Our Team Manta group spent Easter week at Scuba Club in Cozumel, MX. The diving was superb and the company even better. The Scuba Club dive shop and its staff were great, but the woman in charge of the hotel is not exactly the people pleaser.
Most of us flew from Chicago to Houston to Cozumel on Continental Airlines, but a few of us came in via varying routes from Michigan, Arizona and Sweden. (Yes, Sweden. I bet you had no idea how popular we are!) The trip was about what you’d expect: hassle at the ticket counter, hassle at the security line, apathetic flight attendants. The main thing, though, was that we all arrived in lovely Cozumel with all pieces of our luggage, including the spearfishing gear!
We hired a shuttle driver who was willing to stop off on the way to the resort so we could get some snacks, beer and margarita fixin’s. When we arrived at the resort, we were told that our rooms were not ready, but we could leave our luggage behind the gate at the entrance and have lunch while they were finishing our rooms. The lunch was a choice of the daily special, which you ordered at breakfast, or whatever you wanted from the menu. As the week progressed we were treated to a variety of Mexican dishes, delicious soups, summer salads, and desserts. The menu offered the traditional burgers, sandwiches and fries as well as many vegetarian choices. Patrons could eat in the restaurant or outside at lunch or breakfast, but were compelled to eat inside for dinner. Luckily, the air conditioning was not set to frigid. The rooms were neat and spacious, but unless you put the “Please make up room immediately” sign on your door, so not expect that it will be clean by the time you return from diving at noon. Don’t count on everything being secure in your room, either. I had a camera and a laptop in my room and they were not touched, but some of our group had some clothing items stolen. They alerted the manager and she told them, “no one here would do that!” Good thing there are security boxes available to guests, to ensure the safety of your passport and credit cards.
Since we arrived in the early afternoon, we were able to do a buoyancy check and a “get acquainted” dive right away. This was a great opportunity, since Suzy was using her new Kronos Supreme reg and Pearl i3 BC for the first time. It was a good chance for newer divers to get those first dive jitters worked out. To call the rubble outside the resort a reef is perhaps a little generous, since not much is growing on them yet. However, the life we found around the old piers, mooring anchors, rope tangles and cement slabs was amazing. We loved all the juvenile angelfish, flounders, and rays. At night we were always treated to a show by the resident octopi. The eels liked to use the divers to spotlight prey. We also utilized the house “reef” for our night and navigation adventure dives.
The next day we boarded the Reef Diver and met the crew. We also met John and Nikki who were going to be on the boat diving with the Manta 12. As it turned out, John and Nikki were Wisconsinites living in Appleton, but weirder than that, they grew up and went to school in Kenosha! Needless to say, they were quickly welcomed into our Manta family and proved to be wonderful additions.
A few of our divers had never done drift diving and were understandably nervous. The divers were split up into two groups with a divemaster each. Each team was to gear up and at the DM’s word, giant stride into the sea. Once we were all off the boat, with cameras in hand and had given the captain the “OK” sign, we descended together. When we reached our planned depth, we let the current take over and all we had to do is steer and look. We made our ascent to our safety stop at 700psi and headed to the surface when that was complete. The boat captain did a good job of being close by as each buddy pair reached the surface, but for the times that the boat was not close, we each had a signaling tube and a whistle. The dive profiles were, for the most part flat, that is, divers descend to the planned depth and stay there the entire dive, with planned depths any where between 90 and 60ft.. For this reason, diving with enriched air would be a good idea, especially if you are an air sipper. EAN 32, for example, could add 35min. of bottom time to a 60ft. dive. It is also a good idea to use a computer, available for rent at Scuba Club's dive shop to extend your bottom time.
Our first dive site was Dalila. The current was somewhat swift and this was stressful for a few of our group, but as it turned out, this was the swiftest current we encountered all week. The second dive, at Paradiso, was much calmer and made everyone breathe a sigh of relief. The divemasters, Alberto and Carla, were especially good at spotting the splendid toadfish. We also saw nurse sharks the first four dives! One thing that really impressed me about the sea life in Cozumel was the size of the fish! It is always nice to see a queen angelfish, scrawled filefish, lobster or hogfish, but when you see one that is 2-3 ft. long, that is outstanding. Along with the giant examples of many of the fish, we saw many juveniles; French angelfish, Gray angelfish, Drums and Highhats. The crew, Juan and Rafael, did everything for us; changed our tanks, helped us in and out of the boat, gave us water and snacks between dives and in general, cared for us. Other favorite dives included, Paso del Cedral, and Palacar Caves with many swim-throughs and ledges, and Santa Rosa, a beautiful wall where sightings of Hawksbill and Green turtles, lobster and barracuda are common.
We were lucky to arrange for two looks at the wreck, C-53 Felipe Xicotenantl. This 184ft Mexican minesweeper, sunk in 2000, lies in 80ft of water, rising to 60 ft at her deck. The wreck is very open and easy to navigate, with ropes leading the way. With a required 4:1 diver to divemaster ratio, divers explore this wreck in small groups, making the adventure quite safe. If you are planning to dive this wreck while in Cozumel, however, be sure to pack your gloves. The wreck is covered at this point, with stinging corals and some of the passages are quite narrow. A flashlight is also recommended.
Mario, the experienced spearfisher in our group, arranged a charter to go outside the marine park to teach those interested how to spearfish. They nabbed a barracuda…on the first outing and a snapper and two file fish on the second. The Chef at El Toro’s prepared them to perfection. Talk about your fresh fish!
In addition to the usual diving activities, our team explored Senor Frogs, Wet Wendy’s, Coconuts, and a few of the local hot spots in search of the best margarita. This search, unfortunately, did interfere with a couple of our “researchers’” ability to dive the next day! (Always better safe!) We also took a day to tour along the beaches and patronize the local vendors.
On the day we were to leave, we packed up, vacated our rooms so the staff could clean them for the next group of divers, and set the baggage within the gated entrance of the resort. We thought this would be OK, as that is what we were told to do when we arrived. In addition, there was a guard posted outside the gate. While we were taking our good-bye pictures, a group leaving for the airport loaded one of our bags into their cab. We complained (as the bag’s owner chased the cab to the airport) to the hotel manger. She told us that the guard is not a hotel employee so she is not responsible for his mistake. In addition, he couldn’t have loaded the bag into the cab because he never is allowed inside the resort gate. (We have video of him bringing our bags into the resort upon arrival.) She went on to say, “I would never leave my bags there unattended.” “We are not responsible.” In the end, we were able to retrieve the bag, but I find it a bit disturbing that the hotel manger took no steps to warn us that our bags would be unsafe sitting unattended, and in fact, instructed us to do just that when we arrived. I give the hotel bad marks for that.
In spite of the missteps at the resort, I would still recommend the Scuba Club Cozumel. I would just caution divers to take special care securing their belongings. The main reason we were there, of course, was to dive and the diving was fantastic. Many divers poo-poo going to Cozumel for diving, citing the damage wrought from the last couple of hurricanes, but the reefs are healthy and flourishing. The constant current nourishes the life living on her reefs, allowing the growth of huge specimens and abundance of juveniles. It’s not the Ritz, but Scuba Club is a great place to inexpensively spend a week diving.