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