Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Reef diving in Cancun

As the time for our next visit to Playa del Carmen draws closer I begin thinking of going for a dive in Cancun again.

Quite a few years ago we had met Lisa and Jesus. Lisa had just retired from the U.S. military (I think that was it) and they were heading down to Cancun to open a dive business since both she and her husband Jesus are certified divers.

I had never in my life even snorkeled but I have always loved to swim under water so when we were planning our trip to Playa del Carmen in 2006 I connected with Lisa and arranged to go diving. They start us off with a training lesson in a swimming pool making sure I understood how all the equipment works, know the hand signals and that I was totally comfortable before we went out in the boat. We went out to the reefs just off of Cancun and next thing you know, in the water we went - sitting on the side of the boat and flipping over backwards into the water - which really isn't hard to do once you realise how much those tanks on your back actually weigh! Then it's down we go following along a rope to the bottom - about 30 - 35 feet down. I still felt comfortable as I could look up and see the surface and the sunlight.

It was such an experience to be down there with fish all around - not zipping away as we approached never to return, but just casually moving far enough away for them to feel safe. I was really surprised that the fish didn't just disappear when we got too close but they didn't. On my first dive we saw a sea turtle - that was really cool - how graceful they look gliding through the water. We also played with a puffer fish and found a rock fish - but of course

we gave him lots of room as he has poisonous spines on his back and if you step on him you're in trouble! The colors of the fish are so vibrant - it would be wonderful to live in a big, open tropical house and fill it with the colors of the reef and the fish inhabiting it.

The vegetation on the sea floor was very interesting. Although you would see large, fan type plants flowing back and forth with the current looking very frail and delicate, it was surprising when you gently touched it to feel that it was quite coarse and rough. Then there were the fern type plants that truly were as soft and pliant as they looked. There were also huge brain coral and these are like a rough, sharp rock - I know because a current I wasn't expecting pushed me right into it so I now have a little scar to remind me of that dive.

It's easy to move along the reef once you coordinate yourself with the current in the water - it sort of feels like, one step forward, two steps back, so a see sawing type of movement through the water. The first time I dove it was a calm day and the water was so clear that my husband, who went out in the boat but didn't dive, could see us moving along the sea floor. However the next time I was in Playa and decided to go diving it was very windy and we weren't sure the boats were going to be allowed out of the harbour. We did eventually get out for a dive which was another fun experience although the wind caused the ocean to be more wavy which in turn stirs up everything on the sea floor so the distance of visibility was much reduced this time.

I have been comtemplating a cenote dive (diving in one of the many underground caverns that have water flowing through them) but I don't think I'm up for that. I like having the security of being able to look up and see the surface and daylight.

Another option would be a night dive. That could be interesting. I was speaking with someone who had done this and they said it was really cool. You go out with a flashlight and as you're swimming around all the sudden your light will pick up a fish and you'll see these little red eyes looking at you. Hmmm. I'm going to have to ponder this a while longer cause I'm thinking I could get a claustrophobic type of feeling - being surrounded by nothing but blackness. Perhaps after a few more dives I would feel more adventuresome.

Another type of dive that Lisa and Jesus have done is to dive with whale sharks - very HUGE fish but for this type of diving you have to go deeper and I believe have to be certified first. Maybe if I lived in a location where I was diving more than once every year or two I might consider getting certified and going deeper but for now I think I'll just stick with my reef diving. I really enjoy it and am quite comfortable doing it so why mess with a good thing?

PS:  Want to come play in Playa del Carmen?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Roadside treats to temp you

I love this picture - it brings back such great memories. This is the trip we took from Playa del Carmen to Bacalar with my brother, Shawn and sister-in-law, Suzanne (who by the way have the great fortune of living in Playa del Carmen - so make great tour guides for us) . Bacalar is closer to the Belize border and it's a beautiful, restful little Mexican town with a magnificent lake.

This gentleman has a wonderful nut stand set up on the side of the road. It is incredible. Some of the nuts are sugar coated, others are just natural, some we've never had before. The lower part of his display is made up of bags of all the empty shells - it makes a great stand for his product! He would give us a sample of anything we wanted to try before we made our purchases. We had great fun sampling, visiting with him and then selecting a bunch of different munchies to keep us happy as we carried on to the lake.

The journey to Bacalar takes you past quite a few typical little Mexican towns and along the highway they have put wide speed bumps to slow the cars while they travel through the populated areas. At every one of these slow downs the locals will be standing at the side with treats to temp you. They will hold up their offerings - sometimes it's whole Pinas (huge, ripe, juicy pineapples the likes you'll never see up north and for around $2 - $3 US!), sometimes it's bags of peeled and sliced fruits ready for eating. So if you're in the mood for a snack you can either just open your window and do business or pull over, have a chat and make a more selective choice. We picked up a pineapple to enjoy at the lake the next day.

We arrive at the lake not knowing what to expect and our breath was taken away. The colors are unbelievable! My brother and his wife always come to this little hotel and now we understand why. I'll give you an idea of the value of this hotel - when we were there in 2008 we had an air conditioned room (with this view), a microwave and mini fridge, for only $50 US per night. Had we opted not to have air conditioning (just a ceiling fan) it would only have been $40 US a night!

This lake is so warm. I have never been in a warm lake before. It is like stepping into a warm bath - a very different experience for me. I'm used to having to slowly work my way in as my body numbs to the water temperature - so what a treat this is!

In the evening we took a stroll in the center square; seems every Mexican town has one. The people all congregate in the square in the evenings to visit and have an ice cream (which is what we did) or just socialize and relax at the end of the day, enjoying the cool evening air.

At 8 am the next morning we are back in the lake and it is still warm - amazing! I could really get used to this. Remember that pineapple we bought on the side of the road on the way down - well guess what we had for breakfast while standing neck deep in water - you guessed it - fresh, juicy pineapple! Shawn took a nice sharp knife and sat under this palapa at the end of the wharf and fed us fresh pineapple. Of course we didn't realize we would be up to our necks until we actually got out to where he was. Don't think I've ever had breakfast in such an unusual manner before.

Our visit to Bacalar, this time was short and sweet but it is definitely something we look forward to doing again and often. Hopefully the future visits will be for a longer period of time as I look forward to wandering about the town exploring and meeting the people who live here. Until then I have my pictures and my memories to remind me of this lovely part of the world.

PS:  Want to come play in Playa del Carmen?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Mayan Ruins abound

One of the fun adventures we have had in the Playa del Carmen area has been to visit some of the many ruins in the nearby areas. There are ruins in Tulum and Coba and I'm sure there are others we will discover on our future visits to Playa. It's an incredible way to spend the day as you wander along a path through the wilderness and then suddenly turn a corner and encounter a large open area with many ruins waiting to be explored. Pack a snack, wear a good pair of walking shoes, take a hat and your water bottle and off you go. Some of the locations offer a guide who will tell you the history of the area as you walk along or you can spend the day wandering and discovering on your own. At some of the ruins you can rent a bicycle and enjoy the area on wheels. Quite often there are sign markers giving you some history about the surrounding ruins. I believe it is still okay to climb among some of the ruins although I have heard people saying that you can not. You may want to research this before you go so if you want to climb to the top of a pyramid you won't be disappointed when you get there and find out that you cannot climb them. The nationals have been working diligently to recover the ruins from the jungle and reconstruct them in their original design. As you can see from the pictures there are a lot of ruins in any given area and we never encountered "crowds" of people.

PS:  Want to come play in Playa del Carmen?