8 mins

Diving right in to underwater Mexico

Wander Woman, Marie Javins, goes diving in Cancun before saying adios and goodbye to Mexico. And Wanderlust

Diving in Mexico (Marie Javins)

First thing on a Monday morning, I found myself in Mexico on a second-class bus from Chichen Itza to Cancun. The first-class bus didn't depart until 4:30pm, so second-class seemed like a good idea when I'd booked it.

This was less appealing when I realised the "2" in "2nd" stood for "stops every two feet."

That's because the second-class bus is the local lifeline for communities along the route. I was standing for part of the four-hour journey, having given up my seat to two of the dozens of babies on board.

Stopping in small communities was fun for a while, then repetitive, especially once I found I'd consumed too much water prior to boarding.

I couldn't wait to get to Cancun.

Shiny, modern, well-plumbed Cancun.

I was using wheeled luggage instead of my standard rucksack since my primary destination had been San Miguel de Allende for a month, and I was dragging around a bunch of work stuff and mobile desktop-publishing gear. Unfortunately, on arrival in Cancun’s central bus terminal, I encountered two things you don't want to see after a four-hour bus ride when you have a wheelie bag.

1) Stairs to the sanitarios.

2) Turnstiles.

I was beginning to regret my choice of luggage.

After navigating the turnstiles and swearing aloud in front of children, I pulled my wheelie bag across Tulum Avenue and up the street to the Radisson, which I'd booked on points I'd begun saving up back in Varanasi during the second MariesWorldTour.com trip around the world. (Free stuff requires dedication and patience.)

I did my laundry in an actual machine down the block, then retired to my room to bask in the ease and comfort of a hotel room without a 'Do not flush paper down the toilet' sign.

I slept in the next day, enjoying the comfort of the nice hotel on the edge of downtown Cancun. None of that resort-style hotel zone stuff for me. I'm a city girl.

I had a boring breakfast – I’d quit eating sugar a few weeks ago, and that had cut out all kinds of available breakfast options, like pastries and pancakes – then I got to work. There was a reason I’d booked a mid-range hotel. I needed the reliable WiFi for work.  

But it didn’t work out as planned. I conducted an embarrassing interview with the VFX Supervisor on Thor: The Dark World for a Marvel movie book I was co-writing. He took the frequent cut-offs in stride, but when the WiFi continued its antics with a producer, I had to call it quits and hand the interviewing baton to my colleague in Brooklyn. Mortified, I got out of my room and went over to the taco stands in the City Park, where buskers played music and children squealed with delight on small rides.

I got the WiFi worked out later, when the Costume Designer texted me from Canada. “I’ve got some time!” I ran down to the lobby and demanded help. The clerk sent me outside to sit next to the pool, where the WiFi was perfect.

Mosquitoes ate my ankles, but I got my interview.

The next day, for my final adventure in my summer in Mexico, I realised how unprepared I was. I had packed a wardrobe for working in a studio apartment and walking around a colonial city to get lunch, not for diving. Not for the beach.

Maybe I can get away with wearing my pajamas on the boat, I thought, as I packed for my night away from Cancun. I was off to dive the underwater sculpture garden near Isla Mujeres.

I checked most of my gear with the hotel bellhop and ran to the bus stop, where a minivan with a JUAREZ sign pulled up.

“Gran Puerto?” I asked. The driver nodded. The door shut – automatically, which was a nice touch – and we were off.

The journey to the ferry took only ten minutes, and the stop was obvious so I didn't have to sweat it about knowing where I was. I scampered in – carrying my 40-peso tote bag 'Cancun' luggage I'd picked up on Tulum Avenue last night – and bought a 70-peso ticket.

The ferry was waiting, but loading hadn't started yet. A second after I joined the line, we were off, filing into the shaded, air-conditioned cabin for the 20-minute ride over to Isla Mujeres.

"How will I know where the hotel is?" I wondered as the ferry jetted across the Caribbean. I knew it was near the ferry pier, but that could mean anything.

But then as we approached Isla Mujeres, I learned quickly I had nothing to worry about. The hotel I'd booked with bank points rose up over the harbour, just to the right of the ferry dock.

I strolled off the boat, following everyone else around some construction. I turned right and when I got to my hotel, I learned I was too early to check in. I'd gotten the 11am ferry, so it wasn't quite 11:30 yet.

I went into the mujeres room by the hotel pool and tried on my old swimming costume. How long had it been since I’d worn this? Since I went diving in French Polynesia?

It was neither too tight nor too loose.

"I've seen worse," I thought. I could do this.

I covered up with my street clothes and packed a change of clothing. I hadn't brought a towel, which I realised was a violation of some important rules of intergalactic travel. In my defence, I have in the past carried towels for entire years without using them, and I was mainly staying in one place on this trip. A place equipped with towels.

I left my "luggage" – a blue canvas shoulder bag emblazoned with some white flowers and the word Cancun at the front desk – and headed over to the dive centre, where I was ushered upstairs to watch a refresher video. I’m not much of a diver and I never just jump in without a bit of review.

Eventually, we went downstairs and pulled on our shorty wetsuits and got all geared up. We then had to walk down the block, across the street, over the beach and into the surf for our refresher course.

"All right, swim over there and back," said the dive master, Rodolfo.

OK. I pulled my mask on and swam to the rope and back. Easy.

My colleague had never done this before and she went awry. Rodolfo fetched her.

After 20 minutes of clearing masks and demonstrating skills, we headed to the boat. Our dive site wasn't too far away, and we were there after a few minutes.

I sat for a minute on the side of the boat when it was my turn to go into the water.

Go, I thought.

I didn't go.

Backward roll. Come on. You know this part. 

Finally, I put my hands in place and rolled back off the boat.

And that was the end of the hard part. Once we were in, we all followed a rope down to the sea floor. Rodolfo led us over to the underwater sculpture park I'd come all the way back to Cancun to see.

It was marvelous. Unique. Unlike anything else I've seen. Was there a tonne of marine life? No. But there were really interesting algae-covered sculptures.

Eventually, Rodolfo signalled us to ascend. Up we went, slowly, equalising a few times.

At the boat ladder, I removed and handed one fin, then another to the boat's pilot. I took off my gear and handed it to him, until just me and my wetsuit were left. I climbed the ladder and collapsed onto the boat, watching as the other divers joined me. 

"That was great!" Everyone agreed. We were all fans of diving the underwater sculpture garden, or MUSA. 

"Now we'll go to the other dive site," said Rodolfo. 

"I'm done," I declared. "My diving career is over." 

Everyone looked at me with surprise. 

"I don't really like to dive," I explained. "I just wanted to see the sculptures."

Then, seeing their disappointment, I added: "I'm retired until there's something else I want to see."

I spent the rest of my day relaxing and enjoying the charming atmosphere of the little island of Mujeres. And headed back to Cancun for one last night before flying to Miami, then on to Newark Airport and home.

At Newark, I collected my wheelie bag, then jumped on Airtrain, switched to the PATH train, and disembarked at the stop near my apartment.

I walked home, dragging my bag along the sidewalk and across streets. The day was stunning. Sunrise that morning in Miami had been stunning. The brownstone I live in was stunning.

Home is so beautiful this time of year. I missed summer in New York, I realised as I stood in front of my building.

But that was OK. I’d spent a summer in Mexico. I felt incredibly lucky, suddenly, to have work where I can go abroad and work from my laptop. To have travelled around the world twice, to have lived in Berlin, Australia, Barcelona, Uganda, Namibia, Kuwait, Cairo, and now San Miguel. To be a working writer/editor with plenty of freelance.

I stood still for a moment, grateful for all the opportunities I've had in life. My life has been far from normal and I've spent too much time complaining about being single when the truth is it is wonderful. I'm sure all you married people enjoy your lives too. But there is surely nothing wrong with mine.

I headed in, as it clicked.

Being off sugar was making me weird.

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