Cozumel, Mexico

Posted: February 20th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: deardiary, travel | Tags: , | No Comments »

I originally wrote this while in Mexico last month, but I never published it… I intended to illustrate it with photos but as I don’t know if I’ll get around to doing that I guess I’ll just hit publish and be done with it!

January 28th, 2012

The diving is superb, but the town shows the strain of hosting the cruise industry. Cozumel is a small island, about a 30 minute high speed ferry ride away from Playa Del Carmen on the mainland of the Yucatan peninsula. I’ve come here to dive, but between dives there’s lots of time to spend exploring the island and ruminating on my thoughts.

Cozumel hosts cruise ships, I can’t believe how many ships dock here everyday. I picture the Caribbean sea as swarming with these enormous floating cities, plodding their way though an unmarked but well trodden highway in the water. Everyday, except Sunday as far as I can see, brings at least 3 and sometimes more cruise ships into the port of Cozumel. Something like 15,000 visitors who will stay a single day and be gone by 6pm in time for departure to the next Caribbean port waiting to sell them slightly different trinkets and expensive brand name gear identical to what they can get at home in Canada, the USA, or Europe, perhaps for less money.

Despite my griping, I’m sure the local citizens are happy to host these transient guests, they bring a seriously huge amount of money to an island who otherwise would have to depend on the money brought in by scuba diving tourists, who spend their money on the next tank of air rather than Mexican silver bracelets, rings, diamonds, and expensive watches.

The local satisfaction with this state of affairs notwithstanding, the huge infrastructure built up for these visitors which are gone by sunset makes the downtown of Cozumel feel like a ghost town at night. There are quite a few non-package tourists on the island, mostly staying in hotels in town or in super budget accommodation like my own, going to sleep early to dive the next morning… which also contributes to the ghostly’ness of the town at night. I think, minus the cruise infrastructure this would work, but the overall relaxed vibe of divers and the frenetic activity of the cruise passengers makes Cozumel feel like an unsettled place, unable to find it’s real groove.

I, unsurprisingly, was here to dive. The reefs around Cozumel are some of the best in the world, fed with a steady current that whips around the island, keeps the water temperature constant, and helps prevent the depredations of runoff and temperature change which are rapidly killing coral reefs around the world. During my 4 days of diving these reefs I’ve seen (numerous times) nurse sharks, sea turtles, octopus, rays of many sizes, trumpet fish, lobster, crabs, drummers, and countless other fish I don’t really know the names for.

Apparently someone stupidly introduced Lionfish to cozumel, a fish I’ve seen many times while diving in Thailand but one that lacks any natural predators in the Caribbean. The reefs around Cozumel are actually a national park, protected from fishing and probably more lucrative as a tourist destination, but for the Lionfish the park authority has decided to let the dive masters working the reef everyday take on the job of natural predator. It was on one dive where we saw three Lionfish that we had a really cool experience with a nurse shark – after having fed the first Lionfish to some grouper hanging around our divemaster decided to keep the last one in his pocket.

As we were getting close to the end of our dive, I was in fact just about ready to start my safety stop, a nurse shark swam up to ask our dive master for the tasty fish in his pocket. In case you don’t know, a nurse shark is a pretty tame shark, this one was about the size of a medium sized terrier and pretty much acted just like a puppy who wanted to play and smelled a treat in your pocket. This nurse shark hung around, swimming up to each of us and generally distracting us all as we tried to maintain an even depth of between 3 and 6 meters before surfacing. Even after he was fed he stuck with us, perhaps convinced that we were holding out on him, but eventually we all surfaced and he lost interest. In the end, we spent a good 10 minutes hanging out with the shark, it was perhaps the best experience of a solid run of great dives I had on the island.

Cozumel has been great, despite its conflicted personality, and it does seem to satisfy both the divers and the cruise passengers (not to mention the package tourists, but they really don’t spend lots of time in town anyways), and in the end it was a much needed mini-break for me before my big travel which should be starting in June/July of this year. I’ve had great dives, a ton of sun, and am ready to return to the frozen north… not to mention excited to finally see Pipes again when she returns from her adventure in Thailand.

Leave a Reply