Cozumel, Mexico April 23- May 3 2010

…hey, who invited Murphy!?

 

 

 Sometimes you’ve just got to go with the flow, no matter how rough the flow is. Despite a few hiccups and bad decisions this year’s adventure to Coz was as fun as always. What is it that fishermen say? “A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work”? Much the same, a bad day on Cozumel is better than a good day not on vacation.

 

 I enter into my 50th year on this planet; the time when “they” say you are supposed to take stock of your life, where you’ve been, what you’ve done and where you are heading…

…screw that, I’m going diving!

 

 

Day 1, Friday, April 23 –

 

 American airlines flight 367 from Dallas-Ft. Worth International to Cozumel pushed off on time as the strains of the Zack Brown Band’s “Toes” danced around my head…”I got my toes in the water, ass in the sand, not a worry in the world a cold beer in my hand…life is good today….”

 

 "The plane arrived about 3 o'clock..." slightly early to fair skies and somewhat windy conditions, a pattern that would continue throughout our visit.

 

 We made it through customs without a hitch and continued to the taxi window and purchased 2 one-way tickets on the airport transfer vans to Blue Angel Resort, www.blueangelresort.com 

$16 U.S.

 

 The former Caribe Blu, Lorena and La Pearla is now operated by Robert and Eva who have made many very nice improvements to the hotel and dive operations over the past couple of years. Including a new solar water heating system and new A/C units in most if not all the rooms, we only stayed in one. They have also reworked the grounds and landscaping around the pool area and renovating the lobby to make it more efficient and user friendly.

 

 After making our greetings to all our Cozumel family at the hotel, we checked into room 206, the “octopus room”. All the rooms at B.A. have a motif of some sea creature in mosaic stone in the floor, and a corresponding photo on the wall, room 206 has an octopus.

 

 I take note of the 3 cruise ships down at the International and Mayan Piers. I’ve been taking a daily census of the number of cruise ships in port while we are there ever since I started keeping a travel journal in the early 2000’s…why stop now.

 

 Next was to make the short mile walk to town and take in all the familiar and new sites of our vacation home for the past dozen years of so. First thing we noticed was that they are building another large pier for island services. This one is located by the lighthouse just north of Blue Angel and from what I was told will be the new landing for the car ferry coming over from the Yucatan…progress, you just can’t escape it.

 

 We made our way past the Scuba Club, Hotel Cozumel and Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville to the Hotel Barracuda shopping strip and into Less Pay car rentals. We have been using Less Pay for

years, the cars aren't the fanciest in the world, but we have never had a mechanical issue with them and the price is always right.

 

 The guy didn’t have a Tracker available, which we had reserved, so he upgraded us to a full sized Jeep, which came in quite handy throughout the trip.

 

 For the past couple years Ernesto’s Fajita Factory has been our first stop to get the Cozumelian diet started…today was no exception. 2 Strawberry margaritas, Grilled grouper cooked the traditional Mexican style, grilled with garlic and butter for her and Plato Mexicano, combination plate for me, excellent way to get this thing started.

 

 We sipped on the sweet concoctions and watched the Caribbean sun sink down towards the Yucatan Peninsula on the other side of the channel.

 

 Now, a Cozumel sunset is a little different than most Caribbean sunsets because the sun actually sets over land and not over the sea’s horizon.

 

 Thus, the peak of a Cozumel sunset usually happens when the sun is at about 25-30 degrees off the horizon, a half-hour to 45 minutes before the actual sunset as the sun breaks through the late afternoon clouds with brilliant light beams and splashes of yellow, reds and oranges bouncing off the almost ever present late afternoon clouds that have formed over the Yucatan Jungle...Home of the Maya.

 

Day 2, Saturday, April 24 –

 

 I awoke to the sounds of birds chirping, waves lapping the shore, scuba tanks clanking, boat motors buzzing and the sight of the first of four cruise ships headed into port past my sliding glass door windows…it’s good to be home.

 

 We took our time getting around on this first full day, the weather was more humid than usual, even with the stronger wind than we are used to, the humidity was noticeable.

 

 Heading downtown, the smell of onions and garlic cut the sweetness of the salt air and kicked in the hunger pangs calling us to one of our long-time culinary favorites, The Museum.

 

 The museum? You say? Yes, The Mueso de la Isla de Cozumel, (Museum of the island of Cozumel) is not only a great place to get some Mexican culture and history, but at the second level open aired café, you can have a wonderful breakfast or lunch.

 

 Today was more of a brunch; Lore ordered a ham and cheese croissant, they were out of croissants so they put the sandwich on a crispy ciabatta like bread. They had given us some small croissants filled with cream cheese or chocolate and Lore transferred some of her sandwich fillings on to the small cream cheese filled pastries and was in heaven.

 

 I ordered an “Energetic”; a large bowl of mixed fruit; bananas, kiwi, cantaloupe, papaya, (still getting used to the taste of that stuff),  and pineapple with plain yogurt and granola…that will fill you up! 2 mixed carrot/orange juices and coffees rounded out the meal and we were ready for some diving.

 

 We jumped in the Jeep and headed back to the hotel, gathered the scuba equipment and made our way down to the dive shop, conveniently located below the

restaruant, for an equipment check out dive.

 

 After filling out the dive form most dive ops have you fill out; name, address, dive cert & number, number of dive and a few questions, sign your life away

and it was time to get wet.

 

 Villablanca Shallows is still in recovery mode from hurricane Wilma back in 2005, but nonetheless is still

a very nice shore dive to check your equipment on and is still touted as one of the best night dives on the island. What I call Villablanca Shallows is the entire

stretch of shoreline from the Hotel Villa Blanca north to Blue Angel Resort, a quarter mile or more stretch of very shallow, flat sandy bottom, littered with

rocks, coral debris and small coral heads…a great place to explore.

 

 The dive plan is very simple, drop down beside the stingray pen built a couple years ago for snorkelers to “swim with the stingrays” and swim around the end of it heading south into the current, taking time to see what life is hanging out along and at the bottom of the “net cage” that makes up the stingray enclosure, then swimming out past the enclosure to the rubble scattered sandy bottom between Blue Angel and Villa Blanca resorts.

 

 Like I said, the landscape is mostly a sandy bottom with lots of piles of rock and some small coral heads scattered about. There are plenty of little spaces for

juvenile fish and critters to hide in...my kind of diving. We saw a trumpet fish hanging upside down along the cage, several kinds of small eels including a

sharp tailed eel in the rubble, lots of sea urchins, anemones, juvenile angels and other small fish along the way.

 

 Ok, equipment checks out, ready to hit the boat in the a.m.

 

 For lunch we headed down south, first to stop and see our old “friend” Tree, the giant La Ceiba tree located just north of Punta Sur (south point). Tree was in the same stage as last year, at first glance not seeing any, or very few leaves, you would think it was dead, but closer inspection shows, lots of new green branch growth and seedpods hanging from them. Hmm, seed pods, Tree must be a girl!

 

 The Freedom Bar, also known as Bob Marley’s is located just about as far south as you can go on the island without getting wet. It and it’s “sister bar” Rasta’s across the street are both located at the entrance of the Punta Sur Park and where the Caribbean Sea meets the Channel of Cozumel.

 

 The water gets much more rough and “surfy” from here all the way along the south and east sides of the island where the road turns back west at Mescalito’s and heads back to San Miguel, the main city on Coz. About an hour's drive straight through.

 

 We split and order of chicken and beef nachos, had a couple of cervezas and continued to shift into “island time”, that state of mind where time stands still and everything seems like it can get done manana.

 

 In Spanish manana means tomorrow, in the Caribbean, it doesn’t necessarily mean tomorrow, it just means…not today.

 

 As we were leaving the Freedom Bar, we noticed our friends, Mike Busher (the husband of B.A. hotel manager Jeanie), Eva, Dive Master Matt (Mateo), and new friends George and Ann, divers visiting from Nova Scotia, Canada. We pulled up a seat and continued to enjoy the afternoon with some good conversation.

 

 One of the many improvements Eva and Robert have done to the Blue Angel was to expand the size, hours and menu of the restaurant. The open-air palapa is nearly twice the size as it used to be and the restaurant is now open every night but Sunday until 10:30 p.m., so the night divers will be able to have a place to eat when they get back.

 

 We generally eat breakfast of yogurt and cereal or granola in our room on dive days, so we didn’t take advantage of the “breakfast included on dive days” part of our package, but we did eat several lunches and a couple dinners there and the food quality and proportions are both quite impressive.

 

 Our first meal at the former “Rendez Blu”, now “Blue Angel Resort Waterside Restaurant” was a very good start, Tempura shrimp & veggies for Lore; lightly breaded, deep fried shrimp that were huge and cooked to perfection, I had Penne pasta with spinach and blue cheese in a light olive oil based sauce, quite tasty indeed!

 

 With our tummies full, we drifted off to sleep with dreams of blue water, wall dives and big fishes dancing in our heads.

 

Day 3, Sunday, April 25 –

 

 No cruise ships on Sunday. That’s the way it is. Sunday is the day for the locals to get a break from the big ships and have a day to spend with family.

 

 For us, it was a day one to hit the magnificent Reefs of Palancar, the second largest reef system in the world, second only of course to Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

 

 We get up; have a breakfast in the room. I pop seasick pills and decongestants. Set up the camera and gather scuba equipment for the mornings adventure.

 

 Today, and for the entire trip, we have our old pal Jorge as Dive Master. The group jumps on board the Chiquimax dive boat and after picking a few more dive buddies up at the El Cantil condominiums, it was time to dive.. I’m pretty sure we’ve dove with this group on another occasion, Bob, Sid, Danny and Michaela all looked very familiar. That's the way it is down here, over the years, you meet and re-meet many of the same fellow divers. The captain pointed the “six-pack” boat South for the reefs.

 

 As the case was for most of our visit, the seas were a little choppy because of higher than normal winds, so going too far south was not possible, no Punta Sur today. First stop,

Chankanaab Bolones, Jorge explains the name comes from the coral  formations looking somewhat like balloons…ok; let’s go take a look!

 

 The group maxed out around 72’ following the somewhat shallow dive profile for a first dive on Cozumel; Bolones is a series of large coral heads strung together over a flat sandy bottom;

a secondary mid-shelf reef dive. Blue Chromis and Sergeant Majors lead the way as we meet a couple large lobsters, various grouper and a King Crab hanging out in a small cavern.

 

 I swam up to Jorge just as he was pulling a big plastic bag out of his BC and I noticed the Lionfish sitting near the bottom just in front of  him. My first Lionfish sighting on Cozumel! I was excited about seeing one for the first time in over 20 years, and sad at the same time at what I was about to participate in.

 

 The Lionfish is an animal that is indigenous to the Pacific Ocean and was accidentally or purposely introduced into the U.S. Atlantic seashores by either an aquarist that no longer wanted or could care for the fish. Or, by other accounts, were accidentally swept out to sea when a hurricane passed through Florida and washed out an aquarium. Either way, it has spread extremely quickly over the Atlantic seaboard and out into the Caribbean, making it’s way as far south as Cozumel for sure if not already making it to Belize.

 

 Lore and I visited Grand Bahamas Island in April of 2004, and she came up from a dive stating that she had seen a Lionfish. Of course, I assured her she hadn’t and asked the DM if he had ever seen one in those waters. He wasn’t even sure what a Lionfish was.

 

 Turns out, she most likely did see one, as it was in 2004 when the first sightings began being reported in the Bahamas and she may have been one of the very first to see one...apologies have been made.

 

 I have mixed feelings about the lionfish situation. Learning to dive in the Pacific, I have enjoyed diving with this beautiful animal on many occasions and it is one of my favorite fish. But being introduced to an environment that it was not intended to be in has caused a lot of problems for the ecology of the waters it has invaded, as it has very few natural predators in these waters and is an aggressive breeder and feeder. Thus, what have become one ocean’s most prized animals is another’s most wanted. Cozumel is gearing up for it’s second "Lionfish roundup" this year to help alleviate the problem.

 

 I gently used the strobe of my camera to help coax the beautiful animal into the plastic bag to meet its fate. I didn’t pay much attention after catching the fish, but soon, Jorge was taking it out of the bag and letting the dead carcass float to the bottom for the scavengers to clean up.

 

 Murphy shows up… We hit the choppy surface and by the time the dive boat picked us up I was already feeling the way too familiar dizziness associated with seasickness. I usually don’t throw up when I get seasick, in fact that has only happened a couple of times in my life. For me, its just dizziness to the point I literally can’t hold my head up and nauseous ness associated with it.

 

 Jorge called Villablanca Wall, as the second dive, one I hated to miss, but just wasn’t feeling up to it. Fortunately I’d get a reprieve later in the week. The rest of the group splashed on what I knew would be a great wall dive and the captain graciously motored me over to the hotel, literally right beside the dive site, so I could have some time to recover rather than bobbing up and down in the choppy water for the next 45 minutes.

 

 Of course Lore came back with an excited report of seeing an octopus, pipefish, finding her first Fire worm on her own and Jorge finding 2 very tiny juvenile Drums.

 

 One of the guys on the dive boat, Bob, said he had some seasick pills from Australia the were “the best seasick pills in the world” and he would give me a couple to try and we could come by the

condo and pick them up later that afternoon if we wanted to…note to self, don’t take other people’s drugs. The stuff was called Avil and turns out is a prescription anti-histamine used for allergies

such as hay fever, some skin rashes and seasickness.

 

 First it was lunch at the hotel with Lore getting Eva’s Kitchen Sink Salad, a huge mound of lettuce and just about anything you can imagine to put on a salad. A BLT and fries for me with both of us

having some of “Izzy’s” tea. Unsweetened iced tea is sometimes hard to come by on Coz, but fortunately for us, our waiter likes “natural tea” as they refer to it down there, and he had some already

brewed up for us.

 

  Murphy’s second visit…After lunch we headed down to El Cantil condominiums located just before you enter San Miguel and the new location of Prima’s restaurant, moving in the past year from it’s long time location just off the Plaza downtown to the top of the most northern of the 2 towers making up El Cantil condos.

 

 Somehow, jumping out of the jeep, I dropped the key and didn’t notice it. We had the doorman “unlock” the elevator and let us up to the floor where the guys were staying.

 

 We knocked on the door and got no answer and jumped back into the elevator to see if they might be at the pool. On the way back from the pool I all of a sudden snapped that I didn’t have the car key! We retraced our steps back up stairs, around the jeep and to the pool to no avail.

 

 The doorman started asking me about it, I described the key as having a yellow piece of rope as a keychain, “jellow?” he said in his broken English. “That guy came out and got on a scooter and picked up a yellow rope and drove off”

 

 WTF? Someone just finds a key lying next to a vehicle and picks it up and just takes off with it? A friend explained me later that the car rental agency would most likely put a reward out for it, so the person was probably hoping for a little pay off out of the deal.

 

 The doorman had called the condo in the meantime and said that the guys were up there so we went up to see them. Sid showed us around the very nicely appointed 3-bedroom apartment and Bob gave me the “wonder pills” with some instructions and we headed the short couple of blocks down to Less-Pay to see if he had a spare key for the jeep…he did, (take that Murphy), and we were on our way to circumnavigate the island for the first time on this trip.

 

 Stopping for gas at the station located by the International Pier, we headed south, turning off the main “highway” at the Caleta, the little natural harbor that is used to tie up a lot of the dive and fishing boats on the island.

 

 We were told that the harbor and surrounding land had been sold by the government to investors that are going to build condos around it and that the government was going to have to build a new harbor for the dive ops to have a safe haven for their boats…progress.

 

 The old beach road runs along the oceanfront past Chankanaab Park, some of the southern hotels, condos and beach clubs like Playa Corona, another great afternoon hang out joint.

 

 At the Wyndam, formerly the Reef Club, the old road meets back up with the new highway and functions as a service road all the way south to Punta Sur where after passing The Freedom Bar it merges with the highway to form the road that follows the shoreline around the island to meet 2/3 back up the north side at Mescalitos Beach Bar and home of the “Mexican Target” souvenir shops…”almost free” one of the signs proudly proclaims.

 

 For dinner we headed up to another long time favorite of ours, Rock-n-Java.

 

 R-n-J is one of those funky little places you wouldn’t expect on Cozumel. The décor is tropical enough with the building columns cleverly tuned into abstract palm trees and the metal sea life sculptures hanging on the walls, but the place in general feels like a little coffee shop, diner or Internet café, which I guess it technically, it is.

 

 The food is great no matter what meal you have from whole wheat pancakes to biscuits and gravy for breakfast, to Mexican, Italian, Caribbean, Tai and American dishes for lunch and dinner. From sandwiches to full meals, it’s all good. Lisa, the owner, specializes in desserts; cakes, pies & cheesecakes all to die for.

 

 We started off with Black Bean nachos; two 3” tostadas topped with black beans, avocado, lettuce, pico de gallo & the crème fresh stuff they use in Mexico that is like sour cream…yummy!

 

 Lore had Spinach and mushroom quesadillas and I had the marinated chicken strips with rice and mango salsa, a dish I’ve enjoyed on several occasions at this fine establishment. With 2 freshly brewed iced teas to wash it all down. We were pretty full and passed on dessert making plans to come back later in the week and get some of Lisa’s sweet endings.

 

 About midnight I awoke to the sound of wind blowing against the sliding glass doors and realized it was raining fairly hard. I got up and looked outside just as a large thunderclap rumbled the building. I didn’t see any lightning in the storm, but there was plenty of thunder.

 

 Day 4 – Monday – April 26 –

 

 The night’s storm passed and we awoke to the calmest weather we had seen in the morning so far.

 

 Breakfast in the room of yogurt and granola, I munched on a couple of crackers to help fill the hole.

 

 I popped one of the Avil’s that Bob had given me with the hopes that it would work and Murphy would take a day off from diving…no such luck.

 

 We hopped aboard Chiquimax and with the calmer seas Jorge directed the captain down to Palancar Bricks, hands down, one of my favorite dives on Cozumel.

 

 “Bricks” is like rolling all the Cozumel deep dives into one convenient package. Dropping down onto the sandy bottom at the edge of the reef, this is where you may spot some of the bricks, and occasionally a piece of the ship, left over from a barge sinking here many years ago, and where the site gets it’s name from. You fist swim around large pinnacles jutting up from the main reef forming large valleys with sandy bottoms that garden eels can be found in, but not on this trip.

 

 There is a swim-thru at the beginning of the dive, which is narrow and mostly vertical, much like the swim-thru at Punta Sur's Devil's Throat, but Jorge did not take us through it.

                                                          

 As you pass the first group of pinnacles, the terrain changes to more of a wall dive with many ins and outs to explore and look for critters. We find lots of anemones, tube sponges and hydroids covering the reef and mixing with the hard and soft corals, the reef looks very good.

 

 Jorge and I come across a Lionfish. So he got his plastic bag out to corral the thing as I tried using my camera strobe to help guide the thing into the bag as I  had the day before. This time however, the little bugger slipped passed my housing and the plastic bag and backed into a little corner as to re-group for the next attempt…this may not have been his first time at the rodeo.

 

 We were in a bit of a tight spot between 2 coral heads and there just wasn’t enough room for 2 guys with scuba equipment to move comfortably, so to avoid one of us getting stuck by the fish,

or damaging the reef, I moved off and let Jorge have more room to maneuver.

 

 Murphy visits Jorge... Well, what would you know, when we got back on the boat, we found out that Jorge ended up getting stung pretty badly by the Lionfish. So much for trying to help. At least 4

spines penetrated the palm of his left hand. It had already started to swell up and the man was in a lot of pain.

 

 Now if anyone ever questions whether the folks in Cozumel will do anything to make sure you have a good trip, this should put that to rest.

 

 Most people after being stung by a lionfish, 4 TIMES, would be in a hurry to call it a day, get back to shore and get the thing in some hot water.Not Jorge, instead he put his hand on the top of the

boat motor to try and draw some of the pain out and directed the captain to Columbia Shallows, a site that is on everyone’s top 5 dive sites of Cozumel list, and probably my top 3.

 

 The question always arises, "If I only had time for one boat dive on Cozumel, what 2 sites would you do?" These 2 sites we did on this day would probably be my first choices.

 

 Columbia Shallows, as the name implies…is shallow. Blue Angel DM Matt (Mateo), will tell you that; “You need to bring a shovel if you plan on going deeper than 30 feet”. But that is what makes it so great, lots of light, tons of fish, and gobs of bottom time. It’s like diving in a large, well-stocked aquarium.

 

 The groups splashed and quickly disassembled as is what tends to happen at CS. Lore and I spotting a small Yellow Spotted stingray right off the top and were caught up in our own little world, “The Undersea World of Sharky Cousteau”, minus the film crew.

 

 A hawksbill turtle swam by and we followed her until she decided to stop for a sponge snack. I snapped a couple shots and we moved on. Again,

lots of anemones dotted the landscape; purple tube sponges with their Brittle Sea Star companions were everywhere. Schools of grunts and snapper

hung in the slight current and parted as we passed through them. We spotted some lobsters; a very large lizardfish and I notice the lettuce coral is

making a comeback. A Stoplight Parrotfish swam by and I notice it had a passenger, a small green and black Remora was attached to the Parrot’s

underside…hey, that’s not a shark!

 

 We spent over an hour exploring the coral heads before we both started to get low on gas and popped up in the middle of a snorkeling group and

moved off to flag down the dive boat.

 

 Jorge was still in quite a bit of pain and tried to keep his mind off it by helping everyone get out of the water, mostly one handed at that…

what a trooper!!

 

 I had survived the 2 dives without getting seasick, but the winds had kicked up and the ride back was pretty choppy and I was feeling quite dizzy by the time we had motored back to the dock.

 

 I called my pal Sally Hurwitch, masseuse extraordinaire, for some much needed relief. She had an opening later that afternoon at 5:30 and would be glad to see me.

 

 Lore headed up to the restaurant for lunch and I laid down for a nap to try and sleep off the seasickness.

 

 After a couple hours sleep I was feeling better, but still dizzy and very tight in the neck, so I was very happy when 5:00 rolled around and I jumped in the jeep and headed over to Sally’s little bungalow.

 

 I’ve been going to Sally, also known as “Barefoot in Cozumel, Sally", www.barefootincozumel.com for many years and always benefit from the therapeutic healing of her amazing hands and feet. Yes, feet, she does Ashiatsu, Reiki and Swedish Message which includes the old “walking on the back” routine.

 

 But that really doesn’t do it justice. It is by far the best message I have ever had, and I’ve had a lot of messages in my day from many different people. Sally has a fantastic grip on how muscles work and how to relieve their stress. She has even pulled me out of a migraine more than once.

 

 After my hour of bliss, I was feeling much better, the knots in my back from the previous weeks weight sessions and hauling luggage had totally vanished and although some dizziness still persisted, the new blood flow to the brain and through the body gave me hope for a better day tomorrow.

 

 For dinner we headed up to Guito’s Italian restaurant for pizza, salad and garlic bread to go. Love Guito’s pizza! We hooked my camera up to the TV in the room with the A/V cables and looked at the photos I’d taken so far as we enjoyed our meal.

 

 Something wasn’t working right with the camera. The strobe wasn’t working consistently or at all; most wide-angle shots had no flash on them at all. Turns out, I shot the entire trip with the flash guard on the camera housing blocking the port to the fiber optic cable that makes the strobe fire. Essentially shooting with the on-board flash through not one, but 2 diffusers. And with my seasick issues, I wasn’t thinking right to work my problem through, so I just continued shooting that way…what a dork!

 

 So, I shall call this group of pictures, my “blue” period. Hey it worked for Van Gough and Picasso, why not me. Thank God for Photoshop!!

 

Day 5 – Tuesday – April 27 –

 

 2 ships to the south, there were no cruise ships docked at the downtown pier the entire time we were there.

 

 Ok, let’s try this again. As a testament to how much I love to dive, after 2 afternoons of feeling less than wonderful after diving, I was eager to hit the reefs and try it again. This time only a half of an Avil and it was off for the morning dive.

 

 We packed the gear and headed down to the dock where, to our amazement, stood Jorge with a big grin on his face! What a work ethic! Badly stung the day before by a lionfish, his hand very swollen and obviously still in quite a bit of pain, the man was ready to take on the day…simply amazing.

 

 The Blue Angel II headed through the somewhat calmer seas to Palancar Horseshoe, and our next adventure with Murphy.

 

 The dive started off normal, and for the most apart was uneventful. Jorge took us through the tight swim-thru like openings at the beginning of

the dive and we worked our way along the steep wall. Good-sized grouper hung in the water just inside visibility limits like small shadowy

submarines.

 

 Horseshoe like all the reefs we saw on this trip continues to recover from hurricane Wilma’s onslaught. Hydroids and small back coral

branches fill in the spaces between the tube sponges, anemones and corals.

 

 Blue Chromis, school all over the place and large French and Gray Angelfish and small Butterfly fish swim in pairs at all levels of the reef.

 

 Near the end of the dive, I looked back for Lore. I just checked with her a few minutes before, and one of the divers signaled to me that my buddy had gone up! Gee, thanks for letting me know.

I backtracked just a few feet in the mild current and sure enough, I saw her pink fins hanging down from the surface.

 

 Keeping an eye out for boats, I did a quick safety stop and surfaced to see what was wrong. It’s not like her to abort a dive early. Turns out she had lost a weight pouch from her BC and really didn’t have much of a choice in the matter.

 

 The captain came and picked us up and by the time we were onboard, other members of the group were beginning to surface. The only big loss of the dive was that we still haven’t been able to see the memorial left in memory of our friend Martin Aguilar Perera of Dive with Martin who passed in 2006 and of course, the weight pouch and lead, which we offered to pay for.

 

 Back on board the boat, I started feeling bad by the end of the surface interval and decided to sit out on another great dive La Francesa, one of Cozumel’s great mid-shelf garden dives.

 

 I was starting to get suspicious of the Avil seasick pills, the sensation I was having was not quite like normal seasickness. It felt more like a bad reaction to something. I took another early afternoon nap and was feeing better around 3:00pm.

 

 Ok, no more of that stuff, I’m going back to my regular routine, Bonine, Sudafed and Benadryl, it may be over medicating, but it works!…note to self, stick with what you know.

 

 The afternoon was spent with another nap and some time by the pool, although it was mostly cloudy until around 3:00p, it felt good to lay under the small palapa and doze in the breeze, moving to one of the hammocks when the shade made it's way to the right positioning.

 

 Dinner was at one of, if not the oldest restaurants on Cozumel and a favorite of many, many people, including us, Casa Denis.

 

 Located just a few steps from the back of the downtown Plaza, Casa Denis has been a Cozumel favorite for over 50 years! Very good food and exceptional service, and sitting outside gives you

some great people watching. We ordered 2 mango margaritas and proceeded to watch the free entertainment.

 

 Guitar mariachis are always on attendance at Casa Denis and this evening was no exception, we ordered up a couple of romantic songs and sipped on the margs as we surveyed the menu.

 

 Lore had her long-time favorite of Cream Maya Spinach Soup and Seafood Cocktail, a crevice of fish, octopus and conch…easy on the conch please. I had a bowl of tortilla soup and the Chicken Tostadas, very light and refreshing.

 

 

DAY 6 – WEDNESDAY – APRIL 28 –

 

 We had scheduled Wednesday off from diving and decided to stick with that plan and let my body completely get rid of the Avil and Start fresh on Thursday.

 

 After sleeping in a little we ventured down to the lobby, I ordered the fruit and bread plate and some orange juice and Lore ordered the protein drink from the restaurant and we sat in the lobby checking e-mails on the laptop.

 

 Jeanie, the hotel manager and Eva were in the lobby and we spent time talking to them and enjoying the morning.

 

 Around 10 o’clock the wind started to pick up quite a bit and a short rain shower popped up to break the humidity for a short while. The unusual windy pattern continued throughout the afternoon.

 

 We had planned to go to Coconut’s on the other side of the island, on Tuesday, but with me not feeling so great, we decided to put it off until today.

 

 Packing a cooler, we jumped in the Jeep and pointed it south for Punta Sur. Taking our time, driving the old beach road, as usual, stopping to check out some different flowers we hadn’t seen before

or trying to creep up on an iguana soaking up some heat from the asphalt to try and take a pic.

 

 For one of the first times ever, the “windy” side of the island wasn’t so much. Sure, it was windy, but it seemed almost lighter than what was going on over on the “protected” side of the island.

 

 One of the first things you learn about island life is that if the weather is not cooperating where you are at, just move on up the road and most likely it will be more to your liking.

 

 Such was the case today. By the time we reached Coconut’s and climbed the hill to the large Palapa, sitting on a cliff, overlooking the Caribbean Sea, the sun had come out and the wind had settled

down to a gentler trade wind type tropical breeze we are more accustomed to. San Miguel on the other side of the island had rain on and off throughout the afternoon, but we remained mostly sunny.

 

 Lore had worn her Coconut’s t-shirt that she had altered into a sleeveless shirt and it was, of course, a big hit with the waiters and owner.

 

 We found an open table close to my pal Chimichanga, the beautiful white Cockatoo who along with Lorenzo, the green parrot, a host of turtles, chickens, a couple of dogs, and the new addition of a chameleon make up the permanent residents of Coconut’s. And for at least Chimi’s part, very good photo ops. Lorenzo has never taken to me very much and usually won’t even pose for me. Chimi on the other hand is big ham and strikes some wonderful poses for me. I even used one of her photos in my final pics for a wildlife class I recently took.

 

 Coconut’s has become a lot more popular now that the new highway running across the island on the north side has been extended down to it, but it still has all of its charm and fun atmosphere.

 

 Classic rock playing on the tunes, good stuff too not that Top 20 chart crap you get from your local classic rock station at home. I’m sure it’s some sort of satellite station. The waiters and bartenders are pretty much the same crew that has been there for years and are always glad to see you and help to make your time there a good one, just like everyone on Coz.

 

 The ceiling of the palapa is covered with t-shirts that people have left and signed for the restaurant from all over the place. Lots of tees from Texas, of course, because we are so close, but there

are shirts there from all over the U.S. and Canada. And most likely other countries, but I didn’t spy any.

 

 Some of the t-shirts have been “donated” by girls that have made their way into the “Family Albums”; a very large collection of photo books, full of topless women who mostly have had a little too

much libation and have freely discarded their tops and volunteered for the photos.

                                                         

 I have never personally witness the ritual of the induction into the Family Albums, but I can assure you, it happens. For some reason things are usually pretty tame whenever we are there.

 

 Lore ordered the bean and cheese nachos and I had chicken fajitas, rather than my usual fish burger, planning on saving that for a return trip. We shared a couple of the infamous margaritas and just kicking back in the afternoon breeze.

 

 I took a couple of pics of Chimi and tried shooting Lorenzo who, as usual, was standing on his head or something like that and wouldn’t cooperate.

 

 Last year when we were here, we ran up a pretty good tab, bought t-shirts and cozies and were a little short on cash to give the waiter a decent tip. He graciously told me that we had made friends with the tables around us and they had stayed longer and spent more money than they would have without us engaging in conversation with them and that their tip more than made up for it.

 

 This of course did not satisfy us, as we are usually very good tippers, especially if the service merits it, and here it always does. So I went over to the waiter we had the year before and relayed the story to him and handed him a 20. Needless to say, he was shocked and very much appreciative of the effort.

 

 We bid adios to our friends and headed back down the hill to the parking lot were Lore purchased a couple necklaces from the vendor guy who threw in an ankle bracelet with the deal.

 

 Back at the hotel we were running low on supplies so I headed up to Chedraui to restock as she relaxed in the room.

 

 Dinner was back up at the hotel restaurant, Lore ordered the Shrimp Tempera with garlic mashed potatoes, to rave reviews and I had the daily special of Prim Rib with the mashed potatoes.

 

 About half way through the meal, our new dive buddies George and Ann came up and we invited them to sit with us. The breeze gently blew through the open-aired palapa and made for a very nice relaxing evening.

 

 

Day 7 – Thursday – April 29 –

 

 3 ships to the south.

 

 We were supposed to do a boat dive on Thursday, but canceled and slept in instead…hey we’re on vacation, what the heck!

 

 After having yogurt and granola in the room for breakfast, we headed down to the lobby with the laptop to check e-mails and download photos I hadn’t gotten to yet.

 

 The lobby was full of people just finishing up an art class. How inspiring, sitting in a little open-air tropical hotel lobby overlooking the ocean, palm trees swaying in the breeze and all the colors of Mexico at your fingertips.

 

 I checked the “mail”, made some smart-ass comments on Facebook and sat down to talk some more with Jeanie. She always has interesting stories to tell of what is going on about the island.

 

 She told us that the government had sold the Caleta, the little natural harbor to the south that most of the small dive boats harbor at. It appears that some developers along with the El Presidente hotel are planning on building condos around the harbor...progress.

 

 Pretty messed up as this is one of only 2 natural harbors on the island, not counting the pretty much inaccessible to most people Punta Norte natural bay way up north, and does create nice protection for the dive boat industry during storms. Although when a major hurricane is coming through, they try and pull most of the boats out of the water.

 

 The government is planning on building a new harbor of some sort for the dive boats, but I find it hard to believe it will be anything as well protected as the natural harbor is.

 

 About 10:30 or so, my sinuses stated feeling very stuffy and the pressure kept building, so did the wind through the lobby. All of a sudden it started to rain and my sinuses immediately were relieved! Hmm…maybe it’s the humidity causing some these issues.

 

 The wind started blowing so hard that the front desk guy put down the clear plastic tarp in front of the hotel entry to keep everything in the lobby from blowing away and the reception desk from

being soaked.

 

 It rained for less than a half hour and was mostly just a light rain after the initial onslaught. It stopped for almost an hour and my sinuses started building again…maybe if I get underwater things will

 be better.

 

 We hunted down our friends George and Ann and asked if they were up to a shore dive. Of course they were, they had just completed taking

their Advanced Open Water certs with Matt earlier that morning with a navigation dive. We all gathered equipment, had Pony get us weights

and belts if needed and set up a dive plan.

 

 Ottillio, the do-it-all maintenance man at the hotel, Eva calls him her Ninja, because he’s everywhere at the same time, barrowed Roberts

pickup and drove the group down to Casa de Mar’s pier where we planned on getting in. I shall call the site Del Mar Shallows, I followed

in the Jeep and parked it near Papa Hog’s in case we didn’t make.

 

 It had been several years, before Wilma actually, since we had dove this far south along the pre-Marine Park area and the area looked very

good. Out in front of Casa del Mar and for about ¾ of the dive north to Villa Blanca and Papa Hog’s was some of the nicest shore diving I've

seen on Cozumel in years.

 

 Just a little before we entered the water, it started raining again and again, my sinus were much relieved and clearing was no issue once we splashed…well, actually we waded, but let’s not split hairs. I set my compass to arrow strait up the shoreline towards Blue Angel and we were off.

 

 The terrain was made up of large flat rocks with many small sea fans and soft sponges sprouting from them. Small coral heads dotted the

sandy bottom between the large flat boulders.

 

 We found a Fire Scallop wedged in a coral head, lots and lots of Brittle Sea Stars everywhere, tons of anemones, some Christmas tree tubes

and couple of small friendly looking eels.

 

 I came across a parrotfish eating a sea urchin, but he zipped off before I could get a shot off. I took a pic of the small yellow wrasse darting

in to clean up the leftovers instead.

 

 The current was almost non-existent and we spent a little over an hour slowly working our way up the shoreline.

 

 Just about the time I noticed we had been down 54 minutes, I felt the need to see where we were. I signaled the group to stay down and swam for the surface.

 

 We still hadn’t passed Hotel Villa Blanca and all our tanks read at about 1200 lbs. of remaining air. The question was, to try and push the air limits and make a swim for it and try to make it all the way back to Blue Angel, or to just continue with the easy pace and get out a Papa Hog’s.

 

I figured we could make it to at least this side of the stingray tank, but all the way in, I wasn’t so confident about. The safer and more logical choice in the almost non-existent current was to do the latter, which we did. Besides, we had already been down for over an hour and George and Ann had already made a long shore dive earlier that morning.

 

 I had spotted a place just to the south of Papa Hog’s dive shop and pier where there was a break in the rocks and a small sandy shore area with a set of stairs leading up to the street level and directed the group to that point

 

 I love it when a plan comes together! We all swam right up to the sandy beach area and exited from a very successful shore dive.

 

 We all shed our BCs, weights and fins and I grabbed my camera and headed up the stairs to the sidewalk to go retrieve the Jeep just up the street.

 

 Only in a place like Coz can a person walk down the street with a wet suit down to their waist, dripping wet, carrying an underwater camera setup and no one pays them any attention...I love it!

 

 I picked up the Jeep and we made 2 trips back to the hotel, one to take the equipment back and one to take the girls back, not necessarily in that order. We rinsed our equipment and headed up to

the restaurant for some much needed lunch.

 

 Lore ordered Shrimp Quesadillas and I had Mixed Nachos, a huge plate of chicken and beef nachos, piled high and loaded with beans, pico de gillo, avocado and crème fresh, a dish that should be shared by two.

 

 A little pool time, relaxing in the room and looking over the day’s pics on the TV, and it was time to get out and go for a little drive.

 

 By the time we reached Punta Sur, it was already sunset and for grins we decided to go ahead and drive around the island.

 

 Now, there are no streetlights on the “wild side” of Cozumel, and when it gets dark…it gets dark!! We passed very few people along the way; probably were workers getting off from Playa Bonita and Chin Rio as most of the beach side restaurant/bars on that side of the island close at sunset.

 

 When we reached Mescalitos the police had blocked off the end of the trans-island highway to keep people from going on that side of the island over night.

 

 I ran up to the restaurant when we got back and ordered a chicken sandwich and fries for us to split back at the room for dinner. We relaxed, ate our dinner and watched a little TV before deciding to make it an early night and get rested up for the next day’s dives.

 

Day 8 – Friday – April 30 –

 

 

 I woke up slightly early for the 6:10 alarm clock and began the morning ritual. Breakfast of yogurt and granola on the balcony as I set up my camera and watched the first of what would be 3 cruise ships slowly make it’s way down the island to the International Pier.

 

 Another abnormally windy day was on tap and after a couple suggestions from Jorge, a quick vote and Chiquimax was off to Yucab Wall.

 

 Yucab is a great mid-shelf garden dive that has been a top favorite for many years. Today we ventured out past the mid-shelf sandy bottom to where the reef rolls off the edge of the shelf to a

beautiful wall dive.

 

 Large Elephant Ear and Barrel sponges dot the reef and mix in with the Hydroids and Black Coral branches as it drops off to the abyss of the Cozumel channel.

 

 I came across a large Hawksbill sea turtle munching on a sponge; a couple orange filefish and several grouper were hanging about. Several of those huge parrotfish glided along with us throughout

the dive. We usually only see one or two per trip, but we saw several of them on more than one dive.

 

 The surface interval was spent motoring at a leisurely pace back north to Villablanca Wall, which I had missed out on earlier in the week and was happy for the blessing of a second chance.

 

 Villablanca Wall is a true wall dive, not many ins and outs, just a sheer drop off of no more than 20 degrees off a straight down drop. But don’t let that description fool you, it is nothing short of

breathtaking.

 

 The wall was covered with sponges of all kinds, this is the place last year we saw the Barrel sponges spawning. They looked like pictures I've seen of London with fire place chimneys spewing smoke, as they jutted out of the coral reef.

 

 This is another site where the sea fans are making a comeback, small branches of black coral, lots of anemones and hydroids spread across the landscape while Blue Tangs, the ever-present Blue Chromis and Damselfish dart about.

 

 I found a juvenile Drum fish in its little cubbyhole and attempted a couple of shots. A large King Crab was backed up into a cavern and I made an attempt on him

as well.

 

 Back on terra firma we rinsed and stored our gear and finally feeling normal for once after a dive, we headed up to the restaurant for lunch with George and

Ann.

 

 Lore had the Shrimp Quesadillas and I had the “Diver’s lunch”. You get an option on the Diver lunch to have either fish or chicken, I opted for the fish. It comes

out the classic Mexican “mojo de ajo” style, grilled with garlic and butter along with a small helping of rice, a half of a small baked potato and a side salad.

 

 The afternoon was spent by the pool taking it easy and trying to make one of our last days last as long as possible. Geesh! Where did the last week go?!

 

 Eva and Robert were at the pool and said they were going down to The Money Bar later that evening to listen to a local band and invited us to come down, so as the Caribbean sun began its decent towards the Yucatan, we headed up to get ready for the evenings festivities.

 

 The Money Bar has been around for a very long time and used to sit pretty much by its self along the old beach road just south of Chankanaab Park.

 

 Well, that’s about to change, a large condo building is being built across the street from the bar and it looks like the little quite Money Bar will be the main bar and one of the restaurants for the condos, as all the signage advertising the new condos also include the Money Bar on the posters.

 

 For now though, it is still one of several beach side restaurant/bars that make up the charm of Cozumel. The décor of the Money Bar is quite nice, lacquered wood is the main accent making it feel more like a Hawaiian Tiki bar, than a Caribbean hideout.

 

 We arrived fashionably late, as usual, and found the table with our friends and pulled up another table to it and had a seat.

 

 The band wasn’t too bad at all, playing cover songs ranging from 60’s and 70’s classics like Brown Eyed Girl all the way through a rendition of Billy Jean, which they played and sung along with Michael Jackson’s recording, sounds cheesy, but somehow they pulled it off.

 

 This was our first time to the Money Bar even though, like I said it has been here for years. We had a couple strawberry margaritas, Lore ordered some peel and eat shrimp, the girl just LOVES shrimp and I had soft chicken tacos. What I would call Americanized soft tacos, on flower tortillas rather than on small corn tortillas, but nonetheless still, very tasty.

 

 We hung out talking with Eva, Robert, Eva’s son Jesse, Robert’s sister Debra and were soon joined by someone I’ve known of for years, but had never met, Stephanie “the wedding planner” and her father.

 

 Stephanie is a good friend with Christi Courtney, the owner of BlueXTSea divers, www.bluextseadiving.com  and I have heard of Christi talk of her friend on many occasions, but this was my first time to actually meet her.

 

 Robert and I had a nice conversation about how he an Eva ended up being the new owners of Blue Angel. Turns out he was looking to buy land somewhere along the shoreline we were now sitting on and was going to build a new 20 condo structure when his real estate agent approached him with the prospect of buying the old Caribe Blu.

 

 It turned out to be the perfect fit, they got one heck of a piece of property with and established hotel of about the size they wanted with an already established customer base. He made the deal in three days, an amazing feat for Mexico by anyone’s standards.

 

 Stephanie and Eve had made acquaintances with the table next to us, a large group of ladies from Houston that all belonged to the same tennis club and were down for a “girls only” trip. Needless to say, the dance floor was constantly full.

 

 The band wrapped up fairly early as they had another gig in town at a night club that started around 10:30p, so we all disbursed with the “tennis girls”, Eva and Jesse headed to some club downtown for more dancing and the rest of us headed back to the hotel.

 

 Day 9 – Saturday – May 1 –

 

 Oh my gosh, why does it have to go so fast! Day 9 already and I’m just getting warmed up! Gotta work on that long-term visit thing.

 

 We jump aboard the Chiquimax with Jorge and headed out for our second to last day of diving.

 

 Paso del Cedral or Cedral Pass is another great mid-shelf garden dive, or you can make your way out to the edge of the shelf and make it a wall dive. This morning, because it was the first dive, we headed out to the wall, which Jorge just called Cedral.

 

 The group dropped down to the sandy bottom at the edge of the wall and we all followed Jorge over the edge, with Lore and I staying slightly higher

up than most of the group. Anything to save some bottom time.

 

 I was greeted almost immediately by a large grouper and looking around I saw quite a few if his friends hanging in the deep blue just to our left as we

made our way north along the reef wall to our right.

 

 Very large Gray Angels milled about and we found a few lobsters here and there. A small hawksbill made a quick dash for some air as he jutted

towards the surface and quickly grabbed a breath and headed back down for the safety and camouflage of the reef.

 

 As it had been all week on the deeper and somewhat deep dives we saw several very large parrotfish and many large Scrawled filefish cruising about the reef.

 

 A little time for a surface interval and we splashed on Punta Tunich, located on the wall just south of Yucab, this is one of those sites we rarely dive, but are always glad we do.

 

 Moving off the sandy shelf to the edge and top of the wall we glided along in the light current from 60-70'. More Scrawled filefish cruised by and a large Queen Triggerfish swooped in for a

photo op.

 

 I moved over an opening in the coral that looked somewhat like a jagged sinkhole and what was laying down inside, but a small Nurse shark with a remora attached to it. I stuck my camera down in

the hole and snapped a close up shot of the small shark before the current started pulling me away as I had gotten myself in the wrong position to use my fins to hold me in place for a second shot.

 

 We passed more large grouper and I found a big hogfish with some nasty looking teeth hanging out under a ledge, but when I tried to take his pic, he moved back further into the coral and I was unable to get the shot.

 

 Back at the hotel, we were expecting our friends from Austin, Gordon Gunn and family, to arrive early on Saturday afternoon, so we hung out at the hotel until around 2 o’clock, when we both were

getting pretty hungry and jumped in the Jeep to head downtown.

 

 Initially we were headed for Le Chef, where we had a very good lunch the year before, but on arrival, we found that they were closed.

 

 Ok, plan ‘B’…what’s plan ‘B’? …Drive around until you find something that tickles your fancy.

 

 Our fancy took us to Pancho’s Backyard. I don’t know why we didn’t think of this in the first place!

 

 Pancho’s is located on the north end of town to the back of a very large souvenir shop. It has a semi-outside dining room with a small “backyard” setting with quiet running fountains to add to the atmosphere.

 

 Pancho’s not only known for it’s good food, but also for it’s exceptional service, and today was no exception. Our waiter made a very good recommendation of the Fish Tacos, which I quickly jumped on and the daily special which Lore ordered and he also highly recommended was Mahi Mahi crusted with seeds (don’t know what kind) and almonds, with mango salsa. Both dishes are well worth the plane trip back.

 

 By the time we arrived back at the hotel, our friends had made it out of the airport. It turns out, that 3 planes arrived almost simultaneously and getting through customs took much longer than it usually does.

 

 We all sat around a big table they had put together in the lobby and got reacquainted and watched what turned out to be one of the nicest sunsets of the trip.

 

 The gang, Gordon, his wife Carol, his mother, Barbara and her husband Jim, Gordon’s sister, Clair and her husband, Wayne and Scott and Janice, a couple who are friends of Clair’s, made up this year’s version of what is affectionately called by Gordon as “The Thundering Herd”.

 

 “The herd” was headed to Sonora Grill for dinner and because we ended up eating a pretty late lunch and didn’t think we were that hungry decided to bow out and let the family have some time together.

 

 About a half hour later, we decided that we did indeed need to eat a little something and didn’t want to leave the island without having one of Lisa’s desserts, so we headed back up to Rock-n-Java for the second time of the trip. Heck, I could eat there almost every day of the trip, breakfast, lunch or dinner, there is a wide variety of dishes to keep your pallet happy.

 

 Trying to keep it “lite”, we split an order of those fabulous black bean nachos, an order of potato skins and a bowl of black bean soup…Geesh! Getting enough black beans there Pancho?…as if you ever could! So much for keeping it "lite".

 

 For the finale, we had a choice of chocolate cake, carrot cake, I think one or two pies and New York style cheese cake with blue berry topping…that’s the one for us!

 

 We split a piece of the cheesecake and, as always, it was wonderful. On the way out, some people sitting at a table asked if we had dessert. “You have to have dessert here, they’re wonderful!”

 

 “EVERYTHING Lisa makes is wonderful”, I replied. The waiter just stood there with a big grin on his face.

 

DAY 10 – Sunday – May 2 –

 

 Sad, but true, this was our last day of diving and our last full day on the island.

 

 As always, no ships on Sunday.

 

 A boat change, today, as on Tuesday, we jump on the Blue Angel II, one of three “six pack” boats operated by Blue Angel, but we still have our trusted guide Jorge as we had for the entire trip.

 

 Now what usually happens on your last day of diving, is that the seas are perfect, the visibility is unlimited and every fish and sea mammal for miles come out to see you off and taunt you that this is your last day! You get to dive with dolphins, whale sharks, large reef sharks, giant octopus and have to push the schooling fish out of your way to see anything.

 

 Well, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration, but it always seems like your last dive of the trip is the best, and these dives lived up to the bill.

 

 This was the only day we would get to dive with Gordon and Carol and of course since it was our last day, so maximum bottom time was at the foremost of our minds.

 

 Jorge suggested Yucab Wall, for the first dive. “I’ll take you to the real pretty part” he said, “We didn’t make it that far the other day”...what? That WASN'T the pretty part?

 

 So Jorge directed the captain to the south to Yucab Wall and after jumping in himself and checking the location visually a couple of times, we all splashed and headed down to rendezvous near the sandy bottom and head over the lip and down over the wall.

 

 Lore and I, trying to conserve air as much as possible, stayed 15’-20’ above the rest of the group for most of the trip.

 

 Coming over a ridge, someone gave me the “turtle” sign and I dipped down to see a huge hawksbill, sleeping head first under an outcrop.

 

 Anemones were everywhere, large barrel sponges and more large Scrawled filefish accompanied us throughout the dive.

 

 We spotted 2 more hawksbills and a couple lobster along the way.

 

 Another leisurely boat ride to the north, and we dropped down on the mid-shelf site of Chankanaab Shallows. Another rare site for us.

 

 Located straight out from Chankanaab Park, the nature preserve/botanical garden/beach club, were the original dolphin experience is located, Chankanaab Shallows is much like Columbia Shallows, except a little deeper.

 

 Lots of small to medium sized coral heads, grouped together on the sandy bottom about half way from the shore to the wall drop off. This is one

of those sites you can spend all day exploring. Fairly shallow, bottoming out at 45’, bottom time is maxed for your diving pleasure and lots of

places for critters to hide.

 

 The group stuck fairly close to each other and I was able to get Gordon and Carol together for a quick pic, which of course, the flash didn’t fire

on…. thank GOD for Photoshop!

 

 We saw another Hawksbill, several lobsters, and a couple King crabs. I found a large hermit crab poking his eyes out of his temporary shell

home and a very nice sized mature Drum swimming in and out of a crevice, but he wouldn’t cooperate for my camera lens.

 

 We spent the better part of an hour exploring the coral heads before the limitations of our air supplies forced us to the surface with heavy

hearts…hmm, how can I extend this trip for another, oh, year or so?!

 

 One of these years, I’m coming down and setting up shop in the afternoons to take tourists pictures and paint them into a tropical background for souvenirs and sell underwater photos & calendars to make money to stay longer…by the way, my photo book, “Cozumel, Below” is still available through me or at www.blurb.com , and 2011 calendars can be purchased at www.lulu.com …hey, can’t pass on an opportunity to make a plug!

 

 Back at the hotel, I gave all the equipment as thorough a rinse as possible and hung it all up to get, hopefully completely dry by the next morning for packing.

 

 We checked with the dive shop and Jeanie to get our final bill worked out, to save time in the morning and headed over to the “wild side” for a last day blow out at Coconut’s.

 

 But first a quick drive to Cedral, the 100 year old original town of Cozumel, located a couple miles into the jungle, half way down the island.

 

 Every year, basically the first weekend of May, the island holds a festival in Cedral to commemorate the first Catholic mass held on the island, which took place in Cedral a 100 years ago. There are bullfights, a rodeo, dancing contests, folk art, just about anything you can imagine at a citywide fiesta.

 

 Things were in full swing and parking was already a premium, so we just drove around the little town and stopped to look at a few of our favorite little haciendas. They have some really cute little cottages with wonderfully colorful landscaping. One house in particular has a large arched wooden gate with a huge bougainvillea stretching up and over the 10’ tall archway.  

 

 When we finally arrived at Coconut’s, we noticed the place looked a little dead. Hmmm. We climbed the hill up to the bar and found only a “security guard” lying in a hammock, who told us they were closed.

 

 I inquired if it was because of the Festival de Cedral going on in Cedral and he said “Si, Cedral Festival today” I still don’t know if that meant they were closed for the party or if they were actually closed because it was Sunday.

 

 I went over and said “hi” Lorenzo who gave me the cold shoulder as usual. And then over to Chimi, who stuck out a foot to be held, so I put my hand out and she climbed aboard and proceeded to walk up my arm to my shoulder for an eye to eye investigation of me.

 

 After convincing Chimi that I had to go and returning “her”, I assume it’s a girl, it’s very hard to tell with birds. I returned her to her perch and we headed back down the hill to find an alternative place to have lunch.

 

 No problem, we’ll just go with plan ‘B’…again. What’s plan ‘B’ again? Oh yes, drive around until you find something that sounds good. Hmm, let’s see, Especials is also closed, Los Tortugas, no. Guito’s? Casa Denis, round 2? No…I’ve got it!

 

 Parillia Mission! or more commonly known by visitors as “The Mission on 30th.

 

 Another long time favorite of locals and visitors in the know, “The Mission” is always a crowd pleaser for traditional Mexican food.

 

 Sangria sounded refreshing so we ordered 2 and began surveying the menu.

 

 Yeah, like I need to do that, I always get the Plato Mexican, a large combo plate with more food on it than should be allowed by law. I can’t even list all of it, but was very good. Lore had breaded shrimp and a side order of black beans.

 

 We drove around San Miguel for a little while, headed up to the “Northern Hotel Zone” and drove into the Country Club to see what was going on.

 

 The golf course had a few golfers braving the wind, but not too many. All the recent rain had helped the course and it looked very green and healthy. We cruised along the little road that winds it’s way into the golf course to the clubhouse, marveling at all the plants that grow wild there, that are landscape or even house plants back home.

 

 Back at the hotel we passed time talking with “the thundering herd”, George and Ann and whoever passed by.

 

 We really hadn’t had a “fancy” meal on this trip and Lore was worried a little about mesquites being a problem at Kinta’s, or at most places we like to eat, because they are mostly outside patios. So we decided to try the air-conditioned comfort of Prima’s new location, high on top of the El Cantil condominiums.

 

 Prima’s Pasta for years was located just off the Plaza downtown on a second story patio that you had to navigate a VERY narrow and tight concrete spiral staircase to get up to. Which actually wasn’t nearly as bad as trying to navigate the downhill run after splitting a bottle of wine and after dinner drinks.

 

 The view was everything it had been billed as. You can see the entire city laid out before you and a bird’s eye view of the channel over to the Yucatan.

 

 The sun had already set by the time we arrived, but you could tell this would be an excellent location for a romantic sunset dinner. We settled for a romantic

post-sunset dinner.

 

 It was way too windy to sit outside on the balcony, so after trying the first table and finding it a little warm, we moved to a little bit cooler part of the room.

You could hear the A/C blowing, and see the streamers on the vents flowing in the breeze, but it was none to cool up there.

 

 We ordered a couple of glasses of wine and surveyed the menu. One of Prima’s specialties is Seafood Lasagna and it was on the board this evening. Lore jumped all over it as it is one of here favorite dishes here.

 

 I was a little more indecisive and finally went with the Veal Parmesan as just some pasta and red sauce sounded better than anything. We ordered a Caesar’s Salad to split to begin with and sat back and sipped out wine.

 

 Prima’s has always been a little over the top with their flavoring. I once got pasta with olive oil and garlic thinking I was getting something sort of light, and the garlic was so strong I could barely eat it…and I LOVE garlic.

 

 The Veal Parmesan lived up to usual expectations; it was good, but not great. The veal and pasta were cooked perfectly. The veal had a nice thin crust that was golden brown and crunchy and the meat was cooked just through, tender and juicy, but the red sauce tasted like it could have been cooked a little while longer to get the sharp tomato acid taste reduced more and was a little heavy on garlic and light on the basil…In my humble opinion.

 

 We split a tiramisu for dessert along with a couple Frangelico’s for an after dinner drink and we were both pretty happy campers.

 

 

Day 11 – Monday – May 3 –

 

They make us go home…

 

 I slept in just a little bit, but still made it up in time to see the dive boats take off and the one cruise ship I would see that day coming into dock.

 

 We got dressed and packed everything back up for the trip home, then headed down to the lobby to take care of the bill and say some initial good-byes.

 

 Our flight didn’t leave until 2:55p.m. so we had most of the day to soak up as much as we could into the old memory chest before headed back to the real world.

 

 We headed to the airport a little after noon with our luggage to check, leaving the carry-ons at the hotel.

 

 We checked the baggage only a minor hitch; I only had to shift a couple things from one bag to another to make the weight distribution work out. What a joke, why don’t they just say a passenger checking 2 bags can go up to 100lbs. rather than each bag having to be under 50? I mean if you have one bag that weighs 52lbs. and another that weighs 48lbs., why do you have to move the 2lbs. from one bag to another to even it out? IT’S THE SAME WEIGHT!

 

 After checking the bags, we went back to Blue Angel and picked up our carry-ons and turned in the key to the room and said our final good-bys to the Gunns and family, and thanked Eva, Jeanie and Robert for a wonderful time as usual. Made sure Martin and Pony at the dive shop got tip for all their hard work throughout our stay and made one last quick run down the old beach road to see Tree and headed back up to Papa Hog’s for one last Cozumel meal.

 

 I ordered up a margarita and some chicken tacos and Lore had a cerveza and Papa Hog’s Quesadillas.

 

 We sat on the open-air patio and watched the day’s proceedings pass by. The crew at Scuba Mau was busy packing up equipment, tanks and snacks to load up the boat for an afternoon dive, taxis and traffic slowed to a near stop to pass over the large “topas” or road humps as we call them.

 

 By the time we finished lunch it was time to head to the airport and catch up with Murphy, whom I assumed had gone home on Wednesday since I hadn’t seen him since then.

 

 We made our way passed security and sat down to have a drink to kill the little time we had before boarding.

 

 The boarding call didn’t happen until almost 10 minutes before we were about to take off, so needless to say, we were a little late getting off the ground. In fact, it was almost 3:30p by the time

the wheels lifted off the tarmac.

 

 About ¾ into the flight the Captain came on and explained there were some thunderstorms blowing through the DFW area and we were going to go into a holding pattern to let the storms pass before trying to land…ok, safety first.

 

 Originally scheduled to land at 5:50p, we landed much later and sat on the tarmac for another 30-45 minutes waiting for a gate to open up. It was after 8:30p.m. when we finally arrived home to a very excited Dixie dog, who’s excited welcome makes tearing yourself away from paradise much more palatable.

                                                         

 By the time I have finished this report, nearly a month has passed and I’m still wishing I didn’t leave. I guess that’s the price of being a Cozumelhaulic.

                                                    

 

 

 

 

 AFTERTHOUGHTS:

 

The Weather: More humid and much more windy than we are used to this time of year. Highs in the upper 80’s with lows in the mid to upper 70’s. It thunder stormed one night and rained on 2 occasions during the day. Not bad for a beach vacation.

 

The Reefs: Villablanca Shallows, Chankanaab Bolones, Villablanca Wall, Palancar Bricks, Columbia Shallows, Palancar Horseshoe, La Francesa, Yucab Wall, Cedral, Punta Tunich and Chankanaab Shallows; continue to improve.

 5 years out from Wilma, sponges, hydroids and black coral continue to dominate the landscape. With the hard corals looking as healthy as I have seen in a long time. The Gorgonian sea fans are making a slow comeback, but Flamingo Tongue shells are still few and far between compared to what used to be. Sand deposits on flat areas of the reef are a lot less than they have been.

 

Fish & Critters: It’s always hard to tell what’s going on with the fish populations as what is on the reef changes from day to day, and hour to hour for that matter; Brittle seas stars are most abundant, you always see a lot of them, but I found them literally covering several large sponges. Large grouper seem more plentiful, eels seem less so; we found a lot more of those huge Parrot fish than we have seen in the past, and as I noted, large Scrawled file fish were on most dives. Angelfish are plentiful on both shallow and deep dives with some Grays being very big.

 I saw 2-3 nurse sharks, lots of Hawksbill sea turtles; some very large. It is getting close to nesting season and the population should grow over the next few weeks.

 We saw none of the larger rays; the common Caribbean Southern stingrays or Eagle rays, but several small Yellow Spotted rays were spotted on the more shallow sites.

 Plankton levels didn’t seem as high a usual, at least the larger visible stuff. When I’m floating along on safety stops, I usually find several kinds of small jellies and those 1 cell critters all stuck together to look like a clear pearl necklace, but few and far between on this trip.

 There were also no signs of Thimble Jellies, nor did I hear of any cases of folks being stung my “sea lice”, the Thimble Jelly larvae.

 I personally only saw the 2 Lionfish that I mentioned in the report, but more were reported by other members of the dive group throughout the week.

 

 Currents, Temps and Visibility: Currents were mild for the most part, especially for the way the weather was on the topside. Surface conditions were sloppy to poor at best for most of the week, being very choppy in the stronger winds.

 Surface Temperatures were over 80 degrees, (80-81 on most dives), and at depth it sometimes dropped to the high 70’s, slightly warmer than normal.

 Visibility was somewhat diminished, due mostly to floating sand, but for the most part, 70’ or better on deep dives. Basically, from the surface looking down over the reef 40’-50’ below, the reef was starting to look a little “milky”, but still able to make out details from that distance..

 On the shallow dives the vis was maybe getting as low as 50’ if there were a lot of divers passing through kicking up sand. Chankanaab Shallows having the worst vis, but there were several dive groups about on that day but when you got away from the others, it got very good.