noticeable on the flat areas of this dive and some of the other mid-level depth dives, but for the most part the reefs look pretty good, with black coral branches in abundance.

 

 The BAII delivers us back to the hotel and after the daily rinse; we head up to Rendez Blu, the restaurant above the dive shop for a couple new menu items. Lore had Eva’s “kitchen sink” salad; a meal sized garden salad with dried and fresh fruits, nuts, cheese and lots of good stuff stacked high. I opted for the grilled fish and pasta, both very tasty.

 

 We jumped the jeep and headed south to circumnavigate the island for the first time this trip.

 

 The winds on most afternoons, and a couple mornings, were quite stiff and as we made the left turn at Punta Sur to head across the southern end of the island, the strong, ocean cooled breeze whipped through the little truck occasionally pelting us with granules of sand and spray of the surf.

 

 Stopping only once for refreshments at Punta Morena, the unofficial, or maybe the official surf spot of the island, (it’s the only place I’ve seen decent, rideable surf on the island), we make the quick survey of the “wild side” and head back to the hotel for some poolside time.

 

 We walked down to Papa Hogs and just made it in time to get a light diner before they closed at 6:00p(ish). We shared beef nachos and a grilled chicken sandwich with cheese, watched the activities at Scuba Mau below and the constant parade of tourists and locals about their daily business.

 

Day 4 – Sun. – 4/19 –

 

 No cruise ships on Sunday. Never are.

 

 It’s family day and a lot of people have the day off and local’s head to the Caribbean side of the island in droves to enjoy their day off.

 

 I do the morning routine and head down to the dive shop to check the board and see who we are with and on what vessel.

 

 Today it is DM, Julio aboard Jabara and again a full six-pack of divers.

 

 Paso del Cedral or Cedral Pass, named for the village of Cedral, the site is located approximately the same distance down the island as the 100-year-old town is. The area actually has two dive sites in one, a deep dive along the shelf drop-off and a mid-level reef that maxes out at around 60 feet.

 

 We spent some time along the shelf drop-off; I opted to stay a little shallower around 60 feet while the others go maybe to 80 below me, following Julio in and out of a couple swim-thrus. About half way through the dive we move off the shelf to the reefs located on the sandy flats.

 

 I’m greeted by a ladyfinger hovering above the sand. Parrotfish search the coral for nibbles of goodies, and grunts and snappers school under outcrops. We spot several barracuda and one good sized nurse shark snoozing under and arched outcrop. Grey and French angels pose for picks and more anemones wave back and forth in the breeze-like currents.

 

 Back on the boat, the option of the second dive came up for a vote and a suggestion of Paradise Reef came up.

 

 I was all for it, Paradise is a long time favorite and I haven’t been able to get on it for a few years because it was hard to get people to go there. It almost seemed like that for other than night diving, Paradise was being reserved for snorkelers and the cruise ship crowd.

 

 So it was back north to just shy of the cruise ship piers to the shallows near shore know as Paradise. A sandy bottom shelf, dotted with coral heads. Again nearly an hour’s dive with me somehow bottoming out at 43 feet, didn’t know the site went that deep.

 

 Wrasse dart here and there as pairs of French, Queen and Gray angels mill about. Lore finds a juvenile drum in a cubbyhole and I spy a spotted eel under a shelf. Bob and Janice from Michigan find a blenny and him and I trade off trying to shoot pictures of the little rascal.

 

 Then as we are headed from one coral patch to the next, one of those gigantic parrotfish cruises by. This guy was easily 30” long and the girth larger than a football.

 

 I spend some time trying to get a juvenile Queen angel to cooperate and let me take his pic, and actually got a pretty good shot out of 4 attempts. I also find some sort of clam or scallop in a soft coral branch, that appears to have a baby variegated urchin attached to it. After looking at the pics, there are also 2 flamingo tongues just below the clam as well.

 

 I find a spotted yellow stingray in the sand, also a creature I did not see as many of as usual. I spot a couple of small spiny lobsters poking their antennas out from under their hideout, then at the top of a coral head I spot a nice group of white tube fans and snap a couple shots of them.

 

 Lunch at Rendez Blu, shrimp quesadillas for her and chicken burrito with verde sauce for me. A big, fluffy flower tortilla, stuffed with chopped grilled chicken and white cheese, topped with tangy green sauce.

 

 We headed out to the pool so she could work on Steven King’s latest short story offerings…he creeps me out, I spend time beach combing for small seashells and bits of coral that would look good under the macro lens, another art project in the works.

 

 For dinner the original plan was to head to Capi Navagante, but when we parked up the block the guy at La Morena motioned us in and we took the bait. We have been here for dessert, but never for a full meal, so this was the second new spot for us, so to speak.

 

 It was great; we had the entire restaurant to ourselves. We sat outdoors, ordered a couple of sangrias and feasted on grouper, mine in garlic and butter sauce, which I think is an island specialty, almost everyone fixes fish this way here and Lore had hers traditional Vera Cruz style, both were excellent.

 

 Like I said, we had been here before a couple of years ago with our friends the Gunns who brought us here for dessert and “flaming coffee”, after eating dinner at the Capi’s. So to keep that tradition going, we ordered a flaming coffee with brandy and an order of coconut ice cream with Kaluha to split. The perfect topper for a romantic evening.

 

Day 5- Mon. – 4/20 –

 

 The morning dive this day was aboard Jabara with Jorge leading the way over the reefs.

 

 Jorge is one of those DM’s that takes you to places you don’t normally get to go and today was not exception.

 

 First stop Cathedral, I’m pretty sure this was our first time to dive this spot; it is one of the dive sites not shown in the “Cozumel dive guide and log book”…but should be. It’s an awesome wall dive with tall pinnacles like cathedral spires, deep crevices and covered with sponges and soft branch corals.

 

 I followed Jorge and the group to 104 feet and leveled off briefly as the rest of the group went slightly deeper. Blue Chromis and angelfish scatter about the reef as we moved up and down the wall exploring.

 

 I must have done a little too much up and down movements, for as I passed from 79 feet to 78 feet, I started to experience some reverse blockage, may ears simply would not clear.

 

 Now, if you divers have ever had trouble-clearing going down, having trouble clearing going back up is worse. First of all, you HAVE to go back up eventually so staying down is not an option. I tried turning the ear that would not clear upwards hoping that might do it. I tried yawning, shaking my head, tugging on my earlobe to open up the ear canal, everything I could think of…no luck.

 

 I’ve had this issue before and I know if I just suffer through the pain for a foot or two, taking it slow, the ear will clear open, so that’s what I did. About the time the pain REALLY got bad, my ear began to squeek and it released its pressure and I was off to continue the dive.

 

 We finished the dive and started heading up for our safety stop when it happened again, this time around 43 feet, to the other ear! I tried the same tricks with the same result and by the time I got back on the boat I was feeling quite dizzy as the left ear was completely clogged and the right sore, but fairly clear. The unbalanced ear passages causing the dizziness and I was unable to do the second dive.

 

 This was a total disappointment as the second dive was another one of Jorge’s special dive sites, Palancar Topside.

 

 Rather than dropping down over the wall on the Palancar sites, you just float over the top of the reef from south to north starting at Bricks. I hated to miss it as it is one of my favorite dives and is quite beautiful. Last year we did it twice seeing an octopus, large Green Moray eels, turtles and King Crabs.

 

 This year Lore said the site should have been named “Turtle Town”, which is a dive site on Maui, Hawaii where Green Sea Turtles hang out in abundance. They saw no less than 7-8 turtles on the dive…figures; the dive you miss is always a good one.

 

 I laid on the boat while the others dove and that seemed to help clear my ears, but when the dive was over and I had to sit back up to make room for everyone, they began to fill up again and the boat ride back to the hotel was not my favorite one of the trip.

 

 Oh well, it happens, and once I was back at the hotel and rested for a short time I was feeling good enough to go to lunch…maybe some tequila would help bring me around. It was time to head to my “Margaritaville.”

 

 I’m an unapologetic life-long Parrothead, but my Margaritaville isn’t that commercial establishment along the Ave. Milgar owned by Captain Buffett, but rather the thatched roof bar sitting on top of the cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea, known as Coconut’s.

 

 Located on the windward side where the little island faces the open ocean, Coconut’s is a long-time hangout. Open only during daylight ours as they don’t have direct electricity, I guess they run off a generator, but at sunset everyone has to go.

 

 We ordered jalapeño popper for an appetizer, and the best fish burgers you can get for lunch, along with 2 of Coconut’s nearly world famous margaritas and watched the afternoon slip by.

 

 It was getting late when we finally made it back to the hotel and we were hungry again and headed up to Rendez Blue for the only dinner meal we had at the hotel. Monday night’s special was rolled tacos, both of us opted for the chicken. Rolled tacos are not a huge culinary achievement and after the wonderful fish burgers for lunch, they were somewhat of a letdown, but almost anything would have been.

 

Day 6 – Tues. – 4/21 –

 

  Five cruise ships in port, 3 at the southern piers and 2 at the downtown pier.

 

 Our only non-dive day, we slept in a little and headed downtown to have a late breakfast at the Museum. This is another place I’ve been trying to steer folks to for years. I think they are only open for breakfast and lunch, but is on our must do list every year.

 

 We sat on the second story, open-air restaurant and split our usual, a ham, egg and cheese croissant sandwich and a dish they call “the energetic”, a big plate of fresh fruit served with granola, yogurt and honey. Two delicious coffees and mixed juice, made of orange and carrot juice, it comes out looking sort of like a tequila sunrise with the juices separated, but mixed together are a wonderful thing.

 

 We spent the afternoon lazing in the sun by the pool, talking with new pals Sandy and Ayla, a retirement aged couple from Northern California that were staying at the hotel.

 

 For dinner we decided to try something new, so we got cleaned up and headed downtown to Sorricci.

 

 Sorricci turned out to be a little pricy and slightly over done, it was good, just not great for the price.

 

 The restaurant is nicely appointed with exposed wood beams and semi-open kitchen with the wood fired oven and pizza station open to the public.

 

 We ordered a bottle of wine, split a Caesar’s salad and some garlic bread for an appetizer. Lore had the shrimp with pear and cheese raviolis, I don’t eat shrimp, so I didn’t try them, but the ravioli was good, the fruit and cheese made a nice combination. I had the beef cannelloni, the marinara sauce was too tomato-y and could have used a good handful of basil and the pasta could have used more meat and more stuffing in general.

 

 Day 7 – Wed. – 4/22 –

 

 2 Carnival ships to the south one Disney downtown.

 

 Back to the diving! Once again we are with our buddy Jorge this time aboard the Chiquimax.

 

 Like I said before, Jorge will take you off the beaten track and today is no exception. We’ve all dove Yucab for a second dive, it’s another one of Cozumel’s beautiful garden dives. But today we are headed over the edge of the shelf to dive Yucab Wall.

 

 We splash over the sand flats, just shy of the shelf drop-off, and after everyone is down and safe, we make our way to edge of the steep drop into the abyss.

 

 I maxed out at 90 feet with a few members of the crew following Jorge a little deeper. Pairs of French and Grey Angelfish dotted the wall as we drifted in the current south to north. The wall topography was pretty low, with not many crevices or pinnacles compared to Columbia Wall, but an abundance of corals and sponges, a very pretty dive.

 

 Queen Angels darted in and out of little outcrops; I saw several large orange triggers and found a very large Fire worm hanging out under a shelf.  I found a King crab about ready to crawl down a rock and took his picture. He backed up to fend off his bubble blowing adversary and just happened to move into a very nice pose for me, so I took a second shot that turned out to be one of my best crab pics yet.

 

Just when this great dive couldn’t get any better, I came across a sponge spawning, pretty cool, something you don’t get to see on every dive trip for sure. Then, all of a sudden, we were in a sponge spawn fest! Several large purple tube sponges were spewing cloudy masses into the currents to mix together and settle down somewhere down the line to make new little sponges.

 

 Then to cap it all off, just at the end, before the safety stop, we run across one of those huge lobsters that act like they are the king of the reef, walking around in broad daylight about the reef, while their smaller brothers and sisters wait for the cover of darkness to venture out from their lairs. He had to be 18” from eyeballs to tip of tail and who knows how long overall with antennae and just continued on his walk, paying the group of us little or no attention at all.

 

 Man, I can’t believe we only have a couple more days of this!

 

 One of the members of our group somehow lost a fin on Yucab Wall and after a quick vote we decided to go back to the hotel and drop her and her dive buddy off, and go to Villablanca Wall for the second dive.

 

 Who hoo!! I’ve wanted to get on this site for some time and it has never worked out, so I was very excited to get this opportunity.

 

 Villablanca Wall is located at the shelf drop-off about 150 yards or so off shore from Papa Hogs…well… north. I’ve heard the currents can be pretty stiff along this stretch and after dropping down I can see why.

 

 This is a true wall dive. You come off the sand to the edge of the drop off and the slope heads to the deep blue with little interruption. Wall and nothing but wall, not many crevices or shelves, no pinnacles, no caves, no swim-thrus, nothing to slow down the current as it moves along the shelf.

 

Fortunately for us, the current was like it had been all week on every dive, very mild, almost a perfect drift dive. Just enough push where you don’t have to swim but not stiff enough you can’t turn you head into it and kick gently and hover over something of interest and there was plenty of that.

 

 Trunk fish were in abundance on all sites and this dive was no exception, large angels cruised up and down the wall, I found a very small Fireworm at the entrance to a small crevice, took his pic and looked up into the tiny cave to see if there was a Splended Toadfish about, this is the perfect type of environment for them. Instead I found a Bandid Coral shrimp sitting on the sand and took his pic as well. Other coral shrimp clung to the roof of the enclosure with their antennas poking out into the current.

 

 For lunch we decided to try another place we had wanted to go to for a couple of years, but haven’t been able to fit it in, La Chef.

 

 We ordered a couple of sangrias and Ceasar’s salad for openers, Lore had spinach pasta raviolis stuffed with spinach and cheese and I had penne pasta in red sauce, both very good. Crap! Now we have ANOTHER place to add to the restaurant list…we’re going to have to start coming down for three weeks just to hit all the places we want to eat!

 

 A good predicament to be in, especially coming from Dallas a city with some of the best restaurants and one of the most competitive restaurant markets in the entire U.S. so finding good food on vacation is a priority for us.

 

 Then it was time for Uncle Sharky to get some personal attention.

 

 Get your mind out of the gutter; I had a 4:00pm appointment with one of my favorite people on Cozumel, Barefoot Sally.

 

 I have been a client of Sally Hurwitch for several years now and getting a massage from her is a must if she is in town when I’m down there. I’m a big guy and having a desk job pushing a mouse all day, I get a lot of tension in my back, neck and shoulders. Lifting luggage, small airplane seats and travel in general add to the tension, so by the time I’ve got 2-3 days of diving in, I’m ready to see Sally.

 

 After an hour that went way to fast, I was like Jell-o and ready to tackle the rest of the week and the trip home. I may have even drifted off at one point or anther, hope I didn’t start snoring… Mucho gracias, Amiga!!

 

 The only tragedy of the trip was that Lore’s “Local Motion” rash shirt from Hawaii blew off he balcony sometime between Monday night and Wednesday morning. It rained overnight Monday and the wind was blowing pretty strong when I woke up Tuesday morning, so I suspect that’s when it happened. I checked the front desk and the dive shop and no one had found it.

 

 So that gave my lovely wife an excuse to go shopping…like she needs and excuse.

 

 We went downtown and parked at one of the off-street public parking areas, somehow I have always overlooked them, but now for 2 blocks off Ave. Milgar, all the little pull-in parking spots are now marked “no parking” symbolized by an ‘E’ inside a circle with a slash painted on the street in the parking spot.

 

 The public parking areas charge anywhere from 80 pesos an hour to an American dollar an hour, I usually just rounded it up to the dollar regardless.

 

 We had noticed an small surf apparel shop on Calle 3N, I think it is, and headed there first with no luck finding an new rash shirt for her to wear under her wet suite for extra warmth on her second dives. We headed down to the Ron Jon surf shop at the north end of the Milgar; surly they will have what she needs. Some pretty slim pickin’s but she was able find one, in pink and black to match the rest of her scuba gear, nonetheless.

 

 I managed to make off with a couple bumper stickers, so all in all, it was a successful shopping trip and we had worked up a hunger. Well actually we weren’t starving, the pasta from lunch was still staving off starvation, but we figured we better eat again that evening.

 

 We decided on a light dinner and dessert at Rock’n’Java. Once again, one of the places we must visit every year. Lisa the owner is known for her desserts, but everything from breakfast to dinner is good. You can actually eat healthy here if you want to…we didn’t.

 

Well we didn’t go off the charts, but more of mix of good and bad, or good and good depending on how you look at it. For openers, black bean nachos, 2 small tostadas with beans, lettuce, avocado and tomatoes, very tasty and fairly healthy. Then potato skins, 4 nicely appointed potato wedges with cheese, lots of bacon bits (fresh made, not bottled) and pico de gio as a twist, again very good.

 

 Then the big pay off, a piece of Lisa’s carrot cake and 2 decafs. The cake was moist, firm and delicious, the coffee although unleaded was very rich and not hollow tasting at all like some decafs can be.

 

 Tummys content we headed back to the room to dream of the next day’s diving.

 

Day 8 – Thurs. – 4/23 –

 

3 cruise ships to the south.

 

 The morning dive aboard trusty Jabara was hosted today by young Norman, a DM I had seen last year, but had not had the pleasure of diving with until to day.

 

 First dive was to visit an old friend, Santa Rosa Wall.

 

Although Santa Rosa has seen better days, it is still a beautiful dive overall, but hurricane Wilma did a number on her. Santa Rosa has a lot of shelves on the wall and many of them are still heavy with sand deposits, and coral growth on them has been slow to recover.

 

 The non-flat parts of the dive are recovering nicely, like most of the reefs on the island, corals and sponges abound and Chromis, Black Durgon and wrasse dart about everywhere. The big sea fans are what you really miss from before Wilma, some used to be up to three feet across, but just running across one north of Punta Sur is a rare occasion, and the ones you do find are usually in pretty sad shape.

 

 We are greeted at the sandy bottom before the drop with some sea grass and a Peacock flounder trying to blend in with the sand and grass. Over the edge I find a Scrawled Cowfish, more large angels and Norman finds a juvenile drum.

 

 We spend about half the dive on the wall, then Norman moves us up to the shelf and we coast over the sandy, sea grass sprinkled areas, moving from one coral grouping to the next keeping a keen out open for sea horses along the way.

 

 No sea horses today, I did find a couple of hermit crabs having a conversation, or face-off, or something, Norman found a pipe fish, and I came across the shell of one of the largest conchs I’ve ever seen! It was at least 15” from end to end, now serving as a home to some small gobies and baby lizardfish.

 

 I found a couple more Flamingo Tongues, on some branch coral and Lore spotted a conch egg sac attached to a clump of seaweed and soft coral, nice find indeed.

 

 A Scrawled Filefish swam by and we spotted at least three Hawksbill turtles along the way.

 

 Norman put the second dive to a vote and my lovely bride suggested Tormentos. How could you not agree, another great garden dive.

 

 I maxed out at 53 feet and spent 56 minutes exploring the scattered reef heads on the mid-range shelf dive site. Lots of sea life everywhere, I was greeted by a Queen Angel that held perfect for me until I tried to focus for the shot and she moved to a less desirable position. The joys of underwater photography!!

 

 Blue Chromis, Black Durgon and the ever-present wrasse variety dart about as grunts and snapper found a shelf to hang out under in schools.

 

I found a small coral head with 2 nice groups of white fan tubes and was taking a couple of shots when I looked up to see Lore giving me the hand signal for Cozumel’s very own Splendid Toadfish. The hand signal for a toad fish is to put your hand in front of your chin with your fingers spread out to represent the fish’s beard-like appendages on it’s face. Pretty close to the Italian version of a flip-off, I wonder if the Italian’s use the same signal, could cause some misunderstandings on the reef!

 

 I followed her to the spot and there he was, sitting in a small cave-like cavern, the kind of place you usually find them. This one had his pectoral fins fanned out and rather than just getting the bearded face like you see in most photos, I was able to get some of that brilliant yellow fin action as well.

 

 I finished up the dive with a nice shot of a grouper at a cleaning station, he had is mouth open until I took the pic, but I managed to get the light on him pretty good without getting the shot all filled with backscatter, the white dots that show up in underwater photos when the strobe’s light bounces off of small sand and plankton particles in the water.

 

 After another very successful dive adventure we headed downtown to one of Cozumel’s oldest established restaurants, Casa Denis.

 

 Casa Denis has been around since the 40’s and is still doing it right. Traditional Mexican dishes and the best mango margaritas around…dos por favor!!

 

 For lunch, Cream spinach soup and a mixed seafood cocktail of shrimp, octopus and conch for Lore and bean soup and Mayan pork tacos for me, I don’t know what the spice is or mixture of spices is that the Mayan used, but it tastes good on all meats, pork, beef, chicken and especially fish. The meal was what we have come to expect from this great place, A+ service and food all the way.

 

 Time for a little adventure, I had planned on trying to take an afternoon and go to Punta Molas and see the lighthouse at the northern most part of the island on the Caribbean side, or at least try to make the ruins along the way. I’m needing a Mayan fix bad, I haven’t been to an archeological site in several years and I’m getting’ the itch. Books will only take you so far.

 

 From what I’m told, the entire round trip to Punta Molas is about six hours so an early start is a must and we didn’t do it on our day off from diving, so a minor adventure tour to Punta Norte was the logical choice.

 

Last year we made our first trip up to Punta Norte at the north end of the island on the channel or “hotel” side of the island. This year seemed to go much faster, we made the trip up to the natural bay where you can see the little “Isla de la Pasion”, sitting just to the north west, it almost looks like a peninsula of the main island sticking out to help form the bay.

 

 We didn’t see the raccoons rummaging through the trash as we did last year, but there did seem to be more fishing boats scattered along the seashore then there was last year. The entire trip only took one hour; I could have sworn it took a lot longer last year. Maybe I spent more time stopping to investigate flora and fauna.

 

  After going back to the hotel to relax for a while and enjoy the sunset, we decided we were hungry again and headed up to Guido’s for pizza and salad to take back to the room.

 

 We ordered a margarita pizza with mushrooms, black olives and ham and a mixed house salad and sat in the front dining area and had sangria while we waited.

 

 All of a sudden, most of the people from the other room, which is an open-air courtyard, started coming into the front dining area, which is indoors. Apparently it had started raining and although there are some covered areas in the courtyard, the majority of it is open to the elements.

 

 The dining room filled up quickly and we surrendered our seats so folks could finish their dinners. Our food came shortly afterwards and we ran out the jeep, which had no usable top by the way, like I said before, Less Pay may not have the prettiest vehicles, but they run.

 

 We drove home in a light rain, most of the downpour had subsided by the time we got settled in the jeep and were headed back south to the hotel, so we didn’t completely soaked and the pizza and salad arrived unscaved.

 

Day 9 – Fri. – 4/24 –

 

Two cruise ships at the International Pier.

 

 Our last day of diving and this morning it was on the trusty Chiquimax with our pal Jose.

 

 Jose works hard for his tips and this group of dives with him was no exception, he not only keeps a good track of the group, but spends time looking for critters to see. Like Raul at Bottom time Divers, he is good at finding those little things, pipe horses, seahorses, pipe dragons and nudibranches as well as spotting the elusive Splendid Toadfish.

 

 The first dive would be number four of new dive sites on this trip for Lore and I. Jose took us to the wall between Cedral Pass and Santa Rosa Wall.

 

 Another great wall dive, we dropped to the sandy shelf and the current took us over to the coral heads that line the edge of the drop-off.

 

 Just as I was coming down over the coral heads, Janice, (her and her husband Bob are ScubaBoarder’s from Michigan we dove with during the week), gave me the “eel” hand sign and pointed right below me.

 

 Sure enough, the only large green moray eel we saw the entire trip was not more than 6 feet below me, and closing fast! Or I was closing fast on him, I should say. I steadied my camera, flattened my legs out to control trim, focused and took the shot. He ducked down into the coral head as Bob tried to take his shot. The two of us divers moved to the side of the coral head where our friend was moving down the open cavern of the mound and posed for a couple more shots from the bubble blowers.

 

  Parrotfish, angels, triggers and Blue Chromis scattered about the coral and sponge encrusted reef. We dropped over the edge and maxed out at 122’ for a very brief time before moving up to a more reasonable depth to extend bottom time on this second to last dive of the trip.

 

 Lore and I were at the back of the pack, as usual, as were Bob and Janice. Janice and Lore working as spotters to us photographers. The system works pretty well as some of my favorite shots have been from things my wife has found.

 

 All of a sudden the divers ahead of us are all pointing and looking at the same spot. After some motioning and pointing someone remembers their hand signals and gives us the “turtle” sign, then the “big” sign, with arms spread out wide an hands extended. Cool, another Hawksbill, you can never see enough of them.

 

 As we floated closer, the head of the turtle came over the horizon…and kept coming! This thing was HUGE! I quickly realized this was no Hawksbill, this was a Loggerhead sea turtle!

 

This was the first Loggerhead I have ever seen on Cozumel and at over 3 feet long and with a head the size of softball; this was a full grown, most likely female specimen. She headed straight for me as I held my camera at arms length and tried to focus. I snapped one of the best photos of the trip just as she veered off to my left, and as she passed within a foot of me I could see the barnacles attached to her shell, another sign of her many years out to sea.

 

 We spotted some Spiny lobsters hanging out under shelves, more large angles, Jose found a Pipe dragon and an Electric ray and we found 2 Splendid Toadfish along the way, all in all, a very successful dive.

 

 Now, the last dive a trip is always works out to be one of the best of the trip, if not the very best dive of the trip. That’s how they ensure you come back next year, of course, and this one was no exception.

 

 San Francisco is basically a shallow wall dive, usually maxing out at no more than 70 feet depending on how much surface interval time is taken between dives.

 

 I maxed out at 43’ trying to keep as shallow as possible and still be close to the reef, to extend my final dive’s bottom time as much as possible.

 

 The current couldn’t have been more perfect, pretty much like it had been all week, very gentle with just enough push that swimming was unnecessary. The usual suspects dotted the reef, as medium sized grouper hung out over the drop-off in the deep blue like black ghosts.

 

 Several barracuda accompanied us throughout the dive, the most we had seen all week and once again, towards the end of the dive I was blessed to be in the right position for the biggest one of all to be swimming head-on to me, at first all I could see was two big black eyes and a thin dark mouth headed my way. Within 10 feet of me he finally veered off and passed with in just a few feet for another great photo op.

 

 Jose found a very small cleaner shrimp in a carpet anemone and helped me try getting a couple shots at him, but I couldn’t get my strobe in the right position to feed him enough light to get the shot.

 

 I found several Flamingo Tongues along the way, even a couple crawling down a brownish red sponge, which seemed like an unlikely place for them as they are usually found on sea fans and branch corals.

 

 As I passed over some soft branch corals I notice a little fish I haven’t found for a few years, a Slender filefish had unattached himself from his branch camouflage and was moving about in the “foliage” of the coral. This little 2 inch fish spends it’s life attached to coral branches using it’s very strong jaws, when other fish have taken cover from strong currents, under shelves and in caverns, this little guy will hold in place, even if he’s sleeping!

 

 I tried taking a couple of shots, but he wouldn’t cooperate and I only ended up with “fish butt” shots. Oh well, can’t win them all, I have a great shot of one I took several years ago, so this wasn’t that upsetting.

 

 More anemones scattered the reef as small schools of grunt and snappers tucked themselves into the deep crevices, overhangs and outcrops.

 

 We managed to squeeze in just under an hour before time and air were running thin and we headed for the 15-foot depth and the three-minute safety stop.

 

 Back at the hotel, we did as thorough rinse of the gear as you can do on vacation, hooked up the A/V cable to the TV and looked at the daily pics and decided it was time to have another fish burger before they made us go home.

 

After a quick run through El Cedral once again to see if any fiesta activities were starting yet, there weren’t, it was off to Coconuts for round two of burgers and margaritas. We ordered the poppers for an appetizer again and a fish burger and margarita each and watched the tropical day pass.

 

 We spent most of the afternoon at Coconuts, enjoying the free show of tourists, help and of course the birds Lorenzo the Green parrot, who will have nothing to do with me, and Chimichanga the beautiful Umbrella Cockatoo, who just loves me, and the scruffy little dogs hanging about. There is plenty to keep the “people” watcher in you occupied.

 

 After getting back to the hotel and resting for a while, I went downtown to get a little money out of the ATM and was pleased to find that the machine gave me a choice of pesos or green backs and since the exchange rate was so good, and we were going home the next day, I opted for Uncle Sam’s currency and headed to the French Quarter to order some dinner.

 

 Now going to Mexico to eat ribs may not seem like good logic to most, especially when you come from Texas, but Mike’s ribs are some of the best I’ve ever had and I just couldn’t go home without sinking my choppers into an order of them. They are not as spicy as Gate’s BBQ’s ribs in Kansas City, maybe the best ribs I’ve ever had, which leave your gums all tingly for the next couple of hours, but they run a very close second when it comes to flavor and tenderness.

 

 Mike Slaughter, the owner and proprietor of the French Quarter is a great guy; the Louisiana native is a great host and makes you feel right at home. I ordered the ribs with garlic-mashed potatoes, a mixed green salad and a grilled chicken sandwich for the boss.

 

 The restaurant is upstairs under a large palapa roof, the bar is located on the first level and it was packed! I found a seat to the “back” of the room nearest the street and sat back and enjoyed some more good people watching as Mike did what he does best, played host.

 

 Back at the room we feasted and reminisced about the past week and a half and wished we had another couple of weeks to play.

 

 Day 10 – Sat. – 4/25 –

 

2 cruise ships to the south and one to the north.

 

 They make us go home…

 

 Sleeping in was the plan, but I awoke early and sat on the balcony watching the DM’s and dive shop guys getting tanks and gear ready for the days activities. The dive boats arrived and folks slowly loaded on their assigned crafts and headed out for the first splash of the day.

 

 Finally brining myself to pack for the trip home carefully trying to replicate what I did on the way down to balance the weight of the luggage.

 

 I went to the dive shop and got our final bill total and checked out of the hotel. We said our good buys to all and headed to the airport to drop off the luggage early and go get one last good meal before leaving the island.

 

 After checking in for our flight we had a little over 2 hours before the plane took off so we decided to have lunch by the sea at Ernesto’s, funny, this is where we started this adventure.

 

 Two more of their fantastic strawberry margaritas to kick it off, couldn’t leave without having just one more. Their nearly famous seafood burrito for the Mrs., and the Mexican Plate for me as we watched the local boat traffic, dive ops next door and the U.S. Navy brining in 3 patrol boats to the International Pier.

 

 All too soon, it was time to go to Less Pay and turn in the Trekker and head to the airport. We caught a cab and headed to the airport all the way trying to soak in one last memory of another great trip.

 

 

Epilog:

 

 The weather although it is generally very nice this time of year was exceptional. Mostly in the mid 80’s with a constant breeze and occasionally getting flat out windy. The only day I felt “sticky” at all was on Saturday before we left.

 

 The evenings were quite pleasant, dipping into the low 70’s if not the high 60’s. We slept with the balcony door open most evenings.

 

 It only rained where we were, Monday overnight and the evening we went to Guido’s although we did run across wet pavement driving around on one or two afternoons.

 

 The Reef report: Reefs continue to recover from Wilma’s 52 hour pounding.  Going on 3 ½ years after the storm, shelved areas of the reef above 80’ still have sand deposits on them and Gorgonian sea fans and finger & lettuce corals are still hard to find. But for the most part the reefs look very healthy, with lots of new coral and sponge growth on most of the reef.

 

 Fish populations seem to be increasing also, larger fish are making their way back to the reef. Medium sized grouper, large angels and mature Trunkfish were present on almost all dives. Schools of small fish to medium sized fish, Chromis, Durgons and wrasse seemed more present than last year and crustacean populations are good, hermit crabs, King crabs and lobsters are easily found during the day.

 

 Neither of us found a Lion fish of any kind during our 7 days of diving, although reports of them have started to crop up.

 

Water temps were at 79 degrees on almost all dives, getting down to 76 degrees when we ventured to 100’+.

 

Visibility on all dives was easily 70-100’, with very little, if any, sand blowing about in the water. The plankton in the water wasn’t as think as it usually is a couple weeks later in the year, mostly small, clear jellies, but not enough to effect vis.

 

 We came up early in the week into a very small group of thimble jellies, some very small, so that season is just kicking off.

 

 Dive pals and new acquaintances on this trip; Sandy and Ayla from the Monterey, CA. area, ScubaBoarders, Bob and Janice, Jim and “Turk9” and his son; Terry from England and Sean & Nate from Washington, D.C. Great to see you all and hope to meet up with you again on future trips.

 

 This years Equipment reviews; Not a lot of new equipment this year, we both purchased BARE beanies to cover the old noggin for extra warmth if needed and to help Lore keep her hair out of her mask and more managed.

 

 I didn’t wear mine as I was quite comfortable in my 3mil wetsuit and only wore my rash shirt under it once or twice late in the week on second dives, but Lore loved hers.

 

 It did exactly what it was supposed to do and she was quite pleased.

 

 Lore had been renting masks from Blue Angel the past couple of years, because her mask broke and we have been having a hard time replacing it for various reasons.

 

 An electrical contractor I know gave me a Sea Vision mask that he had purchased and ended up not using. Sea Vision masks are those masks with the pink lenses that work like a red filter does in underwater videography to make the colors come out at depth.

 

 The mask fit her perfectly and she really enjoyed the “red filter” lenses making the colors even more spectacular on her dives.

 

 The only other new item we had was a reel we purchased for our safety sausage which I used on a couple occasions and it worked very well, much better than the PVC pipe and line contraption I came up with last year.