Our dive trip to Cozumel
by Rob Tiller
Sally and I just got back from a week of scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico. As a friend recently noted, we like adventure vacations. If you do, too, you would probably like Cozumel. The diving was great, and the above-water scene was lively, too.
Cozumel is a warm and enterprising place. Most of the real beauty, for me, is in the reefs, but I also really liked the people. The Mexicans I met are mostly cheerful and good humored, but also polite and dignified. They worked hard to help us along our way.
The business of Cozumel is tourism, and there are many layers to this business, from high end hotels to street hawkers. A stroll through the main part of town takes you past many gold and silver jewelry shops, clothing shops, crafts establishments, restaurants, and shops selling Cuban cigars. Most of these shops have a person who will try to persuade you to look inside, some of whom are aggressive and insistent. It’s a bit annoying if you’re not interested in the goods, but the beautiful blue water fronting the main street makes up for any inconvenience.
I’d been planning to use more of my Spanish, which is still a work in progress, but had little occasion to. The sales and service people of Cozumel have highly developed antennae for spotting los norteamericanos, and encourage expenditures by using English, which ranged from adequate to impressive. A couple of waiters gently corrected my usage mistakes, which I appreciated, and I think they appreciated my making some effort with their language, but it was clearly not required.
Our hotel was the Casa Mexicana, a mod-looking place on the water in the center of town. Our rooms was attractive and comfortable, with a balcony overlooking the courtyard restaurant where we ate very satisfying breakfasts. The lobby was on the second floor with a pool and deck chairs overlooking the water. Lots of restaurants were within walking distance, though we took a taxi to our favorite, Casa Mission. The hotel was only a few steps from the shop of the folks who took us diving, Aqua Safari, and the boat dock was just across the street.
Our boats usually had about fifteen divers. These included our group of six organized by our friend Dan out of Down Under Surf and Scuba. We did two dives in the morning, and after returning to the dock, we either ate quickly and went out for an afternoon dive, or on two days relaxed and then went out again at 7:00 for a night dive. The boat rides to the dive sites were generally one to 1.5 hours. Our guides were experienced, and showed us many interesting places and creatures. Early May seemed a good time to be there – sunny, breezy, and not un-Godly hot.
Our dive environments fell into three main groups: coral walls that went much deeper than we could dive, coral patches separated by sandy areas, and large coral structures shaped like pillars, boulders, mesas, and canyons, which made me think of southwest Utah. There were dozens of species of live coral. Some were vivid colors (purple, orange, green, yellow, red), and we also saw the famous black coral. Their shapes and textures were fantastically varied, including ones that looked like cactuses, pillars, antlers, brains, and various vegetables.
Cozumel is famous for drift diving, meaning a trip that goes where the strong current takes you. This can be exhilarating, but is also challenging at times. In the strongest current, there is no easy way to stop or reverse course, and it can feel by moments like Lost in Space. This requires alertness to avoid collisions with people or coral, and limits the chances to take photographs or look at things with deliberation. There were dive sites with little current, though, which were calm and sweet.
And of course, there were thousands of fish and other creatures. We’ve been trying to improve our identification skills, with the useful reference works on reef fish, creatures, and coral by Paul Humann and Ned Deloach. Sally was prepared to ID a green sea turtle, of which we saw only one, though we saw several hawksbills. She also introduced me to the whitenosed pipefish and various seahorses.
There was no shortage of bizarre looking creatures, including the porcupine fish, splendid toadfish, flying gurnard, smooth trunkfish, trumpetfish, honeycomb cowish, scrawled firefish, and queen triggerfish. We saw southern stingrays, as well as yellow rays and a Caribbean torpedo ray, and spotted and green moray eels. There were also large spiny lobsters and crabs. On a night dive I saw two octopuses that transformed themselves into objects of varying shapes and colors. It was fantastic!
One species we we pleased not to see many of was the lion fish. These invasive predators reproduce quickly, have no resident enemies, and consume voraciously. They’re now common in the northern Caribbean. Our main guide, Miguel, said that the dive guides in Cozumel had been authorized to kill them, and the numbers have been substantially reduced in the most dived areas of the south coast over the lat three years.
We also saw some big and medium creatures: nurse sharks, black groupers, barracuda, giant parrotfish, jacks, grunts, and snappers. I particularly adore the queen angelfish, and saw many, as well as French and gray angelfish. And there were untold numbers of colorful smaller tropicals – durgons, tangs, grunts, surgeon fish, butterflyfish, chromis, wrasse, and many others. The profusion of life is amazing, still!
My camera strobe worked fine on day one and two, but then the supporting arm’s joint broke, and so my photographs after that were mostly by natural life. This was disappointing, because there are things that just can’t be captured without a strobe, but I liked some of the images I got. The pictures here are all mine, except the first, the one immediatelhy above, and the ones below of Sally and me, which were taken by Pete, a professional. (Yes, I realize his look a lot better than mine. My excuse is he had better equipment, though also probably more talent.)
The morning before our flight home, we rented a jet ski and sported about for a half hour. The machine, a Yamaha, seemed very powerful. The water was choppy, and I never quite managed to take the machine to full throttle, as it jumped and bucked. Sally rode behind me, and proclaimed herself thoroughly shaken and glad to still be alive when we were done. But note, she never complained or requested that we slow down. That’s my gal!