Thursday, March 13, 2008
I was up early again (7 am), and rather hungry since we ate early last night. Sue was sleeping peacefully, so I slipped over to the poolside restaurant to try one of their breakfasts. I decided on the one with the breakfast quesadilla, and wasn’t disappointed at all! The fresh OJ, and fruit with yogurt and granola were lovely, and the quesadilla was great, although more than I could eat! I noticed the resident iguanas sunning themselves nearby and snapped a few pictures.
It was soon time to head up to the room and gather my dive gear. The Aqua Adventures boat pulled up right on time. There was a couple already on board and we headed off to pick up a couple from Canada at a rental just south of Villa Rolandi. Then we headed south to the C58 dive site. On the way out, the couple who were already on board mentioned that they had done a pool refresher in Cancun the previous week; but before that it had been 8 years since they had done any diving. The other couple was from near Niagara Falls, and from the sounds of it were fairly regular divers and in cold water!
When we reached the site marker, Wilbert our DM, gave us a briefing, which included instructions about the strong current. ‘Back roll in, get to the bottom, stay with the group. If you lose the group, you have one minute to find the group. If you don’t find the group in one minute, go back to the surface. The boat will pick you up.’ Okay, this made me a bit nervous, but I really want to do this dive and I’m determined to give it my best try. Once over the side, I start my free descent and realize that I’m going to have to start swimming hard in order to keep up. This was the strongest current I’ve ever encountered, but I kept the Canadians in sight and made it to the bottom. We tuck in out of the current behind the wreck and I spent the next several minutes resting and getting my breathing slowed to a more reasonable rate. I realized at that point that the other couple hadn’t kept up with us and must have gone back to the surface. We started in to penetrate the wreck and were just inside when I spotted one of the largest barracuda I’d ever seen!! He must have been 6 feet long! It was interesting exploring the passages and compartments of the C58, but even inside the current was challenging when you went past openings. Along with the ‘cuda, there were a number of fish hanging out inside, including some rather large groupers.
We exited the ship near the stern and then poked along the lower edge on the side away from the current, back toward the bow. Just as we got back to where we had entered, Wilbert banged his tank and then rose up until he was hanging on to the edge of the deck. We followed suit and were blessed with the sight of three Giant Spotted Eagle Rays, hanging in the current, less than 20 feet away and just below us! I’ve seen them before, but never this close. And they just hung there, watching us as we watched them. This was a most amazing moment for me and one I’ll never forget. After what must have been close to five minutes, they started to drift away and out of sight. I was smiling so much I was at risk of flooding my mask!
Wilbert led us back down to the ocean floor to do more snooping around the base of the wreck. I checked my gauges and realized that I was at less than 900 lbs of air, so I got the DMs attention and he signaled for us to start the ascent to the safety stop. On the way up, we saw a couple more eagle rays…might have been the same ones, I’m not sure.
Back on the boat, our friends from San Francisco were waiting…disappointed that they hadn’t been able to reach the wreck. Apparently Susan had been under-weighted, which led to her not being able to descend properly for the conditions. I learned later that they reached 60’ and had to go back up. (More about that later.) They were interested in hearing about our dive though and anxious to get to the next reef dive!
As a side note: Remember that I mentioned a lack of any kind of fruit or food on the SI with Coral Divers, but that they had furnished water. So this time I had brought along a banana, but I was very surprised to discover that Aqua Adventures does not provide even water on the boat!! Fortunately, our friends from California had brought two large bottles and shared with the rest of us. When I commented to the others that I found this very odd, Susan said that she had been told by one of the management that ‘it costs too much’ to furnish water. Perhaps they should charge an extra dollar per diver, if their margins are that close. The moral of the story – live and learn, and bring your own water.
After about a 45 minute surface interval, we were rested and on our way to Manchones II reef. This was a beautiful, 30’ dive, planned for a bottom time of 40 minutes. There was very little current, so we could really relax and take our time. One of my first finds was a whole group of flamingo tongue snails, feasting on some soft coral branches. There were some large schools of fish, including the usual cast of characters found on the shallow reefs – trunkfish, porkfish, triggerfish, angelfish, snappers, blue tang, etc. I spent a lot of time snooping around peeking into tube sponges, in search of arrow crabs, but didn’t find any. I did spot another group of flamingo tongues though! We saw numerous lobsters, a few eels and even a nurse shark dozing under a coral ledge. I didn’t want this dive to end! All too soon, we got the signal to begin the safety stop. Our actual bottom time was about 46 minutes and when I checked my gauges at the surface, I still had 1600 lbs of air! Guess I really did relax on that one!
Everyone was in agreement that Manchones II was a fun dive and one we’d love to do again! We dropped off the Canadians at their rental, and the next stop was the marina at Villa Vera where I said my farewells. It was another good, if challenging, day of diving and I had some very interesting notes to put in my dive log.
I do feel compelled to make a couple comments here regarding my overall impression of diving with Aqua Adventures. First, I was very surprised that they would take divers who admittedly hadn’t dove in 8 years (aside from a pool refresher) on a 90’ dive in strong current. Yes, it is the diver’s responsibility to honestly assess their own skills and abilities, but the dive op also needs to consider the safety of the entire group. When they couldn’t make the descent and lost the group, they were just left to surface on their own, without a safety sausage or marker buoy. The rest of us followed the DM to the wreck, and for the rest of the dive we all stayed pretty close together. But I was continuously wondering if they were okay and had been safely picked up by the boat. I hate to think what might have happened had either of them gotten into any kind of trouble. And I would have been very uncomfortable had the DM needed to leave us to assist them.
I’m not faulting these divers for wanting to maximize their dives due to having limited recent opportunities. But I think they attempted too aggressive a dive for the first in so long. I know that when I don’t dive for even 8 months, I limit myself to shallow, easier dives to allow myself a chance to ‘re-tune’ my buoyancy and make sure I’m comfortable with my weighting, etc. I also don’t believe the best judgment was used on the part of the dive op to put them on this kind of dive for their first in so many years, without having had a chance to evaluate their skill and comfort levels on an easier dive first. It would have been a better experience for those folks, and a safer one for all of us. Enough said on that.
Sue was reading on the patio when I got back to the room and wanted to hear all about my morning. I filled her in as I rinsed and hung my gear, grabbed a quick shower and then it was time to head to the beach! We stopped in at Manana again, to make another attempt to get some new reading material for Sue. This time we were met with a much friendlier attitude, Sue found a book, and we were off to Sunset Grill! We found a couple available chairs and before we even had our bags set down and our towels out, Demetrio was there, asking if we wanted ‘dos Sols?’ When I said ‘sure’, he grinned and pulled them out from behind his back! Now THAT is great service! It was a fabulous afternoon, spent reading, sunning, taking dips in the water, and drinking ice cold cervesas. It just couldn’t have been any better. We hung out until about 5:30, before making our way back to the hotel.
Newt and Carna were at the pool, so we visited with them a bit before getting showered and ready for our last ‘big’ night on Isla. We agreed that Friday night would have to be a little more mellow, since we would be taking an early ferry on Saturday morning. For dinner, we decided to try Medina tacos again
The cute young couple from the room next door to us happened to be looking for someplace to eat, so we asked them to join us. Since they were leaving the next day, we said our goodbyes after another wonderful dinner of tacos, guac and chips. They had read about some place that featured Salsa music, so were off to find that. We wished them a good night and safe travels back to Pennsylvania. Sue and I did some browsing through some shops, stopped in at Miguel’s for one drink, and then wandered some more.
We spotted Newt and Carna (at the place that I can’t recall the name of) and sat down to chat with them while they finished their drinks. Adrian and I did a shot of Corallejo together, we chatted a bit, and when he found out we were from Minnesota, he pointed to another group and told us they were from MN too! Pretty soon, we were asked to join the other group and ended up spending the rest of the evening telling vacation stories and laughing (and drinking) until we decided it was time to call it a night.
As Sue and I made our way to the taxi stand, she asked me ‘what time is it anyway?’ When I looked at my watch, I just started laughing. Neither of us could believe it was after 3 am! Guess we made the most of our last Big Night!! And tomorrow is our last day...time to sleep and get ready to make it a good one too!