The Sea Sabres Get Adopted In La Paz (1999)
ã Walter Marti
walter @ diver . net
Our third, every second year, sojourn to La Paz has come to a successful and satisfying end. We went with expectations of great diving. What we didn’t expect was the incredible warm hospitality from the Club Catamar Resort staff. We all left with a feeling that we were adopted for the week.
This was quite a diverse group. We had 9 regulars and 11 first timers. One of whom I had to coerce, with threat of deaths, into coming along. At the end, he did thank me for talking him into it.
My primary contact was the owner, Fernando Aguilar. Through my email conversations with him, he gave us an almost insane deal. This deal resulted in a hoard of 20 descending upon his quiet little resort. Fernando, definitely a busy guy, always had the time to answer individual emails. Once there, he always found the time to talk to any of us. I came realize that his ‘mission statement’ should be “No Problemo”.
His sister, Diana, her husband, Manuel, and their son, own and run the restaurant. The crazy divers we are, needed to start earlier than ‘the average bear’, “No Problemo”. We were back from the dive late, “No Problemo” for a late dinner. Those among us that were on the prior trips have come to realize that going into town just to have a change, isn’t worth the effort. This is, as good as it gets. The only “Problemo” with the restaurant was on our second day, when we spontaneously decided to make a night dive. We had a two hour lay over, with twenty hungry people. We pushed their limit. It was slow for the small kitchen. For our next night dive, they took our orders before we departed. Much better timing. Manuel, the Maitre-De, seem to have adopted one of our divers. On our outgasing day, he took him to Cabo San Lucas, Manuel had some business to do there. Another diver left some items on the Realidad, Manuel will be coming up here in a month or so, and will bring it up.
Fernando’s other sister, America, runs the pool bar. When would you like it open? “No Problemo”. She was incredibly cordial and nice. On the first day we were concocting drinks, and came up with the ‘Mango Sabre’. A mango daiquiri with fresh mangos and Myers rum. “No Problemo” the next day Mango Sabre’s were waiting for us. Her only “Problemo” with us was that we were always diving. She mentioned that she never seen a group like us. All we wanted to do was dive. The only day we got in early, we opted for a extra night dive. Not a lot of time was spend at the bar, but she wanted to adopt our whole gang irregardless.
His mom, runs the gift shop. Most everyone had to buy a T-shirt! Bo and I were looking at her offerings, I asked if she had any that said “Staff’ on them, just like the ones the staff wears. It took her a while but, she did say “No Problemo” and brought us each one.
His son, Fernando Jr., is another divemaster, that we had little contact with. A group of us went into town. We were waiting for our ride back, when Fernando Jr. happens by. We wave at the Baja Diving Service van. He stops and asks what’s going on, we tell him we are waiting for our ride. “No Problemo, let me drop off these people and I’ll drive you back”. We all wanted to adopt him at that time.
The head divemaster Lorenzo, needed a vacation when we left. I warned Fernando that we would run him ragged. On our sixth day, he came in late, bleary eyed and told me. “You did tell Fernando that you would run me into the ground, I thought you were kidding”. Unlike us, his day didn’t start and end at the dock. Wherever we wanted to go, however long we wanted to stay, “No Problemo”. The only time he ever put a restriction on us was the dive prior to the last night dive. It was getting late, he asked us to limit the shallow dive to only 60 minutes. Many of us were sipping our tanks to well over an hour on the shallow dives. Lorenzo is planning on coming up here in the beginning of October, for the wedding of a friend in Montclair. Upon hearing this, a few were willing to adopt him and pay his fare on our October boat dive. Hopefully, he calls. Then we can show him how crazy we really can get, when we dive in our backyard during lobster season.
The lead boat captain, Jorge, is a character in himself. He doesn’t speak English, although he understands more than he lets on. He feels that the more animated and wordy he gets in Spanish, we’ll understand him regardless. It seems to work! When we showed up for the first dive, he remembers many of us by name, from two years ago. On our outgasing day, he comes back from a charter and gives me the fragile skeleton of a sea biscuit. I’m instructed to give it to one of the women in our group, he wanted to adopt her.
The hotel mangers Benjamin and Carlos, were always available and would get anything anyone wanted. A non-diver went out kayaking and a freak rain downpour came. Benjamin sent out a panga to check up on her. As we were leaving he gave her one of his drawings. He wanted to adopt her, or be adopted by her. Someone’s luggage was lost somewhere between Connecticut and Los Angeles, they kept tabs on it, and on the third day she was diving once again with her gear.
As for the diving, on the first day we dove, El Bajo twice. It is great to see the huge schools of fish, the morey eel condo’s, the large groupers in the distance and the occasional sighting of the pelagic fish. Our third dive brought us to the Old Sea Lion Colony. We didn’t see any old sea lions, let alone any young ones. A nice dive with large boulders and crevices.
Day two, the weather was not co-operating. A hurricane was brewing off of Mazatlan. We dove El Bajito, perhaps one of the best ‘third’ dives in the area. Lots of crevices to swim through, great macro photography opportunities. We then made a short trip to Los Islotes, the sea lion rookery. From the boat we watched a mommy sea lion give birth, males fighting for territory and mom’s rearing their pups. Underwater we saw the males defining their territory, when us divers got to close. Someone was able to check the dental work, up close, on one extremely large male. It was just his way of politely asking him to swim back a bit. Great video moment! We then went back to El Bajito. The current picked up. When I got back to the boat, a few were just hanging on to the drift line. It was like they were in a river. Lucky, no one got caught down current. We were coming home early, the consensus of the group was, ‘Let make a night dive!’ Our fourth dive of the day was at Lobos Rock, a light house just out of Phichaliga Harbor (where we were staying). Great night dive spot. The incredibly strange synapted sea cucumber were seen feeding on sand everywhere, octopii were out foraging and parrot fish were sleeping.
Day three found us at Cerralvo Island. Our first dive was at La Reina, a light house on a rock off the northern tip. There were pieces of a wreck, lots of large fish and, again, a good sized current. The second dive was at La Reinita. Another of my favorite sites. A small rock breaking the surface with caves of various sizes and thick schools of bait fish being hit on by green jacks. Once the jacks would separate a few from the school the cornet fish would zoom in on the lost fish. I found a ledge, sat down and just watched the mesmerizing show for 15 minutes. For the third dive we headed back and stopped off at Swanne Rock. This rock is covered in coral, another great dive. Leading up to the rock, in the sand, are garden eels. They didn’t seem as spooky as at other sites, they will actually let you get close to them.
Day four, we make the long trek to San Fransicqito Reef. Another seamount that tops out at 75 feet. Walls are covered in orange cup corals, the base of the rock has fields of black coral, a school of large amberjacks are spotted. Coming up the anchor line we are treated to a parade of various jelly fish and other strange free floating transparent organisms. Our third dive is a lot closer to home at Whale Island. Not a great dive, it has caves to make great silhouette shots. I did make a hour and forty five minute dive here. I must have found some stuff to keep me intrigued.
For our final day we went once again to El Bajo. We anchored on the northen reef, the one the hammerheads are purported to hang out on. I did as Lorenzo instructed, swam to the edge of the reef and swam a 330 degree course. The reef ended at 80 feet, we hovered at the depth and followed the current. I spotted a leopard eel and took video. Getting low on air and started to surface. At the edge of the thermocline, 60 and 40 feet, we were treated to huge schools of fish, skipjacks so thick you couldn’t see thought. I had 300 psi of air left and started to finish my ascent, when I spied a manta ray with two large remoras. This was a pigmy manta, or ‘mobal’. It had a four foot wing span. It circled us once and left. Now, I was sucking aluminum and went to the surface. The manta came back to check us out once more. I made a free dive, with tank in tow, to thirty feet to get my best up close video shot. Great way to cap off a great trip. We surfaced and found ourselves way down current of the boat. After kicking for about fifteen minutes, with very little progress. A panga from another boat came and picked us up. It didn’t take me long to say yes. I figured that at our rate would have made the end of the drift line in a little over and hour. Hopefully, Jorge would have came and got us sooner. I wanted to adopt the panga driver, as did as the four other people he picked up. For the second dive, Lorenzo, decides that we’ll all make a drift dive and Jorge would pick us up. Unbeknownst to anyone, the current made a complete 180 degree change. This was everyone’s first ‘drift dive swimming into the current’. We would swim 330 degrees until we saw huge schools of fish and then ‘drift’ in the current back to the boat, take a 330 degree compass heading and do it all over again. But, large tuna, hammer heads and mantas were seen on this ‘up current’ drift dive. The third dive was once again at everyone’s favorite spot, El Bajito. We were given a maximum bottom time of sixty minutes and headed for home, dinner, change of batteries and to get ready for the night dive. The night dive was as Swanne Rock. Great at night, nudibranchs, sleeping parrot fish, flat worms, coral polyps out, just beautiful.
Day six, the ‘Outgasing Day’. Smaller groups formed and did various things. Some went into town, some rented a van and toured the desert, some stayed at the pool, some kayaked and went snorkeling, some just outgassed. It was a great end to a great week of diving, comradery, bonding and fun.