On the same Caribbean cruise I booked with Kosherica, our last stop is in Cozumel, Mexico.
I have an awful lot to say, but before I delve into that, I must mention that Kosherica, world leader in kosher cruising and vacations, has just performed the highest, most noble act, one that makes me even more proud of my ancestry. They donated substantial amounts of gourmet quality food to feed the needy of Nassau. I was in tears when I read the report. Mazal Tov Kosherica, you are the jewel in the crown of our people!
Now, before talking about Cozumel, I’d like to tell you where my passion for snorkeling, then for scuba diving stem from.
I had a rather eccentric uncle, who never married, had more devoted friends than anyone, and lived in Eilat. I was his favorite (actually, his only) niece in the world, and he’d bring me trinkets and make us all laugh.
My uncle Yossi was a storyteller, passionate about the sea and life: a colorful character. He loved making things from wood, a hobby that cost him half his thumb, in a collision with an electric circular saw. Of course, he told us kids that the missing half thumb happened as he engaged in a battle with a monstrous, giant octopus, which of course Yossi won, thumbs down. Forgive the pun: Dead octopus, versus half a thumb, was a small price to pay. I was so proud of my uncle, the hero. Even after I found out the truth, he stayed a hero, protecting his divers with a diving dagger in one hand, in the other his water gun poised at a hungry shark. As head of Aqua Sport in Eilat, Israel, he was often referred to as "The Israeli Jacques Cousteau", taking groups of scuba divers to the most breathtaking spots in the Red Sea. Before the six day war, and the split-up of the area between Egyptian and Israeli forces, I’m told the Eilat side was considered one of the most pristine coral reefs anywhere, densely filled with a huge variety of brilliantly colored fish, red, glowing coral, and on deeper dives, sharks and bottom feeders. The divers who frequented the club were mostly Europeans, who adored the climate, the abundant sea life and my uncle. For my twelfth birthday, my Bat Mitzvah gift from him was a full scuba diving certification. To say I was immensely proud would be an enormous understatement: I, in fact, became a girl obsessed.
To me, there wasn’t a place as beautiful and exciting anywhere in the world. First of all, the water is always warm, and the desert heat is dry and incredibly pleasant. Take that and go in the blue water, which would be a physical sensation to awaken the dead, even if you had no skill or desire to snorkel or dive. But then, mask on, you become one with the sea and its magnificence, and the world is forgotten: you’re moving in the silence, eyes drinking in the exquisite shapes and colors, encountering new surprises with every turn. Many older divers told me stories about the days when the Israeli side was even more mind-boggling. Almost as good a dive as in some of the superior places in Mexico or the Caymans, but up until I became a bit older, Eilat and the Red Sea was IT.
The summer I turned 16, I met, a group of Jewish American tourists, who resided at Aqua Club. They were close friends of my uncle, had great respect for his skills as a trustworthy, adventurous Dive Master. They were fun, intelligent and truly consummate scuba divers, who chose vacationing in Eilat, at least once a year, "Because as Jews" said one of the women, "we want to help local economy". Then they told me about a place in Mexico, which they unanimously preferred, called Cozumel. They said it was a wonder. As the second largest reef in the world, in the 1950’s Jacques Cousteau crowned it "Dive Paradise", the best anywhere. They all joked that they could donate the money directly to Israel, then drag Yossi with them to Cozumel on a yearly basis. The stories were told with such enthusiasm, all the while paying the respect due to the Red Sea, (which, by the way, I still adore), but it sounded that for the serious diver, there was no comparison. I looked at uncle Yossi, who smiled in agreement. They said Cozumel had the most magnificent, shallow coral formations too, teeming with tropical fish and awesome beauty, transparently clear water, perfect for snorkeling members of the family, who were either too young, or simply not wanting to scuba dive. Also, being a tropical paradise, with 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit, average water temp is 78- 82, in other words, warm. The Caribbean Sea surrounding Cozumel, had a vast variety of ocean life, amazing coral reefs, with sponge padded caves extending for miles off the Yucatan Peninsula.
First opportunity I had, there I was, on a diving expedition, excited like a jumping bean, on the boat to the reefs. The view was amazing, pristine, inviting. Our dive master told us Cozumel is the largest island of the Mexican Caribbean, and one of the premier diving (and non-diving) playgrounds in the world, with its subtropical climate.
Well, the dive was a dream… better than I could imagine. I got to play with Hawksbill turtles, held a seahorse in my hands, saw whale sharks and nurse sharks, ferocious looking Moray eel, flora and fauna with brightly colored crustaceans. We even spotted an endangered species of fish, the shy toadfish, indigenous uniquely to Cozumel.
I descended to the greatest depths I have ever dared to go before, happily drinking in the beauty of the variety of brilliantly colored fish and swimming with a group of sharks, feeling safe and protected under the watchful eyes of the dive masters who barely left my side.
There are two main coral reef systems surrounding Cozumel: Colombia and Palankar, both stunning yet differently exhilarating.
My family visited the Chankanaab Lagoon, one of the most visited sites in the world, where both snorkelers and divers can observe limestone and coral formations, which look like sculptures made by a great artist. Which, in fact they were, by the greatest artist of all, Nature.
My first visit in Cozumel was pure magic and undoubtedly, the greatest dive of my life. The kids in the family said the snorkeling was equally incredible and it was a Herculean feat to get them out of the water.
For those who don’t wish to get wet, there is so much to see, so much history. It’s as if the Conquistadors are watching the island proudly – maybe it’s just me, but there’s is an energetic presence, which can be felt.
The Mayans called the island "The Swallows" and built a town along the crystal clear waters. It was Jacques Cousteau who discovered Cozumel as a premier diving spot. Visitors discovered it as a peaceful, gorgeous vacation spot to walk the Mayan remains and the seaside, or just relax and soak in the beauty and peace.
And I, of course, have another reason to start counting the days for my well-deserved cruise, which will have the ship I longed to revisit, and all the magical spots, ending with Cozumel. On second thought, I don’t believe I can wait until next January: a Summer Cruise or a week at a Kosherica catered magic resort, like the Atlantis. Hmmm…just twist my arm, see what happens.