Alex from Diving Leisure London first mentioned that he would organise a trip to Mexico early last year and immediately I was interested not only because I had never been to the other side of the pond, ever before, but also because I had read so much about cave diving and seen so many photos of friends who had been there and they all looked AWESOME!!!! Diving in warm tropical waters with endless visibility was also a great incentive and most important of all I would be going with old friends that I have dived before and I knew that we would have a great time diving and drinking together!!!! So when the trip details were announced it took me all about 4 seconds (maybe less) to decide to join the greatest diving trip I have ever been!!!
The rest were easy I called Alex who was organising the trip and said: Mexico. Am in!” soon after that Tim had booked his flights and without much thinking I booked tickets on the same flight. Surely it is better to fly with company than fly alone no?
The downside to that was that BA charges more than Virgin for excess gear but that wasn’t really such a big deal as it turned out.
Booking the flights with BA was a bit tricky in the sense that it wasn’t as straight forward as an idiot like me would like it to be. You have to buy excess luggage for the outbound and the return trip separately. Apart from the obvious (you get to pay twice for it) I do not exactly see the point I mean do people often travel with more baggage on the way out rather than the return? or vice versa??? I always thought that it was a good sign to come back with all your luggage!!!
And also you can not print out your return journey boarding pass until 24 hours before the flight which is a bit of a nuisance as access to internet and printing facilities while on holidays is usually limited.
Following from that I had to book my flights down to Landan from beautiful and exotic Aberdeen. Once more good old EasyJet as sadly flybe does not fly to Gatwick anymore and the BA flights were more expensive. Or so I thought because by the time I added hold luggage and excess luggage the Easyjet tickets were nothing like a budget flight!!!
Finally the hotel. Again the main criteria was price and proximity to the airport. The Ramada would do. It was going to be only for a night so not too fussed about it.
Finally November arrived and all sorts of things were happening. A lot of excitement about my forthcoming Mexico trip, my MOD 1 course, loads of offshore trips for work being moved around and about and to throw a spanner in the works a helicopter heading to an oil platform in the North Sea had to perform an emergency landing in the sea resulting in the whole fleet of choppers being landed causing further disruption!!! Nice.
Bond chopper Ditching (guardian – http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/10/helicopter-ditches-north-sea-oil-workers)
The original plan was that by November:
I would have completed my MOD 1 course and therefore I would be able to take my new Yellow Box (YBOD) to Mexico with me so that I can clock some time on it and practice.
The plan was also that Aileen would come along and bring her JJ so that there would be 2 rebreather divers on the trip.
And finally the plan was that I would meet up with Mike to give me his spare Alibox so that I can transfer my rebreather in a more convenient case than the original yellow box.
Well that was the plan
On the 8th on November 1 day before I fly to London the situation is as follows:
- I have not finished my MOD 1 course (because of work, helicopters ditching to the sea, bad work planning etc etc etc)
- Aileen can not come to the trip because of work reasons
- Mike can not bring me the Alibox because he if working offshore
Now out of all of the above the only serious issue was that since I had not completed my course and if anything went wrong in Mexico I would have to pay for it as my insurance (DAN) would (most likely) refuse to cover me as I would have been diving outside of my qualification range. Less important was the probability of the dive centre in Mexico asking to see my qualifications prior to letting me dive.
At that point I decided that the universe was trying to tell me something and as much of a stubborn Greek I am, I decided to listen and play nicely…
So Friday evening finished with work and went home. I had completed most of my packing so it was just a case of getting everything together, locking up the house and off we go to MEXICO!!!
Shortly after that (Aberdeen is really a very small place) I found myself trying to check-in. That went fairly smoothly especially considering that amongst my dive gear was a 0.6 lt dry suit inflation cylinder fully charged and a number of CO2 cartridges used for DSMB deployment. I was kindly asked to empty the cylinder and it was all go!!!
The flight to Gatwick and the rest of the night were suitably uneventful with the only interesting bit my excitement about going to Mexico!!!
Check-in with BA was equally seamless apart from one BA employee who trying to be too helpful and insisted in me checking in using one of these machines while I was the next one in the queue and in fact no one else was around!!! But all that was details and I couldn’t care any less because I was really on my way to Mexico!!!!
A couple of hours later on my way to the gate I spotted the plane. The first reaction was: “We will need a bigger plane!!!” No way we are crossing the Atlantic on this one!!!! surely not!!! but then looking at the engines…
Well I don’t know much about planes but they looked BIG like pretty BIG so I thought surely they know what they doing…
While waiting at the gate I was growing increasingly concerned as I had not seen anyone else from the group until Steve appeared and shortly afterwards Jakub and Sal followed by Tim!!! A sign of relief and the final announcement was made at last we were boarding on the plane to MEXICO!!!!!
Boarding on the plane I was quite jealous of the business class passengers and their little cubicles but to be fair having booked a seat on the aisle of the emergency exit I could hardly complain about leg room!!!! slight downside was the grumpy middle-aged couple sitting next to me drinking wine all the time and actually when the bar run out of wine they swapped it with whiskey as you do…
The flight was easy and pleasant minor exception was a bit of turbulence over the Bermudas (interesting…). At last I found enough time to finish off Richard Dawkins “The God Delusion” which was a great anticlimax after all that I had heard about it. Too much time wasted trying to answer silly arguments of various religious apologists which was completely unnecessary. And memes. What was that about the memes???. I will stop at this point because this post is not about religion and it is highly unlikely that I can say anything more without offending (a lot of) religious people so back to Jet engines!!!
BA 777 (courtesy of BA)
So the 777 has indeed absolutely HUMONGUS – MASSIVE jet engines apparently larger than small airplanes!!! The noise they made!!! I did enjoyed reading that the 777 can actually climb on one of them and one of them can hold a 747 on the air!!!! No there was no discussion about fuel economy on the article I was reading, although apparently it is more fuel efficient than a 747?!
After almost 9 hours the bar closed (much to the couple that was sittng next to me dissapointment) and we were informed that it was time to get ready for landing. Sitting on the aisle has a slight disadvantage. View is not great!!! So I couldn’t really see anything until we were inside the airport and nearly over the runway. The view was amazing!!! I could see the jungle!!! Now I am sure that Cancun is a great city but the airport is a fair way out and it is surrounded by jungle!!!
By that point everyone in the plane was growing increasingly animated as at last we had made it to MEXICO!!!
The excitement of the arrival came to an end pretty quickly when we were greeted by the longest queue ever to go past immigration!!! And of course since we were not in the UK any more o(r in Europe altogether) the word queue is used in the very very wide sense of meaning it was more like like loads of people waiting. There was no order. At all. Apparently there were not enough immigration officials working that day for the completely (unexpected???) arrival of what must have been about 3 big flights !!!
So two hours later after a lot of pushing, squeezing, clapping hands and shouting we made it past immigration!!! Needless to say at the whole time I was thinking: “Boy do I love Europe and Schengen”!!! At the same time Steve being a bit more practical than me was observing the immigration officials and the apparently antiquated software that (according to Steve) didn’t know how to use…
To immigration officials credit I will say that yes there was definitely not enough of them as there was at least twice as many unmanned desks as manned and also they didn’t looked very familiar with the software. Further to that a number of passengers had not filled in their little immigration cards which was not so helpful and in-spite all that they were friendly and smiling.
Rather tired at this point we managed to get our gear together and head outside of the airport. The first feeling was: “WOW its hot here!!!” luckily the dive centre (Phocea Mexico) had sent a van to pick us up and soon the driver was helping us load our gear at the back of the van and off we went!!!
The logo of Phocea Mexico – The dive centre we were diving with (photo courtecy of Phocea Mexico)
Playa del Carmen is a sort drive (about half an hour) from Cancun International Airport. Because by that time it was already dark there was not much that we could see during the trip although much to my excitement I did managed to spot a few 18-wheelers!!! Geek. I know. But I have always been a fan of Optimus Prime and you do not get 18-Wheelers in the UK so I was very very excited !!!
On arrival at Playa Del Carmen we went straight to the Hotel Plaza – one of the two hotels our group was staying at to meet Alex, Jen, Amelia, Bruce and Chantal who had arrived there before us. The Plaza is just opposite the dive centre which makes life easy and I like easy!!!
Myself and Tim were sharing a room at the Maya Bric Hotel (sounds very Yucatan like!!!). Bruce and Steve another and Adam with Chris were the third group of boys in our hotel. Amelia, Yakub and Sal also stayed on the same hotel with us and the rest at the Plaza.
As soon as we checked into our hotel we got changed to flip flops and off to Zenzi beach bar to find the rest of the crew for a few celebratory drinks and to declare that the diving holiday had officially begun!!!
The Beach! (photo courtesy of Amelia Whittaker)
A few drinks (SOL and Corona) afterwards we were ready to go to bed for some much needed sleep especially as the plan for the week was ready and it called for a 07:45 meet on Sunday Morning!!! (which came as a surprise to me. Surely in a religious country like that folk go to the church first on a Sunday morning and then diving right????)
Sunday 11 November 2012 – Day 1
Although the Alarm was set for 06:30 both myself and Tim were awake well before 06:00. Jet Lag, Heat or the music from the bars outside may have had something to do with it!!! Yes Playa Del Carmen being a tourist destination (of a more mature clientele admittedly – it is not Paceville) has loads and loads of bars that play live music every night. Which is in a way what I had imagined of New Orleans and it is really awesome (unless you want to get some sleep). Then it is not that awesome. Having said that I sleep like a brick and things like that do not bother me at all!!!
As expected 07:15 we were all at the Plaza Hotel having breakfast. No we are not in continental Europe or in the UK so breakfast is NOT a fry up (just as well). The breakfast options were: Fruits or Eggs. Fruits meant a plate with fruits and a yogurt. Eggs meant a plate of fruits with eggs and a slice of ham. Tea, coffee, orange juice and toast made for the rest.
It was a pleasant change and certainly made for the most healthy breakfast ever on any known diving holiday (bacon baps being the norm).
At 07:45 well fed and watered we headed to the dive centre. Not long to go just across the road!!! Easy – Nice!!!
Didier (the bloke who runs the show at Phocea) was ready for us. Boxes were already labelled with our names and grouped together as we were the “London” group. So I became known as Dimitris London, Tim as Tim London, Steve was Steve London and I think you got the point…
All very very efficient and impressive.
The guys at the shop the helped us to unpack our gear, place it in the boxes and made inventories of our kit (efficient!!!)
Once all was sorted we placed our kit in mesh bags (mine because of the dry suit, the dry suit inflation bottle and the 5 sets of regs stayed in the box) and loaded the trucks (big, serious, American pickup trucks) and off we went to the jungle!!!
Now to start with that felt a bit bizarre. I mean the hotel was right next to the dive centre which was right next to the beach! So where are we going? Actually a boat dive was planned for Sunday but because of bad weather (winds) it was decided to postpone the boat dive and go to the Cenotes instead!!!! BIG YEYYYYY!!!!!!!!
After a short drive (mostly on the motorway) surrounded by pretty thick vegetation and the occasional school-bus-invaded-by-monkeys sculptures we made it to the cenotes. We took the exit and a dirt track to the jungle. Pretty well organised with paths, welfare facilities and a small cafe which, sadly, was closed because it was Sunday (and people go to the church on Sundays, not work, apparently – odd but picturesque).
The dive guides rallied us around them and we headed off to the cenotes for our briefing. By that point I will have to admit that I was lost for words. The jungle was amazing and beautiful and I have no words to describe how I felt on my way to see and dives cenotes for which I had read so much about and I have been wanting to dive for that long!!!
We took a concrete staircase down to the entrance of Chac Mool cenote. The scenery was magic and we were all surprised by how ridicilusly clear the waters were. No I have never seen anything like that ever before!!! And I dare say neither anyone else amongst our group. Awe was the only word I can think of trying to describe how I felt. And it was only going to get better!!!
Having seen the entrance to the first cenote and discussed the awkward entry method which we were going to perform and the best way I can describe it would be something like a reversed giant stride entry??? We then headed to the entrance of Kukulan cenote. This caused me a bit of concern as I could clearly see the rocks being covered by a dark something (potentially slimy and slippery) and I could not really see the water and the last thing I wanted to do was want to walk over slippery rocks.
Suddenly someone from our group stepped in what I thought was the void to cool his feet and the whole thing became alive!!! I was looking at the surface of the water all that time and I hadn’t realised that there was water there!!! It was so clear and calm I completely missed the water!!! (that does not usually happen in UK diving – that is my excuse anyway!!!)
By that time my twinset had arrived. My twinset had to be picked up from the feeling station.
The Phocea Mexico filling station !!! (photo courtesy of Jen Griffin)
Along with the twinset came the food. Cheese and ham sandwiches courtesy of the dive centre!!! (talking about service!!!)
By that time it was pretty evident to myself and everyone else that I was not going to be diving on a dry suit. The water temperature was about 25 deg C which is actually a couple of degrees higher than the Air temperature in my office!!!
So the old trusty Mares shortie came out. This is probably my oldest bit of kit dating back to 2004 but it doesn’t get much use and even less in recent years see tek diving and diving in the North Sea. My 2.5 mm Mares shortie is unfortunately incompatible with these!!!
But I was more than happy to have it with me and even happier to fit in it!!!
Geared up and ready to go we were split in groups of 4 divers per guide. The guide was full cave trained divemaster in full cave gear. The rest of us were happy recreational divers without a concern in the world!!!
Our group went to Chac Mool cenote for our first dive. The not so elegant entrance in the water was followed by a not flattering at all tsunami that caused concern for the survival of the local fauna and flora but soon was forgotten about as we were all seriously excited about diving the Cenotes!!!
myself getting ready to enter the water and the tsunami that followed (photo courtesy of Jen Griffin)
A quick weight check, torches on and off we went! The guide was first and the rest of us followed in single file. I was the last of our group.
The first thing to notice was visibility. It was just phenomenal. Could not tell how far i could see. But it was far. As far as the eye could see. Never before had I dived in such clear waters. The other thing that was immediately obvious was temperature. About 26 deg C at the coldest parts of the cave!!! That was ridiculous my shortie was more than enough!!! No way I was diving in a dry suit in this!!!
Diving cenotes (photo courtesy of Steve Barham)
And that was when the fun started. Before we entered we were told that although this is fresh water this cenote is linked to the sea and fresh and sea water mix and they create very strange effects. Indeed not before long the endless visibility was gone and I was in a blur. A bit of the thing you feel when you lose your specs or your contact lens. Bizzare. But the there were points where you could see the water separating and mixing!!! On occasions you could even avoid the blur by keeping yourself in just fresh or just sea water!!!
Stalactite and Stalagmite formations inside the Cenotes (photos courtesy of Amelia Whittaker)
The guide took us further inside the cave to the point where the sea and fresh water were mixing and the halocline was clearly visible. He then took each one of us by the hand and using his torch he illuminated the separation zone!!! I wish I had photos of that!!! Because it is very hard to describe how it feels to see the separation of water from water and this surface illuminated across the cave!!!
Although not really cave diving Sheck Exley’s rule of the thirds applies to Cavern diving and soon it was time to turn the dive and head back. The journey out was not any least impressive because coming out of the cavern and looking at the green-ish surface of water with the shadows of the trees leaves so clear and roots and tree branches all around was something firstly unreal and secondly AWESOME!!!
Cavern Entry / Exit (courtesy of Amelia Whittaker)
At that point I was loving it properly and I was really pleased to have made all this effort to come here. It was well worth it and it was more impressive than I had imagined it to be!!!
Fourty minutes after we went on we surfaced and head back to the trucks for our lunch and our surface interval (had to fizz-off a bit before we go back in!!!).
That was just as well because after the early start the healthy but rather light breakfast we were all starving. Cheese and Ham baguettes was todays option kidly provided by our dive club (how nice is that now!!!). Much to mine and Bruce’s pleasure Adam (being Adam) decided that he wouldn’t have any as the sandwiches had Ham and he doesn’t like Ham (No Adam is not Muslim) So myself and Bruce shared half of it and it was really nice too. At the same time Jakub was having a Cheese and Extra ham baguette as Sal didn’t like her ham either but being more practical than Adam just removed the ham and had the rest of it – At that point Adam realised his mistake but it was too late .
Having being fed and watered (water and soft drinks courtesy of the dive centre) the single cylinder divers replaced their cylinders and got ready to hit the water once again. I use the term hit the water because this is exactly what we did with this reversed giant stride entry!!! This time our dive guide was feeling a bit more adventurous took us further deep into the cavern and after diving through a narrow passage we found ourselves inside a cave. The only light was our torches and if you looked back you could see the narrow opening through which we came through. Again we went through the halocline and there it was!!! Stalactites and Stalagmites formations were visible at last !!! And more to that the well known NACD signs with the Grim reaper there at the cave entry!!!
The NACD, NSS, CDS, PADI- STOP Sign
I have been waiting for a long time to make it to a cave and there I was at last. At a cave entrance past beyond I couldn’t go not in this gear. Not without further Cave training. Not this time…
A cave diver wannabe! (photo courtesy of Steve Barham)
Again following the rule of the thirds we headed back and eventually surfaced after 40 minutes of awesomeness!!! diving the cenotes had definitely exceeded my expectations and I had gone with very high expectations. Needless to say I was a very very happy bunny by the end of the first day !!!
Later back in the hotel we agreed to have a well earned siesta (when in Mexico you have to do as the Mexican do!!!) and reconvene again to the local beach bar called Zenzi and go somewhere nice for food.
After a few drinks at Zenzi listening to a band playing live 70’s and 80’s rock amongst others we decided to head to the recommended bar / restaurant Fusion located opn the beach just a short walk from Zenzi. Apparently this is quite a famous bar / restaurant in the area, advertised in the telly and al,l and came highly recommended on local guides and our dive centre.
Very soon after our arrival a very long table was organised for all of us including myself, Alex, Jen, Chantal, Amelia, Adam F, Chris, Tim, Adam, Abbey and Amelia. Drinks were ordered mostly local beers and cocktails. The food was Nachos, Tacos, Tortillas, burritos and other folklore stuff as well as more mainstream stuff like steaks, burgers etc. Having had a burger last night at Zenzi I decided to go for Fusion Buritos and very nice it was too!
Night Out @ Fusion (Courtesy of Jen Griffin)
Once more because of the early start and the early start of the following day we decided to be sensible and call it a day early. Heading back to the Mayan Brick made one (obligatory) stop at Aldo (Italian Gelato) for a double Ferrerro Roche in a chocolate cone!!! Mucho Mucho Nice!!!
Monday 12 November 2012 – Day 2
The beginning of Monday did not found all of us in high spirits half of the crew had a pretty unpleasant night having been hit by “Montezuma’s Wrath” still the weather was awesome and we were in a really really cool place so everyone put on their happy and dmiley faces on and tried to get on with diving.
After the breakfast we went to the dive centre where our gear was already out of the boxes and packed nicely in mesh bags!!! (talking about efficiency)!!! Our guides then asked us to come and have a look at the mesh bags to make sure that everything we needed was included and nothing had been left behind. Once we finished checking we were instructed to head to the local ferry port, a short walking distance from the dive centre. Seeing that all of our kit was left at the dive centre at that point myself, as well as the rest of us, were quite intrigued as to how our kit is going to find its way to Conzumel, which is where we were going!!!
Our curiosity was answered shortly when much to our bemusement we saw an army of pedal powered tricycles (!!!) arriving and our gear getting loaded by the very efficient baggage handlers!!! riding a tricycle loaded with gear uphill is not much fun so we left them behind us climbing the uphill and pushing the tricycles up. Shortly we were overtaken and by the time we got to the ferry port our luggage was already there and the little army of tricycles had dispersed.
After a bit of manual handling (primarily by our dive guides) and our gear wasloaded on the boat. As soon as we all boarded the common consensus was OUT!!! The sea was a bit choppy not much but enough to upset people susceptible to sea sickness and all those feeling the “Wrath of Montezuma”. The half hour long trip (felt like an eternity for a number of our crew members) but it was otherwise pleasant for the rest of us (ie: those that were not sick – repeatedly!!!).
Alex and Jen suffering from “Montezuma’s Wrath” on the ferry to Conzumel (photo courtesy of Steve Barham)
On arrival at Conzumel we hired taxis to take us from the ferry port to the local small boat marina where our dive boat was moored. Our dive boat for the day was spacious and well equipped (well it had a toilet). I would take my chance and say that it was an ex fishing boat turned dive boat but don’t quote me.
For those suffering with the after effects of “Montezuma’s Wrath” the prospect of spending a day on a boat wasn’t great but all of us were excited to be diving in beautiful, warm tropical waters with endless visibility.
A number of divers from our group were tek trained so I had kind of assumed that there would be a fair bit of tek diving on this trip and as such I had brought only tek diving gear with me. In all honesty I have no recreational dive gear anyway so didn’t really had much choise anyway. Part of this tek gear is my wing. I am using a DiveRite Superwing. This is a ridicilusly big wing the production of which has sieged nowdays and it as a matter of fact nearly all manufacturers have stopped making silly big wings (around 100 lb lift force). Why I have one? That is a long story and a pretty boring one so we will leave it there for now. The reality was I had a wing with me that was not made to be dived with single cilynders. And this is why I had asked for a twinset for the whole of the week.
While boarding I did noticed that there was no twinset on the boat. Alarmed by that I informed our guide who very quickly came back to me that there are no twinsets in Conzumel. Something had gone wrong. Bah
The rest of the group were getting kitted up when I was settling with the idea of a no dive day. I mean why not. It was a beautiful day and I could easily spend the day on the boat…
That is when our dive guide came to me with two weight belts!!! I could see where he was going with this but that was a BAD idea!!! Seriously BAD idea. For two reasons
A. My wing does not like single cylinders. It is too big for them. It folds and makes it impossible to damp air.
B. Weight belts CAN NOT support the weight of a cylinder on a wing. They do not fit well enough. The whole thing could fall apart anytime!!!
And most important of all IT LOOKS STUPID!!!
For those of you that know me I do not have to say that these arguments were purely academic and NO CHANCE IN HELL I was going to miss out in a dive even if I had to DIY the whole rig!!!
So there we go I am ready to jump in the water with a cylinder very loosely attached to my equipment and therefore all of my equipment very loosely attached to me!!! This could come apart any second now!!!
After a very very cautious giant stride entry, where our DIY rig held together, we started our descent and then our gentle drift dive over the reef. Quite clearly the whole thing was very loose and I could feel the cylinder at an oblique angle to myself but as the dive was relatively easy the whole thing felt under control.
I will admit that I definitely FELT the LOVE during this dive when loads of my buddies tried hard to re tighten the wightbelts and bring this “thing” back to shape but in-spite their best efforts I still ended up diving most of the time with a cylinder dropped on me and resting on my back rather than attached to the rest of my gear!!! It was a shallow dive (we stayed at a max of 25 m?) but considering that the seabed was dozens of meters below and the state of my gear this does count as one of the wildest dives I have EVER completed!!!
The dive was pleasant with swim-throughs and a fair bit of life, little reef creatures, corals, lobsters, crabs and barracudas. Maybe someone with a greater interest in this “Marine Life” thing could tell you more about it. I can not.
specimens of marine life (photo courtesy of Amelia Whittaker)
Surfacing from the first dive we swapped cylinders and much to my enjoyment the dive guide came and asked me if I am happy to dive with a BCD to which my response was “Yes!!!” Of course I am happy to dive with a BCD but have we got one? Apparently we had a few spare on the boat but because the dive guide had assumed that I wanted to dive on my Wing (on a single cylinder without cambands -ekk-???) he had not mentioned it earlier!!!! Well having sorted out the kit I was looking forward to lunch (you see I have my priorities right!!!!)
As soon as we surfaced the crew had started preparing lunch. A very big table was assembled and loads of cheese, bread, ham, jalapenos, mayo, salads etc were brought forward for each one of us to make his / her own sandwiches!!!! Now I am known to be partial to sandwiches so I loved the idea.
After one of the nicest surface intervals ever. I mean life doesn’t get much better than lying on a boat in the middle of the Caribbean Sea under the Caribbean Sun!!! We got geared up for our second dive.
Once more in full recreational gear (something that hasn’t happened in a long long time) I did enjoyed another easy drift dive by the reef watching all sorts of stuff moving happily about (all sorts of stuff included: Crabs, Lobsters, Flatfish, other fish and some different fish).
And about 40 minutes later we surfaced having dived a pretty scenic dive.
For those of you interested on the gruesome details of the first dive I will say that yes you guessed correctly I was diving on a single cylinder with my left post regulator fitted. So I had a BC inflator, a SPG and a second stage. No I had no octopus or AAS. HARDCORE! (in all honesty had no time or tools to mess around with regs).
Once back in the marina we followed the reverse route to get back to Playa Del Carmen. By that time we were too tired so didn’t even noticed the army of tricycle riders taking our diving gear back to the dive centre.
With the majority of the team exhausted as the combined effect of an early start, a day on a boat (3 boats to be accurate), sea sickness and the “Wrath of Montezuma” a quiet night ensued with me following my regular diet of beer and ice cream….
Tuesday 13 November 2012 – Day 3
The morning of Tuesday found us all rather humbled! It was the effect of “Montezuma’s Wrath” on the whole of the team taking it’s toll. Now having said that and to the best of my knowledge believe it was only Adam who lost a day’s diving and Maybe Chris? the rest perseveired and I believe that although the whole experience may not have been great they all enjoyed the diving (outside of the water it was probably not so great).
Luckily for everyone this time we were going to dive the Jardines. A drift dive on a local reef a small boat ride out of the very beach outside the dive centre and our favourite Zenzi bar. Once more things were very very easy. Get kitted up at the dive centre. BCD, MASK, FINS and regs and a short walk to the boat where the cylinders were already loaded for us!!! Nice
A short ride out and jump in the water. Being a reef dive the gentle current took us at a very relaxed cruising speed over the reef where I have to admit I was quite impressed with all the little and I am talking about proper tiny beasties hidden in shells, crevices etc. I usually tend to miss things like that in favour of big chunks of rusted and heavily corroded steel plates of shipwrecks!!!! And I did found myself surprised at how much less equipment one needs to go dive and ended up wondering why do I take all that cr@p with me when I go diving??? I quickly got over it and deployed my DSMB (cause I am fun like that!!!!)
More marine life (photo courtesy of Steve Barham)
The boats being smaller offered less facilities so if anyone was desperate to go to the loo he had too options. The sea. Or Hold it. In the same manner food was less impressive but as I am a great fan of biscuits when the guide came up with a box of biscuits for each diver I was a very very happy bunny!!!
With everyone concerned since the source of “Montezuma’s Wrath” had not been established yet (and as a matter of fact to this very day) we decided to play safe and go to “100% Natural” or so. A restaurant that advertised that they offered only local natural and therefore healthy stuff. By that point I was not feeling great and I opted for a “safe” and dry ham and Chihuahua cheese toasted sandwich. Rest assured they do not milk chiwawas to make that cheese. The cheese is named after the location where it was first produced (apparently by Mennonite communities). Now it could have well been cheese made by a chiwawa cause there was none on my toastie!!! And a number of fellow divers around me could testify the same!!! So not massively impressed with my toasted cheese and ham sandwich!!! Apparently the rest of the stuff were really good and every one else was happy (probably that is further evidence to prove that I wasn’t feeling great). The fresh juices / smoothies were also very colourful and tasted excellent!!!
Wednesday 14 November 2012 – Day 4
Wednesday morning everyone was recovering well and all were really very excited about today’s diving. Because we were only diving in the afternoon we had a late start and that was the only late start of the trip. None of us managed to sleep until late but it was not before 08:00 we got out and went for breakfast. This time we decided to try the breakfast at ZENZI. It was definitely more appealing to the eye (aesthetically) but not much different and because I wanted something less healthy I went to trusty Starbucks!!!
The plan for today said BULL SHARKS!!! Now I am always a bit reluctant to get excited with things like that because on numerous occasions I have been out to see Whale Sharks, Hammerheads etc and they were not there. And one should not be disappointed by that because in all honesty how do you set up a date with sharks???
From personal experience I can confirm getting a date with a girl is hard hard work and more often than not they don’t show up in the end so how could I expect the sharks to be there???
Still the guides from our diving centre seemed very confident. They had seen them a couple of days back and then again yesterday. Sharks were around no doubt.
We got kitted up and our guide arrived for the briefing. Diving with sharks apparently is a bit of tricky business and we had to be told about the rules
- We dive all together as one group, ie we all jump from the boat at the same time. Meet and form a group at the surface and we all descent together. No one goes first no one last. We stay together.
- the dive time would be a maximum of 40 min
- During the time of the dive we do not swim we stay still with our knees on the sand.
- During the dive we do not move our hands randomly and try to stay calm.
The purpose of these simple rules was our own safety but most importantly to keep the sharks around. In the end of the day we are intruding in their territory. If we start moving about and around they will get pissed off with us being a nuisance and they will go away!!!!
The same goes for the “keep your hands together and close to you” rule although there is more to it than just that. Aparently idiots have been out there feeding the sharks. So when the sharks see hands moving they think “Oh Food!!! Yammy” and go for your hand. Can not blame the sharks for that. I only blame the retards that went out to feed the sharks.
Having had our briefing purposely pitched to scare the hell out of us we headed to the boat even more excited than any other time. Rightly so we were about to dive with an Apex Predator of the oceans. A creature well older than mankind and potentially far much more intelligent than many of our fellow compatriots!
We boarded the dive centre boats which I have to say I was well impressed with not only because it is very cool for a dive centre to have it’s own dive boats but also because of their relationship with Sea Shepherd were painted all black and had a big Sea Shephard Jolly Roger logo on them!!! How Cool is that? (more points scored for Phocea Dive Centre there!!!) If you do not know who Sea Shepphard is or what I am talking about I would urge you go and have a look at Sea Shephard. They are a marine conservation society and they do great great job to protect whales, sharks and dolphins without hesitating putting their own lives at risk. They are worth your contribution and they definitely need it!
The ride out was pretty easy and short. As soon as we got to the Bull Shark hunting grounds the boat crew helped divers to get ready and jump in the water. Backward roll entry was the preffered method. Our guides were already in the water and armed with long sticks (do not ask me how much use is that against a 3 m Bull Shark!!!).
Having jumped almost last from the boat I was amongst the last to reach the cluster of divers on the surface. As I was approaching Alex and Steve shouted to me: “Dimitirs, Have you Looked Down???” casually and without a lot of thought I replied “No” and immediately put my head in the water to look!!!!
Bull sharks below us (photo courtecy of Andrew Forsyth – Left, Steve Barham – Right)
Yes 7 of them were down there circling around us at the bottom of the sea!!! That was an exciting moment I will agree.
Once we all signalled OK we started our descent. Easy and slow. It seemed that for that time the sharks disappeared. This is not surprising as they obviously do not like to be disturbed by unwelcomed intruders!!!
Soon after we settled at the sea bed they made a re-appearence and at any time at least 5 or 6 could be seen circling around us. They are impressive. They were moving quickly less than an inch above the seabed and yet they did not stir the sand at all. If you hadn’t seen them you wouldn’t know they were there.
Loads of remoras were around swimming either on the side of the sharks or freely around them which was interesting to see. Now I am sure that if I had more information about these Bull Sharks like where have they been 15 years ago, what have they seen, how do they hunt etc I may have found them more interesting but I will admit that the novelty of watching them going round and round quickly worn off. At the same time I will admit that I was abit concerned I mean I do not often find myself amongst beasts the bigger than me so probably that didn’t helped and I was more than happy to see the guide calling the dive at about 30 or 35 min because folk were running low on air.
During the dive Steve got the opportunity to practice his Pipe Smoking immitation (photo courtesy of Steve Barham)
Back on the boat a lot of excitement for what we had just seen and a bit of a disappointment by how well behaved the sharks were!!! Surely it should have been more fun if they had attacked Adam B!!!!
Back on the beach we dropped off our dive gear at the shop and went for a quick drink before we retire to our rooms for the customary now siesta before we reconvene for our evening drinks and dinner. During that time I spotted that the dive centre next door was advertising a night dive and thinking that it would be cool to do one I asked Alex how does he feel about me going to talk to the dive centre next door (from the one we were diving with) and register us for the night dive. The folk at the dive centre next door were very friendly and accommodating and confirmed that they have at least three spaces for a night dive. Having got the ok from Alex and the dive centre next door I went to Didier (the guy who was running the Phocea, the dive centre we were diving with) to tell him what we were planning to do. Didier was OK with us diving with the other guys but thought that it would be useful to confirm to me why they do not do night dives. The night dive would take place by the beach. The same beach we had dived this morning to see the sharks. Quite clearly the sharks would be there during the night too. Sharks are known to hunt in the hours of darkness.
I shouldn’t have to say that at that very point I said right. Got that. Went to the other dive centre, while holding a bottle of Corona, and said: Apparently we decided to stay in the pub and have a couple of drinks rather than go diving (with sharks that are hunting . Us for food!!!). No I didn’t said that last bit but that was what we were all thinking!!!
And that is how we didn’t got to do a night dive (with sharks). And just as well me thinks.
The rest of the evening was uneventful with the boys going out for a couple of drinks and dinner and the girls (along with Adam B and Chris) going for their Mayan Spa experience. They got to do some rituals, sit in a Sauna, Blow a Shell and have a very traditional Mayan dinner (see photo below). Some of them came back excited. Others not so excited. You will have to find them and ask them about that experience though cause at the same time I was at the pub having a beer and I haven’t got a clue what they really got up to!!!!
Thursday 15 November 2012 – Day 5
The plan for the day was definitely exciting. Wreck Diving!!! We were going to dive the C-55. C55, also known as Barrera, and is located in the Bahia des Mujeres (bay of Women). She was a cargo ship that the Mexican government acquired, added a gun at the bows and called it a warship (minesweeper?). Clearly not a very good one!!! But don’t tell em that. When the Mexican navy had enough of this magnificent warship (can not imagine anyone to excited about it) they decided to sink it as an artificial reef (much to everyone’s delight and the sailor’s in particular). So C-55 lies at a depth of about 35m (more or less) sitting proud and in very good condition.
The gun of C-55, I couldn’t resist! (photo courtesy of Steve Barham)
Mini buses took us from the dive centre to the beach where our boats loaded with cylinders were waiting for us. We were told that we had two boats so we would split in the two boats. The small one and the big one. My twinset was on the small boat so I was going to the small boat!!!
Heading to the beach I got quite confused because both boats were identical. Apparently the big boat was big because it would take more divers than the small boat which was actually the same size but would take less dives. Go figure.
A permament shot is in place and our boats used that as a mooring. The shot line took us straight to the bows and the gun which was in good condition but failed to impress. Heading aft on the outside of the starboard side just after midships Bruce, who was infront of me, spotted some 3 Eagle rays flying over our heads and crossing our paths at 90 degrees. The size of Eagle Rays varies from 20 inches to 30 ft!!! These were pretty big with what looked to me like a good 2m + wing span!!! They are definitely impressive and seeing them over us made it even more spectacular and probably the highlight of the dive. Once we made it to the stern we penetrated the canapé and headed to the superstructure all the way until we came out of the bridge and on to the gun. Good opportunity for a few silly photos and it was time to head back up.
INSERT PHOTO ME AND THE GUN
During the surface interval we had cookies and soft drinks (again courtesy of the dive centre) before we got ready for our second dive. During the second dive Marcus (our guide) was feeling more brave and took us straight in the ships engine and machinery room. Usually I get very excited by engine and machinery rooms and this one was a bit of a disappointment. I do not recall having dived any other engine room so well lit, bright and with so many exits available. the complete lack of wreckage (cables hanging, collapsed structures etc) made it a bit too easy and comfortable as it was it made me feel like I am in Disneyland (not that I have ever been there) but I think you get what I mean.
On the way back Steve spotted a Lion fish and he pointed to me. Lion Fish have invaded Caribean waters recently and they are a real menace to the local marine life. They have a detrimental effect on the native population and for that reason they are hunted. Apparently they make good soup. So having every right to remove this alien invader I pulled out the only sharp object I had with me.
An easy-cut trilobite cutting tool (photo courtesy of http://eezycut.com/)
and embarrassed enough I put it back in cause I wasn’t going to kill a lion fish with that one was I????
Great cutting instruments as they are they are not meant for hunting lion fish. Curse Tek diving that took my trusty “John Rambo” style knife from me!!!
back in the beach we got changed and waited for hours for the second boat which for some mysterious reason was taking it’s time to return…
Having seen Eagle Rays for the first time in my life was really very exciting and they are pretty amazing which only made worst that tomorrow was the last day of our diving holiday :(.
The evening with the spirits quite high as we had all recovered from “Montezuma’s Wrath” we decided to play safe and head to the local Italian restaurant. Quite a busy and popular place and by the sounds of it pizzas were great. Out of all the available pizzas on the menu the Micky Mouse” pizza caught my eye and having sausages and chips definitely was going to be my choise.
Me and my “Mickey Mouse Pizza” Not so excited after I tasted it!!! (photo courtesy of Jen Griffin)
Yes it actually looked better than it tasted. But I didn’t got much sympathy as apparently it was my fault for going for a pizza with chips topping. I still believe that it is a brilliant idea and it was merely the preparation that failed for as a concept it is as good as a Donner Kebab pizza!!!
Friday 16 November 2012 – Day 6
Sadly the last day of my holiday was hereand soon I would have to wave bye bye to 30 deg C air temperature, 26 deg C water temperature, 30 m viz plus nice Italian Gelato, Caves, Sharks and Cenotes but not yet. Not just yet!!!
For the last diving day of our trip we headed back to the cenotes, well different cenotes this time. As per the norm we met up for breakfast and after that the guides asked us to check our kit which was already packed in mesh bags and off we went. Because of the regulations governing cave and cavern diving there has to be one guide and four students. So although the whole of the group would dive at the same location we pretty much operated as individual groups. As soon as a group was ready the we would load our truck and go. Minor exception to that was food. One would pick up the food for all.
Entrance / Exit of Casa cenote – Awesome!!! (photo courtesy of Jen Griffin)
Past the picturesque school-bus-invaded-by-monkeys sculptures and Chilly Willies, a notorious strip club in the area famous for all sorts of things other than exotic dances establishment!!!! We made a quick stop to pick up food (cheese and ham sandwiches) and off we went to Casa cenote. This one in a way it was a very special cenote in the sense that the overhead environment was the roots of the mangroves so it wasn’t rock but wood, the body of the trees!!!
myself diving under the mangroves (photo courtesy of Amelia Whittaker)
This cenote was just by the beach so again the water was a mix of fresh and sea water and because of its proximity to the sea there were plenty of fish and a small alligator in the fresh part (much to my disappointment I didn’t got to see the ‘gator). The dive was a bit of a pain as the maximum depth was about 6m with most of it being an average of about 4m, my 100lb lift force wing and doubles were really not made for that kind of diving!!! Still it was absolutely awesome to get the chance to dive under trees!!! In places like that you could come up against anything from Tiger to Bull Sharks and Aligators. Sadly (or not) we didn’t got any of that and an hour later we surfaced pretty happy and having done a very interesting albeit shallow dive.
Team photo at the entry / exit of Casa cenote (photo courtesy of Jen Griffin)
Due to some doubts about the correlation between the cheese and ham sandwiches and “Montezuma’s Wrath” there was a general concensuss to postpone lunch till later. After the dive we loaded the trucks and headed to the next Cenote.
Once there and after the briefing again the subject of food came in the conversation but it was again postponed to after the dive. Steve’s impression of the smell around the location where lunch was prepared did not help!!!
Casa Rosa cenote was pretty spectacular. Pretty much in the jungle with a cave separating two bodies of water and then numerous caves starting from them. Once more we would leave the caves to experienced and cave trained divers and limit ourselves to the cavern zone.
We got kitted up and made our way to the water which was a chilled 25 deg C and by far the coldest of the whole trip. Having said that I have never seen 25 deg C water temperature in the UK. Not even in swimming pools!!! The dive was pretty awesome with the guide having to lay a line from the cavern entrance to the fixed line installed further in under the overhead environment to the second body of water where sea water was mixing with fresh water and the water temperature was jumping from 25 to 28 deg C instantaneously!!!
Again I found myself stupefied by the effects of the halocline. Diving in fresh water above sea water is something unique. I could see perfectly clear the rock formations around me to the extend that if it wasn’t for my bubbles I wouldn’t know that I was in water and then seeing below me a diver in water is a very bizarre feeling and I understand that I am failing to describe. But in all honesty that is how it felt. Like I was flying on air and at any point I could take my reg out of my mouth and breathe and that exactly below me I could see a diver in the water.
My thought at that point was: “this could mess up people’s minds badly”
Again after about 40 minutes of awesomeness we had to surface and end our last Cenote dive for the trip. One thing is for sure that was not the last Cenote Dive. I will be going back!!!
Eventually hunger took the best of us and in-spite all concerns and reservations when the guid asked: “lunch” the answer came as a massive hungry “YEEES!!!” and everyone hit the cheese and ham baguettes relentlessly!!! Well not everyone. I decided to leave it for another time and Steve decided to abstain too.
The stunning surrounding of our last cenote dive for this trip (photo courtesy of Jen Griffin)
Once we had dinner and much to our disappointment we had to say goodbye to the caverns (for this trip) and head back to the dive shop.
On arrival back to the dive shop and having hardly got our kit from the truck Didier informed us that we were ready to go for our boat dive. this came a bit a surprise but there wasn’t time for any thinking. We got our gear ready and under “heavy” rain we headed to the boat. Another very very bizarre feeling. Do not remember raining while getting kitted up and being so happy about it!!! It was actually quite pleasant !!! The joys of diving in a wet suit!!!
The boat was pretty much ready and we (myself, Tim, Jakub, Sal and Licilda) were the last to board. The dive site was the local reef just a couple of minutes away from the beach so by the time we got our cylinders fitted we were already there. Diving with a group of very new divers (probably their first sea dive ever) involved a high amount of fuff and about fifteen minutes after they jumped off the boat they managed to descent. Because our guide was assisting them we had to wait until they managed to submerge and get themselves sorted.
Once all that was done we begun our dive. Once more a pleasant drift dive. I must admit that I came to like these dives!!! (ha! surprised are we???) Yes it was pretty cool just sitting there (well hovering) and leave the current do all the hard work. Loads and loads of tiny little beasties in the reef to be seen but I wouldn’t have a clue what were they or to identify them. Pretty none the less.
At the end of the dive our guide sent up his DSMB and I followed promptly with a pathetic a attempt to orally inflate a full size (not a single breath one) DSMB at 10 m depth!!! I hope that no one saw that, but I doubt it!!!
This third dive of the day was the last for the trip. Well all good things come to an end and we had to get back and find the rest of the group for celebratory drinks!!!
Sure enough the rest of the crew were already at Zenzi beach bar relaxing and drinking a few more Coronas!!!
Having had three dives but most importantly because we were all of us getting accustomed to this “siesta” concept we decided to break go and have a shower, nap and meet for dinner and drinks later in the evening.
A couple of hours later we met up outside the Plaza and headed out to find somewhere to eat. Jen had spotted a promising Steak house and surely you can not go wrong with a stake!!!
The restaurant was almost ready for us as the table they had reserved for us was 2 seats sort!!! But other than that they did a great job managing a crew of 15 hungry divers!!! They came up with a sample plate showing us all the cuts and managed to deliver all steaks and Bruce’s ribs at the same time!!!
The steak was really good and we did accompany it with the restaurant’s proposed special (ridicilusly strong) local brew so quickly we moved back to Coronas!!! Being in Mexico of course we had to have Tequila with our dinner and contrary to the common (and Bruce’s) misconception we enjoyed sipping it slowly rather than doing shots (which was too early for that anyway!!!)
Bruce challenging the local (Mexican) to a Tequila “drink you under the table” competition. Luckily the Mexican new better (photo courtesy of Amelia Whittaker)
Well fed after by far the best dinner of the trip we reluctantly made our way out to the high street were all bars were. I say reluctantly but probably it was only me who was reluctant as everyone else was geared up for KARAOKE. This is exactly why I was reluctant to go!!! Restaurant = Safe, KARAOKE = TROUBLE. After a fair bit of exploring the group ended up at one of the many local bars as sadly (?!) KARAOKE is not that popular around that part of the world and it looks like we failed to find the only KARAOKE bar in the vicinity!!!!
the Karaoke bar we (sadly) failed to locate in time (photo courtesy of Jen Griffin)
The last day is always painful the feeling of a holiday that had just finished and the long journey back to cold and wet didn’t really made my day. Still we went out for a last minute shopping. After buying a fridge magnet for home we checked out of the hotel and made our way to the Plaza where a mini-bus was waiting to take us to the Airport. The journey to the airport was smooth without any unexpected surprises as well as check in and security were far much more civilised than on the way in. Security guards were intrigued by the bizarre solid block things (regulators) on my rucksack and Tim’s traditional chilli sauce which he did bought to take back to the UK and sadly didn’t made it past security checks!!!
The flight was again uneventful with a bit of turbulence above Vermudas. Much to my disappointment I could not get any sleep so decided to see a film. By the time I finished watching Battleship, The Dark Knight Rises and Abraham Linkoln the Vampire Hunter we were nearly there. As this is not a film review blog I will only say that the best part about Battleship was “Waiting for The Funeral” by Band of Horses during the end titles and they could do away with the rest of it!!!
Finally Sunday morning myself and my 29.5 kg kit bag arrived in London Gatwick. With my flight to Aberdeen at 18:00 in the evening I had plenty of time to kill but having stayed up all night by early afternoon I was falling asleep!!! A tour around my old neighbourhood (Clapham junction) helped to keep me awake and eventually at about 22:30 or so I made it back home. I was feeling sleepy, cold and tired not a happy bunny at all and I only wanted to be teleported back to Mexico!!!
Overall I will say that it was probably the most anticipated diving trip so far. I have been waiting for it for months and I had really high expectations and not only I was not disappointed but I was well impressed. Yes Playa Del Carmen is good for tourists but the diving was phenomenal. The Cenotes were awesome and more impressive that I had ever imagined. No descriptions that I have read do them justice. Some photos capture the beauty but you have to go and see for yourself!!! No doubt I will be going back…
Many Thanks to Alex and Jen from Diving Leisure London for organising it
Many thanks to Didier from Phocea Mexico for looking after us and of course
Many thanks to my diving buddies Tim, Steve, Bruce, Adam F, Adam B, Chris, Jakub, Sal, Amelia, Chantal and Lucinda for making it an excellent holiday!!!
Group photo (courtesy of Jen Griffin)