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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Arrival in Paradise?

Saturday morning, 10 o’clock, Playa del Carmen. Ten unsuspecting volunteers gathered in Hotel Colorado, unaware of what was to come…

Two hairy blonde guys rocked up, to escort us to our new home for the next 1, 2, 3 or 6 months, depending on how hardcore people were. A two hour bus drive and four million health and safety instructions later, the group finally arrived in Pez Maya. The base can be best described, for those who know the TV-Series “Lost”, as a Dharma Station in the jungle – really well equipped, but from the outside resembling, well, let’s call it a ruin. Under the shadow of a looming blue tower which is on the point of collapse, we entered the base and found a fully functioning diving station on top of a huge cavernous well, in a tropical paradise.

The first “person” who said hello was our very own guard dog “Don”, formerly known as a reptile with a very long tail, scales, a forked tongue and long finger nails.
Don shouldn’t be the only incidental sighting at the base who deserves a mention. On inspection of our sleeping quarters with California king beds, our new huts, Malin was dismayed to discover a little scorpion had already made itself a home upon her bed. Jose Maria, our Mexican Mariachi leapt to her rescue, armed with a bucket and removed the unwanted intruder.

Paradise….duties attached
The easy living is constantly disrupted by the duties we have to carry out, starting at 6:30 in the morning. Sweeping sand (?!), cleaning bathrooms, preparing boats, filling tanks of fuel and air, cooking food for 20 hungry bellies or navigating the leaving boats via radio are just a few of the daily tasks we do altogether. No resources are wasted, four buckets of water per person are rationed per week, so you really learn to live with what nature provides– back to basics.

But who cares about scorpions, bucket showers and loud compressors when you have the second largest reef in the world on your doorstep? Diving in a never-before-seen protected area, where no one but us is allowed to dive is an amazing opportunity. Two days of diving and already we have seen a manatee, a Caribbean stingray, turtles, barracudas and of course the different species we have to learn to begin the monitoring. Many many many many many many fish and almost as many corals need to be memorized for underwater identification. In order to behave correctly in and outside the reef, the staff have given us lots of lectures on avoiding hazardous marine animals, stinging corals and dangerous diving amongst others.

Our resident pirate Jim Sparrow, sorry, Captain Jim Sparrow, rules our boats with an iron fist. Once aboard, divers undergo a fast-speed, multi-directional cruise around the reef and a (highly fictional) history of their imminent dive site. Tales of wetsuits returning without divers, dark magic rituals and mysterious disappearances abound before the divers throw themselves backwards over the “emergency exits” – the left and right sides of the boat.

With Friday comes  weekend, that means for us returning to civilization, where we’ll have the chance to explore cenotes, which were used by the ancient Mayans for sacrificing their virgins. Of course there will be one and “MAYBE” another beer drunk. But still we are very much looking forward to returning to Pez Maya to see what week two will hold for us.

Jemima and Manuel