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Cozumel: Caribbean dreams & ancient gods of the abyss

Published on 2014-08-16 14:49:36

It could have been a disastrous trip.

We  had a group of 46 people, 36 of them divers from the South Orange County Dive Club (SOCDC), booked on a 7-days-of-diving trip to Cozumel,  off the coast of Yucatan, Mexico and we were all excited!   

We  flew from sunny Southern California to rainy Cozumel without too much hassle. The red eye is always tough, but the welcome cocktail and the  subsequent unlimited drinks & food of the all-inclusive Cozumel  Palace as well as the first rays of sun after the rain, not to mention  the Palace's pool bar and its never-ending flow of Panama Jacks, Mojito  and Bumble Bees, quickly erased our fatigued mood and turned it into a  salsa-filled excitement (the dance, not the stuff you eat with  chips & guacamole).

So the next day, I was all fresh and ready to go diving.

As  I was preparing my camera, making sure that the setup was dry and cool (72F inside the room, 100F and high humidity outside), I realized when I closed the case that something was odd. It was way too easy to  lock. For one second, I thought, nah, must be nothing and I almost  missed the fact that I was going to take my camera to the abyss inside a case without a O-ring... My heart stopped. Oh crap. What am I going to do with no camera for 14 dives? Oh crap. Where the hell is this thing? I  remember taking it out at home, greasing it and letting it sit on the  camera case to dry. Did I really packed the damn thing without the  gasket? Really?


As a little consolation, we also had the GoPro we won at the SOCDC Christmas party last year, so I took it for the first two dives. It was  not that bad, except it died of battery drain mid-way to the second  dive. Oh well. The nice thing is I was able to put the micro SD card  directly on my brand new Galaxy S5 smartphone, and watch the result in HD right away. I love the quality of the video in the GoPro. I was shooting 720p@60 which is double the frame rate of what my regular now useless Canon G12 camera does... I was also surprised by the results from the red filter.  It's actually pretty good. I had a red filter when I was shooting with  my monstrous Sony a couple of years ago and I don't recall the results  were so good.

As  I was counting the heartbreaking loss of my yellow gasket to the  president of SOCDC himself, around a table filled with guacamole and Mai  Tais, he looked at me and said almost casually "oh, but I have a spare gasket, maybe it'll work, let me go get it". My heart stopped for a  minute (at least).

Back  to the room, with a brand new (blue) gasket, my hands were shaking when I  tried to install it into the groove of my case... (suspense)...  (unbearable suspense)... IT FITTED!

Wooooot, the trip was saved! Praise El Presidente!

The  next dives, were way better (of course). We saw the elusive Splendid  Toad, a fish endemic to the island's coastal reefs, we saw multiple  turtles including a really, really big one, a few sharks, a multitude of  fish of all sizes, barracudas, lionfish, arrowcrabs and tons of  lobsters.

We  also spent one day on the mainland diving the Cenotes, submerged caves & caverns filled with legends and (cold) water. That was a first  for me, I usually stay away from dark underwater places... We dove "the  Pit" and "Chac Mool". The Pit was awesome, with unbelievable light  shows. Capturing them on the camera happened to be pretty tricky. I had  to boost my ISO to 2000-3200 to start getting something on the sensor,  and reduce my shutter speed to 1/60s. The results are not always  fantastic, with a lot of grainy footage. But the experience was  unforgettable. On Chac Mool, we surface in an air pocket cavern where we  could see several types of insects and tree roots as well as the usual  stalactites. Underwater we could see caverns frozen in time by the rise  of the ocean some 10,000 years ago. The calcification that creates  stalactites & stalagmites was stopped abruptly as soon as the cavern  were flooded after the last Ice Age. At both the Pit and Chac Mool, we dove in both colder  fresh water close to the surface and warmer salt water at depth.  Swimming through the interstitial mixing layer between salt and fresh  water (e.g. the halocline) feels like looking through a pair of +5/+5 glasses,  all blurred out... At the bottom of the pit, an acid sulfite layer makes  everything looks eerie. This was really cool. And hard to shoot.

Shooting  in the waters around Cozumel was way easier in comparison. Manual white balance at  depth and Tv 1/250-1/400 did the job quite well, and the usual Tv  1/125s, macro, forced flash was perfect for close ups.

Shooting  videos on this trip was also a blast. The GoPro died the next day I  used it so I only shot with my "resurrected" Canon G12  after that. The picture  quality at the surface does not compare, but at depth, with manual white  balance, the colors are way sharper and brighter than with the GoPro and  its red filter.

We  did two dives a day, some of us went and do a night dive. I've had my  share of darkness with the Cenotes, so I passed and preferred the  resort's top-notch restaurants... The food was awesome, I estimate  1,500lbs of guacamole and 1,000 gallons of cocktails of various types  was consumed with delight during this trip by the group. Unbelievable...

The  end of the trip was... well... not that uneventful. On the way back,  massive storm systems had us rerouted and we missed our connection. We  ended up arriving at another airport closer to home but one piece of our  luggage was lost. And the airline had no idea where it was... Not a  good sign. But the gods that lurk underwater in the depths of the  Cenotes must have smiled on us because the next days, we got it on our  front door. Thank you Chac Mool! See you next year!                                 

And the video! 



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