In 2005 Wilma pretty much wiped Cozumel off the face of the map. Wilma was a category five that had twenty-four foot waves. Besides leveling just about every building in Cozumel it did extensive damage to the reef. It took years for Cozumel and the reef to recover. In the years since then we didn’t intentionally stay away from Cozumel we were exploring other areas of Caribbean.
When I posted a question on Scuba Board last year mentioning the diving in Puerto Morelos I got trashed by the blowhards (and there are a lot of them), telling me that Cozumel is much better than PM. Since they were bragging about Cozumel so much I decided to give is a try last November. Unfortunately it was extremely windy my first couple of days on the island and after one day of diving I came down with a cold and could not dive the rest of the trip. However the day and a half of diving that I did experience was good enough to make me want to come back with Karen.
Our flight into Cozumel departed Minneapolis at 5:20 am- brutally early. We only got three hours of sleep so I slept almost the entire flight into Altanta. We arrived in Cozumel before noon but the lack of sleep sapped our energy for the rest of the day.
I’ve rented cars in Mexico a lot and what I have learned is you can go to Hot Wire and get a car for about $100 for a week but when you pick the car up you will end up paying double that because of insurance that you have to purchase. I have tried arguing but it did not do any good. I did research between vacations and I have found opinions on both sides, one person saying you don’t have to take the insurance and another says it is a law in Mexico. The owner of the condo that we rented on Cozumel told us that it is a law in Mexico that we have to take the collision insurance so I will assume she is right.
The nice thing about flying into Cozumel is it does not take long to clear customs and immigration. There were about one dozen people in front of us in the immigration line and we quickly cleared customs. Green light this time. Yes!
I am pretty sure that Ace, my car rental company, sent me an email saying that someone would be waiting for us at the airport but when we exited the airport there were shuttles and cabs but no Ace agent. We waited for a while but no one showed. I tried to grab a cab to the rental car office but the cabbie told me that the office was a block away at the airport entrance. I left Karen and the luggage and I hiked to the Ace office. The gentleman working at the office was great. He was extremely helpful and I was out of the office with my rental car quickly. I drove to the airport and picked up Karen and out stuff.
We were staying at Residencias Reef on the south end of the island. Normally we would stay in town but the good diving is at the south end of the island so by staying at the south end we saved a 45 minute boat ride each way to get to the dive site. Another reason we would stay in town is to be close to the restaurants but when I was here last November I did not find any restaurants that were good enough to drive into town for. Two more things to consider when staying in San Miguel de Cozumel, there aren’t any beaches in town and parking sucks. The closest beach that I know of is the Money Bar and that is a $15 cab ride. If you do on street parking many of the streets are marked no parking and the gentleman at the rental car company told me that they will take the license plates off of the car and fine you when yo go to the police station to get them.
It took us about twenty minutes to drive to the condo. We unpacked and I tried to use Skype to book diving. I am not sure what happened but when I called the dive shop I could here them but they could not hear me. The condo had Vonage so I used that to arrange diving with Dive with Martin.
We drove to my favorite lunch spot that I discovered last trip, Playa Palancar. It is a very basic beach restaurant but their chicken tacos and fish tacos are great. After lunch we returned to the condo. We were both tired from only three hours sleep the night before so we relaxed on the beach and went to bed early.
The condo at Residencias Reef was nice. It had a large wrap around balcony with a hot tub. All of the reviews that I read on Trip Advisor said that the water heaters were to small to fill the hot tub so I didn’t try. The hot tub did come in handy, we used it to soak our dive equipment after diving every day.
The bedroom was large and the bed was not nearly as hard as most beds in Mexico. The kitchen area was nice; granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances. The living room furniture was newer and comfortable. The condo had a flat screen TV with satellite but the satellite kept giving me error messages and I couldn’t tune in half of the channels.
There were a couple things about the condo that Karen did not like. We did not get maid service with the condo. When we arrived the bathroom towels and the beach towels were hanging on hooks like they had been used. After nearly a week of using the same towel my towel was getting a little stinky but there were other towels so I swapped it out. I don’t think the towel had been used by someone else but I let the owner know that hanging towels on hooks gives the appearance that the towels are used. The final thing we did not like about the condo were the bed sheets, there were just cheap sheets that were probably 100 % rayon. They even creeped me out after three or four days.
The following morning the dive with Martin boat picked us up at the pier just down the beach. Our first dive was Palincar Caves. It was a drift dive, fairly deep, ninety-two feet. There were many swim throughs but not an over abundance of fish.
The second dive was at Cedral. The current was crazy bad the entire dive. We had to kick really hard against the current to get to the bottom. My body was working hard and my lungs were sucking in huge amount of air. At one point my lungs couldn’t keep up with my body, I breathed in as hard as I could but I was not getting enough air. I was really close to surfacing to catch my breath. I had to tell myself to calm down and quit battling the current so I could catch my breath. During the dive we saw a nurse shark and many barracuda.
Since we were staying on the south end of the island was we were back on the pier before noon every day. Once back we rinsed out our gear and walked down the beach to find someplace to eat lunch. I don’t know the name of the restaurant/beach bar that we ate at but it was just north of Carlos and Charlies. It was a good place to hang out, enjoy the warm weather, have a couple of beers and have lunch.
There were two groups of spring break girls at the beach, I am guessing from a cruise ship because they were gone by 4:00 PM. On of the groups was having fun but not too obnoxious. The other group of girls was drinking heavily and screaming dirty songs at the top of their lungs:
I’m a little teapot tall and thin roll me over and stick it in
and I’m a little teapot short and stout tip me me over and eat … I’ll let you figure the rest out
We drove into Cozumel for dinner at Guido’s. It was recommended by the owner of the condo. I like the layout of the restaurant. You enter from the street and walk past the bar into the restaurant but it take a while to realize that you are in a courtyard. I finally looked up and saw stars. Karen had a crab pasta which was not very good. I had lasagna because the owner of the condo said it was the best anywhere. It was good lasagna but I have had better.
As usual we got up, made a simple breakfast- Zucaritos for me and yogurt and granola for Karen. The first dive was Palincar Caves South. Another fairly deep dive- 93 feet. The dive consisted of many swim throughs. The coral and sponges were beautiful but lacking in fish.
For our surface interval between dives we pulled up to a pier on a deserted section of the coast. On the way in we noticed a photographer and several models doing a photo shoot. Our dive master noticed the models were nude. He must have good eyes because I couldn’t make out that much detail. As soon as he said said “nude” two people from the dive boat tied up next to us took off down the beach, once the models saw them coming they put their clothes on. You’d think some people have never seen a nude photo shoot before.
The second dive site didn’t have a name, it was just a location between Francesca and Dehlia dive sites. This was another dive with a lot of current. At one point I saw a large eagle ray up current from me feeding off on the sea bottom. I decided not to swim against the current to get a better look because I would have burned through my entire tank of air swimming against the current to get back to the eagle ray. We saw many barracuda, large file fish, large groupers and several turtles.
We like Playa Palancar so much when we were there on Tuesday we decided to go back there for lunch. We had the tacos again, still good. When I was here in November and when we were here Tuesday the peacocks were cute, endearing and lovable but today they were a pain in the ass. I made the mistake of feeding them and before I knew it two became six. When I quit feeding them they became aggressive and started hopping on our table to steal food.
For dinner we went to Alberto’s Beach Bar. It is south of the condo. We drove in and parked by the volleyball nets. The restaurant was just a bunch of tables spread out on the beach. I like beach restaurants like that. One thing that I have learned from all of my trips to Mexico is I don’t really care for the way fis is prepared in Mexico. They either put some ridiculous sauce on it or or they cut it really thin and somehow manage to grill it with our browning itl. Anyway, I had mahi and it was excellent, Karen had grouper that tasted really fishy. Alberto’s came highly recommended but I doubt we bill go back.
Day 4- Freaking out at Devil’s Throat
We first heard of Devil’s Throat in 2004. A woman on our dive boat told us about a dive she did where she entered a passage through the coral at 70 feet and did a descent in total darkness exiting at 130 feet. Something I didn’t care to do at the time.
On the trip out to the dive site the dive master asked us if we wanted to dive Punta Sur and as usual we all said yes, why not? Then he told us that Devil’s throat is at Punta Sur. Karen immediately said that she did not want to do Devil’s Throat, that she gets sick to her stomach when she goes below ninety feet. Initially the though of Devil's throat did not bother me but I backed up Karen and said that I did not want to do Devils Throat either. Everyone else on the boat said they would do it. The dive master said that we would see when we arrived at the dive site. I assumed that the dive master wouldn’t do Devils Throat since he had two dissenters and most everyone on the boat only had open water certification which is only good to sixty feet.
On the trip out Karen had a chance to think about Devil’s Throat and decided that it would not be that bad and she would do the dive. I, on the other hand, had time to think about an equipment failure that I had in Belize last July and an equipment failure in Puerto Morelos last September. I had my regulator hose blowout on the boat ride back from a dive. Not a big deal but I started thinking if the hose would have blown twenty minutes earlier I would have been in a long narrow swim through at seventy feet. Then during a wreck dive in Puerto Morelos I had an equipment malfunction. We were in the hold of the C56 when I noticed that as I breathed in the needle on my air pressure gauge would drop 1000 or so PSI. Initially I thought it was the gauge but later when the gauge hit zero I could not get air, I could not finish my breath. To make a long story short I buddy breathed with the dive master and we surfaced. But these thoughts came back to me on the boat trip to Punta Sur.
We started the dive at Cathedral. There was a lot of current and I was breathing hard by the time I descended. We did a swim through that I thought might be Devils Throat. When we entered I thought “oh well here we go” but it wasn’t a very long swim through so I knew it wasn’t Devil’s Throat. We battled more current and entered a small cavern with three openings, four if you count the entrance to Devils Throat.
The dive master flashed me the OK sign and I gave it back. I thought he was checking to see if I was OK but he was checking to see if I wanted to do Devils throat. I actually got close enough to see the tunnel and the light at the other end. Divers started the descent into Devils Throat. I kicked myself for not bringing my flashlight. I checked my air and I had less than 1200 psi left. I thought about the rate that I was sucking air and how fast I would burn through air at 130 feet. Karen swam toward the shaft and I grabbed her fin, she turned and looked at me, I shook my head and pointed toward the exit. I was in full panic mode by now, even though the cavern was large I felt clostrophobic and I had to get out of there.
With one problem averted I realized that Karen was about to face one of her biggest fears, being alone (seperated from the main group). We have had had many discussion, you could almost call them arguments about what to do if this situation occurred. My solution is to surface and find our dive boat. For some reason she can’t get her mind around this idea. Anyway, because of my moment of panic I was responsible for putting her in one of her worst case scenarios.
I saw the direction that the tunnel went so we swam over the top of the reef to look for the other divers. I could see air bubbles filtering through the reef so I knew we were going in the right direction. As we cleared the reef I saw the other divers exiting Devil’s Throat. As we swam down to 130 feet to meet them they indicated to us that the dive master had gone back up Devil’s Throat, I assumed to find us. We swam back to the cave entrance to find him and he had turned around and went back by the time we had gotten there. I thought “enough of this shit” and we slowly ascended to the top of the reef and looked for the other divers. When we spotted them Karen swam towards them leaving me behind. I didn’t want to swim back to the group because I had 700 psi left meaning it was time to surface.
Karen and I had a small argument after diving on Wednesday. The source of the argument stems back to a post on scubeboard.com after the Belize incident last year. I posted a hypothetical question about a dive we had in Puerto Morelos. Some of the responses that I got said that I had a crappy dive buddy. It pissed me off because I was asking a hypothetical question but at the same time it reminded me that diving is serious business and we need to be more mindful about staying close when we are submerged.
During the dives on Wednesday it seamed that every time I looked at Karen she was looking anywhere but at me and sometimes swimming away from me. We had a conversation and we both agreed to stay closer and be more mindful of each other. While I was doing my extended safety stop at fifteen feet I was also doing a slow burn because Karen had yet to realize that I had gone up. She finally looked look up and spotted me. I gave her the low on air signal, she couldn’t see me so I gave her the low on air signal again and she signaled that she understood. When I surfaced the boat was about 100 yards away. I yelled at the captain and he motored over to pick me up.
The second dive was San Clemente. It was a shallow dive with current. It had a fair amount of sea life. We saw many barracuda and very large grouper and a huge parrot fish. When the parrot fish get really large they look prehistoric. It was a good dive.
I was really irritated on the ride back. I was irritated at my wife for losing track of me at the end of the dive and staying with the group rather than coming up with me. I was irritated at dive master for taking us to Devil’s Throat when we said we didn’t want to go. I have thought about how much of it was just me but a dive master should never put a diver into a situation that they have stated they are not comfortable with. I would have been happy if the dive master said we are going to do Devil’s Throat so you can get off of the boat. I am sure Karen and I would have gotten off happy to take a day off of diving. Also, you don’t leave your dive buddy. My wife should have been watching me and should have surfaced with me.
We drove to the windward side of the island for lunch. We took our time and stopped at several of the beaches to soak in the beauty. We eventually ended up at Coconuts for lunch. The food wasn’t that good, my chicken tacos weren’t as good as Palancar Beach but it is a great place to drink some beers and people watch.
For dinner we went to the Money Bar. I spent a day there last November and liked the food and the beach vibe. Dinner was hit and miss. Karen had coconut shrimp which was excellent and I had rotisserie chicken that tasted like it had been left on the rotisserie for a day or two. The band at the Money Bar was pretty good, they played classic rock and they did a good Queen cover of We are the Champions.
Day 5The first dive of the day was a drift dive starting on Columbia reef and ending at Palancar reef. We got a free video of our dive when we booked with Dive withe Martin. Orlando was our videoagrapher today. They gave us a CD of the dive, it turned out very nice.
One of the first things we did on the dive was to enter a small cavern in the reef and at the rear of the cavern was a tunnel. Orlando was the first one to enter the swim through followed by another person in our group then Karen and myself.
I saw Karen enter the tunnel, take an immediate right and disappear into darkness. The dive master had not talked about a swim through, so I assumed it wasn’t that bad and I had plenty of air and we were only at ninety feet. I entered the tunnel and turned right. The tunnel was a little longer than I thought it would be but we came out right next to the cavern entrance. I got a little satisfaction when I saw that some of the divers wouldn’t do the swim through. I wasn’t the only wimp.
Throughout the dive we saw several turtles that weren’t to afraid of us and swam towards us. There were many large angel fish. We also saw a tiny black and white crab.
The second dive of the day was San Francisco. It was a very nice dive, I found a starfish at the beginning of the dive, something I usually don’t see when diving. I saw a flounder staring up at me with his Picasso face. I also saw many anemones and another large ancient looking parrot fish.
For lunch we went to Uva’s. We had seen it several times when driving into town and it looked like an interesting place to eat. So far in Cozumel we had run into people from Minnesota diving and just about every restaurant that we went to. Uva’s was no exception, there were two couples at Uva’s that were from one of the cruise ships that dock in Cozumel for the day. They had cruising down to an art. Before they docked they got on line and checked out all of the bars on the island and found the one where they could get the best all-inclusive deal for the day, which was Uva’s. I think they paid $40 each for food and drink for the day. When they arrived they were drinking Bob Marleys, a red white and green drink with rum and other alcohol.
We had a couple of drinks while the two couples explained why they liked boat cruises. We are not really cruise people, I think Karen would rather be shot than go on a cruise so we just nodded our heads and sipped our beers. Anyway the two couples were really fun people. I had chicken enchiladas and Karen had fajitas. My enchiladas were really bland, this is Mexico they they should be spicy. Karen’s fajitas were really good.
In snorkled a bit but the conditions were not good and I didn’t see much. I saw a snorkel boat or it could have been a dive boat come back to Uva’s and they had a stringer of lion fish. For those of you that don’t know, lion fish are a non native species to the Caribbean. They are a beautiful brown and white striped fish with fan like pectoral and dorsal fins. They are voracious eaters, they reproduce like crazy and they do not have any natural predators. This is very bad for the reef. If left unchecked they will take over the entire reef and the reef will die. Every dive that I have done for in Mexico for the last several years the dive master has speared lion fish. The dive boat at Uva’s had over a dozen large lion fish. They snapped a picture of me holding them.
Rolandi’s is a pretty decent pizza chain. We have eaten at the one in Isla and I ate at this one last November so Karen and I decided to go to Rolandi’s for dinner.They sat Karen and I by the water so it was kind of romantic. We shared a salad and had a margarite pizza and a lobster pizza. I am strictly a pepperoni pizza guy but the lobster pizza was excellent.
Earlier in the week I noticed that the sign on the pier where we get picked up for diving stated that divers being picked up by any boat other than Sand Dollar would be charged a fee. They finally caught up with us. One of the guys that worked the Sand Dollar booth charged us $3 per person. He was really nice about the whole deal, we didn’t have change so he let is pay once we got back.
The first dive was Cedral Pass and Santa Rosa reefs.This was a surreal dive, once we had gotten down to depth it looked like it was snowing underwater. The source of the snow was the female barrel sponges, as we swam over them we could see clumps of eggs (resembling snow) coming from the sponges. The male barrel sponges looked like they were billowing smoke, which of course, was sperm. It kind of made was want to wash my wet suit when I got back to the condo.
The second dive of the day and our last dive of the trip was a drift dive from Franchesca reef to Dehlia reef. Tthere were many nice swim throughs. We saw rays, barracuda and turtles. Miguel, our dive master, had a spear and was on the hunt for lion fish. He had killed several and was trying to feed one of them to a large hog fish that was trailing him closely. The hog fish nipped at the dead lion fish several times but it was too big for him to eat.
I was swimming along the top of the wall watching Miguel when I saw a large grouper approaching. He swam close to me and then turned around and trailed our group at a distance. Then he made his move. He swam past me picking up speed as he approached Miguel. He did not see the grouper until it clamped its giant mouth over the dead fish. The grouper tried to swallow it but the spiney fins of the lion fish must have made it uncomfortable for him because it spit the dead fish out. The grouper was determined and gulped up the dead fish again. It kind of looked like a dog with peanut butter on the roof of its mouth. Its gills were wide open and was chomping down on the carcass. Eventually it was able to swallow the fish. It was amazing to watch. I hope the grouper had a cast iron stomach to digest the poisonous spines of the lion fish.
Karen’s coconut shrimp at the Money Bar for dinner on Day 4 was so good that we decided to go back for lunch. I don’t eat a whole lot hamburger at home and I usually don’t eat any hamburger when I leave the country but I heard that the Money Bar had the best cheeseburger around so I had one and it was one of the best hamburgers that I have ever had. Karen had the fish sandwich which she really like.
We had been diving with Alexander most of the week. He and his wife were staying next door at Aura, an all inclusive. They didn’t have a car so so they hadn’t made it into San Miguel. We offered to show them around town so the joined us for dinner. We wanted to bring them someplace nice for dinner twent to the Money Bar again. Both Karen and I had the coconut shrimp and I don’t remember what Alexander and Elena had but they gave it a thumbs up.
I went to bed late and someone was honking a car horn about 1 am. I woke up early like I have been doing all week. Karen and I were both beat so we read and laid out on the beach all day.
We didn’t feel like driving anywhere for lunch so we had our left over pizza from Ronaldi’s. We drove into town for dinner and ate at Poncho’s Back Yard, it came highly recommended by the owner of the condo. We decided to splurge and order lobster but the waiter told us that they have not had lobster for ten years even though it was on the menu. I don’t know if he was kidding but we did not have lobster. I had Tequila Camerones and Karen had Mahi Mahi both excellent. The waiter was great, he tried to get us to use our Spanish and he was a lot of fun. The store at Cinco Solas was nice, reasonably priced no hard sell and they took credit cards. So i bought all of my souvenirs there.
Karen thinks I am crazy. I found a bug that looks like a kissing bug on a palm frond on the patio. I grabbed it and tried to throw it over the wall but I wasn’t paying attention and I am not sure it went over the wall. The kissing bug scares the hell out of me. When I was in Bolivia people at the distributor were talking about it on our trip to Lake Titicaca. Many of the people in the tropical areas of Bolivia have chagas. It is a single cell parasite carried by the kissing bug. The kissing bug generally sucks blood from your eyes or lips while you sleep and the parasite is transferred to your blood stream while the bug is feeding. The parasite feasts on what ever part of the body it happens to be in, brain, heart digestive system. It generally causes nerve damage, heart damage or digestive system damage.
In the way back from dinner we stopped at the Mega so I could buy bug repellent. I sprayed my side of the bed but Karen wouldn’t let me spray her side.
We had a 12:20 PM flight so we got up, had breakfast at the condo, packed and drove to the airport. I stopped at the gas station on the southern end of the island to fill up the car. I’ve tanked up rental cars on the mainland and the service station attendants speak as much English as I speak Spanish. One thing about Cozumel, everyone speaks English the service station attendant spoke excellent English.
Dropping off the car was easier than picking it up. We drove up to the Ace office, they inspected the car and then drove us to the terminal. The Cozumel airport is smaller than Cancun so it is much easier to clear security. When I was down here in November I noticed that the food shops at the airport were kind of a rip off. Things hadn’t changed much since November. I heard one of the other passengers complain that that paid $13 for a cheeseburger and a Coke. I ended up paying $5 for a Coke.
We had to work the next day so when we got home we dragged our suitcases into the house and unpacked our dive equipment and rinsed it out but left everything else for the weekend.
Diving in Cozumel
Ace Car Rental in Cozumel
The Money Bar
Dive with Martin (for the most part)
Most of the food in Cozumel
Over priced food in Cozumel
Freaking out at Devil's Throat.
We are going to Isla Mujeres over the 4th of July and I plan on doing a wreck dive and I am sure that I will be fine. That said, when I even think about being in a tight space underwater I start to hyperventilate a little bit.