Sunday, March 1, 2009

Scuba Adventures in the Riviera Maya

As I re-read and reviewed my PADI diver's manual on the plane, any nervousness I had about breathing 50 feet under water quickly was replaced with excitement. I couldn't wait to actually start diving! I love the ocean, and I was so happy when the realization finally sunk in that I was going to be able to explore it underwater for an extended period of time.

After arriving at the airport in Cancun, finding transportation to our hotel, and checking in, our first day in Playa del Carmen was primarily spent exploring. We walked to the beach and along Quinta Avenida, a pedestrian only street filled with little shops and restaurants. The next day, my scuba adventures began.

The ocean's currents were just too strong for novices that day, so we drove to a cenote with our dive instructor. The Yucatan is filled with cenotes, most of which are found in caves or completely underground. My first diving experience was in the Cenote El Jardin del Eden, a great place to refresh the skills I learned in a pool back home.
Part of this cenote was completely in a cave, and part of it was open. We had to stay in the open area since you need special training to dive in a cave. We saw a bunch of divers training to do just that as we were getting our equipment ready. After a seated entry off a little dock, we were ready to go under!
The water was cool but comfortable since we were wearing full wetsuits. The visibilty was perfect (though not so much when we beginners started kicking up algae when we lost control of our buoyancy a few times). It was so fun to swim by green, algae covered rocks and tree roots with these cool, silvery fish with iridescent fins. I think the peaceful sounds of inhaling through my tank, then exhaling bubbles has to be one of my new favorites. (The cenote fish photo was borrowed from http://alanformstone.com/pics/ponderosa_jun_04.html).


The next day, thankfully, an ocean dive was in order. The cenote was fun, but I wanted salt and currents and waves! We packed our group and our equipment onto a tiny little boat docked right at the each, and off we went, hurtling over the waves to Sabalos Reef and Barracuda Reef. The sun was hot, the water was warm, and I couldn't wait to go under!

It was quite a challenge donning the necessary equipment on a tiny, cramped boat. After a safety check, we sat on the edge, put a hand over our mask and regulator, and fell backwards into the deep blue. We used a line to control our descent. This helped me a great deal with some equalizing issues I was having in the cenote. You're supposed to equalize the pressure in your ears every few feet, and I found it was easier to do that when holding a rope.

Eventually, we made it to the sandy bottom and let go of the rope. We neutralized our bouyancy, making us essentially weightless and floating, and off we went to explore the gorgeous reef. We drifted by an amazing shelf filled with purple sea fans that waved back and forth in the current. We swam by corals, anemones, and huge sponges. The blue was everywhere, the water temperature was so perfect, and the peaceful bubble sound I loved had me smiling so much that my mask kept filling up with water. I'm glad they had us practice mask clearing so much!

The reef was so colorful: red, orange, yellow, green, and purple everywhere there wasn't blue. It was like floating through an enchanted alien forest. We met a big, dark lobster hiding in the crevices of the reef moving about his antennae. There was a sponge so big I could comfortably fit my whole arm inside it. The sea fans moved so elegentaly and effortlessly back and forth, slowly with the current. I heard a metallic tapping when our dive instructor spotted a beautiful hawksbill turtle, swam over to it and watched it eat. A spotted moray eel curled into a hiding spot nearby.

Eventually, the last dive was over and we followed our bubbles up to the surface. There was a scary moment when we realized we drifted so far from where we initially started, that we couldn't see the boat at all. It was just us bobbing over the waves, no boat in sight. I half thought we might have to swim to the shore, and I thanked my lucky stars that the shore was in site. Thankfully, we were spotted over the waves somehow. The tiny boat picked us out of the strengthening current, and we were returned safely to the beach.

Now that I'm officially certified, I can't wait to go diving again!!!

7 comments:

Theresa said...

How exciting! And congrats on your cert! I love hearing nothing but my own breathing (and the occasional sound of fish eating coral)--you can really get a lot of thinking done under water. Does that mean a trip to the GBR is in store soon?

Bianca said...

Cool! Sounds like the experience was awesome.

Tara said...

Congratulations on your certification and your wonderful trip! I'm very jealous, as I got my cert here in Alaska. Cool, but in a very different way!

Vegan On Stage said...

your so lucky that you are able to dive under the sea and see all of the wonderful life that exists there!!!

congrats on your certification!!!

Vegan_Noodle said...

Sounds like such a fun adventure!! I wish I had the courage to try diving, but it kinds scares me. I can only imagine all the beautiful colors...

Libby said...

Congrats on your scuba certification! Playa del Carmen is a wonderful place to do some beginning diving! And so cool that you got to see our amazing cenotes as well! Hope the rest of your trip was just as fun.

Minime said...

The fish in the algae rich water was a wild Poecilia velifera

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poecilia_velifera

The breed fish are black and white and orange and red...but I love the wild one the most.

I recognized them at the first moment because the body is so typicall