Having had the worst dive experience ever the day before with another company on Isla Mujeres, I would strongly recommend not taking chances and booking with Scuba Garrido if you plan to dive around the island.
The three Garrido brothers have lived on the island their whole lives, and their father was a fisherman and knew the surrounding ocean territory well and along with a few associates they make a wonderful dive company.
The first dive we did was the C-58 wreck, a site with strong currents. Like every dive site, there are better and worse approaches to the dive.
One way NOT to approach this site is the way I did the day before, where the boat drops you down-current so you have to fight the strong current on the surface to get to the buoy, dropping your air supply by a quarter and completely exhausting you before the dive even starts.
Instead, the Garrido boat captain, Gabriel, expertly positioned the boat to put us in the water exactly the right distance up-current. He took into account the number of divers and strength of the current so that the first divers to get to the bottom would easily drift to the dive site without effort while the last divers would hit the site exactly. And the line and buoy was there in case anyone descended particularly slowly. A perfectly executed dive site strategy meaning you get to the site with all your energy and air intact.
During the dive it was remarkable to see how Arturo, the divemaster, expertly led the group while Valentine, another crew member, hovered close behind and was able to track all divers at all times.
The true colors of divemasters are shown in an emergency, and on this dive, they handled an out-of-air situation calmly and expertly, buddy breathing with the diver and ascending while another divemaster stayed with the other divers. This took place so matter-of-factly that I didn’t even know anything had happened until I heard the story back on the boat. (It bears mentioning that the diver also handled the situation expertly!) It wasn’t an equipment failure but just a strong current dive and well, some divers just work harder on some dives and use more air than others.)
I did three more dives with the Garrido crew and during the dives, Gabriel was explaining to my wife (who stayed topside) how to track the bubbles of the divers even in rough seas, how to gauge the direction and strength of the current from them, and how to tell if something’s wrong, all just reading bubbles on the surface from the boat. While many boat captains play games on their phone or read while waiting, Gabriel was keenly aware of exactly where all the divers were at all times during the dive through his extraordinary bubble-reading awareness and expertise!
In terms of keeping track of divers, to paint a contrast, I heard a story about the particular dive company I had a bad experience with in which their boat actually returned to the dock missing six divers! There were two groups on this dive that got separated, and the divemaster of one group left six of them treading water after ascending from the dive to “find the boat”. He never returned. Luckily, after some time, the Garrido crew actually spotted the group of six divers treading water and rescued them. Just another reason why I would not trust any other dive crew on this island!
To sum up: I can’t recommend Scuba Garrido highly enough.
I’ll end this review with a few tips for inexperienced and experienced divers that crossed my mind during these dives so I’ll list them here:
First, some camera tips:
– Don’t leave your camera in the sun when you’re topside. Underwater cases act as a greenhouse effect where the suns rays are trapped in the case and your camera could get very hot. I try to find a shady spot, and also crack the underwater case open every 20 – 30 minutes to let the superheated air escape and fill the case with normal temperature air.
– To avoid condensation in humid, tropical climates, put a little container of silica gel in your camera’s underwater case (those things that look like sugar packets except they say “do not eat”). I’m actually not totally sure this helps but I never get fogginess so I’m going to keep doing it!
– Hopefully you have enough battery and memory to keep it rolling when on a dive. You never know when you’ll see something cool, and in the meantime, you can shoot footage of your divemates and email it to them afterwards. It’s hard to do “selfies” on a dive!
– Just like topside, try to keep the camera steady, and move in slow, gentle motions if possible.
More diving tips:
– Defog before every dive. A defog probably won’t “keep” between dives. Scrub the inside of your mask with the detergent (or whatever you’re using) like you’re cleaning a window, then rinse briefly with ocean water so your eyes don’t sting.
– Put a hand on your mask and regulator during entry into the water so everything stays put. Hold your camera with your other hand even if its attached so it doesn’t smack you on entry.
– In a dive with strong currents, immediately start your decent after your entry (after giving the boat your okay signal, of course!)
– Start equalizing right at the surface, and keep equalizing all the way down. Don’t wait until you feel a “pinch”. (Remember to equalize your mask airspace on the way down as well.)
– If you have your weights right, once you want to level off, you’ll want to put a tiny bit of air in your BC to achieve neutral buoyancy. You should be able to go limp and neither rise nor sink.
– Of course, never ever hold your breath while ascending. However, to conserve air during a dive, you can keep your lungs mostly full of air while continuing to breathe in and out with shallower breaths for a while, while your lungs harvest the oxygen in the big breath. Then, periodically, let all your air out and refresh your lungs with a new deep breath. I find I use quite a bit less air than most other divers with this technique and usually return to the boat with 1400 or more psi while others are at 800 – 1000.
– Again mentioning never holding your breath while ascending, you can use your lung air space for surprisingly effective buoyancy modification. Letting all your air out and breathing slowly and shallowly will start you slowly descending. When you are at the depth you want to be, you can take a deep breath which will slow and stop your descent and return you to neutral buoyancy. If you are drifting towards a reef, just taking a deep breath will “levitate” you up and over the reef without any movement. Remember to keep breathing! Then let air out of your lungs to descend back down to the sandy bottom on the other side, all without moving a flipper.
Because of pockets of more or less salinity, temperature changes and currents, sometimes during a dive your buoyancy will change and you will need to add or remove air from your BC.
– Speaking of buoyancy, weight belts have always bugged me so I put my weights in the pockets of my BC instead of wearing a weight belt. Though it makes for more weight for the crew helping you before and after a dive, I solve this by tipping extra 🙂 It’s easier to prep and I find it a better experience, your mileage may vary on this one!
– Strive to use a minimum of energy during a dive. Usually there’s no need to be constantly kicking, if you have your buoyancy right you can more or less go limp and see the sights without expending any energy. Try to let the current take you where you want to go, and kick as slowly as you can, and only when you need to. You do not want to get tuckered out during a dive, and you don’t want to suck up all your air and have to ascend before other divers. Be relaxed at all times.
– At the safety stop, I find I usually have to let all the air out of my BC to stay level. Maybe this is just me, but I’m more buoyant near the surface.
– At the end of a dive, most divers surface, fill their BCs with air and swim for the ladder. But I find, especially in very choppy seas, that swells can come up unexpectedly, knocking the diver into the ladder or boat while they’re trying to remove their fins.
I find it much better to stay at safety stop depth until I’m ready to get back on the boat, and approach the ladder from below. I find it easier to grab the lowest rung of the ladder and remove my fins, then start ascending the ladder from underwater. Of course you want to be aware of other divers who might not know where you are. That’s why I’m usually the last diver out of the water, the divemaster always seems to get it.
Hope you find some of these tips interesting. Isla Mujeres is a beautiful place for diving or dining, also, do not miss snorkeling with the whale sharks in July and August, along with huge manta rays, that is a once in a lifetime experience! And if you stay at Villa Rolandi (a great place), tell Jorge to make you the Jorge Pizza Especiale with Bolognaise sauce, tomatoes and pineapple!