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