Why is paradise so difficult to reach? I guess the place would be too crowded if not. On American Airline I went via Philadelphia to San Juan. Arrival 11 p.m , so I chose to catch up on sleep before continuing my trip to Mayaguez. AA did a good job, my luggage was checked through all the way from Frankfurt to Mayaguez, survived 3 flights and was on Cape Air flight to M. together with me. A twin engine Cessna took us, we had our first impressions and sightseeing of the countryside, green everywhere and beautiful coastline. We passed through clouds and scratched along these only few meters above, a wouh moment for me. With rental car I reached my hotel in Rincon, the Coconut Palms Inn. It´s a small but lovely privately run place right on the beach. You will find everything for self catering in the room, microwave, refrigerator, tea and coffee making facilities, a grill place outside on the balcony. However with so many restaurants for every taste and budget around town, I chose to try as many as possible. I had mouthwatering meals, rib night at the Shipwreck, fresh oyster at some street stall, surf and turf, salmon chowder ….. yummy. On the Internet I found Taino Divers which got good marks and recommendations. I went straight to them. Taino could not remember my e-mails with flight schedules and my planned diving days here. They had to look into their files to find me again. I was lucky, on Mo. space was still available, Tue. They so far had no bookings , Wed. would give me one more diving day, Thur. they had to pull the boat out of the water for some maintenance, Fri. still a big question mark. I had told them by e-mail I´d planned on 5 days of two tank diving with the chance to go to Desecheo once or twice. T D charge 120 $ for two tank dive, which I feel is a bit high on the ladder of dive rates. This amount they charge in Palau on Japanese Golden Week, but only then. It was strange with Taino. My first @ got answered immediately. They told me they need the phone number of the space I stay at in Rincon and my credit card details. First they got right away, the second I offered on a safe form of their website. Then they just said, they have space available every day during my time there, I should turn up on arrival. First day of diving started with bad news. The skipper decided not to go to Desecheo, it was too windy, so too choppy a ride out and weather forecast wasn´t good. Actually, I´m so sick of all these I think lame excuses which I heard during all my diving vacations. I feel I missed so many awesome dives just because someone was not in the right mood, wanted to save petrol, cause beginners were on board, the sea or current was too rough ….etcetera. Sometimes I just can´t believe this anymore. On the other hand you could say, I was lucky to have missed these, I might not be around anymore if not. Who knows the truth? We did two dives from the boat close to the mainland. Vis was less than 10 m water temperature 27 C, some scattered nice coral and sponges on boulders in sandy patches. There was some colorful fish life around, two barracuda, one moray eel, one lobster – a good intro dive but not much more. At the harbor no working jetty, so the boat comes as close as possible to the beach. All divers and snorkelers form a line to get all gear and tanks from the truck bed onto the Katmandu. This for 120 – I mean I don´t mind carrying gear and tanks once in a while. In southern Europe this is daily routine. In many Asian countries you don´t touch your gear at all and pay less than here. The boat is rather small, shade you will only find around the wheel, so better bring plenty of sunscreen. Dive time ran around 50 min, I surfaced with 100 bar. Rincon is a lovely town scattered along beaches and hills, seems to be a surfers paradise. Went to the famous „La Caverna“ near Camuy, it´s an impressive cave system where you ride down to the entry with a little train then hike deep into the cave. There are huge stalactites which nature formed into weird monuments, there are sinkholes with opening to sky and jungle, impressive to see. Bats hang around the ceiling from which water drops all the time, it´s drinking water quality so just turn your head up and open your mouth when you are thirsty.
Diving with Taino on Wednesday started well with the chance to go and dive Desecheo. It´s a 45 min ride out to the island. Taino Divers give a good dive briefing and boat procedure. Big surprise, they don´t insist on buddy teams, so when you are good on air you can still cruise along the reef while your buddy slowly ascends for safety stop and boat. Vis was great estimated 50 m plus, water temp 27 C, boulders with scattered sponges and coral, not a lot of fish around. 3 nurse sharks were cruising by, there are some nice swim through close to the shore, which give opportunity for some shots of surf hitting the island right above your head. You are not allowed to visit the island, it´s a protected area and once was a target practice place for the air force. It seems unexploded bombs, still active, are somewhere around, one lies in 9 m of water. Thursday diving was off due to maintenance on the boat. For Friday they had not enough bookings. So out of 5 planned diving days I only got 2. I asked Taino for other dive centers around Rincon. They told me these are only offering shore based diving. Do you expect your dive center to check with competitors to give you the chance of more diving, when they can´t offer you all? Actually some do or at least call and check the other center for dive schedules to inform their customers. Coconut Palms Inn is a lovely home away from home. Pelicans fly along the beach, all of sudden folding their wings and head diving in to catch some fish. It´s spectacular to watch them, but rather difficult to zoom in on with your camera. I tried several times to catch them but never managed to get the right moment, so gave it up. The sunset is breathtaking nearly every late afternoon you will see this amazing spectacle of nature.
On Saturday I left my rental car at Budget and took a cab to the ferry terminal at Mayaguez to get onto the Juliet. Of her I learned when I was looking for liveaboards running the wreck trek tour down the Florida Keys. Got their newsletter and saw them advertising Mona Island. Where in hell is Mona , never heard of, although I travelled around the world a lot always looking for tempting new dive destinations. Mona they said on the Internet, is the Galapagos of the Caribbean. Well this was exactly what I was looking for, far away from crowds and promising virgin like diving where not too many have been before. My very first impression when I saw Juliet was, ups she surely has seen better days. I booked one of the big cabins with private head, I just feel more comfortable with that instead of sharing facilities. Juliet was not fully booked, so all got a cabin for themselves. We were 8 guests, 7 US 1 European. Dive deck is big, everyone got his own space with his tank and locker behind for your gear. There is hot and cold fresh water right next on the mast, buckets for camera and computer on both sides. For Nitrox they charge an extra of 100 $ for the whole week. Saturday night we sailed or rather motored to Mona. Juliet is rolling a bit strong in deep swells, so sleeping was fighting the movement of the boat. With your bunk running straight to the bow you would nearly fall out of your bed. Staying at right angle to it, you would either hit head or toes with her rolling. First day diving Mona showed similar sites as on Rincon, boulders with scattered sponges and coral, fish life sparse and rather shy, vis nearly endless. It seems even here in a protected area there must me some spearfishing cause the fish did not allow you to get close. They had warned of Mona with often changing currents and big swells it´s not for the beginner. We did not encounter that on our dives. However at her close by sister island Monito the story was completely different. There big surf was waiting and swells pushed us in and out of canyons. To be on the safe side we all had to get ready and hold onto the reeling while the skipper got close to the island. On command we immediately jumped in and grabbed hold of the tag line. Everybody got ready and on a signal we went down together. I thought negative entry would have been the right choice here, the dive instructor disagreed. Jessica our guide gave good briefings and pulled a marker buoy with flag all the time along with her at Monito, this would be a tough job even guys would have a hard time to manage. Lisa the second skipper and marine biologist send us down with the task to find some special fish species. You could then mark „found it“ on board on a FOD paper. The guy with most hits would win a tee shirt at the end of the trip. Vis 50 m plus, huge boulders some nurse sharks, turtles, better fish life around. Dive 2 there took us to some awesome wall with tricky current. We saw huge barrel sponges where you easily could have hidden behind with now one seeing you anymore. On ascend we all assembled on the surface, Juliet approached and each took his/her turn to grab the tag line and then get to the ladder to climb on board. Sometimes this was a damned hard job with the boat riding the swells. They offer 4 dives a day, 3 day dives. All dives start from the mother boat, the inflatable is only used to catch divers, who get caught in a current and swept away from the island. Most days we chose to dive the rugged Monito Island twice than head back for some more shallow dive plus night dive in calmer waters at Mona. Once when we surfaced at Monito I looked up and a frigate bird was hovering right above me, must have been curious to find out what kind of creatures are swimming down there. The last day there we went to a site called „Cul de Sac“ at Mona. It´s a wall dive with some really spectacular coral garden on top. This soon turned out to be the best two dives I did on Mona. Fish life was better here and I just love drop offs. Without this place I would not have given Mona good marks for diving. Being called the Galapagos of the Caribbean, I expected more. We never had big schools of fish around us, pelagics were rare, only once we spotted dolphins on the surface. So I feel Galapagos is a bit far fetched exaggerated and overrated. On our way back to the mainland we stopped for the last dives at Desecheo. There we had our first and only real drift dive in ripping current at Yellow Reef. We tried to swim around huge boulders and through canyons to reach the outer reef and climb across the rocks. There was absolutely no chance. As soon as you stuck your head above the reef edge, current would hit you. It was either hiding in lee of the reef or being rushed back to the Juliet along with current. There you had to hold tight to everything being there either tag line or anchor line and floated like a flag in the wind. I grabbed the safety bar and was pushed to the surface with it, my computer shrieked. Our skipper was happy when all of us safely showed up back on the boat.The staff on board was excellent. Our chef Anna did a magician job in the kitchen. I don´t know how she managed that in the sometimes heavily rolling Juliet. She served good and nourishing meals buffet style. We had Fettuccine Alfedo, various Tacos, Lasagne, top notch sweets, she even managed to prepare some gluten free pancakes and French toast for me. Jessica our dive instructor guide gave really good briefings, we got the chance to brush up our underwater compass skills, as most dives we did on our own risk, level and finding back to Juliet wasn´t always easy in unfamiliar surrounding. She could not quite believe there are experienced divers even in Germany. I guess she did after watching me blowing smoke rings and even hearts up to the surface :-). Lisa was the cattle drover at the end in line on the dives to make sure we stay together and behave.
Juliet is not the youngest lady anymore, but maybe it´s her charm and attraction which divers let chose her for an awesome vacation. I would join a trip on her again, when they offer some tempting tropical destination.