Part 1: Choosing the right dive company
I was slightly surprised to find that there are only 2 different scuba dive shops in Sayulita, the first being Sayulita Entourage, and the second Oceano Dive and Surf. Since Oceano Dive and Surf is located slap-bang in the middle of town however, I just happened to walk past them first.
Although the staff at Oceano Dive and Surf were friendly and informative, my brief experience with them wasn’t a great one. In Blog 5 last week I explained how my broken collarbone recovery had interfered with my surf plans. Well, I hadn’t been scuba diving for 3 years, a standard aluminium scuba tank weighs around 15kgs, and since this weight sits on your shoulders before you enter the water I wanted to make sure I had a refresher session before plunging straight into the depths of the Mexican ocean. Last time I went diving my collarbone didn’t have a metal plate holding it together!
I’d been told by Oceano that a refresher session in a local swimming pool would cost $20 USD; unfortunately, it took quite a bit more questioning to realise that the refresher couldn’t be booked on its own, you also had to book the full scuba trip for a further $135 USD.
After some negotiation, and a couple of calls to the boss, Oceano staff advised that they could offer me just the hour’s refresher in a local pool for $35 USD; this seemed like the best deal I was going to get so I agreed. Two hours later however, I received a phone call to explain there had been a mistake and this offer wasn’t possible, I could still pay the difference and upgrade to the full dive though. I felt like I was being messed around, so I politely asked for a full refund.
Sayulita Entourage is the other scuba shop in town, and whilst they’re still located pretty centrally, it’s a bit trickier to find them in the side streets a few blocks from the centre of Sayulita. Once there though, Italian-born Roberta filled me full of confidence when we discussed the trips on offer, providing plenty of reassurance that her French partner Stephane had been a PADI instructor for 20 years and that they fully understood my collarbone concerns. Sayulita Entourage offer a day’s scuba trip to the Marietas Islands for $150 USD; this price includes transport to and from the town of Punta de Mita, the boat out to the dive sites and back, all the scuba gear, and lunch on your return to Sayulita.
If I timed it right I could also join a young couple just finishing their PADI Open Water Certification, meaning that we could take it slowly and do some practice drills as part of their training; sounded great to me, so I signed up. The Action Sports Nomad would finally be able to add a scuba adventure to the list; this travel blogging idea might actually work y’know!?
The Marietas Islands are located about 10km offshore from Punta de Mita on the West coast of Mexico
Part 2: The day of the dives
I arrived at the Sayulita Entourage dive shop just before 9am to find Stephane loading his truck with the dive gear. Helping him was an American guy called Chris. Originally from Tennessee, Chris had relocated to the UK with his Colombian wife Susana; they both now lived in Epsom and worked in different sectors of the insurance industry. Given that I used to live about 10 mins from Epsom and had also worked in the travel insurance industry, this was all a little bit weird. They were a friendly couple though, so we had plenty to talk about.
The journey to Punta de Mita is about 30 mins by road and fairly uneventful. Stephane explained that all the bars and restaurants in Punta de Mita are based in the private resort hotels, so unless you stay in the actual resorts then there is literally nothing to do in the evenings. Good to know.
On the boat to the Marietas Islands
Our Captain for the day was Jose-Luis with his first mate Edgar; a couple of younger Mexican guys who had a great rapport with Stephane. The affable atmosphere certainly helped to soften any jangling nerves that Chris, Susana and I had about the upcoming dives. We stopped briefly during the 20-minute boat trip out to the Marietas to watch a trio of dolphins in the distance, a mother and two pups was a good omen according to Edgar.
Part 3: Scuba Diving
First Dive: La Montaña (The Mountain)
Depth: 18 metres
Duration: 30 minutes
We drop anchor and it’s time to fight our way into 2 wetsuits, a 5.5 mm in addition to a ‘shorty’ over the top; damn, I didn’t realise it was going to be that cold down there! Stephane is aware of my collarbone issue, so I jump in first to don my scuba gear in the ocean as opposed to dropping off the side of the boat…right, how do I do this again?
After some orientation work for Chris and Susana and a quick ‘emergency ascent’ practice drill for all three of us, Stephane does one final check before we make the group descent. I’ll be honest, the first few minutes are a bit nerve-wracking; visibility isn’t great, I can hear the boat propellers nearby, and it’s odd getting used to the feeling of breathing compressed air through a regulator again.
As we descend further and visibility clears a little I’m thankfully distracted by the oceanic flora and fauna:
Chris checks out the Coral
Camouflage fish (not it’s proper name)
Dive one is a success, so it’s back into the boat for a nitrogen detox and slight relocation to the next dive site.
(FYI – going for a wee in two wetsuits basically goes exactly how you might imagine…don’t worry, they wash the wetsuits after every trip ;P)
Second Dive: La Pared (The Wall)
Depth: 17 metres
Duration: 32 minutes
Dive two starts a bit closer to the island and the waters are a bit choppier, so it’s on with the tank and dropping in backwards off the boat; the shoulder feels fine. We descend pretty much immediately due to the waves around us, it’s much more serene under the water:
There’s more sea life closer to the rocks
Not so keen to say hello
La Pared (The Wall)
The main event in dive 2 challenges me to overcome a major fear, swimming into a small dark cave with no sight of the exit…sufficed to say I was feeling fairly sketched out as everyone disappeared into the darkness. I had to have a little word with myself and just get on with it…
Entering the small, dark cave
Thankfully the darkness was short-lived, after navigating past a few pointy rocks and through a bit of a tight squeeze there was literally light at the end of the tunnel. The sudden realisation that I was surrounded by hundreds of small fish was quite an experience, I also managed to get some decent footage too:
Exiting the small, dark cave
The rest of the dive seemed like a dream after that, I definitely felt like I had stepped out of my comfort zone and conquered a fear; I’d say that’s a good day’s work!
Swimming under La Pared (The Wall)
Dive 2 success
I thoroughly recommend a dive trip to the Marietas with Stephane and Roberta from Sayulita Entourage!
Tune in next week to hear about my first week volunteering for Mision Mexico in Tapachula, the country’s most southern city.