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February 2006 Vol. 21, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Holbox Whale Sharks, Bonaire Wild Side

destinations to keep in mind

from the February, 2006 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

By now, the USPS willing, you have received the 2006 Chapbook, and I trust you find it helpful. Diving destinations are not static, so from time to time we provide important updates so you wont have to wait for the next Chapbook. Here are several reports I hope youll find useful for planning your next dive trip.

Holbox: In October 2004, we were the first publication to tell divers about the scores of whale sharks present every summer near the island of Holbox, north of Mexicos Yucatan peninsula, a three-hour drive from Cancun. Our reviewer returned last August to report: Have Holbox sharks grown so accustomed to seeing snorkelers that some of them no longer veer away? Entering the water in front of the shark, I was staring into the mouth of a 40-something footer. If I didnt disobey the no-touch policy, there was going to be a head-on collision. So I gently pushed myself away from the krill-sieving mouth and avoided the sweeping tail.

The opportunity to snorkel with whale sharks in 35 feet of water has put the small fishing village on the map. After our article, Onny Alemanni, owner of Hotel Mawimbi, received scores of inquiries. However, many of our readers chose to stay elsewhere, preferring air-conditioning to her thatch-roof waterfront charm. In 2004, it was possible to get alongside whale sharks without being surrounded by other lanchas.

This year, I counted 26 boats in the area, and an additional 15 boats from Isla Mujeres. Some carried as many as a dozen passengers, the adventurous jumping in the water. They have put additional rules in effect, but the increased number of snorkelers and boats hampered encounters. Yet in 2005, Holbox was better than ever. This year, giant mantas swam with the whale sharks, performing incredible aquabatics. Like seeing each remora and scar on a shark, the mantas were so close I could see sea lice on their backs. Other rays included the giant, golden, cownosed and eagle rays, plus unsighted white or guano rays. Beyond the 50- feet depth where the whale sharks scoop pea soup plankton, there are seven species of shark. Along flamingo- inhabited beaches, three species of turtles hatch during the summer months. Onny offers scuba diving, but she will not take advance reservations. Diving is determined by weather and visibility, and sites are an hour or more distant, 25-50 miles from Holbox. There are mantas, cobia, bull and white tip sharks, sunken fishing boats, and walking bat fish. Groups up to six can charter awningcovered pangas for whale shark snorkeling or scuba trips. Individuals can reserve whale watching with Onny for $120/day or join one of the many trips leaving daily from Holbox. Its no longer a private adventure, but its still as good as it gets.

For the full report, see Undercurrent, October 2004. Contact Onny at Posada Mawimbi; 911-52- 984-8752003 or www.mawimbi.net . . . visit www.holboxisland.com for more information. . . . Hotel Villas Delfines ($70 to $150 double, depending upon the season) is a good upscale selection.

San Andres and Providencia, Columbia, Revisited: In 2002, our reviewer reported on these two islands, about 90 miles off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. Having dived nearly every Caribbean venue, he was enthusiastic about the fish life and rated it highly compared with other Caribbean destinations.

This trip, the number of fish had
dropped remarkably and it was no better
than other Caribbean destinations.

But, many readers followed his lead, and some said they didnt find the quality and quantity of marine life he reported. So our reviewer returned last May. Our readers were right, diving didnt match up to his previous visit, only three years before.

Because these islands belong to Colombia, few Americans go there, leaving them to the Canadians, Mexicans, and Europeans. The flight from San Jose, Costa Rica, to San Andres takes 65 minutes, and a round trip ticket costs around $250, making it a reasonable side trip for anyone visiting Costa Rica.

Like Los Roques in Venezuela, San Andres reefs are loaded with gorgonians. Many easy dives are along the west side, where walls start at 10 meters or more. Here they lack variety and have far fewer large fish. In 2002, the fish life around San Andres was a little better than most parts of the fished-out Caribbean. This trip, the number of fish had dropped remarkably, and it was no better than Grenada, Honduras, and most other Caribbean destinations.

Sharkys Dive Shop is in the Sunset Hotel, about 50 meters to the south of the Nirvana, where I stayed. Often, I was the only diver in the boat with my dive guide, Rafael. While Sharky runs a safe operation, I had to push hard to get them to take me to the best dive sites on the windward side, far from most resorts. The problem is a combination of extra fuel, long boat rides, and often rougher conditions.

San Andres best wreck, the Diamond Wreck, was flattened by a storm and is no longer worth diving. Tres Piedras, allegedly the most advanced dive site at San Andres, is a tight cluster of three pinnacles that top off at 20 meters with no perceptible bottom. It is distant from the island and similar to eastern Pacific sites. The visibility was good. Morgans Fingers was one of the better dives, with flying gurnards in the sand. Blue Wall, the current favorite dive site for most visitors, starts at 20 feet and drops vertically, with nice swim-throughs. The surge was so strong that during my safety stop on top of the wall, I shared my breakfast with the fish.

The aging hotel Nirvana is south of the main city, close to most of the islands dive sites. An unusually heavy thunderstorm hit the area, and I got up in the middle of the night to find two inches of water surrounding my bed in my second-story room. They moved me to a drier room the next day.

After a week, I flew north 60 miles to Providencia, a mountainous island, heavily covered in jungle, relatively undeveloped, with 5,000 residents who spoke English, Spanish and Creole. My hotel, the Posada del Mar was almost empty. I had lunches and dinners at the Donde Martin restaurant, a delightful place.

Felipe Cabeza and his dive guide Paul added a lot to the quality of the diving. I had no problem getting Felipe to visit the best dive sites, spectacular deep walls, and shallower fishy shoals usually a short distance away. Still, the fish life appeared to be half of what I viewed in 2002, but still double what I have seen throughout the rest of the Caribbean. I saw big black groupers on most dives, and many large Nassau groupers, but tiger groupers were fewer and smaller. In 2002, schools of Bermuda chub were so huge they often filled the water above us. This time, the schools were less than half their former size. There were small schools of Atlantic spadefish, not as large as before, and midnight and rainbow parrotfish even seemed smaller.

At Manta City I saw several stingrays and an Atlantic torpedo. TeTes Place, the fishiest dive spot around Providencia, with half as many fish as three years ago, still had more than most anywhere I have been in the Caribbean. French grunts, lane snappers, white grunts, yellow and spotted goatfish, squirrelfish, and trumpetfish were in the gorgonians. Lots of barracuda hung in their barred pattern to signal that they wanted to be cleaned by the juvenile Spanish hogfish. During the week I saw a number of big hogfish that one rarely sees in most parts of the Caribbean.We paid Felipe a fuel surcharge to go north to El Faro, but one reef was too deep, and the other was spent in a maze of twisty caves that offered only schools of sweepers.

Diving at Providencia is like turning the clock back 20 years. No oxygen, no first aid. One of Felipes dive guides was diving without a computer and during the briefing told the other divers to stay shallower than I to avoid getting bent since I was the only one with a dive computer (I carry two). Though the briefings recommend a maximum depth of 40 meters, there was never a problem going deeper on the walls.

For a complete report of San Andres see Undercurrent, August 2002, and for Providencia, see August 2003, available to Web subscribers. Also, refer to readers comments in subsequent chapbooks. If you care to go, youre best off using a travel agent, and Id recommend Reef and Rainforest for this destination. 800-794-9768 or www.reefrainforest.com.

Bonaires Bas: In the 2006 Chapbook, a subscriber provided a brief report on Bas, a private guide in Bonaire. Now, after gathering more information, let us share a report from Undercurrent reader Wally Szaniawski from Greenwich, CT, I have made several hundred shore dives on Bonaires leeward side. The windward side is difficult because of rough seas and tricky access, but a Dutch diver, Bas Tol, has clocked thousands of dives and has over 20 established shore sites here. On a given day, few may be accessible. But, as a resort divemaster told me with envy, Bas always goes. He takes one or two divers, maybe more if they match skills and air consumption. We did three dives, the first to check my skills at Lac Cai. After a school of huge snappers, big midnight parrot fish and a thicket of tarpons in shallow murky water, we reached a drop-off with 100 ft. + visibility, and had four encounters with eagle rays, large numbers of huge snappers, groupers, schools of Bermuda chubs, green morays, and turtles. In shallow water, dozens of baby lobsters and ninety-one minutes of bottom time.

The following morning big waves pounded the shore. No problem for Bas. We arrived at an acceptable site (Bas has them ingeniously marked to take safe bearings.) We entered near the lighthouse, swam past 10- foot elkhorn coral, and drifted over the stunningly beautiful slope, with healthy soft and hard corals and six-foot sea fans gently moving with the surge. In the blue at 100 feet there was a circling school of huge snappers, including cubera snappers, joined by jacks. Visibility was 120 + feet. Then, more than 50 large tarpons approached closely. Drifting south, we met large groupers, snappers, turtles, jacks, and a crevalle so huge I mistook it for a yellowfin tuna. We exited with no drama at Red Slave, after 71 minutes, max 100-foot depth, still with almost 500 psi. Luckily, we caught a friendly pickup truck for a mile ride back to Bass Toyota and went to Lac Cai for a second superb dive. Bass skills and knowledge of sea life are amazing. Contact Bas Tol at Kaya Rotterdam 13, Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles, tel: 599-717-8830, cell: 599-786-4917, e-mail: loonybin@bonairelive.com.

Kiribati: In the 2006 Chapbook, youll find a report about coral bleaching in Kiribati. However, Kiribati is a big place and Scott Johnson (Palm Springs, CA) reports great dives there, similar to reports from many readers in the past. Air Pacific makes the three-hour flight weekly from Hawaii, so its one of those rare places that divers, at least from the West Coast, can reach easier than, say, Palau.

Kim Anderson, the owner of Dive Kiribati (on Christmas Island), and his staff were great! In October I was the only diver there! How Kim can remember all those great dive sites is beyond me as there are no moorings. The diving at Kiribati (Kitty-buss) was very good, and I compare everything with Palau. On many reefs I saw two to three times the number of tropical fish than I have seen in Palau. Surgeonfish, peacock flounders, nudibranchs, giant barracudas, spotted eagle rays, snappers, Moorish idols, trevallys, mantas, octopus, dolphins, occasional sharks and I did not even get to see all the big stuff in the Poland area or Bay of Wrecks. We had a few windy days and got to the sites twice, but each time I got sea-sick and we turned arond.

Unfortunately the pelagic population has been decimated by legal spear fishing and shark finning. The government should stop this by imposing stiff fines and jail time. At Captain Cooks Hotel the food was great but the rooms leave a little bit to be desired. Make sure your travel insurance Medvac includes the Coast Guard, because they are the only ones who will respond within a few hours.

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