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April 2012    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 27, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Cozumel, Anguilla, Palau…

plus a shark dive with no sharks, and two resorts to avoid

from the April, 2012 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Aldora Divers and Villa Aldora. Cozumel surely has more dive operations per square mile than any other Caribbean destination. Aldora Divers and Villa Aldora have been a favorite of Undercurrent readers for more than a decade. Reader Ronald Riesenbach (Toronto, ON) says, "The staff is friendly, helpful and service-oriented. We had a dedicated divemaster for our five divers. You can leave most of your gear on the boat, and everything is ready to go when the boat pulls in to pick you up in the morning. We mostly dove on their smaller boats, which were relatively roomy and fast but didn't have a head; however, most dive sites were within 30 minutes. Villa Aldora has no restaurant or bar, but dozens of bars and eating places are a 20-minute walk to town (or borrow a free bicycle or flag a taxi). It's safe, well kept, quiet, comfortable and welcoming. Steve, the manager, drove us to pick up groceries and offered us lifts several other times. He ensures that you are ready for your dives when the boat arrives. Most rooms have little kitchenettes, and we filled our fridge with hard-boiled eggs, bread and jam, yogurt, cheese, fruit and coffee for breakfast. Lunch is purchased during your surface interval at a beach club called Mr. Sanchos. ( www.aldora.com )

"Buzz" Waterston (Wallingford, PA) says diving with Aldora is always a treat, but he has a couple tips for surface intervals in town. "We've been eating at the local food mercado at Avenida 25 for years. For lunch at Tres Hermanas, my wife had huevos rancheros while I had menudo and Yucatecan-style pork. With a drink for her and a banana liquado for me, it came out to the princely sum of US$9. At the fairly new Argentine restaurant at the corner of Calle 3 and Avenida 5, I had a large portion of grilled mollejas (calf's sweetbreads) for $7. Warning: Many stores along the main drag sell synthetic gemstones. They quote a high price for Mexican fire opal, tanzanite, etc., and then 'allow' themselves to be bargained down to a fraction of that price. The people at Opals Mine will be happy to show you the difference between synthetic and real gemstones. Caveat emptor!"

Vigilant Divers, Anguilla. While it's a ritzy island that gets little diving press, long-time Undercurrent correspondent Daniel Spitzer (Piermont, NY), who was in Anguilla in December, says there is decent diving to be had. "Vigilant Divers, operated by an ex- British SAS (equivalent to our Navy SEALs), is a very professional operation -- never before have we reviewed man-overboard procedures prior to lifting anchor! Dives are typically on wrecks sunk for that purpose at 80 feet, with shallower drift dives on surrounding reefs. I sighted Atlantic spadefish, large horse-eye jacks, one complete with his own remora, and a spotted eagle ray that turned circles around us. The M/V Commerce is covered with orange cup coral -- no need to visit Bonaire's Town Pier for this! I have been visiting Anguilla for 19 years and have sighted schools of barracuda and several dolphins, many stingrays, turtles and numerous spotted eagle rays. Having travelled far and wide, I can say that some of my more memorable dives have actually occurred in Anguilla." ( http://vigilant.webeden.co.uk )

Day Trips in Palau. Longtime subscriber David Shem-Tov (London, U.K.) was out of luck finding space on a Palau liveaboard but decided to go ahead with the Fish 'n Fins land-based operation over Christmas. "This was my third time in Palau, and I was leery of the limits of day-boat diving for my party of four, and concerned about being limited to the typical 'two outside reef dives and optional Chandelier Cave dive' template. Navot Bornovski, who owns the operation with his wife Tovah, addressed my concerns by email before we arrived. During our stay, Navot called each evening to enquire how satisfied we were, and where we wanted to go on the next day. After a couple of days, we were effectively assigned our own boat, with a couple of like-minded divers we met there. Boat driver Silas and divemaster Clint delivered superb diving. We were able to return to the best sites, Blue Corner and Ulong Channel. We had excellent dives in Peleliu Cut, Express and at German Channel. I was impressed with Navot's willingness to accommodate our requirements." ( www.fishnfins.com )

Here's a First: A Shark Dive with No Sharks. Steven P. Smith (Loudonville, NY.) was on the Belize Aggressor in November and reports, "No sharks. None. Not even on the shark-feeding dive. Everyone waited by the bait, chum, whatever, and no sharks came. After a very decent wait, we all went our separate ways and did a regular dive. On the way back to the boat, the chum ball was virtually untouched. Not even any grouper or jacks. Very odd."

Henry Morgan Resort, Honduras. Here is a cautionary note from John Drummond (Del Mar, CA), who was there in November. "Henry Morgan fell well below my modest expectations. The food was very poor. Lunch tomorrow would invariably be what you could not manage to eat at dinner today. The sluggish food delivery process amplified the problem. And don't let me forget the bar. You expect small, watery drinks and slow bar service at an all-inclusive -- expectations met. Dive staff and boats were good, but the boats did not carry tanks for the second dive, so they returned to the shop between dives to pick them up. The boat never went far from the shop, so the result was that all the dives felt much the same, with only minor variations in reef topography. The boat anchored off the beach with the stern in five feet of water. Every time you got dry, it was time to get wet again wading ashore. (In fairness, and to be complete, we did in fact go round the west end of the island on the last day to do a single tank of very different diving off the southwest shore.)"

And a Final Cautionary Note. This time about Maya Palms Resort on the southern end of the Yucatan Peninsula. Milann C. Reynolds (Crescent City, CA) visited in March. "The diving on the south reef was good, but we were informed that to go back there (a five- minute boat ride) would cost an additional $40. The reef in front of the resort was full of sand, low visibility, so my wife and I didn't want to dive it after the first four dives. You dive via a 16-foot panga, not the 40-foot boat anchored in front of the resort. We stayed in the north wing, and the room was in good shape but the beach view consisted of rusty chain-link fencing. The AC was only on while the generator was running, usually between 4 p.m. and 3 a.m. The food was bad - - I never want to see scrambled eggs and a tortilla again. We did manage to get hot cakes a few times, and after asking for bacon or ham, we finely got two strips of bacon with the eggs for breakfast. Lunch consisted of more tortillas with a slice of cheese in them. Dinner wasn't much better. We had one pork dinner that was up to standards, followed by not-fresh fish another night. The cook quit while we were there. We were consistently told that to get supplies was a two-hour drive, and that's the excuse for poor food. However, we could get in the car, drive four miles on the beach road and get anything we wanted to eat, including excellent ribeye steak, pasta, pizza and fresh fish. The clubhouse was never open; as soon as we were done with the meal everyone disappeared, the place was locked, and that was it. You couldn't go in and watch TV, except when a group of 10 was there for a couple days. We decided to leave, so asked after breakfast to get the bar bill together, and packed the car, but it took three hours to get out. The clubhouse was locked, and we looked everywhere for these people. You are behind a locked gate, so you can't just leave. Finally, I just laid on the horn until someone came. I realize that it requires a lot of work and money to operate a resort, but I have been in resorts all around the world in extremely primitive areas and had much better service."

- - Ben Davison

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