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January 2007 Vol. 22, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Cuba, Bonaire, Belize...

and a clever thief in Curacao

from the January, 2007 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

I trust by now you have had a chance to thumb through the Chapbook—all 512 pages of it—and I hope it’s helping you plan your next trip. Of course, we continue to receive reports from our readers and want to offer their updates to help you plan your diving.

Bonaire: When Larry’s Wildside Diving opened a couple of years ago, it found an eager constituency of serious divers looking for more than Bonaire’s usual benign diving. Success breeds competition and now there is Caribbean Gas Training, run by Benji Schaub. Undercurrent subscriber Patricia Harmon (Westerville, OH) dived with Benji last November and says he is “very professional, highly knowledgeable.” His dive boat is a rigid hull inflatable with a canopy and a metal interior with tank racks and two powerful outboards. The trip to the East Side is about 45 minutes and the last 25 minutes can be bouncy in rougher seas. Entry is by backward roll off the sides, and there is a good ladder.

“On the first dive we saw two turtles and a shark, not usual sightings on Bonaire,” Harmon reported. “The fish are larger on the East Side and although the viz is not as great as on the West Side, it is still very good. The second dive was an exciting drift dive, where again we saw a shark.” There is a one-hour surface interval before the second dive, and divers need to bring their own water or snacks. Harmon said the hardest part of the day was the return to the boat. “For exit in the current, we had to grab a line two at a time and be hauled to the boat. While two were on the line, the others waited at the surface until the boat came around for them, part of the more challenging experience on that side of Bonaire.” The boat trip goes from 8:30 a.m. to about 2 p.m., and also visits less-dived sites on the island’s southern tip, such as Lighthouse and Red Slave.

Habitat Curacao Theft: Undercurrent correspondent Bill Schlegel (Jefferson City, MO) visited Habitat Resort in November 2006 and reported a problem that waves a red flag for all travelers. “As we were checking out, everything packed and all the valuables taken out of the safe, most of our group decided to meet at the pool. My wife and I left our luggage temporarily in our room, which was within sight of the pool. Someone, who I presume knew we were leaving, got into our room from the other side and took several hundred dollars, credit cards and a new Nikon camera just as the bus was going to leave for the airport. The Habitat’s desk clerk told us to make a police report at the airport, as there was no time to go downtown and still catch the flight. When we got to the airport we were told that there is no police station there. We contacted airport security who called the police station in Willemstad, but the police never came. So we left Curacao feeling ripped off.”

Belize: Hoteliers are finally taking advantage of the country’s rainforest and wildlife, with more resorts springing up to attract eco-travelers. Those located on the southern coast are pushing diving as well, but what they offer may not satisfy serious divers. Take the new Kanantik Reef and Jungle Resort, located between Dangriga and Placencia. Reader Laurie Gneiding was there in November and reports that “it advertised itself as an eco-friendly resort for both birdwatching and scuba. It has a beautiful beach, pool, and luxurious cabanas with king-size beds, polished wood floors and huge showers. The gourmet food is served formally. Excursions for birdwatching to the nearby Cockscomb Wildlife Refuge and Mayflower/Bocawina National Parks were fabulous.”

Since there were only six people at the resort during Gneiding’s stay, and only four were diving, they had lots of attention. “The crew takes care of all your equipment and helps get you in and out of the water,” she said. One downside: Even though the resort is on a large bay, the reef is nearly an hour’s boat ride away, and windy conditions there routinely result in dive trip cancellations. Another downside: Kanantik sets a maximum bottom time of 30 minutes, saying that divers must be escorted throughout the dive; therefore, everyone comes up when the first one is 800 psi. “I had 1400 psi after my first dive and received little more than a shrug from the crew when questioned,” Gneiding said. “The divemaster does little to point out anything except turtles.” The three sites she visited (maximum depth was 80 feet) were unremarkable as Hurricane Iris destroyed much of the surface reefs in 2001.

Cuba: People from every nation in the world, the United States excepted, visit Cuba freely. By flying from Toronto, Nassau, Cancun and other places, as many as 200,000 Americans visit annually, but illegally, thumbing their noses at decades of US policy. Now and then, the Treasury Department catches a tourist, and the fine runs as high as $10,000. With more than 3,000 miles of shoreline bordering the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea, divers find plenty of reefs to explore. Bart Hazes, who lives in Edmonton, Alberta, went to Superclubs Breezes Jibacoa in May. He says that “the absence of a high-volume diving industry has its advantages: No crowding and healthy reefs.”

Superclubs Breezes Jibacoa is on the north shore, halfway between Havana and the tourist magnet of Varadero, and just 100 miles south of the Florida Keys. It is a secluded, adults-only (minimum age is 16), all-inclusive resort with a great snorkeling reef out front and a dive shop on site. Most diving is done at four shallow sites (30 to 50 feet) and four deep ones (60 to 110 feet). The shallow sites are formed by a 20-foot-high limestone wall and cracks, swim-throughs and overhangs create many hiding places for fish. “An experienced fish watcher should have no problem spotting 50 to 60 different species on every dive, shallow or deep,” says Hazes. “However, unless you like to hunt for small hidden creatures, these sites get repetitive.” Once the divemasters know you are competent, they let you wander from the group. “We could always stay down longer, typically getting an hour of dive time.”

The deep dives are more interesting and trips commonly consist of just two to four divers. One dive Hazes liked was the ‘canyon route’ of Los Cañones, which starts at two old cañons and follows a deep fissure in the limestone plateau, where divers swim through a series of connected narrow canyons. He reports a rich growth of sponges and corals and bigger fish, with large schools of chubs, porkfish, schoolmasters, and creole wrasse. “Coneys, red hinds, and graysby groupers are all over the place but beyond that I’ve only seen a few rock hinds, tiger and yellowfin groupers. Hazes’s best dive was Puerto Escondido (hidden harbor) where pirates used to hide to raid merchant vessels. To the east and twice as far as the other deepwater sites, “this dive has great visibility and the most diverse fish life.” On his 17 dives and several snorkel trips during his stay, Hazes saw 150 species of fish. “Really big fish are in short supply because of fishing for consumption by free-diving Cubans you find floating around half a mile offshore.” His only ‘big encounter’ was with a large hawksbill turtle.

Diving is limited to two dives a day, no night dives, and no diving Sunday. All dives are guided by a divemaster, no shore diving, with the boat following the group. “Dives are said to be limited to 45 minutes but when others had to surface, the DM would take my wife and me for up to 15 minutes more,” said Hazes. One dive per week is included in the resort price and five-tank dive packages are US $100. Hazes’ two-week all-inclusive stay plus travel from Canada was about US $2000. (www.cuba.tc/Breezes_Superclubs_Main.html)

Kosrae and Pohnpei: Katrina Adams of Kosrae Village and Ecolodge recently wrote us: “A friend just faxed me the review that printed in the October issue of Undercurrent. Thank you for putting us on the front page! Overall I thought that the article was accurate and fair. There were a few minor points that I thought I should mention.

“The flight from Pohnpei to Kosrae is one hour, not four. The two islands are about 350 to 400 miles apart. Mosquitoes are occasionally a real problem, especially if people are very sensitive to the bites, and right now we are testing a nontoxic product that makes the area ‘unfriendly’ to the little monsters. We provide mosquito coils, repellent spray and good, solid nets over the beds. Long pants are not a cultural necessity, unless you are going to church. We do ask divers to change in and out of their wetsuits after we are out of the marina and before we return to the dock. The community does not like seeing visitors in their ‘underwear’ but a towel worn like a lava lava will take care of the modesty requirement. Sunday law forbids drinking alcohol and ‘taking marine life,’ but it is not illegal to dive or enjoy other recreation. The issue is that the surrounding community should not be distracted from their worship, so we don’t take the boats out, but I may lead shore dives from our beach. Shore diving is possible only if the surf and tide allow. We used to do walk-in night dives, but then we got old and lazy. Now our night dives are always from the boat.” www.kosraevillage.com

By the way, Katrina writes: “Do you know anyone as crazy as us? We’re thinking ahead toward retirement and looking for partners who will eventually take over the business.”

And Patti Arthur, who runs the Village in Pohnpei writes: “Ben, thank you very much for the article that included the Village in Pohnpei, Micronesia, in your October issue. It was a wonderful and complete surprise to us when a client sent it to us. It has generated a lot of interest among divers, who are writing us now for more information.” Yup, and while a magazine diving writer was there getting freebies, our Undercurrent writer stayed undercover, paid his own way, and once again went undiscovered.

– Ben Davison

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