Scuba Diving . Playa del Carmen
Are you completely uninterested in scuba diving yet can’t suppress your intense hyperbaric chamber fetish? Then scroll down for some pictures you’ll love!
I was in Playa del Carmen recently and spent a full day scuba diving in the beautiful waters of the Caribbean. I’m not certified, and am just an occasional diver with most of my limited experience being off the murky coast of California.
Our first morning in Playa del Carmen my car ran out of gas just as we pulled into the small hotel on the north side of town. Remember on Mexican cars “E” really does mean empty, not 20 more miles. The next morning I strolled across the street into “Mark Shark Scuba“ looking for a gas can. The staff and their friend were kind enough to help me out, even giving me a ride to over to the Pemex. I was planning to search out a local dive shop anyway, so this worked out perfectly.
We arranged a trip, and a few days later Caleb and I were up at 8am sharp getting fitted with our gear. We hopped in divemaster Mark’s truck and headed down to Puerto Adventuras, a marina/housing development between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Note: Unless your boss is sharing his house with you for the week, avoid Puerto Adventuras. It’s as sterile as the time shares with nothing but sand colored and stucco roofed houses, and absolutely zero to do except take boats out. (Which thankfully is why we were there.)
Since our limited diving experience was unproven to Mark we first motored out to a shallow lagoon, (with an authentic Mayan ruin on the shore,) where we strapped on our tanks, stepped into the five foot deep water in order to practice hand signals, regulator recovery and other basic skills. He adjusted our weights for proper buoyancy control, allowing us to ascent and descent primary by breath control. Confident we knew our basics and wouldn’t freak out underwater, we zoomed out into the ocean. I have no clue how scuba divers knew exactly where to dive before GPS was invented. Maybe someone with experience could fill me in.
Our first dive was at a reef about a mile off the coast. While I love taking pictures of anything and everything I encounter, unfortunately I’m unable to do so underwater, (or at least unable without an expensive camera investment,) so my word will have to be taken that this was one of the most incredible and most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. The peaceful time spent underwater provided an amazing and memorable experience.
At first Mark and Caleb’s dive partner stayed near us, but eventually allowed us explore on our own while following from behind and pointing out sites and spots of interest. I’m pressed to remember all the life that lives in the reefs, however these enormous reef structures, as tall as houses, contain hundreds of little crevices and cracks where colorful fish, starfish, and those little prickly things that look like koosh balls live. Sometimes I’d just hover in front of a section up close for five minutes watching various fish swim in and out. What an incredible 3D world to be in.
Being an amateur its nice to have someone knowledgeable guide you in dive location and technique. It allows you to fully enjoy the experience while someone else keeps close watch of your gear and the technical aspects. Perhaps I’ll learn more down the road, but for now I’m happy leaving the details to the experts. People have fears about being underwater and putting their trust in the equipment. This claustrophobia phenomenon is understandable, and for me the first few seconds is a weird feeling. However every time I’ve stepped into the water I look down into the vastness and become instantly enchanted with the underwater landscapes and life, and I immediately forget any concerns. I suspect it would be the same for many others with qualms. The life and world underwater completely overwhelm the senses.
On the way to the second dive spot we passed the “Fat Cat” party boat. Apparently you CAN have too much fun, because it didn’t appear anybody on board was enjoying themselves much less doing any partying.
Our second dive was a few miles away and deeper – about 60 feet to the floor. En route down we saw a school of sting rays flying along a few feet above the floor. Mark and crew knew where a couple of underwater arches were, and we passed through them while meandering around the reef. In one cave a barracuda was hanging out in the corner giving us the eye – probably concerned we were staring at his massive underbite. Which we were.
We spent about 45 minutes on the second dive, and didn’t return back to Playa until about 3:30pm, and were exhausted after an amazing day.
Turns out our divemaster Mark, (not “Mark Shark,” but Mark’s friend,) is from Farmington, New Mexico, and honed his diving experience in the many lakes and reservoirs throughout Colorado and the Four Corners area. He moved on spending time diving in the Philippines, and then as a deckhand on a salvage boat in the Atlantic. Salvage boat is a less dramatic way of saying “Treasure Hunting Boat” – as these boats actually hunt sunken artifacts and split profits accordingly between the group. The valuable finds go to museums I assume, but I didn’t bother asking Mark fearing the answer wouldn’t be what I wanted to hear.
Oddly I can’t find anything on the ‘net for “Mark Shark Scuba Diving.” I don’t believe they’re under a different name, but I’ll try to post a phone number or link. If you’re new to diving or just want a snorkel for a couple hours I would absolutely recommend them if visiting the Yucatan.
Their shop is on Calle 32, (32nd Street,) between 5th and 6th Avenue. Use the directions to the Hotel Banana, they’re right across the street. If you still can’t find them go to the open air cafe at the Hotel Banana, order a coffee, and turn your head to the left. (Speaking of Hotel Banana – its a wonderful home away from home, I just haven’t got around to writing about them yet.)
The price they charged for the two of us was quite reasonable. Caleb and I each had our own guide, along with the boat driver and another one of their friends. They were great guys and I would look them up again. Note: if you’re searching for an easy job in Mexico I can’t think of a better job than to drive people down to a beautiful beach then sit on a boat listening to the radio for hours while they’re underwater. I’ll try to find them online and post some details.
Now – since I wasn’t able to take any pictures underwater here’s something less thrilling. A few days after our dive trip I was wandering down 6th Avenue to get some food or something and I saw this small medical building specializing in decompression sickness. I walked inside, and noticed through another door there was a massive hyperbaric chamber. The attendant was nice enough to let me take a couple pictures, as I’ve never seen one up close before. (And hopefully will never have the medical need to do so.)
This thing looks like a spaceship, or some sort of invention from the 60s with the dials and enormous gray metal control panel. I hope you’re allowed an iPod and some books inside, because it looks like a pretty dull place to pass time in. I like the little portholes where you’re friends can peek through and wave to you. Pretty cool huh?
by James Van Dellen