If you ever want to get divers' attention, utter the words "cheap dive vacation. Mark was kicking around the notion of doing a few days somewhere and not spending a lot of money doing it. I was in desperate need of a vacation. We exchanged some information and thanks to Mark's unique delegation style, I became the organizer.
After looking at various possibilities, we settled on a package from Lyn Rose Tours. The brochure looked nice, and good reports from the rec.scuba.locations news group were encouraging. The fact was several hundred dollars cheaper than anything else, gave it a unique charm. Liza, Paul, Brian, and I opted in, paid our money, and started watching the calendar.
Our flight on the Mexican carrier, Aero California, left from Tijuana, Mexico. This is just across the border from San Diego. We all met at Liza's house in Chula Vista, planning to take a cab from her house to the airport. Unfortunately, none of the cab companies that would make that trip were answering the phone that morning. Falling back to plan B, we crammed ourselves and all our gear into Liza's tiny SUV. Those in the back seat discovered a new definition for friendly. We drove to Brown Field. There we caught a cab, which took us to the border. After crossing the border on foot, we caught another cab that took us to the airport. This was not our preferred alternative. 4 people with dive gear and clothing do not really fit in your average cab.
Check-in was routine, except for a minor snag with Mexican migracion. Mexico charges a $19 tax on tourists traveling to the interior. We had to go back and pay the tax at the Aero California ticket counter. Thankfully, we allowed enough time in our schedule to absorb delays without stressing about it.
This was my first flight on a Mexican carrier and I had no idea what to expect. The flight departed on time, and the plane was apparently well maintained. Drinks were free, and they serve Hornitos tequila. I never did figure out what they were gave us for lunch. It was edible enough, but it made me wish I'd had my lunch at the airport instead. A van met us at the airport, and took us to Club Cantamar while giving us a micro tour of La Paz on the way.
Club Cantamar is 20 minutes north of La Paz on a small bay. There is another beach resort across the bay. It looks like a very nice place to stretch out and relax. Our rooms were clean and comfortable, though a soft bed in Mexico seems to correspond with extra firm mattress in the US. Brian, Paul, and I were in the triple room on the third floor. Elevators are uncommon in La Paz and I'm sure Brian and Paul reconsidered their decision to bring their weights.
Once we were comfortably in our rooms, we toured the grounds. Actually, we were in search of cerveza, but we took in the sights as we wandered. There is a pool with a bar [it was under construction when we were there. It is finished now]. They also have another block of rooms under construction. There is a small restaurant with simple fare, and an enclosed patio with plenty of shade.
The club has a shuttle that runs into town. While we were waiting for the shuttle to take us into town, the dive boat came back in towing another boat. The boat under tow had a fire in the engine room. Fortunately this was not our dive boat, but the boat which runs snorkeling and kayaking trips. We caught a ride into town with the dive boat crew. They were friendly, but clearly tired after a stressful day.
Once in La Paz, we needed little time to find a cantina and something to drink. La Paz must have cheap cerveza as its city motto. During the US happy hour, most places offered 2 for one on good quality beers that weren't very expensive in the first place. We enjoyed a walking tour of the beach area interspersed with dinner and more happy hour. Night life in La Paz doesn't really get going until 10PM. We found our way to a disco on one of the side streets where we found the people from the kayak boat. A sweet-sixteen celebration had moved to the disco and the joint was jumpin'. A local band with unique interpretations of classic American rock songs graced the stage. They had the requisite beat and lots of people were dancing on the crowded floor.
When morning arrived, we gathered ourselves together to groggily meet the new day. We moved our gear down to the boat and settled down for breakfast. Club Cantamar has a small restaurant right by the dock. Those in love with fancy breakfasts should look elsewhere. Food was decent, but pretty basic. Found out on the last day that they make good French toast. Everyone seemed to be in decent shape despite an excess of Friday night partying.
We boarded the boat for our first day of diving. The sea was rough with a San Francisco Bay style chop. I wedged myself into a semi comfortable position for the ride out. Our first dive was a wall at Isla Espíritu Santo. By this time, the chop was uncomfortable, and anchoring made it worse. Liza, Paul, and Brian succumbed to the mal de mer and immediately volunteered for rail ornament duty.
Liza and Brian recovered enough to dive. Paul swam over to a rock where he apparently became deaf. We had to call many times before he raised his head enough to communicate and reluctantly swim back to the boat.
The dive itself was great. This was my first wall dive and I didn't know what to expect. The rock here has been uplifted to the point where the strata are vertical. These vertical cracks shelter a wide variety of fish. Fan corals are abundant as the prevailing current brings in plenty of nutrients. As in most of our dives, there was an abundance of fish species. I even found a couple of blennies spawning in a crack.
After the dive, the boat crew took us to a lovely sheltered bay with a beach where we could eat lunch without having it tossed across the boat. Those suffering from sea sickness could lay out on the beach for a while. Among those still on the boat, the beach goers came to be known as los Muertos for their cadaverous beach style.
Our second dive was on a sunken ferry.
This site was worth several dives by itself. I must have seen
a dozen different species of fish. The DM escorted us around the
boat and into some of the more sheltered sections. We found several
varieties of eel, and bunches of juvenile fish.
The last dive was a near total waste. Rocks covered in bird droppings do not make for good visibility. I later learned that there are a lot of juvenile fish at these dive sites. We just didn't see any.
After returning to Club Cantamar, we rode into town with the boat crew again. This trip was much more relaxed than the day before. We enjoyed a good dinner, and swore off the beer. Surprisingly, all our wacky photos were taken this evening. Somewhere there is a tape of Paul, Brian, and I sharing a trampoline. This may be the best 20 pesos we've ever spent.
Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise. It doesn't if you forget to set your clock forward for daylight savings time. Liza knocks on our door to greet three rather sleepy males. Liza saved our tails that morning. She ordered our breakfast while we gathered our dive gear and put it on the boat. We got it all on board in time to enjoy a quick breakfast, and some coffee.
The previous day's experience left us less than enthusiastic about another long boat ride. El Bajo seduced us anyway; offering the possibility of hammerheads or a whale shark. As the boat left the dock, we immediately noticed the much calmer conditions in the Sea of Cortez. Instead of the SF Bay chop, we had 1 foot waves without the steep faces. I settled down on my dive bag for a nap while we motored out to El Bajo seamount.
We came to El Bajo after 1-1/2 hours of motoring. The captain threaded his way through the fishing boats to get us to an isolated peak. We anchored in 75 feet with a knot of current running. We were supposed to descend on the anchor line. Unfortunately, there was enough wave action to pitch a couple of the divers off the line. Swimming into the current burned a lot of air. We were all more depleted than usual once we reached the seamount.
On the bottom, we encountered the now usual assortment of fish. The individuals were larger than the other sites we dived. I nearly put my hand on a pan-sized scorpion fish. I could see indistinct schools off in the water around us. The current forced us to stay close to the seamount. Rather than swim against it, I chose to go hand over hand along the rocks. Again we got spread out due to the current. However, I was soon getting low on air and we made our way back to the anchor line for the ascent.
Our next site was a shallow hard coral reef. This site was more like a garden. There were many bushes of coralline algae mixed with cabbage-sized hard corals. The fish weren't nearly as abundant here, but there were several specimens to photograph. My dive buddies came across a very large moray eel. Accounts on its size differ, but photos clearly show it's a very large eel. The reef is a diver-friendly 30 feet deep and we were able to explore for a long time.
Our last dive was the bird shit rock right off Club Cantamar. Total waste of a dive compared to our previous locations.
Lacking any sort of dive schedule the following day, we revisited Kiwi in La Paz for dinner. The local lobsters are very tasty and moderately priced, as are the margaritas. We also revisited the places with good appetizers. Our plans for shopping were thwarted because most shops close early on Sunday. We window-shopped and planned a brief expedition for the next morning. The locals were gearing up for some sort of street party. Unfortunately, we weren't ready to join them. Lack of fluency in Spanish combined with two days of diving were enough for us.
We tried out the hotel's kayaks before we departed to the airport. We had ourselves a very pleasant paddle across the little bay to explore an outcropping of volcanic rock. Like a bunch of little kids, we scampered around and played with the crabs. Liza and I returned to pack while Brian and Paul paddled around Bird Shit Rock.
We reluctantly boarded the airport shuttle. The driver was nice enough to stop in town for 10 minutes so we could buy souvenir T-shirts. Once we arrived at the airport, we unhappily learned that we might not have seats on our flight to Tijuana. There was an Aeromexico flight, which could take us. Then the Aero California plane had mechanical problems and would leave after our backup flight departed. It was a big mess. Thankfully, the Aero California supervisor straightened it all out and we would be on the Aero California flight. Our flight left 2 hours late, but the delay gave us all time to spend the last of our Pesos on beer.
Once again, the drinks were free. This time, I could identify the lunch as something food-like. We were able to secure transport all the way back to Brown field in Tijuana. Liza was reunited with her husband, and we shoe horned ourselves back into her RAV 4.
You couldn't ask for a nicer bunch of traveling companions. I've gotten so used to traveling on business by myself, that I'd forgotten how much fun it is to vacation with friends. My fellow travelers readily absorbed any delays and curves thrown at us which was a huge relief for me.
I'll definitely do this trip again. You can't beat the price. The locals are polite and friendly, and the diving is very good.
Dave's trip tips:
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