Change is sometimes a good thing and sometimes it is not. We elected our current President on a promise of change. I’m sure you have an opinion about how that’s worked out, but I have no intention of going there.
I have started writing this on the flight back from a trip to Cozumel. Talk about change. When I started diving Cozumel some 36 years ago, it was a sleepy island destination that many of us thought was the best kept secret there was concerning scuba diving. Aqua Safari was the only real dive shop, run by Dick Tompkins – may he rest in peace — with the help of Donna Mena. Bill Horn aka “Mr. Cozumel” decided building some condos north of town was a good idea – and it was.
All the boats in Cozumel, at that time, were local wooden fishing boats. We fondly called tunk-a-tunka boats because that’s the sound their engines made on the 90-minute to 2-hour boat ride to the reefs on the southern end of the island. That ride, by the way, was along a completely deserted tropical beach. Commercial development stopped at the El Presidente, except for some local development at Chanka Nabb Lagoon. After your deep dive, the boat “tunk-a-tunkaed” into shore where lunch usually consisting of fried fresh fish, fresh fruit, beans and rice were prepared over an open fire. After a couple hours of volleyball, beach combing or a siesta, it was time to get back on the boat and head back north and do your second dive. The boat usually got you back to your hotel around 5:00 pm.
Carlos & Charlie’s hadn’t opened and the premier restaurant was Las Palmeras. $2.50 would get you anywhere in a cab and you couldn’t eat all that a ten dollar bill would buy. When you walked around, the only folks that tried to sell you anything were the little kids selling chicklets. And … if you stayed a week you might see a couple of cruise ships at the downtown pier and maybe one at the pier by the La Ceiba.
Well my fellow divers, change has come to Cozumel and like all change some is good and some not so good. “Sleepy” no longer describes Cozumel. There are at least 10 properties that have been developed south of El Presindente. Tunk-a-tunka boats are no more. Now a fast boat whisks you out to the reef in the morning. Dive 1 is followed by a piece of fruit and a drink, then dive 2 and now it’s time to get you back by lunch, so the boat can take the afternoon group. Now that you have a half of day free, the water toys (aqua twister, para-sail, jet skis, floating bounce platforms, etc.) have showed up and along with sales people trying to get you signed up to play.
Busy, busy busy, but why wouldn’t it be busy with 10,000+ people dumped out on the island? Say what? That’s right 10,000+ at one time. Yesterday, there were four cruise ships docked at the La Ceiba pier and one downtown. 2,000 people per ship would be very conservative so 5 X 2,000 = 10,000.
Not all change is manmade. Acts of God, mainly hurricanes have made changes and most are not of the good kind. The reef in front of the La Ceiba was a beautiful “house reef”, and a perfect place for check out dives and night dives, but the hurricanes have severely hurt it. The DC-3 that was once a whole airplane has been reduced to one small wing section. With time that reef and the others damaged by hurricanes will recover.
I experienced one change that was particularly troubling to me. Living in Texas, Cozumel is only a couple of hours away. I have always been able to put together Open Water Certification packages with the open water dives being completed in Cozumel. This time I was confronted with a “change” that is not good. When I went to make arrangements to get tanks and weights for the check out dives for a family of four that had completed their class and pool work in Texas a week prior, I was told that I could not rent tanks for them and only one of their instructors could do the check out dives. I got the same story from several other shops including a PADI 5 Star. The fact that I have been teaching PADI for 43 years and was certifying PADI divers before their instructors were born didn’t seem to matter. After getting with some of my Cozumel friends, it seems this is going to become the norm. In other words, I spend my money on marketing to get a group to teach, they pay me for their material, I teach them all the academics, do all the pool work and get them ready for open water, then I’m supposed to send my students to someone else who is going to charge them again for four shore dives, try to sell them a boat trip or advanced open water course, plus get the credit for the certification? I don’t think so!
With the help of some long Cozumel friends I was able to get the open water dives completed and everyone certified. They will be enjoying the beauty of Cozumel underwater the rest of the week,
My suggestion to anyone wanting to do the Open Water check out dives with their students in Cozumel, make sure you have made arrangements before leaving and they fully understand you will be conducting the check outs.
Even with the changes, and we all know everything must change sometime, I consider Cozumel the best value and certainly one of the best dive sites in this hemisphere. Will I be diving Cozumel again? You bet I will. Will I be bringing students there? Well, that depends on the dive shops….but unless they reverse this recent change, probably not.