Mayday, Norwegian Lost!

Today we get a chance to sleep in since there’s nothing planned until 4 pm for me. Up at about 9 am Daniel and I are outside our room talking with Lina and Emma when Johan pokes his head out. He looks a bit worse for wear and explains that Thorstein and Peter came into the room at around 1 am and started drinking whiskey. Suffice to say that some time in the morning, for reasons unclear, Thorstein decided to go out of the room and sleep on the floor of the reception.

We give Johan five minutes to freshen up and then head out to find breakfast. We end up at some overpriced Mexican joint. It’s hard to beat 100%, but we feel that we need to find some variety as well. Afterwards we wander the streets aimlessly, looking at people and being shouted at by barkers. We end up at the beach, and eventually at a beach bar with happy hour between 12 and 2 pm! The drinks aren’t very good but the prices are so we hang out there for a couple of hours.

Then some more aimless wandering until it’s time for my diving. I meet Warren and Charles at the dive center, they’ve already had two dives today and are going for two more now with me. Eric is our dive master and is a cheerful Mexican guy in his thirties. We get our gear and head down to the boat that is right on the beach. The sea is rather choppy today with waves 3-4 dm at least, so bobbing around on the surface isn’t all that fun. We soon go down though and it’s not that deep, most of the dive is at around 10-12 meters and the reef is sort of sponge shaped. It’s mostly soft corals with a lot of those fan-like things that go in purple and brown. Visibility is so-so, probably due to the wind these last two days, around 10 m or so. We see mostly smallish fish, up to 20 cm, but a few larger ones. Suddenly Eric looks all excited and starts waving frantically. As I look where he’s pointing I can see three large Stingrays emerging from out of the blue, majestically flying by at about a 6 m distance! They’re probably about a meter and a half between the wingtips and positively awesome!

It’s really hard to top that, but we also see a tiny Lion Fish, some sort of flat fish hiding in the sand and a Moray Eel lurking in a cave. We get back into the boat and await darkness for our second dive. I chat a bit with Warren who’s a manager at some company buying computers. He goes on about how he’s the manager of 55 people and how hard he works and how he makes the companies that wants to treat him to dinner buy pizza for everyone who works for him instead. I guess he fancies himself quite the guy but he comes across a a bit of an ass to me, but maybe that’s just the Jante talking…

For the second dive I leave the camera on the boat, since the pictures probably won’t be very good in the darkness anyway. We don’t see much on the second dive though, visibility is still poor and there just isn’t much fish. We do see a boxfish the size of a house cat though, a bunch of smaller, white, rays with triangular-shaped thorns on their tail and about 25 cm between the wingtips flapping about on the sea floor. The main event however comes in one of the caves where Eric discovers a Moray Eel as thick and long as a teenage girl’s leg! The Moray is the last interesting thing we see before heading back. The two Americans are disappointed of the dives and brings it up several times, I’m kind of pleased though, but maybe I’ll get pickier as I get more dives under my belt…

Going back I find the others (surprise, surprise!) at 100%, so I join them for some drinks and food. Taking the way via the beach and a gelato parlor we finally find ourselves back at the hotel. Before going to bed, me and Johan are doing some surfing when we see that Thorstein has posted to the facebook group of the trip! It seems that he has gotten lost and is wondering via facebook where the hotel is, that’s the information age for ya! After having a good laugh Johan finds out the hotel address and Thorstein is later safely returned.

Cave Diving!

Everybody has left for Chichen Itza by the time I get up so I go to 100%, a place I found yesterday with really good food, large drinks and nice prices. Their breakfast is really good as well so if you find yourself in Playa del Carmen, look that place up!

Then off to the dive center where I meet the other diver Charles and our divemaster Aurelien, a really nice French guy. We start gathering equipment and Aurelien claims that it will be really cold, maybe 25 degrees Celsius, so I’d better take double wetsuits. Not wanting to argue I comply, but obviously while calling him a sissy under my breath. All packed up we’re off to the caves. Aurelien explains on the way that since it’s so windy today the cenote we’re supposed to dive is probably really crowded today and he suggest another one. Tajma Ha, that will probably be less crowded. Since he probably knows best Charles and I take his advice and we head over there instead.

On site we go through the dive and rules that go with it. Apparently you’re not allowed to use a snorkel, and really what would be the point, we’re in a cave after all… We’re also only to use the frog kick instead of the normal paddle technique since there is much less chance of stirring up sediment with it. We also go down to have a look at the entrance and it doesn’t look like much, a beautiful little pool with crystal clear, sweet, water and tiny catfish swimming around. Well, time to gear up, Charles is taking his sweet time, mainly because he’s not used to handling his own equipment. The dives he’s been on, that part has been taken care of for him.

After some fiddling (my o-ring needed changing for instance) we’re able to enter the water at last. I’m wearing my GoPro Hero2 camera since I didn’t want to use my regular one when the dive is so technical. We go down, find our buoyancy, and off we go! Looking back towards the opening we went down through is breathtaking, the light shoots down like a giant blue laser beam and all else is darkness. We go through a passage and the cave opens up in a huge room with stalactites in the ceiling, the sense of space is awesome, and the claustrophobic feeling I though might set in just isn’t there for some reason. It’s not scary at all, just beautiful!

The cave goes up and down as can be seen on my dive profile below, so you have to decompress a lot and mind your buoyancy. I’m a bit on the heavy side since we weren’t sure of how much weights I should have but it goes mostly fine, I guess that dry-suit diving pays off. Down at 13 meters or so is the halocline, this is where the sweet water meets the salt water (all cenotes are flow into the sea in one way or another, that is where the salt water comes from) and since they don’t mix they form a layer that is disturbed when you go through it. It look much the same as when you go through a thermocline (same thing but with two different water temperatures) but much more pronounced. It looks like if you put on glasses with the wrong prescription, all blurry. This lasts for a few seconds until you’re fully under the halocline, and then you can look up and it almost looks like the surface up there. It’s really weird. What’s also weird is that the water is warmer under the halocline since it’s sea water.

Tajma Ha cenote dive profile

As we go upwards once again Aurelien points out some fossils along the way. Suddenly we can see the first opening, the Sugar Bowl, the light comes down at an angle and spookily lights old tree roots. We surface to hear Aurelien talk about how the caves are formed and we also see some bats in the ceiling. After a while we submerge again and take a slightly different route back, even though the parking lot was full of other divers we’ve only seen a few so far, which I guess is testament to Aureliens skill in picking a good route for us.

We have a quick snack and some water as we prepare for the next dive. This time it will be more technical Aurelien says, since he’s seen that we don’t have any trouble with our buoyancy. He will take us through tighter passages and areas with more sediment this time.

And sure enough, the second dive takes us on a different route with some very tight passages where you really have to make sure your kicks aren’t too wide and your buoyancy is juuust right. It’s hard, but fun and not as scary as I’d thought it’d be. After a while we reach the turning point, the Esmeralda, this is another one of the openings but it is full of debris and stuff so we never surface. The view is more than enough though, you just can’t get enough of the light pillars coming down and bathing everything in an icy blue sheen. On the way back there is more of the tight passages, with the added challenge of passing through a halocline at the same time. Fun, but exhausting!

Before going back to the hotel I book two more dives for tomorrow, one twilight dive and one night dive. Waiting for the others to come back from Chichen Itza I black out on the bed totally exhausted from the diving. I regain consciousness a while before the others come and bunch of us find ourselves at the already proven 100% where we fill up on their giant drinks. Johan is very upset about the fact that they don’t have any taco tubs or medium sauce, but what can you do?

Breakfast: 120 mxn
More diving: $150
Dinner: 200 mxn
Drinks: 100 mxn

Meeting Mexico

Hotel breakfast is awesome, omelets cooked on demand while you point at ingredients (yes, of course there’s bacon!), a yogurt wagon with all sorts of stuff to put in like dried mango, pistachio nuts, fresh strawberries, seared peaches. The staff walks around offering coffee (only slightly disappointing) and freshly squeezed orange juice. It may be pricey, almost $20, but it sure is tasty and we leave questioning the need for ever eating again.

The flight to Cancun is uneventful but as we meet up with Karina at the airport we learn that we will have to wait for the rest of the group who were booked at a later flight before leaving for Playa del Carmen. Ah well, shit happens, more time to sow and cube…

The Mexican roads are concrete clad and rather nice actually, the scenery is uninspiring however and when we arrive in Playa del Carmen it’s already getting dark. Karina gets the info session out of the way and I decide to try and find a diving place to book some diving for the remaining two days here. Central Playa del Carmen is actually rather nice, despite being chock full of tourists, very clean as well – I have no trouble walking around barefoot. After a few blocks I happen upon Scuba Playa which seems like a rather trustworthy place since the first two questions I get are “When was your last dive?” and “How many dives do you have in total?”. So after a lot of questions and deliberation I booked a two dive package for the next day. I also talked to them about the possibility of doing a night dive for Saturday and sure enough, that shouldn’t be a problem.

The evening is wrapped up with some chicken tacos and a nice juice drink. I also look at a few Lucha Libre masks and get to know the names of a lot of the wrestlers. Each wrestler works out his own unique design, but usually varies the color of the mask for each fight. I end up buying an official Mexican football jersey though and even though I haggled the price down to half I suspect I was robbed…

Breakfast: $5 (plus $15 voucher)
Two dives – Cenotes: $129
Dive equipment rent: $20
Jersey: 700 mxn
Dinner: 130 mxn
ATM fees: 80 mxn