Underwater Cabo: Diving in Mexico

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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 careย tooย 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.

COMMENTS
  • June 27, 2012

    Very cool, Kristin! I can’t wait to show the video to my little boy. We have a slight Nemo obsession at our house, so he will think this is really neat! Thanks for sharing!

    • July 8, 2012

      He and I would get along well–I, too, LOVE Nemo. Never gets old!

  • June 27, 2012

    So awesome.

    xox

  • June 27, 2012

    What a fantastic experience, albeit rather cold!

  • June 27, 2012

    Such cool photos. I really wish I had taken the time to learn to dive. Someday!

    • June 27, 2012

      Lucky for you, you’ve got two-thirds of your life left ahead of you…I’d say there’s time =)

  • June 27, 2012

    We must have just missed each other, I was in Baja for 2 weeks and also went scuba diving, although in La Paz. It’s such a great area.

    • June 27, 2012

      I was there on May 6–you? I’m just super behind blogging about it, as I’ve still been recapping the voyage on the ISE site, and I don’t like doing double duty at once on a topic ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • June 27, 2012

    Yay for diving posts ๐Ÿ™‚ So glad you got to see your first seahorse! Aren’t they magical? And yeah, I hear you on the cold water… I went diving in Iceland this week and the water was 35 freaking degrees!

    • June 27, 2012

      You are a champion. I would NEVER do that. I’m guessing you had a dry suit on. I’ve never worn one–does it make you feel that much warmer, or is still unbearable?

      • June 28, 2012

        Yes, there was a drysuit and a crazy undersuit thingy as well, but we were wearing wet gloves and our faces were exposed of course! So my fingers and forehead were not happy. I almost called it a few minutes into the second dive when my head felt like it was splitting open with brain freeze… but of course didn’t want to seem like the whiny yank when diving with a bunch of hard-ass Icelanders.

        The whole experience was pretty uncomfortable… I’ve never been in a drysuit before and felt totally out of control of my buoyancy, felt like I was choking (they put a rubber band around your neck!) and just generally had no sense of mobility. But in the end it was worth it for the street cred, the memories, and the photos! Definitely not going to be doing it regularly though.

  • June 27, 2012

    I’ve never been diving, but can’t wait to try! So glad you had a better experience than in Honolulu–read that post, too, and ah! I live on Lake Atitlan, in Guatemala, and there’s a local dive place. I didn’t know that lake scuba diving existed before coming here. I can’t imagine it’s as amazing as diving in the ocean, but I’m still game!

    • June 27, 2012

      Funny, we were at Atitlan in 2008 en route to Honduras to dive and never would have imagined there was diving there either until we arrived and saw a dive outfitter (probably the same one!). We briefly flirted with the thought of going, but seeing as diving isn’t cheap, we decided to save our funds for Roatan instead.

  • June 27, 2012

    1) Shit, I’m gone for two weeks and you rearrange the furniture and paint the walls. It is different, therefore, I am confused and angry. Don’t change things, change is scary.

    2) #1 is a lie, I actually love it.

    3) I know the pictures aren’t as vivid and the colors as brilliant as your past dives, but I kind-of like the murk and the eeriness. It’s like England, but underwater.

    • July 8, 2012

      OMG, I love you. That is all. And now my confession is out there for the whole Internet to see.

  • June 28, 2012

    I didn’t realize it got that cold either! Maybe best to pack a sweater. Oh wait…that wouldn’t work now would it. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • June 28, 2012

      Maybe if you had a dry suit! I’ve never dove with one–wonder if you could slip some Under Armour on beneath it? Hmmm… Regardless, I’m sticking to diving only in 70-plus-degree water from now on!

  • June 28, 2012

    I think scuba diving would freak me out … I’ll stick with snorkeling in crystal clear water. I do however, LOVE your underwater shots. And I’ve always thought that Mexico = warm. Period. I guess I’ll stick to the Caribbean side ๐Ÿ™‚

    • June 28, 2012

      Oh, you totally could! I think diving is WAY less scary than snorkeling—at least you can see everything (in clear water) that may be approaching you, versus while snorkeling I always feel like Jaws is lurking just behind me…

      And yes, I’m a Caribbean girl myself! I’m a wuss when it comes to cold water.

  • June 28, 2012

    AHHH!

    I’m going through serious diving crazes like mad. All I do is think about diving. I know we’re going to try and dive the rift in Iceland but it isn’t the same as the pretty tropical goodnesses!

    • June 29, 2012

      Further proof, the four of us need to go on a trip somewhere. Just not Iceland–while I love, love, love the country, I am also a total wuss when it comes to cold water! Did you see Alex’s comment above about her dive there this week? CHILLY!

  • June 29, 2012

    Great dive spot guys! Looks a lot of fun swimming with those amazing sea creatures. Great underwater shots and video!

    • July 1, 2012

      Thanks, George! One day, I hope to have underwater housing for my DSLR and actually learn a bit about underwater photography–once I come into a whole lot of money that is (diving alone is an expensive hobby, but photographing underwater? even worse!).

      • July 8, 2012

        Yeah very true. But I’m hoping one day you can get the funds for this hobby and fulfill your desire for underwater photography. I think it’s worth the money you spend for this extraordinary experience, and you can sell your photos for travel magazines and stuff. So it’s a good investment. Hope to see your underwater shots very soon!

        • July 8, 2012

          Me, too! The next big splurge I’m saving up for is the Mark II. Now that the Mark III is out, I’m hoping the Mark II gets cheaper. I’ve been buying Canon lenses for the past two years that are compatible with my current model and the Mark series for that very reason. Then comes the underwater housing…and then underwater strobes…

          Speaking of which, my friend Terry writes for Scuba, Sport Diver, etc., and her boyfriend has been working on developing his underwater portfolio. For the past six months, they’ve been living in Indonesia, and he has some really gorgeous marine life shots for viewing here: http://www.swellimages.com/

          • July 9, 2012
            George Barley

            That’s a pretty nice plan. Seem like you’re all set for this one! And thanks for the link – amazing photos… wow!

  • July 1, 2012

    Considering how fascinating I find watching schools of fish, being inside one sound pretty amazing! Hopefully your next dive will bring better conditions.

    • July 8, 2012

      Did you ever get your diving certification? If not, you need to get on that! You’d love it, I just know it!

  • July 1, 2012

    I went scuba diving in bathwater off the coast of Honduras, and I was freezing after a bit of time at our deepest dive. I actually had to make the ‘I am cold’ sign to my instructor to go back up. And yes, I was wearing a full wet suit. I would not be able to handle water this cold!

    • July 8, 2012

      Scott got his certification in Monterey, where you practically need a drysuit to dive. I’m normally a “bathwater only” kind of girl, though we’d done some pretty chilly dives lately. From now on, I think I’ll stick to the Caribbean!

  • July 3, 2012

    Cabo. Overrun by new-money tourists from the U.S., must have been amazing before they showed up!

    Love your pictures, definitely makes me want to go. Though all the sex and mayhem from my travel bloglet would probably be troublesome to those tourists. ๐Ÿ˜€

    • July 8, 2012

      That’s probably true–it was my first time in Cabo, and I was only there for the day and spent 80 percent of the time underwater so I don’t really know what the rest of the vibe of the area was like. Though the little part I did see had boats with pictures of humping boats and mermaids adorning the sides, and signs for Viagra for sale inside the pharmacies–so sounds like your blog would fit in well =)

  • July 3, 2012

    SO MANY FISHES! What a cool experience, lady, although I’m pretty sure I would have freaked more than a little at being surrounded by sea creatures.

    • July 8, 2012

      Oh, you could do it, you bad ass, gun-toting military chick, you. I’m still terrified of the ocean when I’m on top of it, but beneath it is a completely different world.

  • June 28, 2014

    Your pictures are wonderful! I’m in Mexico now and am so amazed by the sights in and out of the water. Cave diving in the underwater rivers (cenotes) is amazing!

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