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Isla Mujeres

7/10/2006

SHOW ME WHERE THIS IS

Isla Mujeres Diving

           

            Over a short week in late July 2006, Paul and Joyce Anderson lead our small group of Stan and Iris Carmen with Bob and Debbie Laney to the western Caribbean Island of Isla Mujeres. 

 

            We stayed at the Hotel Cabanas Maria Del Mar, right on the beach at Playa Norte, on the north edge of town and the north end of the island.  It was located a long, hot but manageable walk from the ferry boat dock.  This was Paul’s third trip to the island, and every one else’s first trip.

 

Diving was the main activity: snorkel and scuba.  After several patient weeks of coaching from Paul, Debbie did her first open ocean snorkel and loved it.  Paul has dived all over the Caribbean about 160 times.  Bob and the Carmans have been on several Caribbean trips for a total, including this trip, of about 25 dives.  Paul commented that the density of fish was as good as he has seen anywhere.  There were a few places where the fish pouring over a reef looked like a water fall. 

 

            We did 6 scuba dives to reefs averaging 30 feet deep.  All were from a small boat.  Unlike Bonaire, there is no shore diving.  The snorkeling was over sand and structure like old docks at about 15 feet.  The water temperature was 83 degrees.  The air temperature on the land felt like about 95 to 100 degrees most of the time.   Similar to Bonaire, there’s no reason to go there, particularly in the blazing hot summer, except to dive.  

 

            Our dive sites identities were difficult for me to keep straight.  Like on other trips, the dive sites had specific names, but I could not understand our dive master’s names, or remember them.  According to the dive master Arturo Delfin’s web site, www.delfindiving.com/islamujeres, the places we dived were Manchones Reef, Hool [Mayan for “hole”] Reef, Cruz de la Bahia [Cross of the Bay], Splotches [or Old] Reef,  Ledges and Sleeping Sharks Caves.  Several of them were in Garafon Park

 

            My favorite fish on this dive trip was the yellowtail damsel fish.  It was a black velvet color with a bright yellow tail and iridescent blue and green spots. 

 

            This was my first drift dive trip.  The divers are instructed to enter the water by sitting on the boat rail and roll backwards out of the boat.  Or, as our dive master Arturo Delfin said so quaintly each day, while giving the diving instructions and trip synopsis: “My darlings, you go ploop – plop, in the water!” Then we drifted with the current.  Instead of returning to where we started, the boat drifted with us and picked us up where ever we surfaced.  As an added margin of safety, the dive guide in the water deployed a safety sausage.  That device is a bright orange or chartreuse inflated nylon balloon, shaped like a 5 foot hot dog, that floats on the surface, tied to a string held by the guide.  The boat followed the sausage, which means it was always near the divers.  Since the current carried us, it would push us along the sandy bottom, and then gently up and over the coral reefs, which felt remarkably like flying. 

 

            At the beginning and end of the dives, when we descended from the surface to the bottom, and vice versa, we had the current coasting us along through the clear water, which gave the same cool sensation of flying.  Even where there was little current, the surface waves had the effect of creating a strong surge that pushed us back and forth over the bottom. 

 

            We saw lots of barracuda, a rare sea turtle, a cleaning station with shrimp in the mouth of larger fish eating some kind if detritus from among its teeth and a Serengeti Plain’s worth of large schools of fish floating around, in and over the reefs.  My one claim to under water wild life fame came when I was the first to see a pair of abnormally large scrawled file fish.  Paul got them on video.  He is planning to make a DVD movie like he did last year for our Bonaire trip.  If any of the BRO readers want to see either DVD, just call me.  Also you can go to the Carmen’s web site http://www.2carmans.com/ and click on “Isla Mujeres” for more beautiful pictures.

 

            Near the end of one dive we experienced a classic Caribbean reef scene with two vertical pieces of reef, covered with brightly colored sponges, fans and corrals.  One reef sea mount had a roof extending over a hole about 6 feet in circumference making an incomplete arch.  Floating in the hole was a large school of Caesar grunt fish colored with alternating bright brass and yellow colored bands.  Behind the arch as a background was a huge brain coral.  Off to the right side was another coral cave packed with a school of some kind of larger fish.  To the left side was the ripply, white sand bottom.  The contrasts and colors were almost too much to absorb.  They were achingly beautiful and vibrantly, cleanly alive!  Unfortunately, when I frantically signaled Paul to make a video shot of this, the most beautiful scene I had ever witnessed while diving, he signaled that his camera batteries had just that minute expired.  Darn!  I may have to buy a water proof camera for myself next time. 

 

            Another adventure helped me to down play a natural fear, in a drift dive, that I might some how lose the boat …and I would have to swim against the current to get back to it.  Normally, you would not expect to be able to do so.  The equipment is so heavy and swimming is so sluggish that, even with no current, it is considered to be at the limit of a diver’s ability to swim a long way to the boat.  Against the current, it would seem to be impossible. 

 

On one particular dive, the dive master stayed in the boat.  His under water guide was young and inexperienced.  For what ever reason, the guide put us in the water, descended to the bottom, and then proceeded to swim against the current.  It was exceedingly hard.  Even though the dive master in the boat could tell we were fighting the current, there was no way for him to communicate and make the guide turn around.  After awhile, it was quite wearing.  A lot of the time, we broke the law by grabbing the coral with our hands and manually pulled ourselves along.  Somehow, we managed to cover the route and see the intended coral and fish.  When we got back to the boat, Paul and I circumspectly and politely asked Arturo what was going on?  He was not sure, but he did not let that young guide lead us again. 

 

The best part was that Debbie took her first real ocean snorkel trip.  We drove to Garafon State Park and donned our gear.  The photo shows us wearing considerable clothes, despite the stifling heat.  The reason was to keep the stifling sun from roasting our skin.  Paul joined us on a swim out to some old dock pilings about 50 yards from shore.  The underwater view of dozens of big, bright fish was wonderful.  We identified large black margates, yellow stingray, grouper, barracuda, blue tang and stoplight parrotfish.  Paul opined that it was the largest concentration of fish he had seen, other than on a deep water reef.  Debbie did fine and professes her willingness to try snorkeling again. She was not even afraid of the big barracuda or stingray.

 

            There were some things, but not a lot, to do on the land at Isla Mujeres.  The island contained a small third-world town with many tourist trap shops and street vendors.  Garafon Park at the south end had both underwater and land sections.  The underwater part was great for snorkeling.  The land part was mostly tourist trap rides and gimmicks, while costing a ridiculous $50 / person (which we did not pay). 

 

Due to the extensive tourist traffic, there were a handful of good, upscale restaurants – all open air.  At this time of year, they were suffocatingly hot.  Unlike Bonaire, the near constant breeze to dry the perspiration and keep us reasonably cool was not present.  We found one great, local restaurant on the recommendation of our dive master.  In the middle of downtown is Susanita’s, a real hole-in-the-wall dive with excellent sea food prepared very simply and cooked to flaky, crunchy perfection.

 

A regular source of conflict was how to deal with the local vendors.  It is considered customary to over-charge the foreign “gringos” for every service.  I would often look to Paul as our leader to argue with the taxi drivers or waiters about the prices.  As the best Spanish speaker, he would look to me for the same reason.  We spent a lot of time eye balling each other with the implicit encouragement to “do something.” 

 

It was a great trip and many thanks to Paul for his organization and leadership. 


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