Year 7 away from diving seems to have proven to be the golden year to bring out of retirement my black cherry SeaQuest Thruster fins. Little did I realize that they are now considered “retro” in the diving world. Still a classic and useful, but without the high-tech “zazziness” (in the words of Dr. Sheldon Cooper) which allows for the gentle grace of split fins or the high performance look of well-jointed Slingshots from Aqua Lung. But I still regained my Scuba Diva status, further reinforced by the fact that the BCD I rented (buoyance control device…basically an inflatable vest) was in fact called “Diva”. Coincidence, I think not!
I must say that going down to Cozumel with a diving group from the local dive shop proved to be a great experience. Granted, me and the boy were the youngest ones in the group and affectionately deemed “the kids”, but we had the benefit of diving with pros who had 870+ and 3,000+ dives under their belt. Dinners were full of tasty margaritas, useful tips on conserving your air, and a great deal of adventurous stories about filming sharks for Shark Week (that’s right!) and getting “narked” at 130ft. wreck diving (basically going so deep that you start feeling a curious mixture of euphoria and confusion from breathing compressed air at such depths).
It’s true what everybody says, Cozumel is definitely a diver’s playground. No matter how excruciatingly exhausted we were every night from the combination of diving, eating sensational Mexican cuisine, and tossing back a few bottles of Sol (the wizened divers of the group definitely put us “kids” to shame), we always woke up at whatever the boat time was ready for more playtime under the sea (cue theme song to Little Mermaid…I know you were singing it in your head already).
And no matter how often I found myself getting stung by some stupidly translucent tiny relative of the jellyfish (stupid stupid whatever the hell those things were…they have pretty much guaranteed a sale for a full exposure wet suit to Underseas Scuba Center in the near future…Bruce you now know who to thank) I still developed an addiction for trying to increase my time underwater and seeking out the coolest specimen first. Bruce, the owner of Underseas Scuba Center in Villa Park, IL (www.underseas.com), set up our whole dive trip. His travel companion for the week was a GIANORMOUS underwater camera that looks as if he snuck it off the set of Titanic. This gave us even more of an edge to try to show off and find the coolest things for him to catch on camera (and attempt to build our underwater scuba cred).
Here’s Part 1 of our diving adventures:
Dive 1: Shore dive from hotel beach~ “I feel something on my hand…I don’t know what it is”
Dive Time: 28min Max Depth: 23ft
We had just arrived at the hotel only to be shellshocked by the beauty of it and its location. I’m sure waking up at 3:30am for a travel day amplified our reactions a bit as well. Right away the boy was recruited to start his first training dive to finish up the Open Water portion of his PADI diving certification. Bruce of Underseas was the Obi Wan Kenobi to the boy’s Luke Skywalker. While I had fully intended on laying around and catching some rays to come back to the Midwest a bronzed beauty, I started getting excited seeing them prep their gear. Before I knew it, I was zipping up my wetsuit and prepping my gear too. It was a nice easy shallow dive, deepest point being a whopping 25ft. We floated by some broken pieces of a barge that had wrecked near the hotel and had further splintered off during the hurricane in 2005. Some fish here, anemones there, evidence of an octopus crushing up seashells nearby; a nice gentle reintroduction to diving…except my hand stung for some reason. I looked at it, some weird spots showed up, and I wasn’t quite sure how to react to it. So I kept swimming. Stinging sensation persisted. Usually if something weird is going on underwater you signal people and let them know, but I didn’t feel like it was quite as pressing of a situation…and what hand signal do you use for stinging? And besides that, I had to keep up the appearance of having experienced diver cred. I aint no newbie! (Says the chick with only 6 dives under her belt)
Dive 2: Tormentos Reef~ “Also known as the Drift Dive of Terror”
Dive Time: 40min Max Depth: 51ft
Now I preface this with saying, I dove in the Bahamas, I dove in the Great Barrier Reef, but I have never dove with a current or drift. This was a LEARNING EXPERIENCE, also a lesson in listening. Now we had a short brief about the dive on the boat. But once we got in the water, confusion seemed to be the theme of this dive. We all went down. “Oh how pretty the reef is! Look at the fish!” I think to myself. We all float near the bottom and I naturally expect someone to lead the group, but everyone seems to be doing their own thing. And I seem to be floating down reef. Seeing as how I don’t know the natural terrain and am a great deal less experienced, I wanted to be able to keep an eye on everyone. So I would try to have a higher vantage point to locate the other divers. But I kept finding myself being carried even further and faster down reef from everyone. Now this being the boy’s first boat dive and first time on a real reef, he also experienced some confusion. He was closer to the bottom, closer to the reef, and closer to the group, but we were buddies, and he felt conflicted about his devotion to the Buddy System when he saw me being carried off into the distance by the drift. So most of the dive was composed of me trying not to sail away from the group and the boy, fearing I might become lost at sea, signaling me to come down. Once back on the boat, it had been brought to my attention that if you stay lower and closer to the reef it prevented the current from carrying you away. Minus diver cred points for me there.
Dive 3: Paradise Reef~ “The name says it all”
Dive Time: 54min Max Depth: 40ft
Very fitting name for this little garden of delights. Barely any current made for a much less dramatic and anxiety inducing dive. It was shallower so there was more ambient light from the surface brightening the pinks of anemones, blues of passing parrot fish, and the yellow highlights on the foureye butterfly fish. This time I easily stayed close to the boy. We glided along pointing out fun stuff. Then the boy pointed to a hole underneath some coral. Damn his newbie luck! He was the first to find a splendid toadfish! Two actually! Right next to each other. And he didn’t even know what they were! They’re only found in Cozumel. Apparently, if you make a sound at them they’ll respond to you in a toad-like voice, but they also may respond by coming out and biting you.
While enjoying the activities of being an underwater explorer, I also experienced more damn stinging sensations. I looked around and didn’t see ANYTHING. I was keeping my distance from all of the wildlife. So what the hell was going on?! Was my air bad and slowly poisoning me? Did I have some mysterious genetic predisposition that made me exponentially more susceptible to decompression sickness?! These are the thoughts that were going through my head. And yet, I still did not signal anyone and kept on diving in Wonderland. Once on the boat, the boy started complaining of some peculiar hives on his arm (God bless him for always speaking what’s on his mind, otherwise I may have continued thinking I was falling silently victim to a mysterious underwater illness). Turns out, there’s the potential of coming in contact with hydroids, stupid tiny jelly-like see-through things related to the jellyfish. Luckily more of an annoyance than their larger, more visible relatives.
Dive 4: Palancar Gardens~ “More stinging than fish, but still pretty”
Dive Time: 40min Max Depth: 84ft
This was our first deep dive, about 85ft. Fun areas to swim through, lots of interesting coral to see, but not as much marine life as Paradise. The local Dive Master alerted us to a long jelly-like ribbon sashaying through the blue atmosphere, you bet your ass I steered clear of that sucker. Then literally 5 minutes later I felt the tell-tale prickling of my aquatic nemesis again. What the hell?! As I gently propelled myself along trying to allow the splendor of my surroundings overshadow the itching of my arms, I looked down to see a large majestic queen triggerfish dancing along the sea bottom. “Wow! That fish has hot pink lips! Never saw that before.” as that thought crossed my mind, the Dive Master was making a mad dash towards Queenie and took the hot pink ear plug someone had lost out of the royal beauty’s possession. Lesson learned: Queen triggerfish don’t have hot pink lips.