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A Cozumel Party With No Coronas- Witnessing An End Of An Era

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ChuckP

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You can drive to the Keys. With airports closed, tourists can't get to Coz. Most dive boats are well under 10 people. All closing the ports does is kill shore diving for locals.

I don’t know if that will stop shore diving, plenty of full tanks lying around.
 
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RayfromTX

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In the keys, we could not get the tourists to stop coming. So they closed hotels, they closed the restaurants, and no gatherings greater than 10 people, including charter boat passengers and crew. The beaches, bars, and retail facilities must close by 6 PM tomorrow. So they can’t stop tourists from coming, but they can stop them having a place to stay and anything to do.

I imagine that’s why the port is closed as well.
I'm not sure of their reasoning and have no inside skinny on that but most of the people that would go out in a dive boat have left. Those that I know that are still there are shore divers or locals anyway. There were almost no boats going out by Friday. On Friday my DM got a call and someone asked what he was doing. When he said he was working you could hear the laughter on the other end. It dried up very very quickly. The reef will now suffer a round of subsistence diving by locals that want food. The lobsters will take a hit. I hope lions get knocked around but I suspect the lobsters are going to be pretty decimated. That may be a reason to close the port. We definitely don't have a complete picture of this situation.

The ferries are on a limited schedule.

I don't know what the future holds but this isn't a blip. I don't know how the cruise ship industry comes back after this. We will shift to a new way of interacting I suppose. There will be a smaller airline industry and fewer carriers. That seems certain. Working from home instead of big offices will accelerate as a trend.

As far as Cozumel goes, it seems likely that it will never be the way it was before and how it changes will be yet to be determined. It has changed before. There is before Wilma and after Wilma, before cruise ships and after cruise ships and there will be when Corona was just a beer and after Corona was something totally different. How many dive ops will there be? How will the disease ravage the island or will they be spared. I hope and pray that they will be spared and that the warmth and sunshine are helpful in slowing its spread. I hope they woke up in time to the need to avoid contact and take preventative actions. It certainly made that shift in the 10 days we were there.

I posted this thread from the plane home as we were pulling up to the gate. It got weird from there. We got pulled for a random customs check along with some others. This is where bringing our son and our mother home their supply of insulin became a sweating bullets affair along with whether we would miss our connection. People were acting weird due to the stress and unfamiliarity they were experiencing. The CBP people were seeming to just be going through the motions and we eventually moved on to rechecking our luggage and going back through security where we got three of our bags pulled for closer inspection because they always seem to want to admire our regulators and canisters. They looked at and said nothing about our big 12AH dewalt batteries for the blacktip scooter. My wife had moved the stainless plate with the notches in the edge to carryon to make weight which they looked at and simply based on the luck of the agent drawing they let it go. Suffice to say, getting through the Houston airport wasn't the breeze for us that others have reported. If it happens to you, don't be like the few people that reacted badly. Be compassionate for those that are delaying you while doing their jobs and know that those jobs are about to be threatened, like next week. There were lots and lots of people that were nervous but acting well.

The flight to our final destination was another adventure in patience but went off and we had already made arrangements to skip the uber to where we had parked our car. The Uber is 35$. We rented a car at the airport. She went and got it and wiped it down while I collected and wiped down our bags. They upgraded us to a luxury suv for a total cost of 30$. We returned it around the corner from where we left the car parked so it was a smooth and easy transaction and the car smelled disinfected before we did it again. The planes have never been so clean. They get totally wiped down by the passengers at the beginning of every flight.

An hour later we were at home where we shed our clothes into the washing machine and headed to the showers before doing anything else. We are feeling pretty confident about our chances of having gotten home based on our protocols and the separation from others at the airport as well as the overall zero number of suspected or confirmed cases on Cozumel right now. I have no idea how many actual cases there are. Now we wait. Honey do lists will be addressed and there is much to be done to help others less fortunate.

As far as diving, I assume the parks will be closed at first so our usual dive site will be off limits but we have friends with access to the lake and access to air so green water here we come, eventually. First, we rest. That was a whirlwind. And we process. I've been saying right along that this whole thing will mean I'm an idiot or a genius. That's a joke but I will be doing an inventory of what we did and how we handled it. How did we treat others and could we improve. We are pretty old and we've made many mistakes and learned from them so we do pretty well overall. I could always do better and my biggest failure was probably times I was impatient with my amazing and adventurous wife. Hopefully I make up for it in other ways. Lots of gear to put away. Time to air up the tires on my bike as I intend to do a lot of rolling quarantine on the empty roads.

Stay healthy and kind my friends.
 

BrackaFish

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As I write this, I’m on one of the last flights out of Cozumel. This will be my trip report.

This was supposed to be a very special trip and it was, but not in the way I expected. There is a lot of that right now. Originally planned for the last 6 weeks of 2019, life and work got in the way. The new plan was 9 1/2 weeks from 3/12 until 5/17. My wife and dive buddy would be there for the first two weeks and the last two weeks.

I planned to do lots of shore diving in sidemount with a stage and a new blacktip scooter to get out to the reef and back. I have a friend on the island that is a dive master and I planned to join him on his work dives some days and just do pleasure dives with him in the afternoons on other days.

I carried down an enormous amount of gear as there isn’t any easy way to repair or replace items economically. All was going to plan and then it got weird. Before departure we were faced with questions and what ifs. We chose to come on down. We would continue to evaluate as time went on. We prepped at home for the worst case and prepped at the island for the same. Before anyone in the general public considered the potentials we stocked our home and also our apartment in Cozumel.

When we arrived, Cozumel was totally normal and bustling with 4 cruise ships in but we knew that would be short lived. We have friends on the island that are local doctors so we were getting the inside scoop. There were currently and continue to be no suspected cases on the island. Previous to our arrival there were some foreigners with suspicious symptoms but their tests all came back negative. I suspect when it arrives it will spread quickly because it is a very warm and touch oriented culture. On Saturday there were two cruise ships, none on Sunday, one each on Monday and Tuesday and that was it.

The rapidly evolving situation had us thinking and keeping an open mind. Our friends back home were telling us to stay because it was getting crazy at home but we knew we would have to return because the writing was on the wall that flight ops would cease as the ships had.

The main reason for the timing of the journey was to honor and recognize the one year anniversary of the passing and loss of our dear friend and mentor, Cameron Donaldson. The gathering happened on Monday and we did a dive in his honor later that day.

THE DIVING
It was great. On Friday we did a boat dive on a private boat with friends. Some canceled so it was four of us and our DM. The reef looked fine and we noticed some healthy looking brain coral and few lions. That was the only boat dive we did.

Later that day we got my wife sorted in her sidemount rig as she isn’t used to diving it with AL80s and standard short stem valves. After that every dive was sidemount and on nitrox. We get it cheap and when you don’t have to rent a boat the diving gets cheap and flexible. We just went whenever our DM wasn’t busy with paying customers. A typical dive was to let the scooter pull the three of us out to the reef and then clip it off and drift 2-3 kilometers and then scooter back in to where we had staged our motorcycle. Then we would go get the truck while the third person broke down the gear.

The long time in the shallows and at 5 meters on the transits meant that in spite of hitting deco on a 90gf hi we would surface with a very comfortable 40-50 surface gf. We could have literally swapped tanks and gone back out and someday we will. The villa Blanca wall and paradise deep are really beautiful reefs and aside from some horrible scars from cruise ship anchors, the reefs are in way better shape than the ones most people are familiar with.

We had some very special experiences with the critters there like once on Cedral deep when a big eagle Ray came up face to face and we drifted up to a few feet of each other and just looked at each other. He never fled and eventually just drifted off. I didn’t carry my camera on this trip and this is one time it would have even nice but I’m not sure it would have played out the same.

By Wednesday we knew it wouldn’t be long before our choices would no longer be our own so we changed our return schedule to get on this flight home. The next day the travel advisory was issued. Canada and the us had already closed the border. That same day which was Thursday my wife and I worked from the apartment and entered the water at 4:10. We went in at dzul ha just south of the presidente hotel and scootered out to paradise reef. At 5 meters on the way out we were joined by an eagle ray and two more out on the reef at 30 meters. While out there we killed a couple of big lions and when we hit our turn pressure we started to scooter back in unti we hit a little finger of beautiful reef at 11 meters so we dropped down and drifted along it where we enjoyed tons of big crabs lots of really nice schools of fish, a giant puffer with eyes the size of tennis balls and killed ou third lion. Then we headed on in and crossed under the deserted piers and landed at the place near Tikila where we left our moto. It was a very nice 137 minute dive.

When we surfaced we met a couple from Colorado that had arrived that afternoon. We were incredulous. They landed to learn of the advisory and did a 20 minute shore dive before calling and booking a flight out for the next day. Round trip from Colorado during the zombie apocalypse for a 20 minute shore dive. Wow

Yesterday was our last dive day and it was also special. We went out with our DM and another close friend of ours and Cameron’s. The little blacktip scooter hauled all four of us out to the deep side of paradise where we were again greeted by eagle rays. The lion fish were out in abundance and we quickly killed 5 big ones. As DM was drifting ahead of us ripping the fifth one apart, my wife and I spotted a shallow cave with some really big lions. The current was strong but wifey was adamant that they must die so I raced to get DM and his spear and dragged us both back into the current where wifey was waiting. In that shallow cave were 6 huge lions. We never missed and they all died to feed the scavengers. We knew that there would be no more divers to keep their populations in check so we wanted to do our part and went 11 for 11 on the day. That put us into deco so it was time to head in. Lots more fun and cool stuff waited for us on our trip in and the scooter pulled the four of us to a landing right next to our moto 124 minutes after we started.

After that it was time to wash gear and pack up hundreds of pounds of luggage that was intended to sustain us for 9 1/2 weeks. This morning there was a meeting at the harbor for interested parties where it was announced that the port will close on Monday until further notice. There is no longer legal diving on Cozumel. The tourists have left and it appears tomorrow or Monday will see the last flights out of the island. It is a very strange feeling to see the island empty and the streets deserted. In a week it went from normal to a ghost town.

I feel like we are deserting them. My heart is breaking for all my friends that didn’t get out. It all happened more quickly than many could keep up. They hesitated and then it was over.

Last year at this time I lost my friend Cameron. This year I’m not sure what I lost. I’ve just typed a lot of words but when it comes to my feelings about this, I’m at a loss. I am thoroughly grateful that we were here to experience this. I won’t judge myself or others too harshly because every day the vision and expectations changed. We are beginning our descent into Houston. We will be home soon. Peace to all of you. Peace to Cozumel. They are going to need us. Don’t forget them.

I suspect the Cozumel we’ve known like the world in general, will never be quite the same.

Sorry to hear your trip was cut short, but understand the need to keep self and family safe. Sounds like you had some wonderful last dives. As someone that is interested in the Blacktip, I was looking forward to seeing your reviews on it. Take care and be safe
 

Storker

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I don’t know if that will stop shore diving, plenty of full tanks lying around.
Well, if you go diving, please revisit your risk assessment.

Everything right now points towards every health system being swamped sometime not too far into the future. If you break a leg, if you need a suture, if you need a trip to the chamber, you'll be yet another drain on the health system capacity. And if every health worker is ridiculously busy trying to help dying people in ventilators, you might have a rather long wait to have your leg set right and put in a cast. And even if those health professionals aren't ridiculously busy trying to help dying people in ventilators, they might see it as more important to prepare for that situation than to sew up your cut as fast as you'd prefer.
 
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RayfromTX

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That would be true under those conditions but at the moment there is nothing resembling Covid19 on the island. This could certainly change in the future but at this point, their healthcare system just lost a lot of its normal load as people left the island.

There are very few ventilators on the island and perhaps half of them are functional at this time. They have perhaps 10-12 that are functional. It will continue to be an evolving situation.

There are many elderly and diabetic people on Cozumel. Obesity is common. The healthcare system is not adequately supplied with anything besides pharmaceuticals.

At the moment, shore diving is not a threat or an elevated risk. We as humans can access an evolving situation and adapt. It is our advantage as a species.

We are beyond the incubation period since Carnaval. That is a very good bit of data. 14 days past today will also be an important milestone for the island.
 

ReefHound

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I've been saying right along that this whole thing will mean I'm an idiot or a genius.

Well there's no way you could be called an idiot for taking your best precautions to do what you think is best for your family, regardless of Monday morning quarterbacking.
 
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RayfromTX

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Well there's no way you could be called an idiot for taking your best precautions to do what you think is best for your family, regardless of Monday morning quarterbacking.
I was referring to the fact that we went at all. There is a spectrum of caution vs adventure, shall I say. We have friends that would never dive due to risk. They would never visit Mexico based on their fears. On the other hand, just before we left, Austin had just canceled SXSW which I thought was a brave and brilliant and wise decision. Just after we left they canceled the rodeo. Both of these decisions brought out an angry response. 10 days later all of that looks different. People are hearing of cases in their neighborhoods and realizing how those big gatherings would have had poor risk/reward results. We made our risk reward assessment about going and teetered and then went. We considered the possibility of staying there for the duration as the healthcare systems in either place are unlikely to benefit us if the curve doesn't get dramatically flattened soon. We decided to come home when we did for several reasons.

The Cozumel people were not taking precautions and were still in complete denial to the danger.(that has since changed, mostly) That made us fear for how quickly it could blow up there.

The combination of a complete collapse of their economy and the virus erupting on the island meant the future safety on the island was unable to be predicted. We had no means of self defense, which has never before meant anything since we have always been safer there than at home.

People were getting crazy at home and if we found ourselves unable to get home later which seemed imminent we had to consider our home. If we are here it is a very valuable asset. If we are in cozumel, it is a potential target.

We did the math and came home. I'm glad we made the trip. I wish it had been earlier. It is what it is. I am thinking today about the ones still trying to get home and the ones that have missed their chance. I know many in both categories. Some hesitated a day too long and will be on the island now for the duration. It is troubling to me.
 

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I think the early awareness that has happened in the last seven days has helped somewhat.

On our little road trip south excursion yesterday, we didn’t get within ten feet of two people, the guard at the marina and the soda guy at Palancar. There were maybe 50 people at Palancar total and everyone very spread out - we’d normally eat but just a few cokes and a dip in the water.

The lines at Oxxo and Mega are spread out, they limit the people in banks, businesses are shutting down. It’s certainly not a forced shelter in place here yet but many of us are and that’s probably what we have going for us.

There’s a few cases reported in Cancun but nothing here yet. The last cruise ship was here five days ago - I’ve heard no news of sick cruise passengers other than one - the vast majority of tourists left yesterday. Fourteen days, pray, fourteen days.

The financial toll this thing took on the world is unprecedented and its long before its over. I’m not sure what four, eight or twelve months will bring but the sun will come up every day and I’ll be here watching it, helping in anyway that I can.
 
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RayfromTX

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One other thing I failed to note earlier. The exchange rate at Xmas was 18.5 pesos to the dollar it has fluctuated between there and 20 to 1 for the last few years. When we arrived it was right at 20 to 1. It climbed steadily while we were there and now stands at 24.42 pesos to the USD.

The numbers I posted aren't what you will see at the exchange places. It is the actual exchange rate. Using our Schwab debit card we were getting right at .1peso less to the dollar than the official rate. So we got 24.3 yesterday. A strong dollar is showing up elsewhere as well. Currently 1.17USD to one british pound, for instance.
 

ggunn

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For those who have hoarded and stockpiled food because they have the $ to do so and left the shelves empty for those who shop pay check to pay check... I hope they all choke on it.

As the late great Warren Zevon wrote and sang, you're a whole different person when you're scared.
 

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