I learned pretty quickly that diving can make a person hungry. When I certified in Australia the cook always had the galley counter filled with sweets and cheese when we came back from a dive. The quick burst of energy from the sugar helps you readjust quickly to the topside world and is especially crucial if you’re diving again in a bit. That’s the route I went on the morning of our dive. A bowl of fruit loops, a couple croissants with jam and some random custard donuty thing. Carb load ahoy! I wanted to avoid my usual omelette though lest I get burpy or worse on the ride across the bay. Besides I’m never that inspired to eat a big breakfast early and this was by far my earliest morning of the trip.
By the time we arrived at the Marina it was still only 8:30ish and the crew was loading the boat for our trip out to into the Bahia de Banderas. Thankfully my friends Chris and Jodi had already been out the week before so I knew it was a good crew. In our case we had our local boat captain Carlos, and British ex-pats Sue (who I believe was the company’s head instructor), other Sue (a relatively new instructor I believe) and Marc. All were knowledgeable as well as chatty and personable. On a sidenote though I do wonder why I seem to always get Brit dive leaders. My pool instructor in Cairns being a Frenchman is the only exception. Also on board were three people from Washington state an experienced diver and his brother in law who was certifying as well as a 16 year old family friend with a regrettable Mike Tyson henna face tattoo. I’m not sure if the young man was certifying or doing a discover scuba dive.
We dove with:
Boat leaves from the Marina Vallarta docks near the Airport. Variety of tours available and discounts for booking online in advance. Private tours available.
Cost: $105 USD for a two dive trip inc. equipment and tanks
My Rating: 5/5
There’s little question in my mind that diving with a smaller crew like this makes for a far superior experience. Horror stories of the big boats leaving someone behind aside you can still feel like part of a swarm. You have no guarantee of partners of similar skill, in fact you may end up in a group of people who take half of your air supply just to get to the bottom of the anchor chain. Add on the fact that you’ll usually have your equipment moved and assembled for you (and in this case even lifted out of the water for you) and I have no idea why you’d go out on one of the cattle boats.
The boat itself was a comfortable 30 odd foot vessel with decent stability and reasonable speed. Despite all the gear on board there was plenty of room for the 10 of us and our personal stuff and the seats were well cushioned for the ride. Mostly importantly for us pale assed northerners there was a canopy to give us some respite from the sun. The trip out of the marina was the usual exercise in yacht gaping that one general indulges in a tropical port. First there were the yachts. Gorgeous forty foot boats, some older but all gleaming and gorgeous. Then came the super yachts with their fancy flying bridges and mounted sea-doo’s. Of course the truly impressive (and outright sickening) mega-yachts came into view soon after that. Ships so large that they contain garages for three jetskis and a launch as big as our dive boat. Ships so large they have smartly uniformed staff cleaning everything in sight and a Robinson on the helipad. In other words ships so large that they cost more than I (and my entire family, any children I might have, and their children as well) will ever make in a lifetime.
Our first destination was Los Arcos (above) several large rocks just offshore that sit very near to the start of a mile deep trench. Marc told us that this actually marked the southernmost extent of the San Andreas faultline. In fish terms it meant somewhat of a bonanza as fish often congregate at sites with sudden depth changes. Sue-prime was to be our dive leader with Marc taking down the other group of three since two of those were on certification dives. Chris, Jodi and I had a significantly lower max depth as a result though we still never went under 60ish feet. Not that there was a particular reason to as the gently sloping sea bed was pretty much always beneath us except for when we skirted the edge of the trench.
Sea life was everywhere at this site. To my delight we’d seen a pod of dolphins leaping on the way out of the marina but here at Los Arcos another group was splashing about and we’d repeatedly see fish leaping from the water trying to escape becoming a hungry dolphin’s lunch. It was easy to see why the dolphins were hanging about. Just looking over the edge into the clear water you could see multiple schools of multiple species. Just at first glance I saw butterfly fish, damselfish, gobys and grunts galore. Once we were in the water (and after fighting to go down for a bit I had to grab an extra weight) we were absolutely surrounded.
My earlier worries about rediscovering my dive skills proved unfounded, though again a wetsuit that actually fit my broad shoulders would have been lovely. I’ve come to the conclusion that once I finish plan “get back into shape” I’m simply going to give in, buy my own and accept the price of paying for an extra piece of checked luggage on dive trips. The extra constriction around my chest, especially before the suit is saturated, simply makes me worry too much and I’m fairly sure it throws off my breathing pattern and makes me chew through my supply faster.
Once I was down and settled everything was forgotten and I was once again in that magical subsurface world. Bright sunlight created dappled patterns on the rocks and sand below and almost before I’d looked around we’d spotted a guitar ray half buried below us. Puffer fish of various types were everywhere as well from porcupinefish to a sharp nosed puffer. As we skirted the trench we saw a number of moray eels of various types as well. They’re definitely vicious looking bastards but as with most things under the sea they’ll leave you alone if you leave them alone. I actually didn’t realize how many types of moray there were before this trip but I’m fairly certain we saw three separate varieties. Probably the highlights of the dive however were a bizarre looking cornetfish and an absolutely glorious spotted eagle ray. I’ll never get tired of seeing a skate swim and the eagle ray was no exception, they’re simply so alien and graceful.
I’d decided to try out underwater photography again, but since the case for my camera is no longer made (and good generics cost a ludicrous amount ($400+ usd) I tried a 3rd party generic case. I rather stupidly forgot the max depth on it (30 feet.) This meant that when I’d dropped to twice that I was basically at crush depth on it. While there were no leaks this did mean the soft plastic crushed against the shutter button and I’ve now got roughly 400 photos of Sue’s behind, my air gauge, various bits of gravel, someone’s fin etc. Thankfully my camera is just fine and it’s my own stupidity to blame. I must admit I was impressed with the product for what it is though and at $30 it was worth the experiment. It’s certainly usable for snorkelling and shallow reef dives in future. Thankfully Sue-prime had a quality camera rig (though sadly without a strobe) and took many great photos from which most in this story are taken.
Once back at the surface we all tucked in to the ubiquitous Mexican ham and cheese sandwich, cookies and water while Carlos tooled us off towards our next dive site. Unfortunately for our young friend either the dive itself or the food + boat ride did not agree with him and he was soon bending over the side feeding the fish. By the time we arrived at Mismaloya he still wasn’t feeling great and Marc told him to hop over the side to see if being stable in the water helped him feel better. He definitely was out of sorts though and they quickly scrubbed his second dive. The second dive location was a small cove just south of the main Mismaloya beach area (site of the filming of Night of the Iguana and the associated Burton/Taylor affair for the old movie buffs in the audience.)
It was unfortunately far less spectacular marine life wise but we still saw some interesting creatures. We started by letting Sue-prime get a shot of our Seahawks fan friends with their 12th man banner then moved off to explore the various stone formations. Because we were closer to shore the sea bed here was much less rocky and prone to sending up clouds of silt from a misplaced fin. As we got closer to the stone pinnacles this was less of a problem though visibility still wasn’t great because of a lot of crap in the water. Simultaneously we were forced to manoeuvre around numerous small jellies. In the end some really neat views of morays and urchins made it an entertaining dive. Jodi and Chris weren’t going through their air quite as fast as my bigger fatter self so they stayed down an extra five minutes or so with the Sues as I slowly rose to the surface with their bubbles. Though I was a bit disappointed it was kind of funny to see another massive eagle ray scoot by just behind them at one point as they traversed between rocks with none of them noticing at all.
Back above the surface white Tyson was looking a little less green and the other Washington folks were already on board. Taking off a tight wetsuit has to be up there with shedding your boots after a long day of skiing for ‘weirdly glorious feelings’ in my book. Still, by the time my gear was stripped and I’d cracked a coke for a bit of a sugar rush I was already planning my next dive trip in my head. I think but for the wedding I probably would have dived two days on this trip but between that and wanting to explore a bit more I was somewhat out of time. For those who don’t know you really shouldn’t dive too close to flying out as well which kills at least the day before departure for a trip unless your flight leaves late at night.
Let me say again that I think the PV Sea Dive crew did a super job with us and that I would dive with them again in a heartbeat. If you’re headed to Vallarta and want to dive (either seasoned pro or first timer looking to certify) I strongly recommend them. Hoping that next time I’m down there I can do multiple dives or (even better) just hire the whole boat with a group of friends and spend the whole day with them. I’ve borrowed some of Sue’s photos here due to my camera debacle. If you’d like to see more just check out the PV Sea Dive facebook page. Diving the pacific coast of mexico was much better than I’d been lead to expect, even for someone spoiled by certifying on the GBR.
I will flat out admit that I’m jealous of people who get to dive a lot. It seems as if it would be good for the soul. The moment you disappear beneath the waves it becomes difficult to care about any worries you left behind. Your entire world becomes the view through your mask and once you learn to filter out the noise of your breathing and bubbles it’s almost eerily quiet. That hushed feeling can often make the sea floor feel like a cathedral of sorts. I’ve often especially thought that while swimming through a shallow canyon with the distant sunlight filters through and illuminates brightly coloured coral, the patterns almost seeming like a stained glass display. It’s an almost unearthly beauty. Humans have no true place here and nature likes to remind us of just what we’re missing.