Yes, this is just one more in a long line of many Cozumel trip reports, but I know how much reading about diving and looking at underwater pictures makes bearable the days between dive vacations. So here goes - lots of images and some random neuron firings that you may enjoy.
I LOVE COZUMEL! There, I said it - well, I shouted it. I do; I do love Cozumel. Yes, there are other wonderful places to visit on dive vacations, but for convenience, bang for your dollars, and general all around quality of diving, you can't beat this place.
The Mayan Wind God, Kukulcan. During the winter months, Cozumel is periodically hit by storms characterized by a stong wind, out of the north - El Norte.
We left Los Angeles on Continental Airlines' "red-eye," changed planes in Houston, and arrived in San Miguel before lunchtime. After collecting our bags, successfully getting a green light in customs, taking an airport shuttle van, we arrived at the gates of Scuba Club Cozumel and were greeted by the lovely and gracious Sophia, "Welcome home." How sweet it is!
Sponges on Chankanaab Bolones
French grunts (Haemulon flavolineatum) and gray snappers (Lutjanus griseus, Las Palmas.
[On a side note, the main drag through town, Melgar, is all torn up. Someone said, "fresh paint before the presidential election." There is also a lot of activity at Plaza las Glorias, which is being totally renovated, soon to be reincarnated as the upscale Cozumel Palace. They seem to be making progress, but we will have to wait and see how long before she's done and the doors open for new guests.]
Flight 1937 (Aeroplanus continentalis)
Scuba Club Cozumel
After lunch, I made a quick trip to Cedraui (the Mexican equivalent of a Super Kmart) for some diet Cokes to put in our fridge and a bucket to use as a rinse tank for my underwater camera rig. By the time I got back, Joan and Paul had arrived from Nevada to join us. We unpacked, put together our dive gear, and walked the few steps down to the iron shore for a checkout dive. Unfortunately, I hadn't charged the strobes before leaving home and only one had any juice left, so this turned into a sightseeing dive rather than a picture-taking dive. It was too bad that my strobes weren't fully charged, because Deborah found a seahorse in the turtle grass and we swam with a spotted eagle ray for about twenty minutes. I wish I had some pictures to share, but you will have to take my word for it - hopefully, I will get some other opportunities in the coming days.
Christmas tree worm (Spirobranchus giganteus)
Jesus is my divemaster - José Jesús Zetina de Angel aka "el guapo".
Day 2 - My dear friend and dive master, Jesús asked where we wanted to go with the group of new divers sharing our boat. I thought about it for a second or two and suggested San Francisco Reef - not too deep, not too shallow, just right. The current was weak, but strong enough to carry us along without any swimming. [Visibility wasn't the advertised 100-foot plus, but certainly better than my last dive in California before coming on this trip - I found the bottom when I hit it!] Pairs of large gray angelfish swam together, in and out of the sponges. Several Splendid Toadfish were spotted in their holes, one of which was no bigger than a half dollar! Jesus pointed out a sleeping nurse shark and, later, a tiny pipefish on the sand. Our second dive was at Villa Blanca, to look for a couple of seahorses known to be there; we didn't find them. But, I was able to spot some little stuff - juvenile spotted drum, hermit crabs, etc. The post-nap afternoon shore dive delivered with a pistol shrimp hiding in corkscrew anemone, squat anemone shrimp, and anemone crabs. No seahorse or eagle ray today...maybe tomorrow.
Porkfish (Anisotremus virginicus)
Pistol shrimp aka red snapping shrimp (Alpheus armatus)
At dinner, we ran into Denis who we met here last January. He and Evelyn were down from Montreal for a break from the cold. It was wonderful seeing them and getting to share some more diving.
Blue chromis (Chromis cyanea)
Longsnout seahorse (Hippocampus reidi)
Day 3 - Sunny day, flat water. Would you believe two seahorses? I love Cozumel. Our first dive of the day was Palancar Caves which, as you know, has no caves - just swim throughs. The current was just right for floating along enjoying the drop off and looking at the groupers swimming parallel to the divers, just out of strobe range. After thirty minutes of swimming in and out of the reef, we ascended to the sandy shelf and Jesús started looking for seahorses. Meanwhile, I've got my eyes glued to the sand, trying to find nudibranchs. Sure enough, I found chacmol and swallow-tails and used stacked macro lens adapters to get these pictures. Jesus found the first seahorse of the day - a little one with its tail wrapped around a mermaid's cup. The second dive was back at Paradise Reef for a long, shallow dive over the reef and the inshore flats. Deborah found a cute golden moray eel in a coral formation. Here, Jesus pointed out the second seahorse of the day - a big one, up in a sponge. There are lots of flamingo tongues here and even a few with eggs. Then, we came upon a very nice splendid toadfish - endemic to Cozumel. The afternoon shore dive rewarded us with mantis shrimp, spotted cleaner shrimp, scorpionfish, and sharptailed eels hunting in the turtle grass. Lots to see and enjoy.
Swallow-tailed headshield (Chelidonura hirundinina) [Paul Humann mistakenly translates the Latin name as "Leech Headshield Slug" based on Hirudo = leech when he should have used Hirundo = swallow.]
Little red nudi (Gastropteron chacmol)
Day 4 - another beautiful day in paradise! The sun is shining; the ocean is flat; we're going diving; and everything is right in Heaven. The first dive site was Colombia Reef, a high profile coral reef with wonderful tunnels and buttresses to drift around before working up to the shallower reefs. Two turtles, one large and one small, graced us with their presence. Two large Southern Stingrays lay on the sand and allowed close approach. I wonder what they are thinking when looking in to their cat-eyes. The second dive was Tormentos with its huge single sand dune. Another seahorse? Ho hum...must the year of the horse. After many years of not seeing any seahorses in Cozumel, they are becoming quite common - or we are becoming better at finding them. To top it all off, Jesús showed us TWO fingerprint cyphomas, on one dive. I think all of the fingerprint cyphomas that I've seen have been on this reef. They are fairly rare in Cozumel. We skipped the afternoon shore dive in favor of a night dive. About six o'clock, we entered the water and slowly worked into the current. The parrotfish were sleeping in the rocks, crabs were out scurrying around, silver mojaras swam just off the bottom, and the rest of the night crew was just beginning to come out. We noticed a couple of reef squid who were attracted to Deborah's HID light and let me get close enough for a picture or two. Strangely enough, we didn't see any of the octopi that we normally see on a night dive here. I guess we'll have to do this dive again.
Fingerprint Cyphoma (Cyphoma signatum)
Reef squid (Sepioteuthis sepioidea)
Scuba Club Cozumel is a dive resort for divers. It's located about a mile south of the zócalo (central square) on the water. This is not your cookie-cutter Holiday Inn wannabe; each room is different, built in a Spanish style around courtyards filled with local plants and flowers. The rooms are all tiled, with air-conditioners, clock radios, and hair dryers. There are no phones or TVs in the rooms and I hope they never install them. On the other hand, they now have free wireless access in the bar area. The place is clean and they give you plenty of towels, twice a day! SCC is a semi-all-inclusive; drinks and tips are not included. Their packages are very economical and include room, meals, daily two-tank boat dives, and unlimited shore diving. If you are looking for some laid back diving, this is the place. The on-site dive operation is a PADI five star operation. They run on English time - not island time; 8:30 means 8:30! Tanks are Al-80s; they do have a few steel 95s for rent; and nitrox is available for a fee. The boats are roomy, reasonably fast, shaded, have heads, and are equipped with radios, oxygen and emergency kits. The food is very good, with a breakfast buffet, lunch specials/menu, and a choice two dinner entrees. They also offer meals for vegetarian or special diets. I can't say enough nice things about the staff, most of who have been at SCC for many, many years; they are friendly, helpful and gracious. Many of the guests return to SCC year after year.
Trumpetfish (Autostomis maculates) taken on a shore-dive in front of SCC
Day 5 - After hearing about the bad weather they had here last week, I'm holding my breath as we have had nothing but stupendous conditions. Is there a voodoo doll that works against el Nortes and Kukulcan? I want to buy one. Chankanaab Bolones is the home of the rare submarinefish; the only place it is found in Cozumel. As in previous years, we spotted it while swimming from coral head to coral head. This one had a bellyful of poor pod people - waving and signaling with camera flashes - oh, the humanity. The poor submarinefish must not be feeling well because we later saw it on the surface regurgitating its last meal into a boat.
Angels? Did someone say angels?
French angelfish (Pomacanthus paru)
Gray angelfish (Pomacanthus arcuatus)
Juvenile Queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris)
After a suitable surface interval, we dropped on Chankanaab Reef itself and were carried along by a moderate current. There are lots of big lobsters hiding under the ledges and wonderful schools of colorful grunts among the sea rods, corals, and sponges. A small school of horse-eye jacks swam in formation just off the edge of the reef. At the end of the dive, Jesús pointed out a large barracuda at a cleaning station with a large permit; I blew the settings on my camera and washed out the fish with too much strobe. That's the problem with shooting in manual mode, you sometimes only get one chance at a picture - better luck next time. Deborah took a nap after lunch so I did my shore dive solo con dios and poked under the pier looking for macro subjects: shrimp, crabs, blennies, etc. I also found a chain moray sharing a hole with a spotted moray eel and got a very nice picture:
"Buddies" - Spotted moray (Gymnothorax funebris) and chain moray (Echidna catenata)
"Three amigos" - Carribean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus)
Deborah (Mysweetie honey) with her lobster gauge - Sorry, it's a no take zone, Deb!
Where are all the eagle rays? We've only seen a couple. Normally at this time of year, we see them on every dive.
Currents have been mild and consistently running in the normal direction, much better than what we experienced in August when the currents were much stronger and constantly changing direction. The water is colder, 79 Suunto degrees, compared to the 84 degrees we had in the summer. I don't know if it's because I'm getting older but I find I get cold more easily than I used to. I'm wearing my 3mm wetsuit with a hooded vest for added comfort. Deborah is layered up like a British explorer in Antarctica and is still getting chilled. Of course almost four hours a day in the water doesn't help.
Crabs? Did someone say crabs?
Channel clinging crab (Mithrax forceps)
Ole blue eyes, stareye hermit (Dardanus venosus)
Anemone crab aka banded clinging crab (Mitrax cinctimanus)
Rough boxcrab (Calappa gallus)
Yellowline arrow crab (Stenorhynchus seticornis)
Day 6 - Today, we were six - Tom and Denise from Alaska joined us. Dalila Reef was calling to us and did not disappoint. A high profile reef on a sandy bottom, Dalila is home to lots and lots of fish. For some reason, the fish always seem to be feeding and are pretty nonchalant about getting their pictures taken. Skittish Queen Angelfish are easier to approach. We had ascended for our safety stop when Jesús made the underwater sign for shark and pointed down at the edge of the reef. I checked my gauges - saw that I had plenty of air and some NDL time - and swam down for a look-see. The nurse shark was huge, longer than I am. On its side was a shark sucker. Even with the wide-angle lens, I couldn't get the whole fish in the viewfinder. At one point it turned around and let me take a nice head shot. I waved, good-bye, and rose back up to 15 feet to finish the previously interrupted safety stop.
Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)
Shark sucker (Echeneis naucrates)
The second dive was on Yucab, a low profile reef with lots of holes and under-hangs for lobsters, crabs, and glassy sweepers. This is the season for the Ocean Triggerfish to breed. I was able to take a picture of a school of them waiting at a cleaning station for one sole Spanish hogfish to give them the once over. The afternoon shore dive was pretty quiet; we swam out from shore to the edge of the drop-off. There used to be lots of small sponges and little coral heads filled with juvenile fish, but most of them are gone now. I hope this isn't the result of any pollution from the cruise ships or run-off from the island. Deborah pointed out a brown mantis shrimp out hunting. When we got back to shore, a snorkeler asked if we had seen the eagle ray that was swimming under the pier. Drat, we missed him; I wonder if he was the same one we saw on the first day.
Queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris) with whitespotted filefish (Cantherhines macrocerus)
Cleaning station - in a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship, some shrimp and fish are cleaners to other species, eating the parasites that plague them. Here, you can see the Spanish hogfish giving an ocean triggerfish the once over. Ocean triggerfish (Canthidermis sufflamen) & Spanish hogfish (Bodianus rufus)
NIMBY (not in my backyard) - Nine nine cruise ships were in port today. IMHO, the pod people aren't good for Cozumel. They don't stay in the hotels; they don't eat in the restaurants; they don't dive; they do buy some cheap souvenirs and pay port fees to the government but not much of that money trickles down to the people. As I've said before, pod people: newly weds, over-feds, and nearly-deads. I guess they help to feed the taxi drivers' families and pump some dollars into the local economy. How much damage is done to the reefs from the discharge of gray water from these behemoths while in port? I do hope they have holding tanks for the other wastes; they do, don't they? Is anyone up for a wreck dive, a big wreck?
After I posted a previous trip report, someone asked, "what are pod people?" DocVikingo posted an answer that I cannot improve upon, so I'm going to quote him here:
"In short, it's a pot-bellied, pasty-complected individual looking at their umpteenth Breitling watch at their umpteenth port-of-call not realizing they can get one cheaper back home. A lemming-geek in garish shorts & a T-shirt emblazoned with a frog wearing a sombrero & the words, "I'm so happy I could fart" or "I'm not pregnant. I just swallowed a watermelon," hassling the waiter at La Cocay about if the safety of the ice cubes & if the soup really contains cat meat. A foot-shuffling, slope-shouldered dweeb, often with sullen, muling children in tow, engaging in their twisted view of bargaining for a $30 Cuban cigar that actually was made from the foliage growing in the vacant lot next to Casa Loco and cost the store $0.05. A grinning buffoon who, when confronted with language problems in locating the miniature golf course or jungle tours office, responds by raising his voice several decibels & adding "o" to every word. A namby-pamby, nebbish-like dullard wearing Lederhosen and knee-high black socks being hectored by a souse to buy mariachis as grandmother's Chanukah gift. A goober, believing all the poppycock about the dangers of Cozumel promulgated by their cruise ship social director, who, upon finding himself a few blocks off the plaza, immediately approaches you for safety in numbers, wanting to know if you'd like to share a taxi back to the ship."
I tried out stacked macro lens adapters on this trip. It's tricky to get the littlest subject in focus, but when it works, it works great:
Blenny (Acanthemblemaria sp.)
Squat anemone shrimp (Thor abioinensis)
Spotted cleaner shrimp (Periclimenes yucatanicus)
The most dangerous fish in Cozumel, the dreaded Sargent Major! Come close to the male's nest and he will attack even the biggest diver. Pound for pound, more vicious than a junkyard dog! Sargent Major (Abudefduf saxatilis)
Sargent major eggs! You gotta love those stacked macro lens adapters. Does anyone make underwater microscopes?
This little guy is almost impossible to photograph - shy, quick, and elusive. Add, to that the shutter lag inherit in digital cameras and this is a Hail Mary picture. Juvenile yellowtail damselfish (Microspathodon chrysurus)
Day 7 - Ho, hum, another day in paradise. La Francesa is an easy reef with no drop off. The ocean side of the reef is full of undercuts where the occasional shark or moray eel is sometimes found. An eagle ray soared over the sand, but too far for any chance at a picture.
Here I am, minding my own business, drifting down the reef taking wide angle shots on La Francesa, when I look down and, there on the sand, is a nudibranch, Thuridilla picta! Do you know how fast I can take off a wide-angle-lens adapter, put on two macro lens adapters, readjust the strobe arms, change the strobe settings, and go to the "My Mode" for macro, take a picture, and still catch up with the dive master? Let's just say, fast!
Painted Thuridilla (Thuridilla picta). No, it's not plastic!
My friend Judy makes glass beads, many with ocean themes. Jujeebeads.com. Here's her glass version of T. picta:
La Palma flats was the second dive. We poked around the coral heads and sponges looking for splendid toadfish, eels, lobsters, etc. The stoplight parrotfish were feeding in schools across the bottom. Jesús found two large groupers, noses into the current and one was patient enough with this bubble-blowing diver to let me get close enough for a wide-angle picture. The afternoon shore dive was macro-city, squat anemone shrimp, spotted cleaner shrimp, arrow crabs, and a nervous eel. When I got out of the water, I ran into a fellow dark-sider, Gary, who posts on www.digitaldiver.net! It's a small world.
Feeding stoplight parrotfish (Sparisoma viride)
Rough fileclam (Lima scabra) Can you spot the rusty goby (Priolepis hipoliti)?
Day 8 - Kukulcan is angry! EL NORTE, the dreaded North wind has caught up with us, at last. The past week was just beautiful, warm, no wind, flat seas. Last night, our luck ran out and the wind moved around to the NNW, bringing on-shore, cool winds. The normally tranquil sea is now all churned up with lots of whitecaps. Jesús is ill today, so we are diving with Manuel (called "free Willie" by his friends, Manuel is a great DM who loves to dive and is great at finding and pointing out creatures). Despite the rough conditions, we were able to go out this morning and dove Santa Rosa Wall. This can be a very dangerous dive site when the currents are strong and variable, but today was fantastic - great vis, moderate current, and few divers. We did several nice swim throughs, in and out of the reef before moving up onto the sand flats on top of the reef. Here we found a slipper lobster out walking around and a large turtle, too busy eating to worry about this photographer. Our DM asked us for our remaining air pressure, nodded at the answers, and moved off to the next set of low coral. He signed that this was a place to look for free-swimming nurse sharks. I guess he knew his business because we saw two of them in quick succession. After an hour surface interval, we arrived at La Palma. Just like yesterday, we poked around the flat sandy area, swimming from coral head to coral head, looking under the ledges, and marveling at the numbers and variety of fish. I skipped my usual afternoon dive in favor of a nap - it's just too rough for shore diving today; the waves are breaking over the wall.
Splendid toadfish (Sanopus splendidus)
Tiger grouper (Mycteroperca tigris)
El Norte; El Norte; go away; come again some other day! It's raining!
Sunday is the presidential election in Mexico - no takeout alcohol sales!
Spanish lobster (Scyllarides aequinoctialis)
Hawksbill turtle eating (Eretmochelys imbriocota)
Day 9 - Despite the strong winds and whitecaps, it's a "go" for diving. Dalila Wall is on the deep side of Dalila Reef. It's a rolling reef with long hills covered in sponges and corals. The drop-off isn't dived often; most boats drop their divers on the shallower part of the reef. Manuel started banging on his tank and waving wildly shortly into the dive - free swimming green moray! This was followed by an eagle ray cruising down the reef. A nurse shark slept between two coral heads, and a couple of turtles put in an appearance. A great start to a great day. San Francisco Reef was great as always and got better at the end when we found two eagle rays feeding on the sand and fairly comfortable with an audience. Maybe we should dive during an El Norte more often. The afternoon shore dive was a slow circuit of all the artificial reefs in front of SCC looking for macro subjects.
Green moray (Gymnothorax funebris)
Eagle ray (Aetobatis narinari)
Bill, Diana, Jim and Rosemary have joined us on our dives, nice people and good divers.
Day 10 - What a difference a day makes. The wind has died and the ocean is flat, flat, flat. Punta Tunich is one of my favorite dive sites. This reef is just offshore from a rocky point, midway down the island. The currents are usually strong here and any fish navigating the shore must pass close by. Today the current was gentle and we got to poke into holes and take it easy along the reef. A couple of turtles and a seahorse were the highlight of the dive. Chankanaab Bolones was a repeat from previously in the vacation. We encountered the submarinefish again as we rounded one of the coral heads. Big lobsters were out walking around, crabs hid in the caves and recesses, and a large eagle ray soared past the awestruck divers. The afternoon shore dive was great for some macro photography. Deborah found a chain moray and a viper moray in the same hole, but they were too deep for my strobes to penetrate for a picture.
Submarinefish (Sinkus podpersoni)
"Synchronicity" - two juvenile spotted drums (Equetus punctatus)
Day 11 - Today, we went to the far South to dive the pinnacles at Colombia Deep. The current was just right for a gentle drift around the apartment house size coral buttresses. On the shallower side of the reef were at least six turtles, schools of fish, and, on the sand, the little red nudibranch - Gastropteron chacmol. The second dive was supposed to be on Paso del Cedral, but when we got in the water, we found the current running the "wrong way" and did Dalila backwards. Under one ledge, a green moray eel, a shark, and a big lobster! Two black groupers followed a free-swimming nurse shark over the low hills. Can we do this dive again, please?
Queen angelfish (Holocanthus ciliaris)
Peacock flouder (Bothus lunatus)
Day 12 - Santa Rosa Wall was a repeat of a previous dive we did last week. At one point, Jesús signaled frantically - a big green moray eel was actively hunting a porkfish, swimming in and out of the reef, followed by two large groupers intent upon picking off any inattentive little fish that might be scared up by the commotion. As we moved up onto the sandy shelf, Deborah pointed out a two-foot long nurse shark under a ledge. She then found a little swallowtail nudi on the sand. At Villa Blanca, Jesús pointed out a black and white seahorse - I, of course, had my wide-angle lens on and had to change the lens adapter and settings before I could take any pictures. At the end of the dive, a large eagle ray entertained us for about twenty minutes, feeding in the sand, swinging around, and coming back to do it all over again; smiles all around. Our afternoon shore dive was along the wall to the north. We normally dive to the south, into the current, but today the current was very light and we poked along the ironshore before heading out to the eel grass. A web burrfish proved to be too shy for me to take a picture - unless I wanted fish butt. Deborah pointed out a banded cleaner shrimp carrying eggs.
Black grouper (Mycteroperca bonaci)
Longsnout seahorse (Hippocanthus reidi) with a black face
Day 13 - Today is Chinese New Year - Gung hey fat choy - it's the year of the rooster. They don't have roosterfish here, do they? In a double header, we did two parts of Paso del Cedral, first the wall and then the reef itself. The current was very mild and visibility was over 100 feet. There were lots of fish feeding on the wall, but not much action out in the blue. On the second dive, we saw eagle rays at the beginning and end of the dive. There were large, colorful schools of grunts and porkfish on the reef. I asked another diver on the boat, Jim, "Do porkfish taste like pork?" "No," Jim said, "they taste like chicken." For our shore dive, we went straight out from the shore to the edge of the drop-off where a large midnight parrotfish tantalizingly stayed out of camera range.
Intermediate stage French angelfish (Pomacanthus paru)
Coney (Cephalopholis fulvus) - bicolor phase
Day 14 - A little windy this am - out of the north, but not like last week. It's sunny and another beautiful day in the neighborhood. Chankanaab Bolones was our choice for the first dive. I spent most of the dive doing wide-angle photography, trying to capture some nice images with the red sponges that grow here. Our last and final dive of the trip was on the shallow flats inshore of Paradise Reef. This place could be rightly called Flamingo Tongue Flats; they are everywhere. Too soon, Jesús signaled for us to ascend. The dive gear is drying all over the place, soon to be packed for our departure tomorrow. At dusk, El Norte started to blow hard - Kukulcan must be upset that we have to go home; I know I am.
Flamingo tongue (Cyphoma gibbosum)
School of Boga (Inermia vittata)
Day 15 - Our last day in Paradise. There are whitecaps everywhere and the waves are breaking over the wall. The harbor is open, but they are only sending out the bigger boats.
It was another wonderful visit to Cozumel. The weather cooperated most of the time; we enjoyed some great diving with friends, new and old; and I'm looking forward to our return visit in August.
Y'all come back soon, you hear? Splendid toadfish (Sanopus splendidus)
I LOVE COZUMEL!
Some useful links:
Scuba Club Cozumel
Debbie Lanham, dive travel agent extraordinaire - firstname.lastname@example.org
My Web Page
All pictures taken with an Olympus c5050 in an Olympus PT-015 housing, dual Ikelite DS-125 strobes, manual controllers, WAL and macro lens adapters.
From the Mayan codex Rios: "...They said that he who was born on the first sign of Air (Wind) would be healthy by his nativity...."