In February 2015, 16 members of the Club and some friends jetted off to Mexico to sample the delights of Cozumel and the Yucatan.  A comprehensive diary will appear in the Dive Trip section of the website in due course, but meanwhile here is an account of the trip written by Ali Bessel.  

Mexico - February 2015 – Ali Bessell

A trip was organised by Dawn Barnard, primarily to dive the Cenotes, but to include a few days diving on the famous Cozumel reefs. I have wanted to dive the cenotes for years, which prompted me to do an Introduction to Cave Diving with Martyn Farr quite a few years ago, just to check out how I felt about overhead environments and how it would feel if all the lights went out and it was a long way back to surface air. Thought a trip to Wales would be cheaper than getting to Mexico and finding out there that it might not go too well. So what I confirmed, is that dark and overhead is fine, but ‘silt out’ is definitely something I really am not happy about, despite that in effect, it’s the same as ‘dark’ in the great scheme of what you do about it. But diving in mine shafts in Wales was accomplished so I had no qualms about the Ceynotes.

We arrived in a lovely hotel in Cozumel, 16 or so people. All the standard stuff, bed, food, pool, beach etc, normal so far, and a pier from which the shuttle boats could pick us up in the morning to get to the dive sites. Dawn, our illustrious overworked leader, is a master of smooth manipulation, with a smiley sweet demeanour, that hides some serious fangs. You will buy those raffle tickets, attend that social event, and blindly support some charity you have no interest in, the money gliding from your wallet/purse to that collection jug/ticket purchase. We had not been in the hotel for one hour and these skills were called on, when a room for two of our party was not available. Despite the confirmation booking email, no room. However, the sweet fang hiding smile, those dulcet tones, could not get the desired result, and no room materialised. Well everyone has an off day! Turns out they regularly overbook, sometimes to the tune of 80 people,  and then just shuttle people about the island to the other hotels. And no-one throws a tantrum? ‘Oh well…this is Mexico’, a phrase I heard regularly. So the homeless pair, Phil and Trine, were split, and an extra bed was put up in two others pairs rooms, and the problem was sorted. Easily enough space and no-one really cared. Soon too distracted by iguanas, wild pigs, terrapins, crocodiles, and rich bird life, all in the hotel grounds, to really care about the sagas of beds and bathroom rotas. A few cocktails later…what room?

Breakfast, buffet, I had chillies; I’m going to regret that! Pier, small boats arrived, nitrox had been ordered, all of the nitrox ordered did not turn up, and some fills were under 200 bar. Wheel out our illustrious leader! Polite, sweet talking fang bearer wades in again on everyone’s behalf, with some team back up of course. All chilled but point made, promises that it will be rectified in the morning and the day begins. All the dives turn out to be gentle to not so gentle drift dives over lovely sponge rich reefs, with corals, small ascidians and apparently some fish, or ‘clutter’ as I call them. Actually even I looked at some of these fish…..but why when there are all these sponges?

Lunch on each day was spent at another small pier that just ended at the jungle edge. Fruit and cake were provided and we all wandered about on the 50 yards of wooden pier, along with the other 6 boat loads of people. You did not really notice the other boats at the dive sites, but here they all were during the surface interval.

One dive involved an over-interested large green/yellow moray eel, which I was happily videoing with my newly acquired Go-Pro, until it appeared to head straight for me from the seabed. From 2m away, evasive action involved using those famous force fins, jetting forward over it so I was no longer in its line. However, I turn around to see Dawn, illustrious leader and buddy for most of the trip, become the new focus for the eel, from which she back-finned away like crazy. I had a difficult choice. Do I turn my Go-Pro on the event, and catch for posterity and scientific research, the grizzly end of my friend in the jaws of the green/yellow denizen of the underhangs, or do I charge back to her rescue, so that we at least get to day two of our holiday without a visit to a morgue/hospital/police cell? As it turned out, we both headed down to a tunnel through the rock where the others had gone, lost each other looking for the entrance, found each other, headed off through the entrance with me leading, where I was apparently moving too slowly, which eventually drove Dawn mad, and I got stomped over as she hot-footed out of the tunnel. Well there was this nice sponge you see…so I got distracted. Got to admit, it did occur to me that if we weren’t happy about meeting a moray eel, why the hell had we chosen a series of swim-throughs and overhangs as our refuge? However, Dawn promptly got on Facebook and told the world I had abandoned her in a moment of need. Shockingly inaccurate!

The dives on the next few days, continued to be full of lovely reefs, sponges, corals, fish, barracuda, large parrot fish etc. We entertained ourselves one night by going to the main town of Cozumel for the carnival, apparently very famous. Now don’t get me wrong, I like a party and I wiggled and toe-tapped happily to the drumming and dancing. But really, no part of me actually ‘gets it’. The synchronised dancers who actually danced, really danced, that bit I get. The nasty plastic covered floats with lights and sequin covered, feather plume wearing, disconcertingly smiley men and women, mainly women, just wiggling about is totally lost on me. What are they all doing? And why are they doing it? There was an awful lot of bright pink and yellow polyester wigs, face masks and fluorescent candy floss. We were in front of loads of locals, also in sequins, along with their sequin covered dogs! It’s not Mexico, I feel the same about British carnivals. But I do fancy doing a Brazilian Mardi Gras…that is on the bucket list!

We all transferred to a fantastic boutique hotel on the mainland in Playa del Carmen. Cozy, beautiful décor, nice small pools set in lush greenery, (not that I ever got in, they were freezing), and a Jacuzzi, which I did get in, along with a few glasses of Sangria, brought to us by the guys from the small restaurant next door. And great…..the hotel borders a lovely open plaza with a nice building at one end, a raised green area at the other. Ahhh…..open plaza, of course, 6 or 7 nights out of the 9, an ‘event’ was held. A carnival outside the window on four nights, complete with stage performers in the square with the obligatory sequin covered wigglers, followed by military celebrations in the morning with drummers, flag waving, some religious worship another day, busy busy busy. But you got used to it and I would definitely go back there.

The cenote diving then began. Dave Purvis has written an account of the cave dives so I won’t bother adding more. Suffice to say, fantastic!! Claire and Lanny from Tulum Underworld did a fantastic job, smooth operation, relaxed, informative, and above all, CAKE! Personally, surfacing in the bat caves half way through the dives was very special, very passionate about bats, not sure why?

Interspersed with our Cenote diving, we took a day to dive with Discovery Divers, out of Playa, who took us to the ‘Green Wall’ and another drift dive. Both lovely reef dives but Cozumel reefs were noticeably better. Interesting day, lovely couple Cheryl and Geoff, Cheryl never to be forgotten, from the southern states of America, Texas maybe, complete with lots of whooping and hollering, and if she could have run around the boat and high-five’d us at every opportunity I’m sure she would have. Adored one of our party, Guida, whom she wanted to take home with her because she was soooooooo cute! She also seemed amazed to find out that we all had DSMB’s and could all administer O2 if needed. ‘Love you guys’ etc etc. Briefing given, in your pairs, follow on, stay as a group, all come up at the end of the drift together. Interesting. No. Get in, drift, scatter, my buddy (Cheryl), above me, in fact did not really see her the whole dive. One pair 30-40m behind me, another 30-40m in front of me, joined one pair for the ascent. Lovely dive though. A few days later, as the bull shark dive was organised by the same couple, with the same briefing, and I already wary of the bull sharks, I decided that the potential scatter-diving approach to a bull shark dive, was not for me!

Enjoyed a walk around Playa one night, round the built up bar/restaurant/souvenir filled streets. Day 1 in Playa you think, WOW, all this silver, and I must have one of those decorated skulls covered in stones, mosaics, gaudy colours, and maybe a wooden face mask! My house will not be the same without one! Day 3 in Playa, who the hell is buying all these skulls, masks, the silver now looks tacky, going slightly mad around street after street of STUFF! And I have not seen anyone wearing a white, embroidered puff sleeved hippy/ethnic top since 1975! WHO IS BUYING THIS STUFF! One stall holder apparently shouted at Warren ‘come and have a look at my crap, same crap as everywhere else, just cheaper!’ Now I might have bought something off that guy, for amusement value at least.

Achieved another wish list goal, having my feet eaten in one of those foot fish spa’s. Myself and Trine were the only two who wanted to do it. Was told ‘you can get aids from that’. Really? So I can die on this holiday from cave diving, bull sharks, and now aids spreading fish. Spoilt for choice. So now I’m on an aids catching night out! Interestingly the fish spa host said, ‘if you start bleeding, don’t take your feet out, leave them in there’. Why? So the fish get the first decent meal they have had in days? So you don’t kill all the fish by dragging them out of the water as they attach themselves to you in a feeding frenzy? No bleeding, and we really enjoyed it. We think we got an extra 5 mins because Phil distracted the spa guy by running around the souvenir shop it was set in, and playing the didgeree-doo for the passers-by. Most experiences with Phil tend to lean towards the surreal after a short period of time. Mean streak though. Kept sloping off to McDonalds for his double-whatever burger, as it was the only place in town he could find with whole chillies to eat. Brought a few back, happily chewing one, offered them to me, expected a manageable jalapeño. THE PAIN. I could have punched him. However I couldn’t see him through the tears.

Our last dive was a ‘turtle dive’ out of Akumal, just down the coast. Well worth the trip as a complete contrast to Cozumel, Playa and the Ceynotes. Beautiful golden beaches, nice open fronted bar on the beach, and bizarrely, absolutely mobbed by hordes of people in flotation jackets and snorkels, going off in groups of ten or more, each with a guide, to be taken around an area just offshore to see turtles and rays. Not us, we are going off in a tiny boat, past the breaking waves to where the real action is!

One, small, not so activity oriented turtle! Lovely reefs though. The shore diving members of our party were besieged by turtles ... fighting them off! Everyone went home the next day. Dawn, her husband Warren and I stayed on for an extra week to enjoy a tour about. So, first goal, straight back to Akumal, abandoned heat-loathing, non-diving water-hater Warren on the beach, shouting SEE YA, as we ran back into the sea, no guide or bright jacket, to find our own turtles. Few meters off the beach, huge turtle covered with remoras. Turtles, rays in abundance, all unbothered by our presence, despite the hordes of people there. Lovely couple of hours.

 

The rest of the week was interesting. Warren and Dawn went in one direction for their exploration, me in the other. Few historic Mayan sites, flamingos at Rio Lagartos, and a small old colonial town called Valladolid. Hidden charms, very VERY hidden! But after 3 days into my use of Valladolid as a base, the charm seeped in. It may be linked to the discovery of a lovely restaurant by an old monastery, which served the most amazing chocolate cocktails. Next to my table, the unrivalled attraction of a small cenote opening, from which small bats flew continually. Fantastic.