Play del Carmen

Shark Dive- Playa del Carmen 2013

 November 10th to the 17th 2013

 

 

Shark!!!
Shark!!!

 

I never intended to dive with bull sharks off of Playa del Carmen but it appears that over seven years fate slowly drew me to Playa for bull shark season. Fate also made sure that I would dive with the only dive shop  (that I know of) that does the shark dives in Playa.

 

How I Ended Up in Playa

Three years ago I read a story in the travel section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune about diving with bull sharks in Playa del Carmen Mexico. The bull sharks arrive off the coast of Playa del Carmen in November to give birth. The dive master clad in chain mail gloves and sleeves hand feeds the sharks. This sounded a little crazy because bull sharks are one of the most aggressive sharks on the planet. When I read the story I had no plans to ever give it a try.

My wife dives and understands my need to dive. I get a chance to squeeze one more dive trip in every November when my wife fills our house with her friends and relatives. They arrive eager to go Christmas shopping. Also they are all female. One male in the house could cause huge logistic issues so I leave the country and go diving. The best part is my wife doesn't mind.

Six of the last seven November's I've dived either Isla Mujeres,  Cozumel, Playa del Carmen or Cancun. I ventured to Key West once in November. 

When I started taking my November vacations I preferred laid back to the busy party towns like Playa or Cancun.  Unfortunately November is the tail end of hurricane season so I've endured thunderstorms, tropical storms, a tropical depressions and a Hurricane called Ida. I've learned that if you are

Hard Rock in the Rain
Hard Rock in the Rain

going to endure consecutive days of rain it is better to be in a larger tourist town with many bars, restaurants and coffee shops than in a sleepy little beach village.

When hurricane Ida passed just east of Isla it was far enough away that it did not cause any damage but I suffered through days of strong winds and torrential rain. The dive shop cancelled all of my dives except one. Ida also kept me from snorkeling or any other fun beach activity. I got soaked every night when I walked to town for dinner even though I only had to go three blocks and I had an umbrella.

My feet were so waterlogged that the back strap  on my sandals wore the skin off of my heel and I left a trail of blood into town.  The main mode of transportation on Isla is golf carts and they are worthless during a deluge. I was so board that I left the island two days early and went to Cancun.  It's easier to stay entertained in Cancun when it it raining. 

Westin Lagunamar
Westin Lagunamar

I liked my short stay in Cancun enough that I came back the following November. I was able to get a great deal from Skyauction.com at the Westin Lagunamar, $350 for the week. I almost felt guilty ducking the requests for the time share presentation.

I  lucked out because the week before I arrived a hurricane took aim at the Yucatan. It hit Playa but it devolved to a tropical depression by the time it made it up the cost to Cancun. When I arrived the tropical depression had moved on and I had very nice weather.

I didn't care for diving in Cancun so I looked for another location the following November. 

The only other large town near the Cancun airport is Playa del Carmen. My wife and I first went to Playa about sixteen years ago. It was a one stoplight town . As of 2010 it had a population of 150,000. 

I chose to go to Playa last year because the diving is good, the beaches are amazing, there are many restaurants and there is plenty to do in Playa if it rains. I arrived just before Halloween for a week of diving. I left before the bull sharks arrived.

I liked Playa enough to come back this year. 

 

 How I ended Up at Dive Mike (the only dive shop that does shark dives in Playa)

Last year I stayed in Central Playa at Hacienda Real and thought it was just okay. I dived with Scuba Libre and Dive Mike and I really like both dive shops.

As I explored Playa I discovered that I really liked the north end so I decided to stay on the north end when I returned. This year I booked a room at Casa Ticul which is on 5th Avenue on the north end of Playa. I planned to dive with Pluto Dive which is located next to Casa Ticul. I checked them out on Trip Advisor and  all of their reviews were five star. 

Unfortunately Pluto was closed when I arrived on Sunday and when I stopped in Monday morning they told me their boat was in the marina for repair but might be back the next day. It was too late to find another dive shop for diving that day so I explored Playa and hoped to dive with Pluto the following day.

I woke up early the next day, had a great breakfast on the roof of Casa Ticul and took the short stroll to Pluto. They told me their boat might not be back for several more days.

I was full of angst because I had yet to dive and it appeared that I wouldn't be diving with Pluto anytime soon. I decided to take a chance and call Dive Mike (thank goodness for my unlocked IPhone with a TelCel sim). They told me they were going out in half an hour and they’d save a spot for me.  I quickly showered and packed my dive equipment. I had to take a cab to the dive shop and I arrived ten minutes late but they waited for me.

 After my dives I was rinsing my equipment in the dive shop as the shark divers were getting ready to go out. I was talking to Octavio as he was putting on his chain mail. He explained to me that the shark dive was an amazing dive. The sharks are all pregnant females, that are well behaved and it is an incredible experience to be in the water with 300 pound predators.

I never though I would do the bull shark dive, I think it's dangerous and a little crazy, these are predators that are bigger than I am and have teeth that could shred me in an instant.  I'm not sure why but I signed up for the dive. I might have been bored from the rain and  lack of diving or decided that it would be worth the risk so see half a dozen 300 pound sharks in the wild. If you don’t know me you might think I’m an adrenalin junkie but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

That is how I ended up going up with Dive Mike for the bull shark dive. The odds were totally against my diving with them this year. I was staying on the other end of Playa and I had already decided to dive with Pluto but fate intervened. 

 It rained the next morning, so after breakfast I hung out at Ah Cocao, had a coffee, checked my email and worked on my trip notes. I looked at my notes after I returned to Minneapolis and noticed I wrote that I was worried

Ah Cacao
Ah Cacao

about the shark dive. 

 There was one other time that I had a feeling of foreboding before a dive. My wife and I were diving the C56 wreck in Puerto Morelos. On the boat ride out I felt extremely uneasy, which was odd, I’m always excited to go diving. 

 There was a lot of current at the dive site. The plan was  to back roll in, let the current pushed us toward the mooring line, grab the line and descent to the C56. The dive master and my wife caught the line and descended. I missed the line and had to kick like crazy to get back to it. The combination of my foreboding feeling on the ride out and missing the mooring line really had me spooked. I thought about quitting the dive but my wife and the dive master were already down and I didn’t want to ruin the dive for them.

While in the wreck I had a regulator failure I had to buddy breathe with the dive master to the surface. When my regulator failed it just didn't quit flowing air, it would allow me to breathe in but the air would stop flowing before I completed my breath and I was getting less and less air with every breath.  The solutions to my dilemma was to do a simple regulator switch with the dive master. When I was taking my defective reg out of my mouth and taking the dive master’s octopus, my inner voice told me I might not make it. If anything at all went wrong I couldn't make it to the surface and this could be the end. It is a chilling feeling.  The exchange was flawless but I probably sucked down half of the dive master's air while buddy breathing during the safety stop.

 My feeling of foreboding wasn’t as strong when I was at Au Cocoa as it was in the boat ride to the C56 so I decided to ignore it. In the future I might pay more attention to any ominous feelings I have, especially before dives. 

 

 

The Bull Shark Dive

I arrived at the dive shop at 2:10 PM for the 2:30 PM dive. There were two other shark divers. They were in their twenties and from England. Octavio was the shark wrangler, Jorges would watch Octavio’s back. Dive Mike hired a professional photographer to video the dive for their website. Her name was Stephanie and she was from Brussels.

While we were standing outside the dive shop Jorges explained that we would all be wearing black full wet suits. The idea is if we are all dressed alike and stay close together the sharks would view us as one large black blob rather three smaller (more bite sized) objects. When we arrive at the site the three of us would lay in a line on the ocean floor as close together as we could get.  Octavio would be a short distance away feeding the sharks, Jorges would be keeping an eye on Octavio's back and Stephanie would be by herself filming. The sharks would swim past us to get the fish from Octavio and circle around behind us to "get in line" again.  What we didn’t learn until the boat ride back was that Octavio would only feed the alpha female. That would keep everything orderly and calm. But that works if there is only one alpha female.

After our briefing  Jorges noticed that a storm was moving in from the east so we had to hurry and get suited up. It was a short motor to the dive site. Jorges explained the dive profile on the ride out. We would hit the water and descend as a group. Once at the dive site everyone would take their positions and Octavio would start the feeding. 

It gave me a shot of adrenalin when I back rolled into the water and saw the sharks were already there. I followed Jorges down ninety feet to the bottom. I’m not sure what happened but it took the two Brits and Stephanie a bit longer to descend.

 

Bull Shark
Bull Shark

 

As I swam I looked left and then looked right and saw that I had sharks swimming on each side of me. I wondered if I should be worried but Jorges and Octavio were calm. 

 When we arrived at the feeding site Jorges indicated where to lie on the ocean floor and Octavio took his position. We lost sight of Stephanie but knew she was nearby with her video camera. Octavio held a plastic container with the dead fish inside. The container had a soft plastic cover with slit in it so Octavio could pull out the fish. Aaran was closest to Octavio  Alex in the middle and I was furthest away. 

In our briefing Octavio told us that the sharks would swim past us to take the fish from him, then circle around behind us  to "get in line" for another fish. It all sounded so orderly and it started out that way. As we lay on the ocean bottom the sharks swam past us just inches off the ocean floor as they approached Octavio.  The sharks were close enough to touch. 

Sharks are curious animals and  some of them came over to check us out. Their idea of checking us out  was to swim directly at us, their snout at eye level, and when they were just inches from our face masks, they would  veer left or right. This is something I wish everyone could experience.

At the beginning of the dive the sharks were relaxed and almost orderly.  As the feeding progressed more sharks showed up and they started swimming faster and they became agitated.  Several minutes into the feeding I saw a shark swim directly at Octavio. He saw the shark and used the fish bucket to rap the shark in its nose and fend it off.

 

Octavio and Agressive Shark
Octavio and aggressive Shark

 

Part way through the feeding I noticed that I was breathing harder than usual, I guess it's to be expected when you are surrounded by sharks. At this depth that could mean that I might use up my tank ahead of every one else and we would have to surface ahead of schedule. I didn't want to be the one that caused everyone to surface early.  I checked my air gauge and I had more than enough air left, regardless I tried to slow my breathing.

 I saw one shark that still had a hook in its mouth. It was tempting to reach out and try to remove it, like Daniel and the lion, but I don’t think the shark would understand my intentions.

 

Shark with Hook
Shark with Hook

 

I kept glancing behind me during the feeding.  I wanted to make sure that the sharks kept swimming and didn’t think about snacking on our unprotected legs. Every time I looked behind and then turned back again I was greeted by a shark inches from my face. 

 

Shark
Shark

 

 Octavio had to fend off a shark with the fish bucket again. It swam directly at him and he used the bucket to keep the shark away. It retreated but did not appear to be happy with Octavio.

 

Ocatavio fending off a shark
Ocatavio fending off a shark

 

Watching Ocatvio rap the second shark in the snout gave me a feeling of dread similar to what I experienced in my first cenote dive. Back in 2009 Karen and I dived Dos Ojos cenote. Cenotes are water filled caves with beautiful stalactite, stalagmite and column formations. For most of the dive we were in complete darkness with only the beam from our flashlight to light the way. It was an eerie feeling to experience pitch black while underwater and to have no direct exit to the surface.

We lost one of the divers. He was following me, like most good divers, I was checking behind me from time to time to be sure that he didn’t encounter any trouble. I’m not sure what happened but at one point when I looked behind me he was gone. He had a strobe on his tank and I could see it flashing in the distance. There was a shaft of light to the right but the strobe went left, into the darkness. We eventually did find the diver and everyone was okay. His ego was the only thing that suffered any damage. The moment I saw the diver’s strobe turn away from the light and go toward the darkness I got a sinking, aching feeling in the pit of my stomach. Up to this point it had been a fun dive but it has just taken a very bad turn and it occurred to me that we could lose someone.  The only way I can describe the feeling I had was dread- I imagined we would never find him.

 I had nearly the same feeling when I saw Octavio fend off the shark for the second time. At that point I realized things weren't going as planned and there was no good outcome if someone was attacked by a shark. The possibility of the victim making it to shore alive was slim. 

  

Another Shark
Another Shark

 

Jorges, who had been above and behind Octavio for the entire feeding, started to gesture to Octavio and Octavio started to gesture back. I had no idea what they were trying to communicate to each other but you could tell from the gesturing that things weren't going exactly as planned. 

 At that point a shark swam within millimeters of my face mask- way too close! I gave its flank a hard push with my hand and the shark quickly departed with a flick of its tail. I had to push another shark away before the dive was over. You don’t really imagine that in your lifetime you’re going to have to give a shark a shove to let it know it is in your personal space once much less twice.

 When I pushed the shark I started to float up off the ocean floor. I felt like the nail sticking up above the others- it’s asking to get hammered by a shark. I exhaled, completely emptying my lungs of air. This caused me to sink back to the bottom I flattened out on the ocean floor and waited several second to make sure I was not going to float up again. Jorges noticed my strange position and flashed me the okay sign to be sure that I wasn’t having difficulties. I gave him an okay back.

 Octavio had two fish left and he threw them in the middle of the circling sharks. A dozen sharks converged on the two dead fish. This caused an underwater sand storm. All we could see was sand, dorsal fins and shark tails.

 

Sharks battling for fish
Sharks battling for fish

 

 

Jorges swam over and indicated that we needed to start our ascent. I had assumed that we would wait for the sharks to disperse then surface but there were still a dozen sharks swimming around us.  My initial reaction was to do nothing until I was sure that I understood Jorges. He motioned again for us to surface, so we arose from the ocean floor. We stayed close to each other and kept our eyes on the bull sharks that were following us.

 

Following Us to the Surface
Following Us to the Surface

 

During our slow ascent to the surface it occurred to me that we still had to perform a three-minute safety stop.The sharks followed us as we ascended and during our safety stop. We stayed as close together as we could.

Jorges indicated to us that we should keep our legs up during the safety stop. The picture below is of me doing just that.

 

Safety Stop
Safety Stop

 

 

Back at the dive shop I was kidding the Brits about holding hands during the safety stop to stay together. They looked a little embarrassed and told me they had linked arms to stay together. I let them know I was just kidding and if I would have joined them if I'd have known them better.

 I was relieved to finally surface but my feeling of relief was short lived.  After bobbing at the surface for longer than usual I realized the boat was nowhere in sight. A storm had moved in during our dive and it was raining. That made it hard for the boat captain to follow our bubbles during our dive. We were in two to three-foot rollers so the only time we could see any distance was the brief moment when we were at the crest of a wave. 

The Brits and I were floating together with Octavio and Stephanie was close by. Jorges was by himself about fifteen feet from us. He had inflated his orange dive marker and was waiving it over his head trying to get the attention of the dive boat. At one point he saw that we were still putting our faces in the water to keep an eye on the sharks. He told us not to worry, they would leave us alone at the surface. I wanted to believe him I kept checking below the surface for sharks.

 My wife had bought a dive whistle for me last year and made me clip it to my BC. I had yet to use it but this seemed like the perfect time to give it a try. I held the whistle to my lips and blew. Nothing came out of the whistle except water. I discovered that dive whistles don't work when they are full of water. I tried it again and this time I got loud blast.

The boat saw or heard us and motored over. Once the sharks heard the motors they left for the deep. We quickly boarded the boat.

On the boat ride back Jorges asked us how long we thought we were on the bottom. We all said about twenty minutes. He told us we only had ten minutes bottom time. I guess it’s true, time does pass more slowly when you are in a stressful situation. One of the Brits was a medic in the army and he had been stationed in Afgaistan. He said that next to a fire fight this dive gave him the largest adrenaline rush.

 There were two different reactions to the dive on the boat ride back. Jorges and the Brits were amped, they were high fiving and hooting. They are younger. Octavio and I were somber. We are older and I think we had a greater sense of what could have gone wrong. I noticed Octavio sitting quietly. I started a conversation with him and saw that he was a little shaken. He explained that during a normal shark dive he would only feed the alpha female to keep the rest of the sharks in line but on this dive it appeared that there were two alpha females and one of them wasn't happy.

Back at the shop we rinsed our gear. Octavio left without saying a word. The Brits and I traded email addresses and arranged to buy copies of the dive video from Stephanie.

Below is my video that I posted on You Tube. It's  a low resolution and I posted the video uncut. It's not great but you get an idea of what the dive was like. You can see the sharks swimming straight at me and veering off. It's harder to see me push the sharks away twice, all you see is a wall of gray as I shove the shark. 

 

 

The video below is the edited video that we purchased from Stephanie. 

 

 

 

Dive Mike was booked the following day so I booked a trip with Scuba Libre. Apparently word of the shark dive  spread through the Playa del Carmen dive community.  The woman at Scuba Libre that booked my dive asked me the standard registration question- “when did you dive last?”. I told the woman who I had done the shark dive the precious day with Dive Mike. Her exact words were “you were on that dive??”.

 On the way to the dive site we stopped at a resort to pickup two divers and a photographer. Apparently the photographer had talked to the woman at the dive shop, she told me she had heard I was on the shark dive with her neighbor Octavio. The dive master also heard that I was on the shark dive and the three of us talked about the dive on the boat ride out. We were getting looks from the other divers wondering what we were talking about.

I could tell from the reaction for the woman at scuba libre, the photographer and the dive master at scuba liber that it had not been a normal shark dive. Jorges had not indicated that the dive was different from  any other shark dive. Octavio didn't say anything but his actions after the dive certainly made me feel it was not a normal dive. Since word of the dive had spread so quickly it reinforced what I suspected, things got a little crazy during this dive.

The shark dive consumed my thoughts for the rest of the vacation. I was a probably a good thing that my wife wasn't with me, she would have gotten tired hearing about the dive. There were several times that I almost walked up to a stranger in the coffee shop and asked them if they wanted to see the video of my shark dive.

I pondered if I would ever repeat my hasty decision and experience another shark dive. My initial thought was- once was enough for a lifetime. But after several weeks when the memory of the drive had faded a little, I decided that I would try it again. 

About that time Aaran sent me a link to his video from the dive. I had watched my low resolution, grainy video many times but something about Aaran's sharp HD video brought me back to the dive and reminded me that the outcome might have been different and made me change my mind once more. I decide that one shark dive is enough for a lifetime.

I am happy that fate intervened and brought me to Playa and Dive Mike during bull shark season. I am glad I did the shark dive even though part way through it appeared that things were getting out of hand. It would have been  a remarkable experience to dive with one shark but I got to experience a dozen. Sharks are absolutely beautiful and graceful in the water but behind that beauty are rows of razor sharp teeth that could easily shred flesh and muscle.

I still think of the dive from time to time,  it was a spectacular dive from beginning to end. We back rolled into the water and saw the sharks waiting. I don't know why but I didn't expect to immediately see the sharks. Initially they were not curious about us, they knew why we were there and they knew the drill- follow the divers and get fed. Aaran, Alex and I were the rookies, we had never dived with 300 pound sharks before.

When the feeding began we laid sprawled out on the ocean floor. From time to time the sharks would forget about Octavio and glide by to check us out. They would swim slowly towards us just inches off the ocean floor so we were staring directly at their snouts as they swam towards us.

When Octavio started having problems with the second alpha female the other sharks started to become more aggressive and started swimming closer and closer  to us. I'm not a sharks expert but everything I've seen about sharks told me that they will start to circle closer to their prey  and eventually bump them or take a test bite. I've also read that if  they try to attack you the best thing to do is punch them, this may convince them to keep their distance. When the sharks were swimming close enough to graze my camera it was a reaction to push them away, I didn't have to think twice about doing it. Who thinks that in their lifetime they are going to have to give a couple of bull sharks a push to let them know they need to keep their distance?

Finally, having the sharks follow us to the surface was a little unnerving but I think they were focusing more on Octavio than us. It was a dive not to be forgotten and I think, not to be repeated.

If you are considering the bull shark dive I can tell you that I am happy I got a chance to experience the dive and barring Alzheimer's I will remember it for the rest of my life. But you have to keep in mind these are wild animals and the dive I did is testimony that wild animals do not always act as expected. Sharks are curious creatures and they explore the world by tasting things. If a shark bites someone during the dive that person will probably bleed out before they can be brought to a hospital. Make your decision with this in  mind.

 

The Rest of My Trip to Playa

  

Hotel

 

 

My room at Casa Ticul
My room at Casa Ticul

 

During my trip to Playa last November I discovered that I liked the north end of Playa much more than more touristy south Playa. 5th Avenue north of Constitutienties Avenue had more of a neighborhood feel and it has great restaurants.

 Since I wanted to stay on the north end, the two hotels that fit my budget/needs were Casa Ticul and D’angelos. At the last minute I did find a deal at the Blue Parrot, it’s just south of Constitutientes. The Blue Parrot does not get great reviews on Trip Advisor and I forgot that it is located near the all night discos so I’m glad that I did not stay there.

I emailed Casa Ticul several times before I booked with them. I appreciated that they always response quickly. It's nice to get a quick reply or any reply at all in some cases. 

I liked having access to beach clubs included with the room, otherwise you could pay 200 pesos for a chair and umbrella. D’angelo and Casa Ticul had access to beach bars but Casa Ticul had access to more beach clubs.  

Don't let the picture of Casa Ticul below fool you it is actually nicer that it appears in the picture that I took.

 

Casa Ticul
Casa Ticul

 

 My room was “as pictured” on the website, no surprises when I checked in. The rooms were spotless and all of the furniture and bedding were in good condition. The shower was large and it had one of the rubber discs that fit over the drain when not in use. This is normal for Mexico.I would rather not think about what might come crawling out of the drain if I did not cover it after showering, so I made a point of putting the disk in place after every shower.

The room was an average sized hotel room but it would have been a little small for my wife, myself and our dive equipment had she been with me. However, it was just fine for me.

 

Casa Ticul Bed
Casa Ticul Bed

 

The  pool at the hotel was small but I expected tha from the pictures on the website. With the ocean several blocks away, I never used the pool. 

 

Pool at Casa Ticul
Pool at Casa Ticul

 

CasaTicul Pool
CasaTicul Pool

 

 The breakfast was included with the room. It was served on the rooftop. Three women worked breakfast every morning. It only took them one day to learn my name and room number. They would greet me and usually bring me a cup of coffee once I was seated. Several mornings I had to get my own coffee, not a big deal. They had a makeshift buffet area with fruit and pastries. The main course was different every morning. It varied from omelets to tostadas. 

I had read complaints on Trip Advisor about the minimal selection of food for breakfast but I think the complaints were unrealistic. There wasn't a buffet table overflowing with food like at large resorts but there was always enough.

 

Breakfast at Casa Ticul
Breakfast at Casa Ticul

 

 It is about a three block walk from the hotel to the beach. Mamita’s and Las Palapas beach clubs are a little further. 

There is a restaurant across the street from Ticul. I never ate there, it appeared to be nice but it was a little expensive for what I was willing to spend on just myself. I have no doubt that we would have eaten there if my wife had been with me. 

 

Miles of White Sand Beach in Playa
Miles of White Sand Beach in Playa

 

I read complaints on Trip Advisor that you can hear street noise in general and noise from the restaurant across the street. I think the people who complained about the street noise were blowing things out of proportion. This is Playa, any hotel is going to have some street noise. I did experience some street noise but I travel with melatonin and ear plugs so I didn’t have any problems sleeping.

The convenience store at the end of the block was handy and the gentleman that worked there was friendly. His English was perfect and he was always willing to answer any questions I had.

 

Local Market by Casa Ticul
Local Market by Casa Ticul

 

 If you are like me and you don't want to go an entire week with out working out on vacation, Playa has a great gym. It is called The Gym, I know, not a very original name but it is a good health club. They charge $20 per day if you don't have a membership. If you stay at Casa Ticul you get a discount to $10 a day. The Gym has free weights, machines, cardio equipment and classes.

 

The Gym
The Gym

 

I would stay at Casa Ticul if I returned to Playa, however, I would still like to try D'Angelos I like the location and the fact that a dive shop is just steps away (even if I didn’t use it). The room is comfortable and the maids kept it spotless. The only complaint that I have about the room is when the door and windows were installed they didn’t use caulk to seal around them so you can see small gaps between the wall and the door jamb or the window sill. I was worried about mosquitoes and other bugs getting in but I never encountered any.

 

Beach Clubs

 

 The first beach club I went to was Hotel Las Palapas. I had free access since I stayed at Casa Ticul. However, it is kind of a weird setup. I had to pay Ticul 100 peso deposit to get a pass to give to the front desk at Las Palapas and I had to pay another 100 peso deposit at Las Palapas to get a beach towel.

 

Hotel Las Palapas
Hotel Las Palapas

 

The beach at Las Palapas was nice, the food was good and the service was great. The waiter chased me down as I was leaving the property to try to give me the money I had left as a tip.

 

Hotel Las Palapas Beach
Hotel Las Palapas Beach

 

I tried to go to Mamita’s on my last full day in Playa but the only open chairs were far from the ocean, back by Mamita’s kitchen. I decided to walk down to Illusion and have lunch there but when I arrived all the good seats were taken so I walked back and got a lounge chair and umbrella at Kool.

 I had excellent fish tacos with hot habanero. The reason that I wanted a chair close to the ocean is I wanted to swim in the ocean and despite the fact that I don’t think someone will take my stuff (including my Samsung Galaxy Tab II), I don’t want to take any chances, I want to have my possessions in view when I'm in the ocean.

I appreciated that two young women trusted me enough to ask me to watch their beach bag while they swam for an hour. I guess I do have an honest face.

 

 Food

 

Food in Playa is very good and usually reasonable.  My favorite pizza was at Piola. This was probably my favorite margarita pizza ever. The picture doesn't do it justice, it was excellent. I'm not sure what made it so good, one more beer than usual maybe? But seriously it was very good.

 

Piola
Piola

 

 

Margherita Pizza at Piola
Margherita Pizza at Piola

 

 

 

I had very spicy arribiata at That’s Amore. I had eaten there last year and the arribata was tame. They must have changed chefs because it was extremely spicy and one of my favorite meals this year.

 

That's Amore
That's Amore

 

I ate at Il Diez again this year. I had shrimp pasta that was good but not great. The wait staff at Il Diez is the best. There are too many of them to count and they were all continuously in motion. I had at least four different wait staff take my order, bring my drink, bring my food and bring another drink.  I didn’t have to wait for a thing. 

I had tacos one night in the heart of the tourist district at Mi Casa. They were terrible. It was my own fault, the waiter tried to talk me into fajita but I didn’t listen.

 

Mi Pueblo
Mi Pueblo

 

I love having lunch or dinner on the beach. I ate at Fusion last year and again this year. The fish tacos were excellent. It is a great place to hang out after lunch, have a few beers and watch all of the people walk by. 

 

Fusion Restaurant
Fusion Restaurant

 

 

Tacos at Fusion
Tacos at Fusion

 

Fusion Beach Bar
Fusion Beach Bar

 

This is my second year in Playa and I've only eaten at a fraction of the restaurants there. I stick mainly to restaurants in the tourist zone, on 5th Avenue and on the beach. There are literally thousands of other great restaurants in Playa. My wife and I going to Playa in June 2014, we have always heard about a restaurant that is in a cave somewhere in Playa, we plan on eating at that restaurant and many others.

 

 

Bars

 

On the day that I arrived I unpacked then walked down 5th Avenue. As I walked past The Living Bar it started to rain so I went in.I was in luck, they had an American football game playing on their projection TV and cold beer.  The beer was a little expensive for Playa but I stayed entertained watching the game and people watching as the tourists made their way down 5th Avenue.

 

Living Bar
Living Bar

 

I watched some soccer later in the week at the End Zone Bar. I walked past the bar  a day or two later and the bar was rocking with hockey fans. 

 

End Zone Bar
End Zone Bar

 

The one thing that I miss during vacations to Mexico is Belgian beer or at least craft beer. You can only buy Mexican beers- Dos Equis, Sol, Pacifico and Corona. They are okay beer but I like my beer darker and stronger. Before I arrived this year I searched Trip Advisor and found two bars in Playa that serve Belgian beer. I was in heaven!

I stopped at Club De La Cerveza first. A great place to hang out and enjoy good beer. The staff is friendly, the beer list is impressive and the prices are reasonable. The owner is from Argentina. I would guess that is the reason they use the alternate spelling of cervesa in their name.

 

Club De La Cerveza
Club De La Cerveza

 

One of my favorite beers in the world is Golden Carolus from Belgium. It has a rating of 92 on BeerAdvocate.com . It cost me 70 pesos, which is less than I would pay in the US once you convert to dollars.

 

Golden Carolus
Golden Carolus

 

 Later in the week I stopped at Wing's Army. They also had a good beer selection but they were more expensive than Club De La Cerveza. The staff was really friendly. It was warm in the bar so they set a fan directly in front of me to keep me cool. There was a Mexican soap opera on the TV, so they switched it over to music videos with out me asking.

 

 

Wing's Army
Wing's Army

 

I had a Golden Drak 9000. It sounds more like  a sci-fi movie than a beer  but it's a good Belgian beer. It's not my favorite but I'll take any Belgian beer I can get in Mexico.

 

Golden Drak 9000
Golden Drak 9000

 

After my shark dive I walked north on 5th Avenue toward my hotel. I wasn't diving with Dive Mike the next day so I had all of my dive equipment in my mesh backpack. It was still wet and dripping, I was leaving a trail of water drops down 5th Avenue. 

I had walked past La Fe every evening and it was always busy, it looked like a friendly place to stop so I grabbed a table, ordered a beer, chips and salsa.  It was early so there were only a couple of people in the bar. The owner came out and took my order and we started talking. I talked about my shark dive and he talked about his bar. He said that he was planning to put a tatoo parlor in the second floor.

 

La Fe
La Fe

 

Playa has as many bars as restaurants. If you are young and want to party this is a much better option than Cancun.There are all night discos located in the heart of Playa. If you are a tourist and you aren't very adventerous there is a Senor Frog's located by the ferry dock. There are many sports bars and the Whiskey Barrel on 5th Avenue has sports betting. I love the beach bars in Playa especially the small beach bars that have the cheap plastic chairs and tables and where the waiters usually don't speak English. 

 

 Diving

On the third day of vacation I woke up, had a quick breakfast and walked the short distance to Pluto dive shop to see if their boat was back from being repaired. It wasn't so I took a chance and called Dive Mike.

I dived with Dive Mike last year. They are located in central Playa so I had a long walk to the shop. I had to haul my dive equipment which slowed me down considerably. After a couple of blocks I gave up and took a taxi.

My first dives this trip were at Tortugas and Sabalos (turtle and tarpon in English). They were both good dives. They had a lot of sea life. The first thing I saw was a brown spotted eel followed by three large green eels and a small nurse shark. We also saw a large bull shark. The shark wanted nothing to do with us and left as soon as it spotted us.

 

Green Eel
Green Eel

 

 

Large Lion Fish
Large Lion Fish

 

 

 

Small Lion Fish
Small Lion Fish

 

 

Turtle
Turtle

 

 

The next day was the bull shark dive.

I couldn’t dive the following day because a storm closed the port. The day after that I tried to book with Dive Mike but they were booked so I went back to Scuba Libre for my last day of diving on this vacation. I ran into the same situation last year, Dive Mike wasn't going out so I dived with Scuba Libre. The shop is located one block south from Dive Mike.

I liked them as well, maybe a little better than Dive Mike. If you don't have equipment I would recommend Scuba Libre because they have Scuba Pro rental equipment (Scuba Pro is top of the line) and it is in excellent condition.

I'm not sure if Scuba Libre is owned by Italians or if they only hire Italians but the dive masters last year were Italian and the woman working in the shop this year was Italian. 

She resembled the woman in the Fiat Abarth Commercial. All of the locals that walked by made a point of saying "hi" to her  and the two guys that worked in the store  near the shop were just about tripping over each other to get her attention.

 

 

The storm the previous day had stirred up the water so visibility was terrible but I still enjoyed the dive and spotted some cool sea life.

The first dive was Ila. It’s located near Tortugas and Sabalos and it is a shallow dive.  Not a lot to see but it was still an enjoyable dive. The second dive was Barracuda again. The visibility was better at this location. I saw many small fish, one of the largest trunk fish I’ve ever seen and the dive master spotted an octopus. In my sixteen years of diving this was only the second octopus I’ve seen.  These weren’t the best dives but they were easy dives and a good way to close out my diving for this vacation.

 It is hard to see the octopus in the photo below because it's a master of camouflage. You can see the jet siphon tube just above and to the right of the small fish in the foreground. I have no idea how the dive master spotted it.

 

Octopus
Octopus

 

Small Crab in a Barrel Sponge
Small Crab in a Barrel Sponge

 

Gray Angelfish
Gray Angelfish

 

The photo below is of an electric ray. They can produce up to thirty amps of current, which is a whole lot, enough to stun or kill a full grown man. I ran into this one on the second dive. I knew it wasn't a normal ray when I saw it so I left it alone and checked out on Wikipedia when I got home.

 

Electric Ray
Electric Ray

 

 

The Weather

 

Fifth Avenue In the Rain
Fifth Avenue in the Rain

The above picture says it all. I endured a fair amount of rain but luckily I didn't have to suffer through a tropical depression or hurricane. I lost a day's diving because the port was closed due to weather and I skipped dinner one night because it was down pouring. The storms moved through fast dumping rain for half and hour and then moving on.

I brought a new pair of flip-flops to wear on my trip this year. I had never wore them before so I had no idea that they squeaked very loudly when they got wet. I was wearing them to dinner one night in the rain. I made it several blocks before turning around, I couldn't take the loud squeaking with every step.  Just after passing two women on the way back to my room I heard one of them say "I don't know how he can stand that noise". It was loud and obnoxious.

This was an especially rainy year for Mexico. I had talked to several people from Mexico and they couldn't remember the last time they had that much rain.

I've had ongoing issues with rain in Mexico during November trips. I think next year I'll  skip Mexico and go farther south to Curaçao. It's out of the hurricane belt and I should be drier and the diving is supposed to be fantastic.

 

The Strange Things I Saw in Playa

 

Sometimes things do not translate well but maybe the owner of this cafe meant to call it Skinny Bikini Potatoes. I never ate there, maybe next time.

 

Skinny Bikini Potatoes
Skinny Bikini Potatoes

 

 

During my last dive of this vacation I took the picture below. I can't believe someone would jump in the ocean with fins, mask weight belt and just hang onto a tank. This is incredibly dangerous. If he dropped the tank he would have one breath to make it to the surface with a weight belt wrapped around his waist.

 

Daring Diver
Daring Diver

I am a huge VW and Porsche fan. I'm not rich enough to afford the expensive Porsches  but I have owned three 914s over the years. I saw the car below parked on 5th Avenue last year and it was there again this year.

I love old 356 Speedsters. I'm guessing this is a kit car because the real thing would cost $100,000 or more and I'm sure the owner wouldn't leave a real Speedster in the rain and salt air. 

 

Porsche Speedster
Porsche Speedster

 

Recap

 

 

The Good

The shark dive is a once in a lifetime experience but it’s not without danger.

Casa Ticul was good but I would try D’angelos next time.

I love that I can buy Belgian beer in Mexico.

 

 

 The Not So Good

The weather would be my only complaint about this vacation. 

 

 

 

 

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