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Trip Report Tres Pelicanos/Casa Mexican Trip Report Sept. 2018

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drrich2

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My Cozumel Trip Report

This report is written to include the decision-making process hoping to aid others new to Cozumel planning who may struggle with the myriad options. Thus, it’s long and wordy. I plan to make a separate thread with my research notes on Cozumel later.

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How I Picked Cozumel.

Dove 2-tanks with Living Underwater in 2011 (cruise stop) and had a good time. Cozumel is a very popular Caribbean scuba destination I wanted to ‘really do’ at least once. There’s too much to cram into even an 8-day week, but I got a chance at taking a week off from work 1st week of September and jumped on it.

I have 2 main types of dive trips; scuba trips disguised as family vacations with wife, now 5-year old daughter and sometimes mother-in-law, and solo trips where I aim for high volume diving. This was the latter. Options I know off-hand for high-volume regional diving include Key Largo, Bonaire, Curacao, CocoView (Roatan), St. Croix and various live-aboards. Of those, I haven’t been to Roatan and a trip’s already planned for Curacao.

I’d been researching Cozumel for some time. Turns out you can do high volume diving in Cozumel, though it’s not known for 4 to 5 dives/day (unlike Bonaire).

Picking A Region.

Northern hotel zone, downtown San Miguel, a location a bit south with shore diving (e.g.: Hotel Cozumel, Scuba Club Cozumel, farther down Blue Angel) or a southern A.I.? A southern A.I. with a sandy beach would be good for a family trip, mostly wasted on me. Northern hotel zone sounded quieter and farther removed; I’m not athletic, didn’t want to bike around and desired convenience. Part of the glory of Cozumel’s reputation is dining out, and in downtown San Miguel, I wouldn’t have to pay for a rental car or taxis. I didn’t want long walks to downtown from H.C., S.C.C. or B.A., and while shore diving enticed me, Cozumel’s fame is in boat diving and if I did 4 boat dives/day I’d be too wiped out for shore diving. I wanted to walk around town, not just stay at the resort.

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Picking A Hotel.

Casa Mexicana is well-recommended often on Scuba Board, includes a varied breakfast buffet and is located conveniently waterfront in San Miguel, and it’s one of the budget options (but not the most basic). It’s available in package deals with some dive op.s (e.g. Tres Pelicanos and Blue XT-Sea). Suites Bahia (also waterfront, a block or two away) is affiliated, cheaper and gets you access to C.M.s buffet, but doesn’t get praised as much. Fellow diver Frank stayed there a few times, indicated it was okay but basic, and found the small premium for Casa Mexicana well worth it.

Picking An Op.

I love big 120-cf steel tanks, but figured I’d be looking at 3 longer 120-cf tank dives/day vs. 4 ‘long enough’ 100-cf tank dives/day (a number of op.s have 100-cf tanks available as a paid upgrade). The latter option might yield similar bottom times but due to more total dives, hit more different sites. In UNCFNP’s thread comparing Aldora and Tres Pelicano’s experiences, I got the impression T.P. might be a good match for what I wanted, it’s highly praised on Scuba Board and has a rep. for great package deal prices with Casa Mexicana, and the shop is roughly 5-minutes walk from C.M. T.P.’s Jeanie was speedy and very informative with e-mail replies (often answering in the evening).

Bag Drag Or Direct To Cozumel.

I snagged cheap airfare direct to Cozumel, and didn’t want the drama of flying to Cancun, taking an ADO bus to Playa del Carmen and ferrying to Cozumel, then reverse at departure. But watch your airfare details! Delta outbound was okay, but American Airlines on return didn’t allow for a carry on bag unless I paid over $20 extra to upgrade the ticket (booked via Orbitz).

Notes On Arrival.

We were given a customs form to fill out. At Customs part of it is torn off and given back to you. You are required to keep this ‘tourist card’ and return it during the departure process when you leave Mexico. Stick it in your passport or wallet. While I was pursuing getting my checked bags, officers led narcotics dogs around to sniff at both carry-on and checked bags. Jeanie (with Tres Pelicanos) told me it normally takes about 1 1/2 - 2 hours after arrival to deplane, get luggage and make it through immigration, and said as I passed through Customs I’d go through glass doors and be greeted by the Tourist Advisory Personnel (who want you to go to time share sales), say ‘no thank you,’ turn to my right and the last booth sells Taxi or Transfer tickets. It’s a good, cheap, pretty fast option to get a taxi to the hotel, and worked for me (white taxi van packed in with some other people).

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Casa Mexicana.

Very pleased with it. 3 P.M. check in time but they let me in early; Noon check-out time (great when you’ve got a late afternoon flight out). Walk in front, take escalator up to 1st floor, at desk given moist towel to wipe my face and a non-alcoholic drink. Hotel was clean and pleasant; mine was room 519 on 5th floor. There’s an elevator. Front of 1st floor has a really small pool. C.M.’s morning buffet was oft praised on Scuba Board; 7 a.m. - 11 a.m., main setup roughly 20 feet it’s said, decent variety, omelette station, water, orange juice (& some red juice) and milk offered, what I assume was coffee (I don’t drink coffee), and some cereals. I was happy and heard no complaints. Each day the Maid left a neat towel animals. Bathroom hot water can be very hot. There was a good-sized balcony with 2 plastic chairs; the overhead structure wasn’t continuous so rain could get to things on the balcony. Beds were firm and comfortable; plenty of pillows. My room had a safe and a mini-fridge (nicely cold); no microwave. Included wifi seemed good; I didn’t stream much video, but FaceTime with family worked.

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(View out my balcony).

It’s my understanding in Mexico it’s customary to put your toilet paper wads in the adjacent trashcan rather than flush them down the toilet.

Case Mexicana is ‘water-front,’ but there’s a sea wall; there are breaks such as stairs down to the water, or piers. While much of San Miguel’s shoreline I saw was iron shore, some was sandy and used for swimming and boats, and I saw guys jumping off the end of a pier.

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drrich2

drrich2

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C.M. is at one end of a block; walk out front, turn right, walk to nearest street, turn right and walk down the block; you’ll pass Aldora’s shop on your left, and head down to Tres Pelicano’s shop on your right (by 7:40 a.m.; they arrange free rides to/from the dive boat).

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Check-out was fast, and a staff took my big bags and led me outside, quickly hailed a cab from some parked across the street and down a bit, and for $9 fare + tip I was off to the airport. Cozumel’s airport is small, well air-conditioned (looking at you St. Croix!!!) and my one complaint is I couldn’t find an outlet to plug in a charger (e.g.: for phone). There’s a paid lounge if you’re not cheap.

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San Miguel.

Fairly large for a Caribbean city, seemed a bit old/worn but not bad, fairly lively, nice ‘vibe.’ Lots of side-walk hawkers in front of stores trying to entice passerby to purchase something; I often heard pitches for tequila (offering a free sample), Cuban cigars and medications (particularly Viagra). It wasn’t too annoying; these people are staying in their own country working to make an honest living. For some souvenirs act largely disinterested and make a lower offer than the asking price; a little haggling is common.

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A decent walk (I’m guessing 15 minutes?) from Casa Mexicana is ‘the Mega,’ sort of like a Sams or Walmart Super Center. Walk in the front door, and it looks like a cheap ‘on its last legs’ shopping mall; ride the escalator up, and it’s a huge grocery and miscellaneous store.

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It turns out my Scuba Pro fin bag can hold 4 8-can packs of ‘Light’ Coke and a package of Snicker bars; they use traditional plastic grocery bags and I figured hey, cut down on plastic waste. Their soda cans were smaller but sold in 8-packs rather than 6-packs.

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drrich2

drrich2

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Eating Out.

Jeanie with T.P. sent me a list of good places; that’s how I found Casa Cuzamil. Also tried others. Almost beside Casa Mexicana is Mar Y Juana (restaurant & bar), at the other end of Casa Mexicana’s block is Kondesa, and behind Suites Bahia is the Lobster Shack. Between morning & afternoon dive trips I was dropped off at the Money Bar and ate there. I’m a glutton, not a gourmet, so take this with a grain of salt. A number of restaurants have free wifi.

Tortilla chips in Cozumel tended to be thicker and tasteless, but the ‘salsa’ (diced vegetables; looked a lot like pico de gallo, in a much larger bowel) tasty (sweeter than the pulpy red salsa common back home; never saw that in Cozumel). Cozumel is known for cheap eating; I found prices a little on the low side; fajitas and a can of ‘lite’ Coke might run $14 or so, pre-tip.

Lobster Shack’s lobster burritos were pretty good. Casa Cuzamil’s fajita’s were quite good, and the little Free Blue Guide to Cozumel booklet on their bar had an ad for 10% off I used. Mar Y Juana had good fish tacos. Money Bar’s food was good, not great; the ‘nachos with beef’ I ordered turned out to be a huge plate, the stuffed jalapeños were tasty, and a fried (looked grilled; wasn’t breaded) octopus dish’s flavor was overwhelmed by the sauce - sort of a lime taste. Squid rings were okay. The cheeseburger was decent & large.

Favorite meal: Kondesa! (Had Tostadas appetizer then Linguini Pulpo).

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Mar Y Juana’s got a stogie sucking blowfish out front; how could you not trust them with your dining needs? Fish tacos were good.

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drrich2

drrich2

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Money.

U.S. dollars were accepted everywhere. Credit card most places, though not at Lobster Shack. Change may come in peso. I saw a posted exchange rate of 17 pesos for 1 U.S. dollar at one place. When I paid by credit card, businesses wanted me to state the tip before they ran the card. For practical purposes, a peso is worth a little over a nickel, so figure 20 pesos is a bit over $1. If you want to tip $3, say ’60 pesos.’

I’m not hassling with any more drama than that; it’s said you can get more for your money if you get pesos out of an ATM at the airport or maybe the Mega (but avoid those on the street due to scam risk).
 
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drrich2

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Dive Plan.

Solo trip aiming to maximize dives without running myself too ragged, but doing nothing else except eating and buying souvenirs. I scheduled an 8-day stay, Saturday 9-1-18 to Sunday 9-9-18, diving 2 2-tank boat trips (morning & afternoon; no night or twilight diving, which T.P. offers, or shore-diving, which I doubt they offer) Sunday through Friday, then a 2-tank morning trip Saturday 9-8-18, total 26 dives if they all went off. Jeanie warned me they don’t guarantee afternoon dives in advance; they need 2 divers advance booked for it, or 3 ‘last-minute.’ It was just me and Frank a couple of days, sometimes 3 or 4 of us, but I got to go every time. If there’s no hurricane, September trips tend to be a ‘go’ (not likely to have Nortes) - unless there’s lightening. We got a little rain some days, and one day a downpour with lighting while I was at the Money Bar between trips, but surprisingly I didn’t miss a dive. Got all 26 dives this trip. Plan was 100-cf AL 32% tanks; twice they gave me 36% EAN due to being short on 32’s, told me & I was fine with it.

Actual Diving.

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I was warned 4 dives/day in Cozumel can run you down more so than with a live-aboard or Bonaire, and I agree. Even once acclimated, I’d get very sleepy and go to bed around 8 p.m. or a bit later, wake around 5 a.m., doze an hour, up at 6 to get battery in camera and organized for the day, breakfast buffet at 7 a.m., back to room for another ‘light’ Coke, then walk to Tres Pelicans shop by 7:40 a.m. (10 minutes from room, maybe 5 from front of hotel), ride to marina, dive, surface internal on water or tied to piers at Paradise Beach Club, dive, at Money Bar close to noon for about 1 to 1 1/2 hour, eat, catch the afternoon trip, 2 dives with surface interval like the morning trip, back to hotel around 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. or so range. Call it 6 p.m. Shower, eat out, check e-mails & text with wife, collapse. Next day, repeat.

Day 1.) Palancar Bricks, Paso del Cedral, Santa Rosa, Paradise Reef.

Day 2.) Palancar Horseshoe, Yucab, Tunich Wall, Tormentos.

Day 3.) Paso del Cedral, San Francisco Wall, San Francisco Wall, Paradise Reef.

Day 4.) Palancar Gardens, Dalilia, La Francesa, Yucab.

Day 5.) Punta Sur (I was told Cathedral, but 2 guys did Devil’s Throat on this dive), Columbia Shallows, Yucab, Las Palmas.

Day 6.) Palancar Caves, Paso del Cedral, Tormentos, Las Palmas.

Day 7.) Santa Rosa and Paradise Reef.

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My 1st dive was cut a little short due to being underweighted. If you add my dive durations & divide by 26, it’s very slightly under an hour/dive average. I was often the 1st short on air; typical stated plan was at 700 or 800 PSI, let guide know, head up to safety stop, then you’re free to coast along awhile if you wish. Guide sends up an SMB and the boat comes. Entry via back-roll, board via ladder. You can head up individually; they didn’t try to assign buddies.

Water temps. via Oceanic VT3 computer: Lows 80 to 82. I’ve suspected it might read a degree low in past. When current wasn’t strong, I often ‘helicoptered’ (dove above the guide, to watch him more easily and conserve air and have better light and less nitrogen loading), but on some dives I dove a similar profile. For my 26 dives, my max. depths ranged from 31,69 feet (Columbia Shallows; my next 3 shallowest were all at Paradise Reef) to Palancar Horseshoe (90.93 feet), average depths from 23.24 (Columbia Shallows) to 55.72 feet (Paso del Cedral). Cozumel has a rep. for deep dives, but my numbers show it doesn’t have to be. Frank dove the same schedule I did, except he ended a day earlier, and dove air all week (but stayed shallower than many, preferring better lighting and shallower sites, and monitored his NDL). I recommend nitrox for my style trip.

Tank fill pressures (by VT3; my Atomic Aquatics Cobalt 2 gives lower pressure readings, but has a 300 PSI reserve set & I don’t know if that’s a factor). Based on looking at some tanks, there were 100-cf, AL, ‘Luxfer,’ and the 3300 would’ve been fill pressure; in another thread Christi with Blue XT-Sea indicated on Cozumel it’s hard to get 100-cf AL’s filled to their true 3,300 fill pressure. So you get more gas than an 80-cf tank, but not 20-cf more.

1.) 3,044 (PSI).
2.) 3,146.
3.) 3,096.
4.) 2,922.
5.) 2,992.
6.) 2,998.
7.) 3,050.
8.) 2,992.
9.) 3,022.
10.) 3,076.
11.) 3,124.
12.) 3,112.
13.) 3,120.
14.) 3,004.
15.) 3,030.
16.) 3,184.
17.) 2,892.
18.) 3,028.
19.) 2,940.
20.) 3,056.
21.) 2,940.
22.) 2,940.
23.) 2,932.
24.) 2,934.
25.) 3,048.
26.) 3,094.
 
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drrich2

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Cozumel’s fame for varied bottom topography is justified; from the huge, tall coral encrusted structures of the Palancar sites to flat, sandy bottom with short grassy and ‘green mushroom’ looking vegetation, to sandy plains with intermittent long, tall coral-encrusted rocky structures, there’s a lot to see. Reefs were some of the more lush I’ve seen in the Caribbean, and marine life was good and ‘fishy’ - lots of various grunts, triggerfish, angelfish (especially queens) and anemones. Saw black-tip reef sharks my first dive only, and nurse sharks throughout the week (one came across the reef and passed under me close enough I could’ve put a hand on it). At least 4 times saw a splendid toadfish (always in their little caves). Plenty of channel cling crabs, couple of very large hermit crabs. A number of green and spotted morays. Guide Edgar found us a black sea horse, and on another dive I was shown a couple of tiny black sea horses (like the part not grabbing the vegetation was about an inch long!), a pipe something (horse or fish?), what may’ve been a pike blenny (?) and some tiny nudibranchs. Many yellow stingrays, 2 electric rays, and at least 4 eagle rays (which I’m told weren’t in season). During one surface interval saw a pod of big dolphins from the boat.

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drrich2

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Saw only 1 hogfish (huge!), no Spanish hogfish, this trip.

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What kind of triggerfish is this?

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Saw plenty of sea turtles, mostly hawksbill but some greens.

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Drift diving varied from ‘not’ (some Palancar diving) to mild (fairly pleasant) to brisk (annoying, aggravating difficulty given that even if neither fins I drift faster than the guides and have to struggle to stay with the group, and I gave up on swimming back against vigorous current to see things). Spent part of my diving drifting backwards, fins first, to make it easier to resist current and keep with group. I’m close to 50, chunky, out of shape, not hard to get winded and then tend to stay winded awhile; not a good recipe for fighting current.

In short, drift diving was more of a strain than no-current diving, and reminded me I’m not as good a diver as I’d like to think I am, but after a couple of days acclimation I was coping okay.

Cozumel is famous for outstanding water clarity; I’ve seen a claim of 150 foot viz. I didn’t find it all that; I’d put it on par with other high-viz. Caribbean destinations (e.g.: Caymans, Belize, Bonaire). I asked a fellow diver what he thought after several dives; Frank figured varied viz. but maybe 60 to 80 feet, I believe. I’d say on out to 100 feet some dives, but you get the idea.

Had headache issues the 1st 2 days; at first thought it was CO2 retention for breathing rate suppression, but later suspected tension headache from looking ‘up’ to see ahead and watch the guide from horizontal (I think) trim. Started drifting sideways part-time so I could turn my head to the side and look around, avoiding the strain.
 
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drrich2

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Tres Pelicanos And Their Boats.

I found Jeanie, the other staff and Jeanie’s husband Mike (who dove some with us) congenial and likable. The shop isn’t a large, shiny place with glass display cases and lots of retail gear. They do have rental gear; my Sherwood Avid BCD’s top tank strap broke off, & I rented their non-weight integrated Scuba Pro Pilot XL (I was told they had a mix of weight integrated or not; they didn’t have an integrated for me, but also didn’t charge me for the 2-days I rented it!).

Their boats are the Loan Shark and Skinny Shark. I saw the Loan Shark; decently wide enough, but the Skinny Shark (all I dove from) was wider; a good deal of foot space even when people had fins on. There’s not large ‘dry box’ - under the overhead shade there’s netting where you can put clothes & such. Even dives they offering chopped fruit and cut up pastry, cake or cookies. The boat was fast; rides to dive sites can take awhile, and I wouldn’t want to be on a slow boat. Trips started with ‘Where do you guys want to dive today’ type questions. They didn’t set specific dive time limitations; one exception is when a cruise ship’s docked and you’re on Paradise Reef; you’re only allowed so close.

Loan Shark
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Skinny Shark
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It’s ‘valet’ style service; your gear is setup on your tank, and they switch it over to the next tank for you. Gear is put on tank on the boat floor, then when ready to dive, they left it up to the bench and hold it open for you to put your arms through the BCD. Great; my lower back isn’t what it used to be and lifting would’ve gotten painful. They keep and rinse gear (including wetsuits!) - only your camera and dive computers need be taken back to your hotel.

Trip Cost.

$1,962.58 Days at Casa Mexica, 13 2-tank boat dives with upgrades to 32% nitrox and 100-cf AL tanks, with taxes included.

$445.49 Roundtrip Airfare from Nashville, TN to Cozumel (Delta going, American Airlines coming back).

$80 Checked baggage fees (2 bags) Delta going, $67.60 returning on American.

$99 Parking fee at Nashville Airport.

Tipping is personal but customary in Cozumel, figures into employee pay, and with high-volume boat diving needs to be figured in. From Scuba Board I get the impression some consider appropriate boat tips $5/tank basic service (you transport, setup and keep your gear) to $10/tank valet (e.g.: they set up your gear, keep and maybe rinse your stuff). Figure $260 for 26 dives if one tips that way.

Breakfast included, but eating out twice/day and sodas (or groceries) - maybe $35/day for 8 days? $280. There’s a tip box at C.M.’s breakfast buffet, so let’s call food $300 for the week?

Taxi fare to/from airport with tips - maybe $20 if that?

Tips for baggage people at airports, etc… - maybe $15 total?

Souvenirs - I’m not counting, but I blew some money…

Total: ~ $3,250, without souvenirs, but I’d have run up a dining out/grocery bill back home if I didn’t travel. For a solo dive trip with 26 dives, bigger tanks and nitrox, valet dive service and eating out with good food, that’s pretty good.

What I Didn’t Do.

Night, twilight or shore dives. East coast dives, or the ‘sleeping shark’ dives Aldora does to the north. Advanced sites such as Barracuda or Maracaibo. The long Devil’s Throat swim through (but Mike and another guy did it on one of our dives).

Pro.s.

Warm, high-vis. water, varied, fairly lush and ‘fishy’ reefs with some ‘big stuff’ (e.g.: grouper, rays, eels, nurse sharks), drift is a chance to try something different. Topside there are sandy beaches, a range of activities such as parasailing, San Miguel is larger and more interesting/diverse in shopping than I recall Bonaire’s Kralendijk being. Good food and prices, Overall budget destination but good diving. There’s a lot of like about Cozumel.

Con’s.

Drift diving can be a hassle.

Prohibition against Sudafed problematic if you rely on extended release forms to aid equalization; do without or break the law and hope you don’t get caught.

Regrets.

Main one is I’m torn whether making it an 8-day week vs. flying back Saturday was worth it, because time away from our 5-year old is hard, then I reach home about 12:50 a.m. to be up at 7 a.m. and work around 8 a.m. Monday morning. Cozumel is special, but so is our kid.

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Comparisons.

Compared to other mainstream Caribbean destinations I’ve tried (e.g.: Bonaire, Belize, the Caymans, Provo. & West Caicos), Cozumel diving is on par but drift diving is significantly different, and topside I found the mix of cheap, good food, diverse shopping & varied entertainment options a real draw. It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison; Cozumel isn’t necessarily ‘better,’ but it’s different and worthy trying.

I hope this write-up helps others considering a Cozumel trip.

Richard.
 

flyboy08

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One heck of of a write up....I expected nothing less....lol! In just a short period of time you’ll be writing trip reports which will include your little precious!

Thanks for the post!
 

gopbroek

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Very nice review. Unfortunately I had to work that week or I would have have been down to dive with Frank, he's a lot of fun. Hope to get a quick trip in this weekend.
 
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