What a day: two boat dives and a night dive!
This morning we dove Palanchar Caves. The DM did a great brief, took us aside for special instruction/encouragement. His name is Gueyser, "You know... like Yellowstone," he told us. The dive was to 80 feet (perhaps more) but if that wasn't comfortable, I could stay above the coral and follow along. Another diver saw me looking at the Dive Cozumel book for our site, and came over to chat. Looking down from the boat the beautiful blue water seemed just a few feet above a sandy bottom. "That's 60 feet right there," he said, Impossible!
The staff on the boat are really helpful and do just about everything/anything for you. (A girl could get used to this!)
Once the boat stops on location, you get in and get down fast, because the currents are strong. A quick giant stride off the boat plunged me into the most crystal clear blue water I've ever seen. (Thanks to Scot for reminding me to tuck my light into my cummerbund so I didn't get smacked in the face by it.) A quick bob up to give the DM the OK sign, and then down you go to the sandy shallow, about 40 feet. From there you go weaving through the tall coral formations, going down, down, down. While there are some pass throughs, they were large. Keeping a close eye on my data, I was surprised at how quickly you can gain depth and not really know if you aren't paying attention. Through it all I felt calm, confident and just incredibly excited to be there! My ears seemed to take care of themselves for the most part, although I did have to come up a bit once. Mask squeeze was more of an issue to manage than equalizing.
This was WILD. So much on either side of you, it is total sensory overload. So many shapes, and colors, and things living so close together that are clearly separate, yet connected, entities. On top of them is the community of critters. AND you are being whisked by them with little hope of stopping unless it's at just the right point where you are protected. Kris, Scot and I were a threesome, and we all stayed close together as we followed along. We came through to another sandy spot, and the DM called me over. I was doing pretty well with my buoyancy, but as we'd gotten deeper I was a bit off. He gave my BCD a good pump and it was perfect. We went back between the formations, and then out the other side to... the wall. I went out over the blackness. It was incredible! There was more wall below to explore but I felt that 87 ft was enough, and the current is stronger there; some others in our party were deeper. The coral formations were behind me, under me was 1500 feet of water that faded quickly into blackness, and the 87 feet of beautiful blue water above me. I did a good 360 in both directions to take it in, and then followed the group into the next path to get out of the current.
It was like floating in outer space. A more awe inspiring moment... I simply cannot comprehend. At that moment, I felt so incredibly, infinitesimally small... and yet more alive than I have ever felt.
Back between the formations we went. We were cruising along, and slowing down to look at a beautiful deep purple coral right at eye level, I came to a bit of a break in the coral, a channel perpendicular to our path. The group was banking left, down and curving to the right, and if I had continued with momentum, I would have been fine. But, I had slowed. The cross current struck me noticeably, and just whisked me right up and out of there. I tried to find a weaker spot of current to swim against to return, to no avail. My only concern was Scot; he was close behind me but still a bend behind, and thus wouldn't likely see me being blown off course, and if he passed that little channel and didn't look far up to the left, he'd never see me.
Aside from worrying about HIM worrying, though, I had no worries. I knew what to do without thinking about it. Swimming across the current to find an easier road, I kept my eye on the bubbles that seemed to emerge from the coral itself; the formations were so overlapped no divers could be seen. The bubbles formed a distributed curtain of shimmering light as the were pushed by the current.
I had no worries; I knew where the surface was, and had no technical or emotional difficulties. We were headed toward the shallows, too, away from the wall, which helped. Once I saw my DM and group emerge, they spotted me about 100 feet away and 20 feet above. I finned like I'd never thought possible to beat the current and get down to reunite with them. Funny thing is, exertion like that under water doesn't seem to tire me the way things on land does. Scot had spent a few moments, and quite a bit of air, trying to locate me, so he was low. Once reunited, we were sent back up together. We did our safety stop, and then headed for the surface.
Back on the boat and off we went to Yucab Reef. A much shallower dive, in much more gentle currents, this was actually more enjoyable because you could pause to look closely. We saw so many things... a seahorse, a nurse shark, a very large ray and a plethora of coral, invertebrates and fish large and small that I couldn't list in a 100 page volume. More time to see things, more ability to stop and gently fin against the current, and just a gentle rise and fall of the bottom to a max of 50 ft.
AWESOME. The time flies by. Looking down at my air I see 800 psi. Crap! Time to go up at 750. Scot and I are equal air hogs, but we aren't the first of the group up. Whipping out the safety sausage, we lie back and wait for the boat, excitedly asking each other, "Did you see this? What about this? And this? OMG that one was beautiful!" I'm in love with a little guy I saw there: an amazingly vibrant blue thing with black polka dots! He was writhing around inside of something else, so I never got a full view of him. I want to know what he is!
The high is incredible.
It'll be nice when we learn more names of things so we can use those terms instead of "the little teabag shaped fish that had stripes, dots and faded from purple to yellow..."
Back to the club, we showered, ate lunch, and tried to decide what to do for the rest of the day. I was totally up for getting in the water in front of the club for a while longer, then getting out for dinner and doing a night dive. But I was outvoted, and we took a siesta instead (hammocks first, then doing our dive logs in the hotel room, then napping), met up for dinner and then ran back to get ready for our first night dive right out in front of the club.
We tied on our glow sticks, grabbed our lights and headed down.
The first surprise was the spiny black urchins all over the entrance. Where did they come from!? I'd not seen a single one during daytime. Where do they go!? Don't touch 'em! I love that entrance, the little tunnel and then out into the open. We all bobbed at the surface for a while marveling at the yellow sliver of moon and the clear night sky. The water was a few degrees cooler, but I was very comfy, and I'd only worn my bathing suit under a t-shirt and a yoga pants!
We saw sleeping fish (one big parrotfish cozied up beside a rock that shielded him from current), new fish we'd not seen during the day, big, black sea cucumbers (and I mean like two feet long), wormy things, frilled little invertebrates, a big puffer fish, rays... the list goes on and on! And at the end... a cuttlefish! Well, that's my take anyway; others thought it was a squid but I'm pretty firm on my ID of a cuttlefish. We also saw a mystery... a long black blade like tail sticking out from under a sunken stone. We could see an eyeball on the other side, but what lie between the eyeball and the tail is a mystery!
The current picked up toward the end of our time in the water, and we popped up quite a few yards from our intended location. We started surface swimming and Scot got a leg cramp, but was able to work it out as we hung out on the buoy line for a rest, then back in we went!
We got back up to the room around 10pm. I'm exhausted, and can't wait to do it again tomorrow!