10 Days of fun and sun

 

Day 1, Friday - We arrived on May 5th, 2006, Cinco de Mayo! It’s not really celebrated in Mexico much outside of Puebla, but it sure is a nice date to start your 10-day Mexican vacation from.

 American Airlines delivered us on time, the Lomas guy was waiting, clipboard in hand to put us on the shuttle and off we were to Caribe Blu, out new Cozumel home after almost a decade at La Ceiba, now turning time share and less diver friendly.

 On the drive to the hotel we saw the first of what probably is the most noticeable remnants of Wilma, the defoliation of the trees. Wilma didn’t only strip a lot of the trees of their leaves, but dumped tons of salt water on the plants as well. Cozumel didn’t have any rain for weeks after Wilma so that salt just sat on the plants and they have not had a chance to start recovering much.

 Caribe Blu turned out to be just what we wanted, a small, clean, no frills DIVER’S hotel. Jeannie, the manager walked us around the property and got us acquainted with the place and introduced us to everyone.

 With the dive shop on premises, Blue Angel proved to be an above an beyond the call dive shop for us, as my sinuses decided to attack me and we were changing our dive schedule daily to accommodate the pressure in my head. From Victor & Carlos at the shop to all the DM’s, very professional and just did a wonderful job all the way around.

After checking in we did the usual routine of heading to Chedraui to stock the room with drinks and snacks. Not having a refrigerator in the room we bought a foam cooler and kept things on ice.

 We then walked up to La Ceiba to see the new digs. Very nice indeed, one of the pools was destroyed by Wilma so they just covered it over and made the restaurant that much bigger. The beach area and lobby are have been restored beautifully, however they have not rebuilt the pier and we were told that they are not planning on it any time soon. Divers have to walk up to the Atlantis pier, 2 blocks up the street.

 A light snack at the little “No Name Bar” in the what’s left of the shopping center across from the International Pier. There is still a big chunk out of it and the Mayan Pier is just gone, other than what’s left of some of the supports sticking out of the water, really an eerie site.

 Dinner at Especias, Adrian, the owner, is the son of one of the owner’s of Casa Denis and carries on his father’s tradition of serving excellent food. In fact during the trip we made the trifecta, making it to Casa Denis, Especias, and Los Tortugas!

Day 2, Saturday – Breakfast at the Museum, one of our favorite breakfast places, the 2nd story restaurant is just a beautiful setting to start your day.

 How about some diving? First dive, a shore dive, DM Catherine drove us in her dune buggy down to Papa Hogs so we could drift back to Caribe Blu. The piers at PH are also still in a state of repair so we waded in between them and headed out for an equipment check and orientation dive.

 The area between Papa Hogs and Caribe Blu is a shallow plane, with a sandy bottom sloping gently out from the shore. At around 20-25’ you come to a ridge where the reef runs parallel to the shore. Of course Wilma has done her damage here in such shallow water how couldn’t it. At first it seems pretty baron, with the lack of sea fans and tall standing soft corals, and from what I’ve been told, it is, compared to it’s pre-Wilma state, but once you start poking around the rocks and coral you find there is a lot of life here. We found several eels of various kinds, yellow stingrays, blennies, crabs & lobsters. The juvenile fish didn’t seem as abundant as usual, not as many Sgt. Majors, most notably. There were lots of very friendly wrasse that were so curious that they almost allowed you to hold them. Of course none of them would hold still for a picture though.

 Dinner at La Mission on 30th, absolutely fabulous Mexican food, we both opted for the combo plate and couldn’t have made a better choice.

Day 3, Sunday – Breakfast at the Caribe Blu restaurant, very good, cheap and convenient, located above the dive shop and off for the first boat dive of the trip.

  Palancar Caves, this part of the reef for the most part looked pretty healthy, some sand deposits dusting flat shelves, but for the most part, looking good. A couple of spotted eels, an eagle ray feeding in the sand, lots of angels, yellow stingrays and blennies sticking their little heads out of a coral head. Those buggers are hard to shoot! I took at lest 8 shots of blennies and didn’t get a proper focus on a single one!

San Francisco, this is where we noticed the first real remnants of Wilma. The dive is a flat sandy bottom with reef running along the drop off to the wall and scattered coral heads. The bottom was littered with broken finger coral and sand deposits. Still, the sea life is there, yellow stingrays, angels, barracuda, grouper; they’re all there.

 I started feeling kind of funny, too much pressure in the sinus cavity causing me to abort the dive with around 1200 psi.

 After lunch at the hotel restaurant, we headed for the pool for some rays. Shortly after that we witness the arrival of Gordon from Austin (ggunn), family and friends, “The Thundering Herd” as Gordon calls them, for their annual diving/deep sea fishing trip.

 We say “howdy” and are introduced all around. Some arrive with him; others are to come in and out over the next 2 weeks.

 Dinner with “The Thundering Herd”, (it’s just too funny!) at Sonora Grille, this is not funny, this is serious food! I had the fish, (grouper?) with garlic and Lore had on Gordon’s suggestion the grilled octopus in garlic…amazing!!!

 Day 4, Monday – Woke up and the sinuses were not cooperating, plus I had a lot of tension in my neck and back. I’ve been here before; these are the makings of a migraine headache. I took some meds and contacted Sally Hurwitch, better know as “Barefoot” Sally or Coz Sally on the ScubaBoard. I set the appointment for 6:00p, we rented a Geo Trekker from Less-Pay car rental ($40/day + insurance, cheap) and headed out to circumnavigate Isla de Cozumel. We drove down the island headed south from town, stopping to see our old friend “Tree”, the giant Ceiba tree just a mile or so before you get to Punta Sur. The old tree survived the storm as it probably has many over it’s many years. Like most of the plants it did suffer some defoliation and about 1/3 way up the trunk a piece of cable was blown right through it from one side to the other.

 Continuing down to Punta Sur, we see that Marley’s has been rebuilt and Rasta’s is up and running, but still needs some roof repair.

 We made the left turn that takes you from the leeward side of the island to the windward side of the island and the Caribbean Sea. The first thing we notice is the road, brand spanking new asphalt, the second things we notice are the large rocks and boulders that have been washed up on the shore. Remember this part of the island got it twice, first with Emily, then by Wilma.

 We continue around the island to one of our favorite spots, Coconuts!! Just a beautiful setting, the restaurant sits on a cliff, over looking the Caribbean Sea. I’m sure this is Cozumel's highest natural elevation. We spend the rest of the afternoon having a leisurely late lunch and Coconuts famous margaritas, this IS Margaritaville.

 It was getting close to message time so we headed back to civilization and my appointment with Sally.

I’m not even going to try and describe the message, other than to say it is a combination of the use of hands and feet and was simply amazing. Sally got rid of every bit of tension in my neck and back and surly saved my vacation from a lot of aggravation.

 Dinner was late night 4 seasons pizza; house salad and garlic bread from Guito’s, still one of my favorites.

Day 5, Tuesday – A day we had actually planned on not diving, so we slept in, had a light breakfast at the hotel, walked up town, checked the e-mails and ended up at the Museum for cheeseburgers in paradise for lunch.

 During lunch we heard a mariachi band warming up and playing, so after we ate we followed the music. In the auditorium there were some dancers practicing for a show. Dancing something like Flamenco dancing to the wonderfully played mariachi music.

 Lazy afternoon at the pool and dinner at Capi Navagante with T.T.H., Mayan grouper for me and Capi shrimp for the wife.

Day 6, Wednesday – Diving day, Harro10 (Sb’er) and his son, Harry and Harry as we referred to them the rest of the week, were along for the dive. Paso del Cedral, Cedral pass for the gringos. This is a very nice dive, except for sand dusting on shelves the reef looks very healthy. We saw turtles, barracuda, and eagle ray feeding in the sand and several grouper.

 Dive 2, I didn’t get the full name of the site, “something” Paradise is what the DM was saying, after looking in our “Cozumel dive guide & log”, (you’ve got to get one), I think we were really on Las Palmas. Anyway, we were in that area, out far enough to where the reef drops off to the wall. Staying off the wall and in the shallow area among the coral heads dotting the sandy bottom, I saw more barracuda on this dive than I have ever seen on any one single dive. We saw a large nurse shark green with algae, a large green moray eel free swimming over the sand, a southern stingray, more grouper and lots of angels. This reef is still teeming with life.

 Quiet dinner for 2 at Casa Denis, awesome spinach cream soup and shrimp ceviche (cocktail) for her, Plato de Mexicano for me…yummy.

Day 7, Thursday – Slept in with the sinuses, decided some exercise would do some good. We walked up town to Rock-n-Java for lunch, this was probably the hottest day we were there, less wind and more humidity, but still not miserable by any means.

 Pasta with veggies and garlic for her and a very good grilled chicken breast with mango/kiwi chutney and rice with teriyaki sauce for me. Lisa’s wonderful key lime cheesecakes for dessert, if nothing else, go to Rock-n-Java at least for dessert!!

 Another lazy afternoon at the pool. Dinner with Gordon and Carol Gunn at Pancho’s Backyard. I think the Gunn’s had shrimp or fish, Lore had a plantain and walnut chili relleno, I had some of the best chicken mole enchiladas I’ve every had, and I eat a lot of mole.

Day 8, Friday – a.m. diving! This time with Gordon’s wife Carol and as a second group their friend Jim who was getting his recertification dives in with DM Catherine.

Palancar Bricks, gets it’s name from an old ship wreck that went down with a load of bricks that are still scattered about the site, Wilma uncovered even more. See, it’s not all bad. Matt the DM found some kind of wheel from the shipwreck, we saw a large green moray in a small cave, lots of angels and a very large school of juvenile parrotfish. 

 Dive 2, by far one of my favorite dives on Cozumel, Columbia Shallows. As the name implies, it’s very shallow, like one of the DM’s said, “if you want to go below 30’, you’ll need to bring a shovel.”

 Flat sandy bottom with coral heads spread out as far as you can see. Perfect for my favorite kind of diving…slow, taking time nose in coral poking around, in and under things seeing what there is to see. Large green moray, slipper lobster, schools of sweet lips, and grunts to swim through, just too much fun, I could dive this spot every day.

There were a couple of dolphins on the reef and some members of our party got to see them, unfortunately we weren’t 2 of them. I could hear them at one point, but just thought it was background noise, need to follow my instincts more. We did get to see them in the distance once we got on the boat, but that’s just not the same thing.

Lunch with Carol G. and other divers from the hotel Ray from Calf., Theresa & Gordon form Alberta, fish stories and photo swaps.

I didn’t note what we had for dinner that night but it must have been good, every meal we had was.

Day 9, Saturday – Slept in, more pool time…it’s nice not having a single thing to do.

Dinner for the second round of Sonora Grill with T.T.H. as some were leaving the next day.

 We needed to hit the money machine, so we excused ourselves and took care of that errand and ended up at the French Quarter for dessert, Island Passion Chocolate Cake, the name says it all.

Day 10, Sunday – Man! Where did the time go?! It’s our last day and we take full advantage of it. We walk up to Pay-Less and rent a Trekker, we wanted to do a shore dive on Airplane Flats and give Martin some business so we drove down there. The guy at the office said they still weren’t allowing shore dives there because of debris, looking around, I understood.

 Oh well, plan B, we head back to Caribe Blu to shore dive there. We wade out from in front of the dive shop and after a compass setting head up current at 45 degree angle to the shore until we reach the reef at around 20’. Once again very little looking a poking and we are rewarded with several eels, slipper lobster, arrow crabs, the friendly wrasse are back, we saw, what’s her name? Lulu, the barracuda, a school of cuddle fish, juv. Angels, cowfish, trunks and scorpion fish. Really a nice dive, with of course LOTS of bottom time.

 The dive plan was to go “upstream” until 1200psi and then turn around and drift back, the plan worked perfectly. We drifted back to the swim buoys and had enough air to poke around a little. Just before getting out I was swimming past a rock covered with seaweed and nestled in the seaweed was a scorpion fish very cleverly camouflaged.

 A quick clean up and we were off for another trip around the island.

 First stop, Playa Corona, this has a special place in our hearts. We came here on our first trip to Cozumel a decade ago, not knowing a thing about the island or what to do. We just asking a cabbie where we could go snorkel, (my wife was not yet a diver), and have something good to eat. Cabbies have turned us on to a lot of good places to eat on the island.

 Since it was Sunday and Mother’s Day, mole was on the menu for me and shrimp quesadillas for the boss. Cerveza Victoria for all. Just one for the driver, thanks.

 Then back on the road, we drive down to Cedral and vow to come earlier next year so we can make the Fiesta. We stop at Playa Bonita, Chen Rio and Mezcalitos all up and running and doing a brisk business. Playa Bonita is packed with locals as it normally is on a Sunday.

 After the round trip, we stopped downtown and made our way to the ferry pier for the fishing tournament weigh-in, but were too late to see any fish.

 From there we headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up for dinner at the French Quarter. We love this place, Mike, the owner is a gracious host and the food is really good. Plus, it’s the only place I know you can get hushpuppies on the island. I love me some hushpuppies!!!  Fish and shrimp dinners and another round of coffee and Island Passion Cake. What a way to end a vacation!!!

Day 11, Monday - They make us go homeL what can I say, just a wonderful, relaxing time, just the way vacations should be.

 Special kudos to ggunn and crew for letting us invade their trip, to Jeannie, and all at Caribe Blu, to the Blue Angle dive and shop crews, to Sally for the awesome message and to the most gracious residents of Isla de Cozumel for letting us gringos come down and enjoy their little piece of paradise.

The weather was perfect, upper 80’s to very low 90’s, cool tropical breeze blowing to knock down what humidity there is. Big, fluffy clouds passing by just in time to cool you off about the time you’re thinking it’s might be getting hot.

 Cool, evenings in the upper 70’s with almost no humidity noticeable, this is a great time of year to go to Mexico.

 It is just remarkable how much Cozumel has come back in just a few short months, every place we wanted to eat at was open except for Ernesto’s which is still a shambles.

 The jungle and plants will recover with time, as will the reefs. Although my diving was limited, I was still able to get a pretty good assessment of reefs. The main thing you notice is sand deposits, lack of sea fans and broken coral, particularly finger coral.

 Many of the soft corals are already on a fast recovery and fish, predators in particular on the reef, this is a good sign, if predators are present, food source is present and all is well.

 The visibility may have been a little less than normal, but 80’ still ain’t bad! Hanging in the water and looking at it, I noticed a lot of the stuff in the water was plankton, small jellies, larvae of different kinds, and that’s a good thing, signs of a healthy reef. Sure there is some sand blowing around in there, the clean up process continues. Overall the diving is still very good and I can’t wait for my next trip to see what has transpired in my absence.

 With tourism down, still running at 25-30% from one account, it is a good time to go to Coz, there are less divers on the reef and our friends can use the commerce. There are a lot less pod people with only about 11 cruise ships a week, as apposed to before Wilma when there were as many as 7-8 in one day.

 Do yourself a favor and save your pennies and get to Cozumel and spread them around. You will be blessed.