Mexico 2012 scuba diving & underwater photos

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On our July 2012 trip to Mexico, Playa Del Carmen me and Minna did some scuba diving on a few days.

I dived on 6 days, but Minna was able to do only the first and last day. On the very first dive she got a barotrauma to her left ear, and had to quit diving for a week. She was able to join me on the last day of diving. We had prebooked a 5 day package from Tank-Ha dive center, which included three 2 tank dives in the ocean at the local reefs of Playa Del Carmen, one 2 tank trip to Cozumel and a 2 tank Cenote trip. Minna was able to do only two days on local reefs. In addition to these, I did one tank afternoon dive with Scuba Caribe, which provided short scuba diving boat trips from the beach at front of our hotel the RIU Yucatan.

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For the local reef dives we had to take a taxi from our hotel to the Tank-Ha dive center, which is located on the 10th street between 5th and 10th avenues. The regulated taxi fare was 70 Pesos, but many times the driver wanted more, often 90 Pesos. Apparently dive shops are not allowed to provide transportation for customers to get from hotels to the dive shops nor back, I suppose the taxi drivers’ union is behind this rule. Taxi drive itslef took only 10 minutes, and we could get a taxi immediate to our hotel entrance, and also there were always taxis available in PDC at the corner of 10th st. and 5th ave.

At the dive center we kitted up at 8:30 am for the morning dives, donned wetsuits up to waist and then walked one block to the beach at the end of the 8th street. All heavy equipment was brought to the beach with a bicyle cart. There are no piers or jetties at the PDC beach for the diving boats, so we had to wade to the boat that was anchored at the beach, all equipment was carried on the should to the boat.

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At 9:00 the boat was ready to depart, and it took 10 to 15 min to reach the first dive site. The Tank-Ha boat could take up to 10 divers, but on my trips we had much less people, on a few dives just two customers and the guide. On the boat there were two boatmen. The first dive in the morning was to a deeper site, between 20 to 30 meters. With plain air you could only get less than 30 min of bottom time, and there were no shallow places to eco, so we had to ascend with SMB provided by the guide. After this we had a very short surface time, less than an hour, so we could only do a shallow dive, less than an hour. After the 2nd dive the boat was driven back to the beach, around noon. After that a walk back to Tank-Ha office and maintenance of equipment. I was able to be back at hotel for lunch at 1 PM. I was able to leave all my diving equipment at Tank-Ha to dry and into secure storage for the entire two weeks. Nothing was stolen. I had all my own personal equipment and did not rent anything. Minna rented a BCD and regulator. All the rental regulators had some small leaking in them, even the dive guide had slightly leaking equipment. Small leaks do not appear to be of any concern in Mexico. My own equipment I of course always keep in perfect condition, so that’s the reason I prefer to always take my own with me.

First day of diving, 1st July 2012

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On the very first dive me and Minna had too little weight on us, which turned out to cause a small disaster for us. I had asked 5 kg for Minna and 6 kg for me, which was what we had on our last tropical diving trip in Thailand. In Mexico they are using the metric system mostly, but in diving they appear to be using imperial pounds for scuba weights and PSI for tank pressure. So requests for 5 & 6 kg were translated to 10 & 12 lbs, which is wrong because the correct amounts are in fact 11 and 13.2 lbs. This shouldn’t have been a problem, since I thought we would have time on our first dive to check weighting, or if this wouldn’t work out, the dive guides usually have extra weight with them. Unfortunately we got a young and apparently very unexperienced dive guide on our first dive. There were also many customers on board, I think 8, and then the current was quite strong the ”Tortugas” site where we went. So no time to check weights, and we were expected to decend rapidly through the current. I was able to get below with some effort, but Minna was not able. In addition she always needa anyway a little extra time to equalize her sensitive ears. As most of the other customers had already desceded to the bottom at 20 meters, the current was raging, and we were still near surface and Minna trying desperatly to equalize her ears descend, the dive guide got really nervous. He started to drag Minna towards bottom by force. We later found out that this caused a severe barotrauma to her left ear, as she had no chance to equalize it properly. A barotrauma doesn’t show much symptoms underwater once it happens and you decend by force. There is some pain when it happend, but then the pain goes away. So we were able to do the first dive, however as both of us had too little weight, it was difficult in the end to maintain depth as the tanks got emptier.  Apparently the guide had no extra weight to spare. We could not do a proper safety stop, but nothing else bad happened on that dive and we did see many turtles at the bottom at around 25 to 20 meters. On this dive I used my Canon Ixus pocket camera, but was unable to take much pictures, and the ones I did get were bad. I did take my bigger camera to the boat, just in case, but decided soon after departing from the beach, that this was not the right time to use it.

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After the first dive Minna was feeling a little bad and dizzy because of the ear, but we decided to do the second dive nevertheless, since it was going to be much shallower and without current. We also got more weight, this time 12 lbs. for Minna and 14 lbs for me. These turned out to be just right for us. On the first dive I noticed that the rental regulator Minna had rented was leaking a small stream of bubbles from the octopus. I asked for anothet regulator for Minna, and they did have one spare on the boat. On the second dive I noitce that the spare one leaked just the same way too. The leak on both cases appeared to be due to a work out o-ring at the hose to 2nd stage connector. For the 2nd dive I made sure we could decend in peace and slowly with Minna, so she could equalize her ears with no hassle and harrasment. Nowwe managed to descend really nicely and Minna had no trouble this time. The 2nd dive has at a site called ”Barracudas”, which was a shallow reef at 10…5 meters, and no current. So it was a really nice and smooth dive.

2nd day of diving 2nd July

We were going to do a 2nd day of diving together, but Minna was complaining problems in her left ear during the breakfast. She could not hear propelry with it and it was ringing (also called tinnitus). So I decided to call DAN Europe diving emergency number for assistance, as we have diver’s insurance from DAN. I immediately got connected to a doctor and we consulted the situation over the phone. The doctors opinion was that Minna had a barotrauma in the ear, and should not go diving. Typically a barotrauma of the ear heals by itself in a few day in mild cases and in a few weeks is more severe cases.

So we decided that Minna should’t dive but she agreed that I should definitly go. At Tank-Ha office we explained the situation, and we got advice to visit the local hyperbaric clinic to visit a diving doctor. After explaining what happened, we also never saw the dive guide from of our 1st day ever again.

For the second day there were only me and an american guy as customers, and our dive guide Ivan. Ivan was my guide on all following PDC and Cenote dives, and he is very experienced and completely trustworthy dive guide.

As it was just three of us diving and I did not need to look after Minna, I decided to use the big camera on the 2nd day dives. The first dive was to a deep reef called Islote, at 28…24 meters. There was only a slight northbound current. The bottom was covered with mostly soft corals and barrel sponges, with lots of small fishes and the occational sea turtle. With a camera with big flashes I could actually get very colourful pictures of the corals. Without artificial light everything looked dull bluish grey, but in some of the best photographs you see a lot of beautiful colors. The deep dive could not last very long, since we were on plain air, Nitrox isn’t very common at PDC, so quite soon my dive computer was showing the end of no-deco time and we had to ascend. The 2nd dive was again to the Barracudas reef, but this time I got some pretty good pictures. On this reef we saw a few turtles, a sea horse and some schools of groupers, some eels lurking and there were some coral overhangs. Ivan was very good in pointing out all the interesting subjects to photographs. This was the first time I saw a big seahorse. All in all, these were nice and relaxing dives. The reefs were not anything spectacular, but quite OK.

Treating the Barotrauma

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After I got back from diving, Minna met me and we walked to the hyperbaric clinic on 10th avenue at 28th street. There we immediately got MD Renata Uribe to examine Minna. Dr. Renata Uribe had an impressive array of diplomas hanging on the walls, and she appeared to be a top-class specialist in diving & hyperbaric medicine. She immediately diagnosed the middle ear barotrauma on Minna’s ear, and she even had a video probe, on which she could show us both what the injured and uninjured ears looked like. Even a layman could see how the  eardrum had bulged out due to bloody fluid filling the middle ear, and the eardrum was less opaque than normal due to inflammation. Dr. Uribe explained that the barotrauma would heal by itself in a few weeks, but she would be able to accelerate the process with proper medication. Minna got a shot for relieving the inflammation and a prescription of medicines to speed speed up recovery. Minna was not to dive for next 3 days afer which we should return for a checkup to see how the healing had progressed. The visit cost us 800 Pesos, and the followup checkups would be not charged. This was a very reasonable price to pay for such expert medical care, however I expect that the DAN insurance will reimburse us the medical costs. The medicines cost us 300 Pesos at a local pharmacy.

After three days we returned for a check-up, but unfortunately there was still some swelling in the ear, and Dr. Uribe recommended that we should still wait a few days. We went back 2 day later, and then the doctor gave green light to go diving the next day. So Minna was able to join me for the last diving day of the trip.

We are very thankful for the excellent medical care we got from Dr. Renata Uribe.

Cozumel 9th July

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Tank-Ha is the only dive center in PDC that has permits to arrange direct boat trips to Cozumel, which is an island across the 20 km wide channel east of PDC. The channel between is about 600 m deep and a very strong current runs through it, the sea is quite rough when crossing the channel. Normally you would have to take the ferry from the PDC over to Cozumel and then drive to a boat there to get diving the reefs on west side of Cozumel. This can take many hourse and it will be in the afternnon when you finally get to dive, and it will be late evening when you get back from there. But Tank-Ha had arranged a big boat to pick up us from the PDC beach, which took us to the shore of Cozumel in less than an hour. So we got first dive started by 10 PM, second before noon, and got back to PDC by 2 PM.

The coral reefs on Cozumel side were certainly much better looking than on the PDC side. There were lot of hard coral and fish species you would not see on PDC side, much more variety and more fishes in general. Near the beach there is a plateau at 10…15 meters of depth and at the SW corner where we started the first dive there were coral bommies. A lot of the plateau towords north is sand withc some odd coral pinnacles here and there. After the plateau there is a hill sliding at 45 to 60 degree angle downwards. There they call it a wall, but in Red Sea terms it isn’t a real drop-off. The ”wall” is filled with coral of all kinds and really colorful. Unfortunately, at all times, my camera experienced one the 1st Cozumel dive a malfunction that has never happened before. The camera completely refused to operate when I had it at Manual. After some frustrated fiddling with the damn gadget, I found out that it did take pictures in full automatic mode. That was of little consolation, as the lighting conditions were such that fully automatic exposure did not work properly, it overexposed really badly. The issue had something to do with pressure, as I ascended to safety stop depth, the camera started to work properly again. I could never figure out what it was, as it hasn’t done the same thing again.

On the 2nd dive the camera worked properly, but the 2nd divesite was not as nice looking as the 1st one was, and since the 1st dive was to 24 m, we were on plain air and the surface inteval was quite short, and the bottom nearly 20 m even on 2nd dive, it was going to be quite short. No-deco time ran out long before air in the tank.

But, it was a nice experience to visit the reefs of Cozumel, and the Tank-Ha trip was nicely arranged and we had good guides. Probably if you came just for the diving, but not for the Cenotes, then Cozumel would be a far better place to stay than PDC. However, I still think that Red Sea, Thailand and Indonesia are far better places to dive than PDC or Cozumel. But then again, in Egypt there is nothing else but diving, and if you want to do anything else than diving then Egypt is not your place. At PDC there are plenty of interesting things to do besides just diving.

Afternoon dive with Scuba Caribe 10th July

At the beach in front of our hotel (RIU Yucatan) there operated a Scuba Caribe office,  which also seemed to provide scuba diving to local reefs. So I decided to try them out and on one afternoon went to an afternoon dive.  It was Tuesday so on their schedule for a 3 PM dive was ”Shallow Moxche”. Scuba Caribe provided mostly single tank boat dives. The good thing was that the boats departed  straight at the beach in front of the hotel. I suspect that most of the customers at this dive center are diving very infrequently so the dive sites are selected accordingly, the guides do a lot of looking after and the dives are probably quite short.

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As I had left most of my gear at the Tank-Ha for storage, I had to rent a BCD and regulator, and used my own fins, mask and shortie and wrist computer, and did take the small compact camera with me. The rental gear appeared to be in pretty good condition. Also on this beach there are no piers, so you need to walk though the water and climb onto the boat. The boats are quite small with no cabins. A boat ride to almost all of the sites is 10 to 15 min, and then back. On the trip that I took, there were only one other customer from my hotel, and a few others from the other RIU hotel next to us.

The site we dove was indeed quite shallow, 8 meters max, and there were almost as many guides around as customers. This was a very easygoing and relaxed dive, and in retrospect, our first dive with Minna should have been like this. I had asked for 14 lbs of lead, as this worked well with my own BCD. However the rental BCD was much more buoyant than my own, so this was slightly too little. The first half hour I could deal with it but at the end I asked for an extra pound of lead from the guide, who thankfully carried some extra. At the dive site we saw mostly soft & small fan corals, various smaller fishes, a sea horse, barracudas and moray eels. The dive went fine, but was much less than an hour, apparently someone in the group started to be low on air, so the guides took us back to surface. I would have had enough air to dive over an hour.

The single tank dive cost $49 USD and gear rental $18. If you reserve several dives in advance you can get a 10% discount. You could also leave your gear for storage at the Scuba Caribe office at the beach. Payment with credit card was OK, they charge you in Pesos at the daily exchange rate. They did want to check certification cards and there was the normal PADI paperwork to fill & sign.

Scuba Caribe is a big multinational corporation operating in several countries and locations within the Caribbean Sea resorts. They provide water sports activities to the big resort hotels, and scuba diving is but one the various activities.

Photos

On next pages are the underwater photos from the trip, excluding the Cenote dives which I showed in an earlier post. They are taken either with a Canon Ixus 980is compact camera, or with a Canon 7D DSLR with dual strobes.

I have grouped the pictures from different days on separate pages:

Either click the links above, or browse through the following pages –>

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