It was scuba diving that drew us to the Mexican coast as we revisited PDC. Per the suggestion of friends, we tried out the Reef Marina Dive Shop on the beach just in front of the resort, Reef Playacar where our friends also generously afforded us for our 25th anniversary in the midst of Covid. It was also then that Dave received his Padi open water certification 🤿
Sidebar: I had one major goal diving this time around…. Back in 2021, I really struggled to manage all my own gear. Worse, I could not make the step up onto the bench, by myself to sit & fall back into the water. Not one but two boat hands had to hoist me up ⬆️ I made the promise to myself that that would not be the case this time around. Thankfully I made good on that promise 😊 I still needed a hand, just one & no hoisting 😂
So it was to Playa del Carmen & Reef Marina, we returned in early January to do a dive I had long anticipated & one I would come to realize truly terrified me!
We did two morning drift dives to reboot our skills & get reacquainted with all our gear, before sitting down for the most thorough dive briefing to date… In his French accent, our dive master wanted to get a head start, there would be no time on the boat for briefing, time was of the essence. We had a scheduled slot to be in the water & under the water descending into the mama shark rodeo. If we dilly dallied, a Mexican Coast Guard would veto our dive. So the short of it, get on the boat, gear up, get in the water, grab the rope (DON’T let go of the rope!) & get under. We had a thirty minute window to get to the bottom, be terrified, I mean amazed – actual I wonder if there is really a difference 😉 Let go of the rope & ascend to the surface. WAIT, let go of the rope! We weren’t even on the boat yet & I was beginning to panic. I interrupted, “you said DON’T let go of the rope?!” Well apparently, you have to let go of the rope… At which point we would ascend to the surface where our boat would be waiting. Stay together while ascending, because one lone human looks like a snack, several humans together looks like too big a meal to be interested in 😬 Whose idea was this?! 🤦♀️
Having been briefed, we were off to the boat. Mid way into the water I realized I had left my backpack on the deck of the shop, my phone, wallet, life, there on a chair. I must have had something else on my mind… Quite possibly it was the comments of another dive master from Australia who expressed her lack of interest in shark dives due to her experience with too many she had seen gone wrong. REALLY! I asked her if maybe she could save her thrilling stories until after our safe return! 🦈
Too late for the bag. If I went back for it, I was out. The boat captain called back to the shop. I watched intently as I thought I saw someone come out & retrieve my bag to put inside. On we went, onto the boat. Off the boat & into the Bull shark nursery. Doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo 😂 So here is the deal. Bull sharks are some of the most, if not the most aggressive sharks in the wild except when they are pregnant. The warm winter waters of the Caribbean have long been where these fierce giants come to give birth.
On the floor of the ocean, anchors & ropes have been installed to give divers a hold against the current. We followed the rope down & took up position amongst other dive groups. There were four of us, our dive master, another guy, Dave & me. As I felt the most snack size of the group, I nestled myself in between the three guys. We were down at 27m or about 80ft for just under 30 minutes.
I am not sure if there were three sharks or thirteen, but they seemed to be everywhere – in front, behind, overhead. Our dive master said if one got too close to exhale hard to make forceful bubbles. Well, that’s all I did! Underwater everything appears closer & bigger 🦈 So at 9 feet long & 500lbs, I wasn’t taking any chances 😉
My whole life, I have wanted to swim with sharks. I got my open water 🤿 when I was sixteen & wanted to be a marine biologist when I grew up. Well, that didn’t happen but this did. I hope the next sharks we see will truly be in the wild (at a distance) 🦈 Dave was over the moon! If you know him, he isn’t overly excitable but he could not stop talking about this adventure! Thankfully this was the first of several more dives we would do, only one other coming close to the exhilaration…
Our adventure would not end when we returned to shore. Thankfully my bag was accounted for & we headed for “home” exhausted from the excitement. This would turn out to be the evening we got unceremoniously evicted from of AirBnB by the British douchbag, a different kind of shark 🦈
We came back to the coast after a few weeks, having escaped to a housesit to regroup & collect ourselves. We wasted no time jumping back in 🤿 We spent our last month in Akumal 🐢
Akumal is known for the turtles that come to nest & feed there. You won’t be surprised to know that I got in trouble for trying to swim over to the “paid” turtle watching area without paying 😬 So I made my way back under the ropes only to be greeted with my own personal turtle friend 😊 I followed it around for a while as it chomped on the seagrass that is native to the beaches there.
We also did a dive in Akumal. It was nothing to write home about (no pun intended) but it did teach us a new skill, ascending on our own without our dive master. He was signaling us from below. We had not been very deep, so our safety stop was pretty simple. It did however solidify our need for a dive watch/computer.
From Akumal we would head over to Cozumel, where we met our incredible dive master/instructor, Luis who runs Cozumel Divers. It had the potential to be another exhausting day but we signed up for four dives anyway. The first two were more like lessons in maintaining buoyancy as we glided along the cliff walls of coral This was also the dive that confirmed I needed to buy my own scuba mask 🤿 I spent the first dive clearing the fog from the inside of my mask by flushing it with ocean water, trying to remember to keep my eyes closed so I didn’t lose my contact 👁️ Thankfully, Luis was to my rescue again. Back on the boat, he offered some mask alternatives. I chose the Cressi Calibro with the duel frame. What a huge difference!!! I wasn’t constantly fogging the glass & having to flush. The second dive went so much more smoothly, giving me more confidence & time to enjoy the scenery.
After lunch we geared up again. I told Luis I was a bit nervous about what was next. I didn’t love the idea of being in an enclosed space underwater. Luis was so calm & encouraging. He told us exactly how we would approach the shipwreck. How we would swim around it & then through it. Thankfully it was just us, so I didn’t have to worry about other divers, either holding them up or them being in my way.
Was it terrifying, no. Did it give me anxiety, yes! But just as he said he would, Luis guided us around the ship, checking in on me at every turn. We swam through the short length of the ship. Then with a thumbs up 👍 we swam down into a port hole & through rusted hallways & rooms.
It was a look back at history. This ship did not sink here but rather was placed here in 2000 after a long career on the water for both the US & Mexican Navies. You can read more about the C-53 shipwreck.
I wasn’t breathing as hard as I did with the mama sharks 🦈 but I definitely wasn’t breathing efficiently. I struggled with invasive thoughts of death & some giant under water creature leaping from the shadows 😬 All I could say to myself was, “You did some crazy ass shit as a young women, you are stronger & fiercer now. Be brave!” So I was…
Back on the boat, we received excellent concierge service as the first mate changed our tanks & served us a light snack as we did our surface interval & waited for the sun to go down 🌅
I think I would have been more apprehensive on our last dive had we entered the water after dark. Instead, a sliver of sun was all that was left & we followed it down to the ocean floor. The reefs come alive at night! Far less terrifying, much more amazing… I kept Luis in view. As the darkness enveloped us, we turned on our lights. It was more magical than I can even describe. Huge lobsters 🦞 Turtles, from above & below. Sharks in caves 🦈 And the octopus 🐙 We saw one that turned from blue, to orange to translucent, beyond incredible! The time passed so quickly I failed to notice the black abyss that surrounded us. Until, of course, until we began to ascend. In that moment, as if knowing I needed a distraction, Luis pointed out the tiniest jellyfish swimming in front of my mask. Bravery restored, we broke the surface of the water & there was the boat 🛥️ I cannot rave about the captain & first mate enough! They were so friendly & helpful & most importantly, there when we needed to be picked up 🌊
Over all we did nine dives during our time on the coast 🤿 Solidifying that yes, we do now officially have another expensive hobby 💵 I will gladly take any advice on where to dive next or gear we need to acquire. We will definitely get our own masks, possibly fins & at least one dive watch to start. I am also considering my own wetsuit or thin rash guard. I think we still fall far too much into the novice category to think we need (to travel) with BCDs & regulators. Oh, & a GoPro, gonna “need” that!!! 📸