Thursday, November 5, 2015

Tulum, Mexico

After our week-long stay in Playa del Carmen, we rented a car and drove an hour south to Tulum. The hotel we had booked was right on the beach and offered small yet comfortable bungalows.

The room came with breakfast. It was served in their restaurant on the beach. We had our choice of an American style pancake breakfast, a fruit and yogurt one or a Mexican breakfast. We always chose the Mexican style. But we saved the Coronas for later in the day.

For the most part, we really took the time to relax around our lovely beach setting. We enjoyed going into the town center of Tulum, where we had lunch. On another day, we drove around to research which other activities we were going to do.

An iguana getting some sun on the roof of the bungalow next to us.

A full moon lit up the sky.

In the previous blog, I chronicled my diving adventure in a cenote. Diane, during that time, went on her own excursion to Sian-Ka'an, a nature reserve right along the ocean that is run by the local Muyil community.

Sian-Ka'an is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In Mayan, Sian-Ka'an means the "Origin of the Sky". It has dense rain forests, mangroves and marshes and is home to howler monkeys, pumas, ocelots and jaguars. Birders enjoy the reserve because it offers sightings of hundreds of bird species. Sian-Ka'an also has a number of Mayan archeological sites.

Under the watchful eyes of Muyil guides, the reserve offers activities such as floating down mangrove-lined waterways, boat excursions and forest treks.

Groups float along the mangrove-lined waterway. The float lasted about 30 minutes. I could have kept going much longer! The water was crystal clear, warm and so relaxing.

A Mayan temple.

Diane at one of the Mayan archeological sites.

A view of the reserve's dense jungle from one of the platforms.

A view from the dock.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Diving a Cenote in Tulum, Mexico

Note that all the photos shown were provided by the dive shop.

I arranged my cenote dive with Motmot Dive shop the day before. I spoke with the dive guide, Scott, and got the feel of what I was to expect on the dive. If I was lucky and no one showed up for tomorrow's dive, I would have a one-on-one dive with Scott. Incidentally, Motmot is a type of bird that is often found at the entrances of cenotes and it's how the Mayans typically discovered new cenotes.

When I showed up in the morning, I got the good news that it was only going to be Scott and I that were going to dive. Good. I was little rusty in my diving skills, not having gone diving in two years. I needed all the one-on-one experience I could get.

After getting outfitted with my diving gear we drove to the Dos Ojos (two eyes) cenote. For those who don't know what a cenote is, in the Yucatan, cenotes are typically underground freshwater pools made of limestone. Some are open water pools while others are enclosed, more like caves. Dos Ojos is surrounded with dense jungle vegetation with a partially enclosed cave. Some of the above ground tree roots penetrated the roofs of the cave system. It looked like a perfect background for a Spielberg Jurassic Park movie. 

The entrance to the cenote.

Roots coming through the roof.

After looking around the area, Scott meticulously went through the rules and regulations of diving a cenote. It's a little different diving a cave than diving open waters. Dos Ojos has numerous veins that stretch for nearly one hundred miles. So not following the guidelines could get one into serious difficulties.

The difference in diving a cenote versus open water diving are such things as the way you kick - you don't kick up and down because that stirs up the soft bottom. Instead, you use the kick of the breast stroke and kick horizontally. Also, there is a bright yellow line stretched along the diving path. You try to avoid touching the line as well as the limestone formations, the stalagmites and the stalactites.

One of the other rules pertains to oxygen utilization. When you are half way into the dive, you should have two-thirds of your oxygen remaining, leaving another third to exit. The last third is there only for emergencies. Thus, in most cases you come out with a third of you tank unused. 

After getting suited up, we walked down the steps to the cavernous entrance of the cenote, weighted down by all the gear. After one last briefing, we jumped in, got our flashlights on and checked our buoyancy. Initially, I had trouble staying down, so Scott gave me an extra two pound weight, and off we went.

I must admit that in spite of having done numerous dives for over 35 years, my initial comfort level gave way to a very claustrophobic and somewhat unnerving feeling. I felt closed in and it seemed that I was using up more oxygen than I normally do in a dive. I was very uncomfortable - to the point that I wasn't sure I'd do the second dive. It was the deeper and darker dive of the two dives. 

Divers approaching the entrance to the cenote.

The surroundings were familiar, in that I had seen a number of caves with stalagmites and stalactites, except that these were all under water. They were quite impressive, knowing that it takes a stalagmite one hundred years to grow one centimeter.

My the time we got to the halfway point (marked by a plastic alligator with a Barbie Doll in its mouth), Scott checked in on me to see how much air I had left. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had well over two-thirds left. Knowing that, I felt much more at ease and enjoyed the second half of the dive. There was a slight current in that part of the cenote that gave us a chance to drift along a bit. 

The second dive was bit deeper (still shallow in terms of open water dives) with more areas of total darkness. The flashlights were a necessity. The stalagmites and the stalactites were massive, some looking like columns of melted was candles. We also spotted sea fossils and the roots of trees growing above ground that had penetrated the underwater cavern.

Midway, Scott gave the signal to surface. We had arrived in the Bat Cave. With the BC inflated, we could relax and watch the dozens of bat families hanging from the craggy ceiling of the cave. Every now and then a bat would fly around and land in another spot by swinging its feet upside down to latch onto the ceiling. It was quite a sight to see.

In most areas the water is crystal clear. Stalactites reaching towards the water surface.

Dead roots at the bottom with sunlight streaming in through an opening above.

In otherwise total darkness, flashlights illuminate the stalactites. 

The final leg of the dive yielded more of the limestone formations we had been seeing earlier. It all went smoothly and I began to feel much more secure with this type of diving. My take from the dive was that this type of a dive is not suitable for all divers. And even though I felt that it enhanced my diving skills, it's not something I likely will repeat. Open water dives, with sea life and coral formations are simply more to my liking. But I did enjoy the challenge and the opportunity to dive the cenote.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Playa del Carmen - 2015

Mayan Palace 

We are on an stretch of coast of the Mexican Yucatan known as the Mayan Riviera. Lots of it is still lush, dense jungle. But on the coast much of it has been built up into plush and enormous resorts. We're hold up in one of them. Not our standard fare, but in this case it fit the bill. 

          Looking towards one of the restaurants on the property from a pier.

                           The weather in October can be rainy with rough seas.
                                              A look south, down the beach.

  The resort has no shortage of pools. Instead of my normal 25m lap swim, here I can swim 75m laps.

                                    On the property there are flamingos.....

                                                            As well as crocs.

              On the beach and along some of the paths, iguanas can be spotted.

                                A hungry egrit scours the shoreline for a snack.

  The resort offers a lot of Mexican rooted entertainment as well as a Cirque du Soleil production.

        Wooden paths run all along the property. Here is our walk from the pool to our room.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

2015 Chesapeake Bay Cruise

2015 Chesapeake Bay Cruise

On September 4, Wes and I left Havre de Grace, past our usual first port of call, Annapolis, and were anchored in Galesville by evening. We had stopped there some years ago.

Day 2 - Our next stop south was another one of our regular stops - Solomons. On the Petuxent River, it has a few bars and restaurants ashore, but we never got off the boat.

Day 3 - On leaving Solomons, we sailed across the bay to Chrisfield, a spot we had visited some years ago. While in route, we stopped the boat in the middle of the bay and went for a dip. It was very refreshing. In the morning, we walked around the quiet town with broad Main Street looking for ice. Finally found it at Big Willies. We left soon afterwards.

Day 4 - We stayed on the East bay and sailed to Onankoch. It has a long and windy channel that goes up, the Onankoch Creek. That afternoon, we took a walk downtown and found some of the same stores we had visited some time ago - an antique store where Wes had bought a wine corker, and a wine and kitchen gift store.

Onankoch has an old townfeel. It's quite charming with a number of classic old homes and store fronts.

Day 5 - Cape Charles, Virginia - Docked at a marina at night after tearing clew off genoa. The following day we took the fold-up bikes to Food Lion, a big grocery store, to stock up on some supplies.

A very dark stormy cloud threatened us in the late afternoon. The sky became dark and eerie looking, particularly with the dust it kicked up from the gravel and cement operation at one end of the basin.

Day 7 - Hampton Roads, Virginia anchored in Hampton after an easy sail across the bay from Cape Charles. No incidences.

In the morning, we walked around the town of Hampton. Nice but very small. Ricky Skaggs was scheduled to play at a venue near the boat. But due to the impending rain they moved it to a place further off. 

We then took the bikes to visit Fort Monroe and on the way back stopped at a waterfront restaurant and had a bottle of Pinot Gris with an order of fish & chips - very tasty.

Wes replaced starter. We now can start the engine at will. Nice.

Day 10 - After three nights at Hampton, we pulled up anchor and headed north. With the little wind there was against us, we opted for a short run, pulling into Mobjack Bay. Of the several rivers we had to chose from, we opted for the East River, a river noted for its beauty and tranquility.

As we motored past homes and densely wooded shoreline, our coastal navigation book noted that one of the homes we past that had a wooden structure with a paddle wheel alongside of an elegant white southern-style home, once belonged to John and Yoko Lennon. Imagine.

We anchored after another mile, just north of a wharf. Indeed it was a peaceful, tranquil spot. In the evening, the only sounds were of the crickets. The skies were emblazoned with stars.

                                         The alleged home of John and Yoko

Day 11 - The following morning, after a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs and cheese wrapped in a tortilla with salsa, we moved onward to a new spot further north. The trip was uneventful - the little wind we had was on the nose again. 

By mid-afternoon, we were in position to enter the channel for Gwynn Island. It was a curvy, narrow channel with a drawbridge at one end. We radios ahead to request for it to open, which they did, but with a slight delay, forcing us to make a quick loop at the very last minute. 

Once through, we followed a couple of markers and promptly ran aground in mud. We tried backing down, but to no avail. We then tried kedging off, using a small anchor! But that too failed to pull us off. We then decided on the course of least resistance by having a beer and wait out the tide. It would soon be an incoming tide.

Several hours later, after eating dinner and having a glass or two of a  cab, we floated off and anchored nearby in deeper water.

Day 12 - We were under way early, returning through the bridge opening by 10:30a.m. We decided to head for another anchorage neither of us had been to - Indian Creek.

After one attempt to anchor failed due to poor holding ground, we ventured down the Indian River to Henry's Creek. We found it to be a beautiful and tranquil bay with good depth and holding ground. The evening sunset was incredibly colorful.

Day 13 - We had a very leisurely morning, since we were only going a few miles north to Reedville. With nearly calm wind conditions, After a few hours of motoring we were anchored in Reedville. 

Known for its menhaden fish industry (from which Omega oils and fertilizer is made), this once thriving town is slowly fading away. We took the bikes to shore expecting to find a grocery store nearby but found out that the last grocery store in town was shuttered a couple of years ago. We bicycled five miles further to find a Dollar store with minimal supplies.

Still Reedville is a picturesque place.

Day 14 - We left Reedville after breakfasting on a bacon and egg burrito. With the high pressure area remaining with us, we motored most of the way to the mouth of the Potomac River. The trip,was uneventful except for the sighting of a floating, bloated deer carcass.

I hadn't expected the mouth of the Potomac to be so wide - 7 miles. We were on our way to see Mike and Ann, friends of Wes', who owned a weekend trailer on the river banks, near Smith Creek.

Mike was there to greet us at the dock. In the evening, we had dinner with Mike and Ann, enjoying a fire and good conversation.

Day 15 - Woke up to very dense fog in the harbor. It made the surroundings even more tranquil. After coffee and breakfast, we got underway and set a course for a return trip to Solomons. Just outside of the harbor, we caught a blue fish. Besides catching a fish, we were fortunate that day to actually be able to sail into Solomons. 

Day 16 - The breeze was a little stronger in the harbor in the morning, but we had no idea of how gusty it was outside on the bay. Once we were out there, we had 3-5 foot chop against us with gusts to 25 mph. After a bit of pounding into the weather, we made the sensible choice of coming back in to the harbor and re-anchoring.

The following day, we went to a watermen's boat docking competition event that was being held in the harbor. It's more or less their version of a cowboy rodeo. A display of power and skill, as the big boats are quickly maneuvered around pylons, four rings placed around each of them, and it's all done in less than 30 seconds. 

I made a short video of one of boats performing the maneuvers. You can view on YouTube here

                                                       Wes shucking oysters.

The next day we faired much better, though the wind continued to be from north - just where we were heading. After about 12 hours of motor sailing we got into Annapolis and took a mooring. We didn't go to shore, instead just had dinner and Wes opened up a bottle of champagne.

The following day, we left early after a cup of coffee - it was going to be another long day on our return to Havre de Grace. We picked up the mooring line just after dark. Another good Chesapeake Bay cruise had come to an end.