THE CHINCHORRO ATOLL ADVENTURE
After reading the article in the October 1994 issue of the "Outside" magazine, my friend Kenna decided to go to Cancun and try to visit some of the remote coastal villages of the Yucatan. Two days in the party town of Cancun was too much. Kenna ended up renting a room in the quiet town of San Miguel, Cozumel. The room at the Carybet Hotel was adequate, but it cost only $450 for the month.
Several faxes and a couple of phone calls later, I boarded flight 178 on Royal Airlines for Cozumel.
My intentions were to go to Cozumel, spend a few days in town and then take the ferry to Playa Del Carmen on the mainland. Once there, I was going to rent a car and we were to travel to the end of the Yucatan at Xcalak.
The article by Jeff Suprier, "At Play in the Fields of Maya" had awakened my desire to try and dive the Chinchorro Banks, one of the most remote group of reefs in the Caribbean Sea and one of the four atolls in the Western Hemisphere. The banks lie just north of Belize, some 20 miles into the Caribbean Sea. at the tip of Quitana Roo.
So I sat in seat 21A writing this article. I've been on the police force for 20 years and this was my 10th trip to Cozumel, but I had yet to make it to Chinchorro. My greatest fear was not the diving, but the drive down from Majahual to Xcalak. The dirt road is so bad that many have given up after five hours by car from Playa Del Carmen. This time I was determined to do it.
My mind wandered to some day in the future when I can retire from the police force and open up a dive shop in a small town in Ontario, arranging trips to remote dive locations like the Naligoo Reef in Western Australia. The dreams are the same. Let's hope the body holds together for another seven years.
The captain interrupted with a quiz: "If the plane flies at 540 mph and it takes 3% hours to reach Cancun, how far is it from Toronto?" It never seems to amaze me how many people get the wrong answer! Myself included. I calculate it to be 1879 miles. It is wrong. Distance according to the captain is 1763 miles.
I arrive in Cozumel and Mexican customs. Each incoming passenger must push a button. If you get a red light, your bags are checked. I was fortunate to get a green light and walked right through.
On Tuesday, Kenna and I took the 6:30 am ferry to Playa Del Carmen. Once there, we rented a car-a '93 VW (Bug) - and seven hours later, we made it into Xcalak. We stayed at the Port Captain's Home for $15 a night.
Tom Biller of Adventuras Chinchorro, took Kenna and I to the Chinchorro Banks. We left at 7:30 am and returned at 8pm, in darkness. The two-hour journey was rough. The three-tank dive was uneventful. The reefs were undamaged and pristine. Rich coral growth ranged from elkhorn to black coral in an abundance I have seldom seen. The marine life - other than several turtles - was not as plentiful as I imagined for such a remote location. The visibility was bad - about 40 to 60 feet, thanks to a tropical storm two days earlier.
Well, I am glad I did it. I had to remind myself that Caya Lobos (our dive site) was only a tiny location, compared to a reef structure the size of Cozumel. I had to reassure us both that the $250 was well spent for a day of diving at Caya Lobos. In one Year, the Chinchorro Banks has as many divers as Cozumel has in one day!
On our drive through the virgin jungles of the southern Yucatan on a dirt road full of pot holes on the way back to Playa Del Carmen, I was surprised by the occasional sightings of wild turkey, a mouse deer, several foxes and a green parrot.
Christmas Island and its remote reefs will be my next dive trip in February 1995, when I visit Singapore en route to the Police Games in Melbourne, Australia. I'll keep you posted!
BY CHRISTOPHER FERNANDEZ
Copyright 1998 - 2000
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