On Shark Attacks and Looking Good How I Blew My Q


On Shark Attacks and Looking Good

How I Blew My Q

Through the Portal of the Gods

Cavern diving in Yucatan, and whether American Football involves playing a sport.

Playa del Carmen, Mexico
12th June, 2001

Another week of dipping and lounging. Im in danger of being re-classified as beach furniture, and hired out to overweight holiday-makers as they collapse under the effort of lurching between the beach front bars and the sea. This is a easy-going, lazy place, where you might come for a few days break, and wake up two years later with hair braids. But I came here for the scuba diving, and the scuba diving has been wonderful. I'm sorry I don't have an underwater attachment for my digital camera. All of the spectacular sea life and colour of Palancar reef can only live in my memory now.

Shark! I saw a shark! And what a monster. At least two feet long, hiding under a rock to protect its delicate mandibles, the deadly grey nurse shark, the terror of the deep. And turtles, shooting along like mini-submarines, rising suddenly to the surface and dive bombing back to the depths. We dive through multicolored reefs, coral gardens, followed tunnels and caverns through the coral wall and back again, turning upside down as I passed to see the sunlight sprinkle down though chasms in the formations above my head.

Chac, the Rain God

Im aware that it is as exciting to hear about scuba diving as, say, my challenging new net curtains. I could bore on about my week under water till your brain sloughs out through your nostrils. Instead, Ill leave it on the subject of Cenotes. My last two dives were in cenotes, which are giant natural caverns filled with fresh water, formed underground in the limestone of this region. The Mayan indians considered them sacred, and described them as portals to another world.

They werent wrong. We dived into a small pool in a shallow cave, passed through a narrow tunnel and entered a great dark space. We floated, timeless, rock formations twirling aound us, lit with slender beams of natural light filtering from the jungle above. The light turned the translucent water turquoise, emerald green, the centre of a jewel. We swam down through the cold fresh water, till we passed the shimmering hydrocline layer to the warm salt water below, like passing through a mirror into the hidden kingdom and back again.

I went to the cenote with a French divemaster and two French divers, Edgar and Mimi. We had to, mais naturellement, change into our wetsuits in the jungle, hopping on one foot trying to get the blasted thing on while swatting mosquitos, shouting villein! petit crocodillo! at the same time. Of course on seeing my naked Irish body that I had spent 7 weeks nurturing to a healthy pinkish mango colour, everyone collapsed laughing in that peculiarly unabashed snorting French way.

I was advised that perhaps I should get some sun et peut-etre me embronze. I muttered that I'd been in the tropics for two months, which was greeted by those peculiarly unabashed French yodels of disbelief. I quickly covered my body before it blinded them with its luminescence incroyable and swore not to take it out again before it resembled a pickled beetroot.

Football Outted

In the evenings its back to Moms bar and hang out with the regulars. Which is of course why I went on a round-the-world adventure, to escape from my everyday humdrum life of going to seedy bars and hanging out with the regulars. We watch a lot of sport. Baseball, basketball, American "Football", a strange game which appears to offer little if no connection between the "foot" and the "ball", and indeed rarely involves any actual playing of sport at all. I think its really a sort of extended debating society for oversized men wearing camp costumes.

Tomorrow I start a two-week tour of Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. Im going with a tour group, Funky Tours, so you know who to write to for my remains. I looked at the websites of a lot of companies, searching for a tour of central America. Funky Tours that felt human, not a corporate fake. I got an sense of the kind of people behind it, and I thought that wed get on all right, as we muck in to do the camping chores together. Plus my other reason for joining a group in Guatemala is to avoid sudden machete death alone in the steamy jungle nights. Ive checked out my group, and I believe I can run the fastest: "You fend them off and Ill fetch help..."

Were going to Tulum, EL Remate, Flores, Tikal, Antigua, Lake Atitlan, The Chichicastenango market, San Cristobal, San Juan Chamula, Zinacantan, Agua Azul, Misol-Ha and Palenque. Keep an eye on the "other parts of the world are horrid" section of the news reports. Look for sightings of a pale pinkish-orange ghoulish figure, passing at great speed through mountain villages and shrieking "But it WAS their turn to do the washing up..."





After a Cenote Dive


Hat & Spoon



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The Facts

Where I stayed
Playa del Carmen: Mom's Hotel. Clean, pleasant rooms, not expensive. Good fun in the bar. A little far from the beach.

How I got around: Cozumel Ferries