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May 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 29, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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CoCo View Resort, Roatán, Honduras

eat, sleep and dive a lot is their motto

from the May, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Fellow Diver:

On my flight from Delta's Atlanta hub to Roatán, I was surrounded by a crowd drinking at 10 a.m. and loudly advertising it. My partner issued soothing reassurance, "They won't be at CoCo View." A safe prediction, because CoCo View's T-shirt motto of "Eat, Sleep, Dive" sums it up: it's all diving, not partying. For many Caribbean divers, CoCo View (CCV) is the premier destination.

At the Roatán airport, I got my first dose of CCV efficiency. Nora, the resort's rep who greets incoming divers, walked me out to their bus, and 20 minutes later, I was listening to a short welcome briefing as my gear was whisked to my over-the-water bungalow.

I've been here before (and thus avoided the beach checkout dive -- mandatory unless you've been here previously -- which you do on your own in lieu of the first boat dive), and noticed the upgrades in my comfortable bungalow. It now had in-room Wi-Fi, a coffeemaker, minifridge and bottled water. It also had A/C, though I preferred the sea breezes most days. My partner suggested a shore dive, but my mood was to hang out on my little balcony and transition from work mode to Caribbean vibe.

Entrance and Exit to CoCo View's House ReefNext morning at 6 a.m., as I fired up the coffeemaker and looked out at the reef line, I spotted four divers kicking in from their dawn dive. Apparently, some folks skip the "sleep" part of the T-shirt instructions. A few eggs and a couple hours later, I stepped off the stern of Coco II, one of four identical, well-designed dive boats, and dropped in to "Two Tall Two Small," a site so close to CCV's house wall that my friend, who traveled with us, started his second dive by dropping off right there and cruising the wall back to the lodge.

I can often dive the same reef twice and feel differently about it, depending on chance sightings. My first dive here was OK, with Creole wrasse schools and an eagle ray banking close by. Six days later, the same site yielded one of my better dives. As I came to a sand chute, I saw my partner head-to-head with a goliath grouper. Matched in weight class, they eyed each other until the fish eased out from under its ledge. I swam with 100 yellowtail parrotfish, about the only parrot that schools, while another diver pointed out a scorpionfish I had just passed over. My partner clicked her rattler to show me Florida corallimorphs, then she found a branching anemone and a strawberry tunicate.

CoCo View Resort, Roatán, HondurasCoCo View claims to be the largest dive resort in the world (though a number of resorts catering to Japanese divers would not agree). There were 70 divers during my week in mid-February; when I had tried to book the trip six months earlier, my first choice of weeks was sold out. With the size and age comes a well-worn routine. The writer who had reviewed CCV previously for Undercurrent (August 2008)compared it to "Camp Granada," and I did indeed feel like I was at scuba camp. While I prefer smaller operations, this camp had some big advantages: air fills of at least 3000 psi and my gear always properly set up on the boat, which left promptly at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., with cold water, fresh fruit and a Divers Alert Network safety kit on board. In addition to standard aluminum 80 tanks, they offered small bottles for air-sippers and jumbo 100s (which I chose).

My assigned boat had 13 divers for the week, and most of them showed up each time. I was issued a dive locker right behind my boat, making handling gear a snap. They changed rinse tank water frequently (a CCV regular noticed me reading Undercurrent, and told me that after an Undercurrent reader report had complaints about contaminated water, CCV made more frequent water changes). Thirteen is a load of gringos on one boat, and two boats had 18 each, part of a large group from Portland. My boat had couples, solos, and my threesome.

Only one divemaster herds a large group, but it works here because most divers are experienced and many do their own thing; about half of all CCV divers are repeat visitors. However, the crowd can be a problem when the divemaster clicks his rattler to point out something and the herd swoops in, with some videographers apparently planning a feature-length film. Who needs five minutes of video of a stationary seahorse? But speaking of seahorses, you won't miss these CCV trademarks; the divemasters know where the real cuties live. And when the pack assembled, I tacked down the reef and out of the way.

The reefs are stressed -- as they are everywhere in the Caribbean -- with varying degrees of healthy coral varieties, but in better health than most locations. Tim Blanton, CCV's photo-shop pro, said the recent warm water had spurred algae growth. (Water was down to 80 degrees in mid-February.) He also told me where to find the healthiest, most vibrant reef -- at the end of the house reef, CoCoView Wall on one side of the lodge, and Newman's Wall on the other. It's the key to CoCo View's popularity. After the morning dive and a 40-minute interval, I often stepped off the back of the boat for the "drop-off" dive on Newman's Wall. I would swim along the sloping wall at around 55 feet, until I got to a sign that pointed me across the lagoon channel to the wreck of the Prince Albert, a 140-foot freighter sunk by CCV staff in 1985. It's not a great wreck dive but it provides shelter for morays and occasionally grouper. I loved poking around in the channel for the sand dwellers, from ghost feather dusters to garden eels. The visibility here was soupy, perhaps due to heavy recent rains.

CoCo View Resort, Roatán, HondurasCCV veterans favor being dropped off after the afternoon dive on CoCoView Wall, a more vertical wall. Tim Blanton's tip was to request being dropped off 200 meters farther down the wall, where I found the most live coral I've seen in years. It was a longer swim back, but I had plenty of time, because the place to be was on top of the wall around the amazing coral garden and in the sand channels at 20-foot depths. Here were sheet corals, huge pillar corals and big schools of reef fish, including my only shy hamlet spotting of the week. I liked exploring the turtlegrass shallows, where I found mystery invertebrates, juveniles of every species, and denizens like two big permits that scooted past me a few times. CCV is an outstanding place for an avid snorkeler. (Night dives are also done from the shore, to the house wall area, where the protected lagoon make for easy entry and exit points).

Ruben Melgar, my boat's captain, and divemaster Marcos Rodriquez were competent, helpful and safety-conscious. I liked Marcos's slow pace, but he wasn't much help as a creature scout. Most of his rattles were to point at lobsters, barracudas or creatures inexperienced divers might miss. But once he pointed at a turtle just 20 feet from me, which I would have missed, so I shouldn't scoff too much. At a couple of sites, he announced there would be "friendly" green or spotted morays, and yep, I was startled by a big green that swooshed right past me. The divers seemed to love the show, but did they notice Marcos spreading out the fish chow behind them? I was told that Kirk, another divemaster, is the resident scout for interesting creatures.

Most dives tend to be a similar profile: down the mooring line to the top of the wall, cruise the wall, then, following the divemaster, make a turnaround to loop back over the top of the wall in the shallows, reach the boat in 45-50 minutes, then exit 10 minutes later by climbing the two big stern ladders, with help as needed from the captain. After dockside briefings, the boats left on time for the five- to 10-minute trips. CCV offers an all-day trip on a faster boat for $75, too pricey in my opinion. Calvin's Crack and Mary's Place are two dives with great swim-throughs and formations; they're where I discovered longsnout butterflies and blackcap basslets in the holes, while Creole wrasse streamed above. As I moved into the deep crack at Calvin's, Marcos controlled traffic so we would not bunch up in the site's signature passage. I eased myself near the bottom, where the view through the sea fans all the way to sunlight was great. I exited into blue water at 95 feet and poked around on the wall, with jacks overhead, as other divers followed. On top of the reef, sea fans swayed in a hefty surge at 20 feet.

I saw a few lionfish, but fewer than on recent trips to Cozumel, Cuba and San Salvador in the Bahamas. Doc Radawski, the founder of CCV's dive operation, told me the lionfish population had stabilized. He claims green morays and grouper do eat them naturally (i.e., not just when speared), and says he has video proof. A visiting post-doctoral researcher has found 75 species in the stomachs of dissected lionfish.

CoCo View's Over-the-Water BungalowsValley of the Kings was one of my fishiest sites. As I headed over the wall, my partner pointed to a big scorpionfish standing lookout on a ledge, then a big male blue parrot with the trademark squared-off snout. Creole wrasse poured over the edge and allowed me to join their school, one of my favorite moments in diving. A dozen puddingwives milled around near the top, and I spotted two big mutton snappers, though I think there was a scarcity of bigger fish in this supposedly protected area (Marcos claimed it was slowly improving.) On the concrete hold for the anchor line was a big peacock flounder in perfect camouflage, and as I went up for a safety stop, a large array of reef squid skittered past.

At the lodge, the talk is all diving. At my table, it was about the reefs and fish, while many conversations reflected gear-chatter or editing pictures on laptops. Most divers are middle-aged, with quite a few dive trips advertised on their T-shirts. Thanks to the friendly "camp" atmosphere, I could ask a stranger to see his fresh video, and several folks borrowed my Humann books (yeah, I lug them; apparently sticky fingers took the lodge's only set, but can't they afford to spring for another set or two?).

To a hungry diver, the "eat" part of the T-shirt message is important. Here it's mostly an American home-cookin' buffet, and definitely plentiful. Meals were set by the day -- if it's Tuesday, it must be outdoor BBQ day. There were always enough choices so I could dodge those faux tacos mom used to make (hardshell tortillas with hamburger, cheese and lettuce) and find something to my liking. Breakfasts had variety on the steam table; I'd opt for an omelet and toasted a muffin, and there were always juices and fruits. Lunches often had red beans and rice, as well as more choices and the soup of the day. Dinners were typically fish or shrimp and a meat choice, cooked veggies and a small salad bar. Friday night, the last night for most folks, was lobster and steak with chimichurri sauce. And always a tasty dessert; carrot cake was my favorite. The sweets disappeared fast -- there are a lot of relaxed-fit pants in this crowd.

Honduran beer (better than Budweiser) is $2.75, and there's regularly a happy-hour special or the rum drink of the day, along with popcorn and snacks. The bar music reflects the crowd: Elton John, some Bob Marley and definitely Jimmy Buffett. A local band performed on a couple of evenings, but the scene wrapped up early. By 8:30 p.m., I would be among the "night owls" at the bar. But there were a few partiers: One "CoCoNut" (10-plus visits) jovially asked me to tell his wife that she ate dinner last night, and then asked another diver to say the opposite; apparently she had been too drunk to remember.

Friday is "tip day" and also the day to say good-byes to new friends. My early Saturday flight was noted on the whiteboard, and my departure was as efficient as my arrival. I flew to San Pedro Sula, where I rented a car and headed to the Honduran highlands and Copán Ruinas town. I visited the spectacular Copán Maya site, toured a coffee plantation and spent a day birding with a great guide, Alex Alvarado. I stayed at La Casa de Café B&B ($58 for a double with full breakfast), and ate tasty Honduran pupusas and baleadas. Many North Americans understandably fear gang-related violent crime in Honduran cities, but the rural highlands are safer than your hometown and mine. It was a relaxing and cheap addition to my splendid trip to what, indeed, is among the top diverdedicated resorts in the Caribbean.

-- M.A.

CoCo View Resort, Roatán, HondurasDivers Compass: I paid $1,449 plus a 16-percent tax in advance, all-inclusive for six days of diving, double occupancy . . . Extra costs were $130 for a week of Nitrox, my bar bill, tips for the boat staff and pool-tipping for the remaining staff of about 50; bring cash or pay an extra charge of four percent on credit cards . . . If you haven't been here for several years, you may suffer sticker shock: It's not the cheap place it once was but it is still a fine deal, considering that most people will do 20-plus dives . . . CCV suggests a daily donation of $2 for the marine park and the same for the chamber . . . The best digs are the four bungalows, next best are the similar over-water cabanas; there are also nearby houses available for larger groups . . . Websites: CoCo View - www.cocoviewresort.com ; La Casa de Café - www.casadecafecopan.com ; birding guide Alex Alvarado - www.honduranbirds.com

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