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  • Electrifying Currents
    and Squadrons of Fish;

    Jump In and Join the Cozumel Parade
    with Casa del Mar



    Trucking along in a two-knot current, we were suspended in gin-clear visibility. Nuggets of red, orange and yellow-encrusted coral heads leapt up from the white-sand slope. Reef fish; parrots, angels, triggers and tangs; milled over the reef, their gentle flutterings a contrast to the sinuous dance of the occasional Spotted or Green Moray Eel. One-half dozen Black Groupers hovered in the distance; some must have weighed more than 100 pounds. The incredible clarity of the water created the impression of flying over the Grand Canyon; the reef so colorful and complex it resembled a Fauvist painting. This was Cozumel, Mexico's largest Caribbean island and one of the most popular dive destinations in the world.

    The emphasis on diving in Cozumel is hard to miss: red dive flags, fleets of dive boats, stacks of scuba tanks and groups of divers seemingly everywhere. Hotels often cater almost entirely to divers. Crystal clear water lapping the shoreline invites groups of snorkelers to explore the in-shore patch reefs. Divers aren't the only visitors; island lovers, pleasure and party travelers and, in recent years, daily cruise ship arrivals can create a crowd around the multitudinous gift shops, restaurants and bars in the little town of San Miguel. In town, there are always some folks who never stick their heads underwater but that's like going to Orlando and not visiting Disney World.

    For those who do dive, Cozumel is one version of paradise, providing creature comforts, accessibility, island ambiance and, of course, an excellent dive environment. Fortunately, the offshore world is seldom crowded. Here you can escape most of the negative signs of civilization. You never lose a dive site to another boat; sites are estimated and not moored. The boat follows you from above as you drift along the reef.

    There are three kinds of currents in Cozumel: fast, slow and something in between. This is in addition to coming from either the north or the south or changing directions during a dive. New divers might find this a little intimidating; experienced divers often find it convenient, even exhilarating. One thing is for sure, relax and go with the current and you will see more of underwater Cozumel than you ever could by swimming under your own power.

    At lunch and later in the afternoon, I am always ready for a little resort life. One of my very favorites is charming, pretty Casa del Mar, just south of town on the beach road. I started staying here more than 10 years ago and have come here many times since. This is a mid-sized, service oriented, handsomely landscaped, very comfortable and nicely located resort. Del Mar Aquatics, one of the island's most popular dive operations, is right across the street (conveniently reached via an over-road walkway). It's only a five minute taxi ride into town, a ten minute ride to the airport and a 5 to 30 minute cruise from the Del Mar dock to popular reefs.

    Palancar Reef, actually a series of four to six dive sites along a continuous wall, and Santa Rosa Reef are Cozumel's premier dive attractions. Punta Sur Reef, a canyon lined drop-off and Colombia Reef, a wall and mid-depth reef, have become hot spots in recent years. With only a few exceptions, such as when I am trying to photograph a particular critter, I don't request specific dive sites. When water clarity is good, and it usually is, any dive site in Cozumel can look magical. The same current that pushes divers along the reef twists giant sponges into gnarly shapes and creates a constant food source for a marine life spectacle. Reef fish, schooling fish and pelagics are constantly parading along the reefline.

    Even divers might miss some of Cozumel's greatest cultural and environmental assets. Around the town plaza and along the back streets you can still find the real soul of San Miguel; the tourist community is bordered by a sleepy little Maya village. Outside town, in addition to a few minor ancient Maya sites, there are vast expanses of dry tropical forest and white sand beaches to explore. Day trips to the mainland include a selection of exciting beaches, ruins and more; if you can force yourself out of the water.

    For more information on Casa del Mar Resort, contact Tropical Tours at (800) 711-4700; fax (281) 855-9139. You can send e-mail to diver@neosoft.com; the Internet address is http://tropical.scubamas ter.com. Casa del Mar's Internet address is www.iminet.com/mexico/coz202.html; send e-mail to casamar@cozumel.czm. com.mx.