Archive for the ‘Diving’ Category

Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is everything I hate about Mexican resort towns; huge masses of fly-in tourists, cheap Chinese knock-offs pretending to be authentic indigenous art crafts sold at boutique prices, ridiculously over priced food serenaded in front of you as if to masquerade it as cuisine. And yet, I loved the place. It is by far my favorite Mexican resort town. It’s nouveau chic blended with Mexican fanfare is only missing surf-able waves to make me pack it in, jettison my real life and move permanently to become yet another expat restaurateur gouging tourists and underpaying the locals. The white sand beaches and warm, clear, snorkeling waters give the Mexican Riviera something truly special, Cozumel and world-class diving up the anty. Mix in the occasional topless euro, some daytime cocktails amongst the throbbing, pulsating, sand dance party at Mamitas Beach Club and I’m hooked. Love it. There are some other pictures over on Flickr, including a bunch of snorkeling pics taken with my new underwater camera, my excellent Christmas present from Glenn and Marilyn.

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Blondy, chillin at the bar!

Back in La Ticla, Michoacan, we met an incredibly nice and friendly woman by the name of Lucy Andrés. Lucy is a biologist living in Guadalajara. Previously she had traveled and lived all along the Yucatan Peninsula. She turned us on to the town of Mahahual and her friend and dive instructor Yolanda. Yolanda’s diving business, Tortuga Azul is run in some conjunction with the spot we are camping: the Blue Bay Restaurant and Bar. We most likely would have ended up camping here with or without Lucy and Yolanda as it is the only spot listed in the Church’s Mexican Camping book. We have spent almost a week camped out here and have become friends with the proprietor Gerry and his band of friends and employees; Blondy being the most charismatic.

The very first post of this travel blog started in 2004 in Venezuela, on that trip, my friend Scott took me diving. It was the first of many rogue diving adventures, we tracked down the “dive master” and his half drunk bottle of rum in order to rent gear. After a 30 second conversation where I revealed I had never been diving before but Scott (who is a very accomplished diver) agreed to teach me, we had tanks and such and were off in search of someone with a boat to take us to the reef. Not exactly what PADI has in mind. Over the years Natalie and I have both engaged in some sort of non-certified diving, sometimes as part of a discover scuba resort course and sometimes not. We decided that this trip was the perfect mix of location and time to actually get certified and be able to dive legitimately whenever and wherever we wanted.

The certification is taking a bit longer than we originally had expected, Natalie is having a small equalization problem with her left ear, causing her to suck down the anti-inflammatory meds and dive only every other day. It has worked out pretty well for me though because I’ve got in a lot of extra dives tagging along with other divers on her days off. I had pretty much run out of excuses to dive more without shelling out some extra money by the 23rd. Instead I spent the day with Fo-Fo (Alejandro), one of a throng of Italians that has taken over the town, cooking it up for the Christmas Eve feast at the restaurant. My first job in the kitchen was to make the dough for the dessert tart. I think Fo-Fo was a little under whelmed with his sous chef when I had no clue as to what I was doing. While I know my way around a kitchen, baking is my Achilles; its just too exact for me, I cook with some of this and a little bit more of that, recipes are impossible to follow without a great deal of improvisation. My second job was totally in my wheelhouse though, as Fo-Fo and I cranked out some gnocchi that would have made the old ladies in Shelocta Pennsylvania swoon. I’m no beginner at turning and rolling the potato dumpling.

Christmas Eve itself was pretty fantastic. We woke around 7 to finish our final two dives. Natalie had a few final skills to exhibit at the start of the first dive and then we drifted through the current through the aquarium that is the Meso-American reef. Between the drift and our second, deeper, reef canyon dive, we saw parrot fish, angel fish, jacks, giant rays, sea turtles, coral, crab, lobster, I was totally stoked. The rest of the afternoon was spent cooking and running errands throughout Mahahual for fresh bread baked by another of the Italian chefs in town and other assorted last minute sundries. Natalie, Fo-Fo and I, and then later some Chilean girls plated each and every plate, 19 of them, and then re-plated every plate when the final head count was 22. The international dinner festivities were incredibly fun and diverse, an orphans’ Christmas of attendees from North America, South America and Europe; English, Spanish, Italian and French being slung across the table regardless of whether the intended recipient  understood it or not. The tequila, vino and whatever else flowed well into the evening, probably the latest Christmas party I’ve ever been to as Natalie rolled into bed sometime after 3 in the morning. So late in fact that we were an hour and half late picking Glenn and Marilyn up in Cancun the next day. Whoops!

Happy New Year to all my friends and family. Love you all. See you soon! Less than one month left on the road… Also, there are a few more pics over on Flickr.

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Hurricane Dean was the strongest storm of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season and the 7th strongest on record. It made landfall as a category 5 hurricane, the third strongest landfall ever – by contrast Katrina, while slightly stronger at sea, smacked into New Orleans and the US Gulf Coast as a category 3. The epicenter at landfall

was the former fishing and diving village turned cruise ship stop of Mahahual, decimating the town and vast majority of its buildings. Most likely, the current version of Mahahual bears little resemblance to its former self. Driving into town the damageis evident even 3 years later. Fairly abruptly, the trees end and the dry, barren, twisted limbs of old growth mangrove give way to shorter, green, jungle undergrowth and miniature palms reaching out of the sand like a newly landscaped yard.

It is readily apparent that the government of Quintana Roo invested a considerable sum in order to rebuild the infrastructure; a local pedestrian and bicycle malecon runs the entire length of the beach along seemingly unending construction projects. New 75 kVa transformers dot the road and vacant lots while new manholes suggest minimal sewage flowing on to the sensitive and second largest barrier reef in the world.

Many residents fled to Chetumal and further north to Playa del Carmen and Cancun to build a new life. But many remained are rebuilding and the diving is supposed to be amongst the best on the Mexican Riviera. We are camped at the far northern end of the redevelopment at a restaurant turned dive shop and future RV park, while resources are scarce, even for paying customers, the determination is obvious and it seems like a good time to buy real estate if you are so inclined. I would, except I don’t have the money and there are no waves except in hurricane season.

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