Cabo San Lucas was the first port on our May Enrichment Voyage through Central and South America; we arrived early on a Sunday morning to clear skies and a brilliant sun, but violently angry waters that made tendering a bit of an adventure. (Cabo was one of two stops where we didn’t pull directly into port but had tender boats shuttle passengers to and from shore.) From land, you would have never known this as it was a beautiful day nonetheless; from adrift in the middle of the sea, you could feel the power of Poseidon’s wrath.
I was booked on one of the Enrichment Voyages field trips to go scuba diving with a local operator; just like any Semester at Sea voyage or traditional “cruise,” the program offers a number of shore excursions that participants can book to maximize time in port and minimize the hassle of planning such a short visit on their own. And you know me—I never miss an opportunity to get my fins wet.
Eleven of us stepped up to the challenge—none of whom I had met prior to that morning—and after we all arrived safely on shore, we suited up at a little shop in downtown Cabo and were off on the dive boat for a five-minute ride to our first site, just off of Pelican Rock.
Half of us had our advanced diver certification, and the other half had the basic open water, so we split up into two groups. We still dove the same site; the advanced group was just able to go a bit deeper. I checked my depth gauge at one point, and we dipped down to and hovered at about 80 feet, which is within my comfort level: not too deep that I’ll ever feel claustrophobic, nor am I going to suck down air as quickly as I would at 100+ feet.
Still, the conditions beneath the surface that day were murky and dark—not my favorites. After my freakout in Hawaii last year while diving just off the coast of Honolulu amid all the soaring Waikiki hotels, I’m not going to lie: I get pretty nervous before submerging. I guess that’s pretty normal given that I’ve only dived twice since then: when SVV, Layne and I explored Roatan back in December and when we took a group of students underwater in Mauritius, both times under equally cloudy conditions. What I’m really saying is that I would be fine if all dive conditions were that of the Bahamas, but unfortunately, you can’t dictate how Mother Nature performs under pressure!
Aside from the green hue that all the marine life adopted, it was still a brilliant dive. We saw trumpetfish, flutefish and guitarfish—we practically had a whole band.
There were countless rays, an aggressive moray eel and three camouflaged rockfish, one of my favorite creatures to seek out simply because they’re so hard to find—or as I like to think of it, my Lasik has paid for itself in underwater sightings.
I spotted a number of species I never had seen before outside of an aquarium, from a shy little seahorse playing hide-and-seek in a tangle of coral to hundreds of silly deflated pufferfish floating along with the quick current.
And then I saw them from a distance and initially thought they were a ledge of rocks; as cloudy as the water was that day, you often couldn’t identify an object until it was right up in your face, which is how I came to be just another fish in a school—more like university—of snappers. It was similar to our run-in with the tornado of barracuda in Borneo, only this time I was on the inside.
And they kept coming…and coming. They ignored my presence and swam all around me. Pretty soon, the wall of snappers—literally, thousands of them—was so thick it engulfed me, and I lost my group. It was the first time ever I’ve been that girl, the one who is left behind.
I didn’t care at first, and then I had an odd moment of vertigo; the combination of the low vis and the fishy company made it hard to figure out which way was up—or out. Clearly I didn’t care too much as I took the opportunity to stop and film my precarious position.
But it was totally worth the moment of panic to witness this from within. I enjoyed the experience for a solid three minutes before saying good-bye to the school and slowly surfacing. It was nearly the end of the dive anyway, so I stole a few peaceful moments bobbing atop the ocean before the rest of the group found me.
The second dive was clearer, but freezing. Water temps that day were as low as 60 degrees in patches. For some reason, I just assumed Mexico translated to bathwater, but I guess I neglected to acknowledge the fact that we weren’t that far south of California, and the Pacific Ocean in the Northern Hemisphere is never warm. Even with a pretty thick wetsuit on, I was getting mighty chilly—and I wasn’t alone. After half an hour or so, it was pretty obvious to our dive master, even underwater, that we were all shivering, so he motioned for us to surface, and we all quickly ascended before going out in town for fish tacos and cervezas, all of us new friends with different backgrounds, common interests and a fantastic shared otherworldly experience.