Sunday, March 29, 2009

Upcoming Trip: Scuba in the Florida Keys

I'll be heading off to visit the coral reefs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in a few short weeks. Before I go, I plan on writing more about my time in Mexico. I have more to tell about vegan options in Playa del Carmen and snorkeling with sea turtles in Akumel. Is it just me or did March fly by? Look for more about Mexico in the next few days!

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

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!!!