Where things are going swimmingly. It’s a pleasure to be back on Careyitos, the dive boat I return to year after year. Careyitos is run by an absolutely brilliant diver named Ricardo Madrigal, who is more at home underwater than anyone I’ve ever seen. He is quiet, with a dry sense of humor, and doesn’t talk about himself much. I didn’t know until just the other day, for example, that he’d volunteered to fight in Vietnamâhe’s 59âand was shot while he was there. It was only through diving, he explained, that he found peace in his life.
Now he glides underwater, in tune with the ocean and its movements, often soaring upside down so as to peer under the edges of the reef, looking for critters. Occasionally we will pass other groups of divers in the water; they all look disorganzed and clumsy compared to the graceful way Ricardo leads us through, under and around the reefs. Occasionally he will see a school of fish and waggle his fingers, waving to them; it is an absolutely unself-conscious act. I think he really believes that the fish recognize it, and when he does it, I’m not so sure that he’s wrong. Ricardo sees an immense amount and points out a lot; he disturbs nothing. It’s not the worst way to go through life.
I was last here about six months after Hurricane Wilma devastated Cozumel and damaged its reefs. Thankfully, the damage is fading; the reefs are coming back to life, there is new growth, and sand that was covering much of the reefs is gone. The problem now, of course, is global warming. Hurricane season is already here, Ricardo saysâit seems to start earlier every year. And the water is unusually warm. Anecdotal information, of course. But still….
There is nothing so wonderfully different as being underwater. It is peaceful, relaxing, and above all, humbling. You will not do well in the ocean if you do not appreciate just how much of a guest you are. (It’s because of this that I sometimes think Americans are the worst divers; we tend to think that we own, or dominate, or should dominate, everywhere we go. We want to conquer and transform rather than experience and appreciate.) Yesterday afternoon we got caught in a current that just shot us down the reef; we were flying along like tumbleweed. If you’d grabbed hold of, say, a barrel coralânot that we wouldâyou’d stretch out behind it like a flag in a stiff breeze, and you wouldn’t have been able to hold on for long. So, literally, you go with the flow. This can be quite fun; sometimes I rest in a kneeling position, almost as if on a magic carpet. Not technically recommended, but amusing nonetheless.
So far I’ve had the pleasure of seeing beautiful moray eelsâsix, seven, eight feet long, they sound scary, but really they’re not; as Ricardo explained, they are so near-sighted, you’d really have to be doing something wrong for them to lunge at youâany number of nurse sharks (that’s about all they get here in Cozumel), turtles, sting rays, lobsters (they’re big), crabs (huge) and incredible tropical fishâtrigger fish, barracuda, midnight parrotfish, angelfish, jacks, boxfish, and countless others. Yesterday I spent the first dive of the day with one of the dive masters, Aaaron, who spent the whole dive showing me sea life about the size of a fingernail or smallerânudibranchs, pistol shrimp, jawfish, I can’t remember everything. All dive masters will point out the big stuff; these guys will find the small things, which are in some ways even more miraculous. The day before, Ricardo pointed out to me a purple stain on a section of coral around which spotted damselfish darted. The purple, he exlained later, consisted of damselfish eggs, and the damselfish were guarding their eggs against hungry predators.
I am of course looking forward to returning to work…but not quite yet. I have four more days of diving. Really, it is never enough.