Diving in Cozumel, Mexico - Part 2
Out on the reef, the true gospel of Cozumel is revealed. Divemasters recite chapter and verse of proper drift-diving technique, emphasizing buoyancy control, don't touch reef preservation, and the importance of watching your depth, particularly on the first and deepest dive of the day, which is usually conducted on the wall. In contrast to the practice at many tropical destinations, the divemaster here leads his charges through the dive, deftly guiding them through the reef's many passageways. Because of the current, the boat never anchors but follows the divers' bubbles and picks them up at the end of the dive.
The object is to drift with the current, though riding may be a more accurate description. Drifting is easy; you can't prevent it. The current is irresistible. Forceful enough to tug off your face mask at certain times and places, it is barely perceptible at others, just enough to shepherd you lazily across the reef.
There are steady currents and capricious ones, gentle eddies and backwaters created by reef topology; on occasion, the current even stops and reverses direction. Local divemasters read these aqueous trails like trackers in the bush. They reserve well-worn paths for novices and fast runs for advanced divers — and save the most perilous waters for themselves.
Once you've mastered the techniques of drift diving, you're ready to explore one of nature's most complex and fragile works of architecture. Spend a lazy afternoon floating through fields of Volkswagen-sized brain corals and cavelike coral structures that are a favorite haunt for skip jacks, eels, and the occasional sleeping nurse shark. Or head to the wall for the blue-water ride of your life and the chance to fin along with some of Cozumel's large pelagics: migratory billfish, sea turtles, wahoo, and white-tipped sharks. You don't have to look for the omnipresent groupers; they'll find you.
At the end of the day, the boats return to harbor. Some refuel and switch crews in preparation for a night dive. Divers who've had their fill meander back to their hotels to recount the blessings of the day's dives over a meal and a bucket of cervezas served on ice.
Come One, Come All
Scientists attribute Cozumel's annual migration of sailfish to biological instinct and analyze the large pelagics that patrol the reef wall in terms of predator-prey dynamics. Economists fall back on the persuasive power of disposable income to explain the motivations of divers and the thousands of seasonal tourists who regularly flood the island's shores. But perhaps humans are too close to the facts to be impartial observers; if there is a similarity between the homing instincts of sea turtles and the romantic flight of starry-eyed couples, we fail to grasp it, though both return to the same beachfront year after year.
Or maybe these parallels just seem closer to the surface in Cozumel. The natural order playing out on the reefs, streets, and sheets of San Miguel is more easily discernible here. One thing, however, is certain: creatures both large and small are drawn to this Caribbean island.
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