Wednesday, March 23, 2011

afternoon in cozumel

Our cruise itinerary included an afternoon and evening in Cozumel, Mexico. We knew that snorkeling was our priority, so in advance of the trip, I booked a snorkel tour with Eagle Ray Divers. We decided to go with a small diving company rather than a big party boat outfit, and found that there would be time in the afternoon for a two-reef adventure.

On Wednesday, we woke up still at sea, but we could see the coast of Mexico to the west. We continued south and eventually saw the island of Cozumel. We docked around 12:30. Across from us was a big European cruise ship. While our ship was tied up and shore officials came aboard, we watched people getting on and off the other ship.

Once we were cleared to leave the boat we walked out the pier and into Mexico. There was no real customs and immigration that we could see, just some security and police watching as we walked off the pier into a complex of stores and restaurants. Beyond that we found taxis, and took a short ride to the marina. The taxi driver helped us find Eagle Ray where we met Antonio. I'm pretty sure our Antonio is Antonio number 2 (not the Antonio in the website). Antonio introduced himself as our snorkel guide, then took off on his bicycle to check in with his boss. The boss was there soon (Antonio number 1, I think). He confirmed arrangements and got us set up with cold beverages for the boat. Soon "The Captain" arrived with a small boat. It turned out that we were the only ones booked for snorkeling this afternoon, so we would have a private tour.

We scooted through the crowded little marina, and were just about to enter the bay when a call came over the radio. Captain reversed the boat and sped back to the slip, where he tied up and jumped on board Eagle Ray's other boat and went down below. A couple of minutes later he emerged with an automotive battery and some bottles of water. Antonio explained that Eagle Ray's other boat was stranded in the bay with mechanical problems. We had to make a rescue run before our snorkeling. Soon we were at the other boat. Captain and the other boat's captain had it fixed up quickly. We took 2 of 3 snorkel guests on board our boat, and ferried them back to their hotel dock before continuing on our tour.

This was our first time snorkeling from a boat. I was a bit frightened to jump off the side with my fins and gear, but after that it was wonderful. Underwater we found beautiful coral reefs, including caves and tunnels, which Antonio swam through to amuse us. Captain followed along with the boat while we swam along the reef. We saw lots of colourful tropical fish, including a big parrot fish that looked just like "Rainbow Fish" in the children's book. Antonio swam to the bottom to point out fish to us. Most amazing were big schools of fish swimming together, especially when they swam right through us (it felt more like that than us swimming through them). It's illegal to feed the fish, but Antonio told us some people do. That explained why so many swam right up to us, looking for all the world like our cat, first thing in the morning, "Okay, what do you have for me?"

We ended up visiting 3 reefs, rather than the two advertised - a nice bonus! We saw a couple of other snorkel groups in and on the water, but there was lots of space for everyone. We also enjoyed a couple of beers on the boat. Antonio and the Captain were friendly and kind. The boat was small and fast and it was very cool to have our very own adventure away from the crowds of tourists getting off the boat in Cozumel.

After our tour we took a taxi back to the pier. We showered and changed on the ship, then came back out for a bit of shopping and some supper. I found some good souvenirs and gifts. I had to haggle price with the merchants, which is something I'm not used to. I have no idea if I got good deals, but I sure saw some good theatre at the jewelery store! The furrowed brow, the intense use of the calculator and fervent polishing of the silver pendant. Then the feeling I was buying the guy's first born child for far too low a price to even mention. Oh well, I got what I was looking for, and I stayed within my budget.

For supper we decided to plunge into the touristy lunacy that is Charlies and Carlos. We opted for beers, but saw most guests drinking the famous yard long cocktails. The hosts and servers at the restaurant whipped the guests into a frenzy of singing, dancing on chairs, shouting and tequila guzzling conga line silliness. It was a lot of fun. We were given balloon hats to wear. We loved them so much we wore them back onto the ship.

We returned to the ship at about 9pm, just as the ship tied up at the other side of the dock was departing. Everyone on our ship stood on deck and shouted and waved goodbye to the passengers of the departing ship, who shouted and waved back to us. We left Cozumel about 10pm for our long journey back to Miami.

Our visit to Cozumel was short. I look forward to the opportunity to visit again.

question: have you jumped off a boat into the ocean?

mompoet - I recommend it

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