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Cozumel 2008


Thursday, April 17, 2008

I wake up at 3am and cannot fall back to sleep even though I have another hour before the alarm goes off. Oh, Christ – why couldn’t the Nytol knock me out for a whopping 5 hours???

I’m in the lobby of the hotel at 430am and quickly find my driver – yes, I had to pay someone to drive me the 4 minutes from the hotel to the airport because the hotel does not take reservations for their shuttle – you just line up in the lobby when you want a shuttle. When I walk into the lobby at 430am there are already 41 people waiting to go to the airport – it will take 4 trips for all of them to get there – or approximately 60 minutes!! Great system, Hilton Garden Inn!!!!

Check in is a breeze – no lineup to speak of – only 2 others ahead of me. I head to the Maple Leaf Lounge (thank you, CIBC Aerogold Visa!!!) for cereal and toast and spend my time there until 630am when I head down to the gate. The flight is nowhere near full and even getting seated on the plane is a snap.

My seatmates are 2 ladies from Halifax who are staying at El Cozumelano for the week. During our chats I find out that Gayle will be doing her open water checkout dives while in Cozumel. She’s finished the classroom and pool work in Halifax with Nautilus and is so geared up to dive – especially after I pull out my palm pilot with last year’s Cozumel photos on it, and a few from good old Atlantic Canada underwater as well.

By the time we leave the Cozumel airport we have made plans to meet up Sunday afternoon to drive around the island, visiting east coast beaches, beach clubs, and other touristy sites when I get my rental car.

The shuttle ride to the hotel is quick and easy and lo and behold Hotel Cozumel actually has rooms for each of us checking in ready at 11am!! I am truly impressed – especially when the refrigerator I requested shows up only moments after I am in the room. The bathroom has a bathtub, shower and toilet. The sink is in the outer room along with a full-sized closet. 2 double beds (really double beds, not ¾ beds!!) and a huge dresser. An air conditioner that works a little too well (can anyone say icy???) and a table with 2 chairs rounds out the room. The patio has 2 chairs, a small table, hooks for hanging stuff (dive gear) and a couple of bars as well (for regs or BCs).

After I unpack, I head to the dive locker I was assigned to unpack my dive gear. It’s about 40ft. from the end of the wharf and is big enough to hold all my gear – wetsuit and regs will come back to the room each day, but the BC and other heavy stuff can just live there getting stinkier every day!! The on-site dive shop is Dive Paradise, which I have heard hideous things about, so I opted to book with another shop downtown. I later learn that Dive Paradise is a great shop if you have enough people for a boatload – they let you do whatever you want and just provide you the boat and divemaster (required by law) – and their pricing is much, much lower than the other shops in town.

OK – time to head downtown – check into the dive shop, pick up a few groceries in case the meals are horrible, etc. I also try to get a medication to stop my cough, but find that the only thing pharmacies have is Robitussin. I guess colds and coughs are not a big problem in tropical locations!!

I check into the dive shop and am pleased to learn that they have me scheduled for the dives I requested, and can fit me in on other trips if I so desire. By the end of the day I call the shop to book for Friday afternoon (I’m already on the Friday morning trip).

I get back to the hotel in time for the Air Canada Vacations briefing where they try to sell us overpriced excursions and tell us incorrect information about the hotel. Hotel Cozumel is at 40% occupancy this week so 1 buffet restaurant (the largest one) is closed, but our ACV rep doesn’t know that – grrr!!! We also learn that we have to check out next Thursday morning at 8am so we can get to the airport (15 minute drive) for our 11am flight.

After a quick dip in the pool and a short snorkelling session off the beach I head to my room for a shower. I settle down on my bed (or 1 of my beds) and turn on the TV to learn that we have HBO – I end up watching "We Are Marshall" (a football movie!!) until 8pm and then decide I’m too tired to go to supper. I nibble on a banana and madeleine cookie that I picked up earlier in the day and fall asleep by 10pm (which is really midnite… and I was up at 3am)



Friday, April 18, 2008

Since I fell asleep so early last night, I wake up at 7am. Time to get the camera ready for a day of diving!!!

By 8am I am in the restaurant waiting for an omelette to be made for me, when the girl behind me asks if the omelettes are good. Since it’s my first morning, I don’t have a clue. We end up chatting – Kim from Seattle is a lobbyist (regional transportation), will vote for Hillary if given the chance (and Obama will do as well), and is only 4 months older than me. She’s been at the resort for a week and is leaving tomorrow – she came with a group from the local dive shop at home and it’s her first stay at Hotel Cozumel although she has been to Cozumel before. We hit it off and I’m sorry she’s not here for another week. She’s entrigued with my stories of Cuba and is now thinking of breaking her country’s law to visit the country – oh, no, what have I done???

At 915am the Deep Blue boat rolls up to the wharf and within a few minutes we are off to Santa Rosa Wall. A great dive that started out (before my camera was ready) with a porcupine fish and an eagle ray and 10 minutes later with a turtle. The problem is that visibility was crap – maybe 30ft. (which sounds good when I’m used to the Bay of Fundy, but is certainly crap in Cozumel) and there is so much particulate in the water that the turtle looks like it is shedding dandruff. Of course, that could have something to do with the wall of current that found us within seconds of seeing the turtle. And then there was another wall coming in the opposite direction all of a sudden. And then it started swirling. So, only 20 minutes into the dive we aborted and ascended.

The second dive was Yucab Reef – my first time on this reef!! Very nice with lots of corals and large fish. I was told that a splendid toadfish would be found, but apparently they all went to a convention for the day – Divemaster Sandros promised one for Saturday.This was a nice long shallow dive with absolutely no current – a treat after the rollercoaster at Santa Rosa Wall.

Back to Hotel Cozumel for lunch (beef that looked like chicken, pico de gallo, guacamole, chips, chimichangas – oh, I love Mexico!!!) and time for a short nap on a beach lounger before the boat comes back at 215pm.

Off to Palancar Gardens and Paradise Reef (yes, THE Paradise Reef that I dove 3 times last year!!) I must say that the easy shallow Paradise Reef was actually pleasant, seeing how the afternoon boat was loaded with not too competent divers. Apparently the shop has 4 or 5 boats going out each morning so they’re able to group equally skilled divers together in groups – the morning was wonderful with everyone knowing exactly what they were doing – but the afternoons are slow and only 1 boat goes out most days, leaving the newbies and vacation-only divers to mix with the more experienced (and more frustrated) divers.  Needless to say, I will only be diving mornings for the rest of the week. So far this dive shop (Deep Blue) does seem good – better than others I have dealt with in the past in tropical locations (except for Stuart Cove’s in Nassau) – they checked my certifications, looked at my dive log, and inspected my gear before letting me dive!! And they are on time!! No waiting around for an extra tank, no going to pick up tanks after they load everyone onto the boat – they’re organized and very capable.

Back at the hotel at 530pm, exhausted and salty – I hang my gear to dry, head for the shower and then to supper. I must say that breakfast is the best meal, followed closely by lunch. Supper, however, would not win any prizes. ICK!!! I got the fresh fish which was grilled – it just tasted “weird” – can’t explain it better than that. Chunks of cucumber with cream cheese on them? BBQ ribs with no BBQ sauce? Another version of beef (that still looks like chicken) in a sauce that was almost purple? I think I may be eating out for supper from now on – at all the delicious places we found last year it won’t be a hardship.

After that food experience, I’m back to my room to download photos (124 so far), start on this travel journal, and watch a bit of pre-recorded TV on my laptop. I’m tired…. I’m going to bed!!!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The day is overcast and gloomy – it looks as if a storm will blow in – but we’re diving anyway!!! Off to Palancar Horseshoe, a new dive site to me, and Tormentos, the first site I ever dove in Cozumel way back in 2000. Palancar Horseshoe has some amazing swim throughs – I don’t know how divemaster Carlos could remember where he was going. Currents were wild in spots, pushing us downwards or acting like a wall to forbid us to go forward. Tormentos was much better than last year, but still showing damage from previous hurricanes – and it was also the spot where I finally got a somewhat decent photo of a splendid toadfish, endemic to Cozumel. The little striped wonder just sat there with an adorable look on his face and his whiskers blowing in the current – it took everything I had not to reach out and pat the diminutive guy.

The captain informed us that it did indeed rain while we were on our second dive and that it looked like we could expect the same off and on all afternoon. I decided to spend the afternoon trying to connect to the internet, which Vista made problematic (thanks, Microsoft!!) but I finally figured it out, checked email and uploaded photos from the first two days of diving.

In the evening I had to head into town to get a new pair of fins – apparently my feet have widened since last year and my current fins were way too tight to be comfortable. I found a great pair for $40 and was headed to a small restaurant that we found last year for supper when a wooden skeleton caught my eye – I should have kept walking, but NOOOOOO – I had to ask about it. That ended up being my downfall!! 4 stores and 5 bags later I had spent more that I expected to for the entire week – a Mayan calendar pendant, a wooden skeleton, a decorative shell ornament for Mom, a necklace for Mom, a metal turtle for my wall, and the promise that the jeweller on Monday could repair my amber ring that was missing a stone!! Oh, yeah, I also picked up a Cozumel dive book that has descriptions and maps of all the dive sites around the island.

Then I finally made it to Les Tres Gatitos (The Three Kittens) for a tortas especiales (special sandwich), tostada and quesadilla – there was too much food, but I couldn’t make up my mind!! $7 later I was on my way back to the hotel and was asleep shortly after arriving there.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sunny and clear – time to dive!!! Off to Palancar Caves – home of turtlepalooza – and Paseo del Cedral – home of the Indy 500 of scuba diving!!

You know it’s going to be a good dive when you haven’t even hit 20 feet and there’s a turtle swimming around you!! So many beautiful fish, wonderful corals and huge sponges. And more turtles!!! Currents got a little dicey at some spots but we muddled through fine.

Paseo del Cedral was a new site for me – and I don’t really feel like I saw it because I was flying along at high speeds. Fish couldn’t swim against the current, so I certainly wasn’t going to make any headway at being still long enough for my camera to focus and strobe to fire. A large turtle, two huge groupers and a big shark were all seen on this dive – off in the distance with no hopes of getting near them – they were the only things able to swim against the current as they were headed in the opposite direction from us.

I had decided to rent a car for a couple of days and I went to pick it up at the International Pier. However, since there were no cruise ships in town (Sunday is a slow day for cruise traffic) that office was closed. I then hopped a cab to the downtown office and picked up my car – it was supposed to be an automatic transmission, but the only automatic was 25 minutes away at the south end of the island. I opted to try my luck with the standard transmission and rolled away from the rental office with a bit of trepidation. Things were going well until a pedestrian walked out in front of me and slammed on my brakes, stalling the car. The a taxi started honking at me as I was not having a great deal of luck getting in motion again. I rolled down my window and told the driver that his honking and yelling was not going to make anything happen sooner – he started swearing at me and another man walked over asking if he could help me. He moved the car out of the intersection and the taxi driver tried to roll over my foot as I jumped out of his way – NICE!!!!

I picked up Gayle and Christina at their hotel and we were off to the east coast of the island – first stop Coconuts, which is an infamous beach bar. Fantastic views, huge & strong margaritas, tasty jalapeno poppers and my first try at ceviché (which I ended up LOVING!!). Next stop was to be a beach, but I didn’t recognize the great one visited last year, so I overshot and ended up at Punta Sur – the toll office worker didn’t seem to understand our questions about alligators (rumour is that there are salt water alligators here) and the road was closed for the day, so we turned around and headed back to Playa Bonita for some splashing in the very strong surf.

The second “incident” with the car happened at this location. I had pulled off the side of the road into what was a pile of sand and the car became stuck. We just left it there and went to play on the beach, hoping that someone would be around to help when we were ready to leave. As luck would have it, two friendly (and photogenic) police officers were rolling by when we were returning to the car and thought we had a flat tire. When we explained that we were simply stuck in the sand, they pulled out a tow rope, tied it to the car frame and hauled us out of the sand!! They were nice enough to not charge for this service and to pose for photos (with their guns – and Gayle) after their heroic efforts. Hurrah for Mexican Policia!!!

The rest of the day was ordinary – a walk on a beach to find some fossilized coral, drop Gayle & Christina off at their hotel and then back to my hotel to change into street clothing (one thing about Cozumel is that bathing suits are accepted almost everywhere!!). Then off to La Taqueria El Piste – home of consommé especiale con carne con queso with onions and lime!! YUM!!! The waiter understood my broken Spanish and brought me a pork taco and the ever-so-special soup and, once again, I was full, happy, and tired. Back to the hotel to ready some more photos for upload, watch a bit of TV and head to bed. I could really get used to this schedule!!!


Monday, April 21, 2008

Another sunny, clear day that ended up being absolutely scorching!! I got a bit of a sunburn between dives yesterday and I felt my shoulders crisping up nicely today as well – so it was back under the sun cover of the boat canopy for me after only 5 minutes in the sun.

Today we were off to Palancar Bricks (another of the first dives I did in Cozumel in 2000) and Punto Delila – a new one to me. Palancar Bricks has some really nice swim throughs and more turtles than we could count – sorry, Palancar Caves, you have lost your turtlepalooza title!!! There were so many turtles that I started to get jaded and not swim after them. There was a turtle sleeping in a little cave, a turtle swimming up to us, a turtle eating sponges, a turtle who kept just a few feet in front of us, a turtle who did a swim-by when we were on our safety stop, and the list goes on. I also managed to get a somewhat decent photo of a barracuda – those silver shiny fish are darn difficult to a) light properly and b) get them to stay still.

Punta Delila wasn’t anything extraordinary – very nice sponges and corals in better condition than the other reefs – maybe Hurricane Wilma skipped this reef??

After diving and quick shower, I was off to the San Gervasio Ruins about 7km out of town. I’m really getting the hang of the manual transmission at this point – almost not minding it!! They have improved the ruins markedly since last year – it used to be a 45 minute walk from the parking lot to the ruins, an hour to tour the ruins, and a 45 minute walk back to your car – all in 35°C heat and blazing sun. I wimped out last year, but when I learned that the road had been extended to only 30 metres from the ticket counter I decided to see the ruins.

They’re touted as being the location that women from the mainland would travel to worship, although they are smaller than the mainland ruins (Chitzen Itza and Tulum). Since I had been to both the mainland ruins, I wasn’t expecting much from Cozumel’s ruins, but I was pleasantly surprised. In addition to extending the roadway, they have started reconstruction on another set of ruins ½ kilometre away that is open to tourists now. I was short on time, having left only 1 hour to tour the ruins before the gates were closed and I would be locked into the ruins for the night. So I skipped the new addition, but thoroughly enjoyed the “old” ruins, which were still quite spread out – and larger than Tulum in my opinion. Tulum is very tightly packed and San Gervasio is spread out over a couple of kilometres, so it’s hard to compare, but there seemed to be more complete buildings at San Gervasio – or at least I got the whole picture from San Gervasio and Tulum left me wondering which was the temple, which were the houses, etc. San Gervasio is extremely well-signed and each structure had a signboard describing what the function was of that particular structure as well as tidbits on what they expected happened in the structure.

I decided to return my rental car tonight instead of rushing to return it right after diving tomorrow, so I drove into town, returned the car, and then had a nice supper at a restaurant on the main square – Casa Dennis. My second plate of ceviché, an order of chiles rellenos (which I did not like) and even more nachos and pico de gallo (which was much spicier than that at the hotel). I returned to the hotel just as samba lessons were being given in the entertainment area. I stopped to take a few photos and video clips of the folks I’ve met during the week who were participating. Then back to my room to, once again, process photos and head to bed.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I had stopped into the dive shop yesterday afternoon to let them know that I wanted to hit a couple of specific sites before heading home – Punta Sur and Colombia Shallows. This morning it wasn’t to be as there were only 2 advanced divers on the boat – Blair from North Dakota (who had joined us yesterday) and me. I compromised and agreed on Colombia Deep and Palancar Caves. More turtles and a southern stingray that made for an excellent video clip!!

After diving, I decided to take a trip to Playa del Carmen for the evening – took the 5pm ferry over and shopped and ate in Playa. Managed to find the elusive red opal ring I’d been searching for as well as a blue opal turtle pendant and an amber ring and pendant. Mexico is heaven for silver jewellery!!! Supper was at Los Rancheros – not too great as it was a bit too Texmex for my tastes when I’m in Mexico. I found out that I don’t like Lime Soup and this particular restaurant wouldn’t know what to do with a squid if it slapped them in the face. $25US for a very mediocre meal did not leave me happy.

Back at Hotel Cozumel it was karaoke night – I heard the wailing and decided to skip it!!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The last diving day and the boat is filled with new faces – Carmen from Jersey City is there (she was out yesterday, too), two divers from New York City, Blair from North Dakota was back, another diver from Simon from Munich, and Karen and David from Alberta – these were Karen’s first two dives EVER and her air consumption rivals the divemasters!! Karen rocks!!!

We head to Palancar Caves and La Francesca – I offer to take photos of all the divers and they promise to email me to get their photos. Some of the photos turn out great – like Carmen’s which not only has her face properly lighted, but shows off her brand new dive watch perfectly!! The visibility at La Francesca reminded me of home – on a good day – so that’s really bad vis for Cozumel!! Maybe 30ft at best.

Since it’s my last day, I rinse my gear, drag it to my patio and commence the drying process, hoping that it will be dry for the morning so I can avoid overweight fees for my luggage. I then try, unsuccessfully, to connect to the WiFi network in the hotel lobby – no luck at all today!! Forget it – I’ll be home tomorrow – emails can wait until then.

I take one last trip into San Miguel to finalize everything with Deep Blue (I dove a bit more than expected and also used nitrox, so there were extra charges), pick up tshirts and souvenirs, like I don’t have enough stuff already!!Then back to the pool to lay around for the remainder of the afternoon. While I am sitting there, next to Kay (who is deathly frightened of the beach and tiny fish), an inflatable dolphin speeds across the pool deck towards us – Flipper has flipped out and is going to attack Kay LOL!! She threatens it with her cigarette butt and it veers away from her deck chair.

A local “artist” has set up shop near the pool and is painting using spray cans, stencils, laquer and a torch that a welder would use. The results are interesting to say the least.

Back to my room to finish packing – oh, so much packing – trying to figure out how my clothes weigh more 7 days later and why my dive gear weighs less!!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

6am and my alarm goes off – finish packing, get breakfast, and then check out by 8am when the taxis are supposed to take us to the airport. Of course, it’s Mexican time, so the Air Canada Vacations rep and taxis don’t arrive until nearly 8:20am, leaving us all sitting it the lobby wondering if we’ve been forgotten.

Finally they do arrive and we are carted off to the airport – and we’re the first to arrive, nearly 2 ½ hours before the flight is scheduled to leave!! Sigh – there’s not a lot to do in Cozumel’s airport departure lounge, especially since we have another hour before the majority of stores open!! Kay and Enrique agree to watch my carry on bags while I head to Cinquo Soles to look around – I find another amber ring and a cute t-shirt that I just have to have (Piranha Joe eating a scuba diver). Then Duty Free opens and I line up for a bottle of Amarula – there’s only one cashier and they move as slow as can be.

The flight boards early – and we leave 30 minutes before scheduled!!! Which means we land in Halifax 20 minutes earlier than Customs expected us and we have to wait for them to get their act together!! NICE!!! But it’s smooth sailing through customs and I’m out of the airport by 6pm.

I grab the shuttle bus back to the long-term parking at the hotel I stayed at last week, throw my luggage into the Jeep, and head to Moncton. The rest of the trip is effortless with no problems at all – I’m in Moncton by 9pm and in my own cozy comfy bed by 10pm – unpacking will wait until tomorrow!!

This trip was great – not too pricey, lots of diving, lots of good weather, a lot of great food, some interesting people. I would do it again in a heartbeat!! In fact, I expect I will do it again.

Hotel Cozumel caters to divers – if you want a luxury 5 star resort, this is not the place. If you want a decent, clean hotel with excellent rinse facilities and dive lockers only seconds from the dock where you can be picked up each day, this is the place!!! The restaurants serve a great breakfast, a decent lunch, and then head to town for supper and taste the local fare each night – after all the price difference between all inclusive and European plan is around $30!!

Deep Blue is one of the best dive shops I have ever dealt with – they followed through on their promises, ran on time (not Mexican time!!), had fast boats with sun cover, offered unlimited water all day and tasty fruit between dives, did not force me to find other divers to go where I wanted to dive, and separated divers according to ability. Other operations on Cozumel should take a lesson from Deep Blue, but I don’t really care if they don’t – I’ll only be diving with Deep Blue on future trips to Cozumel!!

Cozumel is quickly becoming my favourite dive vacation location – even if currents sometimes are ripping and visibility isn’t always 100ft. The variety and quantity of sea life rivals any other spot I’ve visited – Cozumel has it all, in my eyes. And I’m sure I’ll be back!!


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