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Ceiba and Ernesto’s fajita factory across the street). It’s just that six days of three meals a day adds up to about $300/person as opposed to the $125 American plan at, say, Divi Flamingo. The “cheap” transportation on ATA occurred at ridiculous times — e.g., scheduled home at 2:30 AM, actually arrived at 7 am in a rattletrap ex- Eastern Airline’s L1011. La Ceiba has aged gracefully since we were there 9 years ago and the staff was all as friendly and helpful as could be. They now farm out the dive operation to an island mega-dive outfit, Del Mar Aquatics. They had uniformly good people including one divemaster named Ruben whom everybody loved. Since their headquarters and boats were all stationed elsewhere there was confusion every day about who was to go with whom and interminable waits occurred. The package included only one 2-tank dive per day. A more normal four-dives would have cost $250 more and Del Mar wasn’t really organized to provide it. So we spread a two-day dive cycle over a week. Palancar reef has come back big time. Big corals are back and each day’s first dive included roaming pass throughs on the wall from 80 feet up, some deeper. The inner portions of the reef included overhangs and hollows harboring all manners of creatures. Twice I photographed the elusive splendid toadfish, found only on Palancar Reef. Huge groupers approached unafraid, no fishing allowed. At the town wharf fisher plying reefs far offshore offered fresh snapper and hogfish. Every dive is a drift dive for there is always a current

of some sort. Even shore diving off the hotel was at times difficult due to current. The shore dives turned out to be only worthwhile at night when squid, octopus and light avoiding varieties come out. Drift diving can be easier than still water if you put your mind to it — relax, move as little as is possible and go with the flow. Tank pressure of 2700 (rather than 3300) PSI made one hour dives next to impossible. Our group included too many students and inexperienced divers so my adage “first-in, last out” was forced to shorten by having to take a down to 500 PSI diver to the surface several times. No fun for me. Guides surfaced twice with an out of air diver. Divemasters were very good at finding stuff. Two-tank morning dive that took four hours (hour long boat trips on both ends) had only two 40-50 minute dives with a 30 to 40 minutes excursion in the middle to pick up more tanks. At times there were twenty dive boats within eyesight. This meant there were many more divers than the reef could tolerate and signs of diver damage were everywhere. This same over- population extended to the hotel where the overflow from as many as four massive cruise ships moored at the adjacent public docks. The beach became crowded with ugly, garbage strewing, loud talking tourists. Downtown was elbowroom only. Elinor, (“mi esposa”) and I walked the downtown one afternoon, looking for bargains. There were none. Prices were 1/3 less a block away from the main drag but T-shirts were for sale on the ferry to Playa del Carmen for 60%

156 Copyright 2000, DSDL, Inc. publishers of Undercurrent, www.undercurrent.org

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