Sunday, August 24, 2008

Presidente Intercontintental

Quick post about this fantastic hotel. Naturally, it's amazing that there's a dive shop and dock steps from the room - that goes without saying. But there are plenty of dive-friendly hotels that focus entirely on the diving and don't bother with the other details. When planning this trip, I wanted a bit of luxury with my diving adventures, and I found it. It's not uptight luxury though. Everything is perfectly laid-back and casual, but the staff are incredibly well-trained in service and the restaurants and additional features are exceptional. The pyramid above is a playground for the iguanas that have taken up residency on this gorgeous beach. I love that they have their own little Mayan temple.
My favorite food so far is pictured here - iced tea and Panuchos - shredded grilled chicken, lettuce, avocado on corn tortillas stuffed with black beans. Amazing, and relatively healthy. The restaurant has breathtaking views of the ocean, a great happy hour with 2 for 1 drinks, and fantastic food! There's something for everyone - Mexican food, American food, pizza, salads. It is a little more expensive than I anticipated - lunch is coming in around $35 - $40 without cocktails. Water is kind of absurd at $5 per bottle, and $3.50 for iced tea with no refills. But, they have expenses and we seem to be practically the only ones in the hotel, so I'm not complaining.
I also had an incredible massage on the beach under a thatched roof that I arranged through the Spa. This spa is really nice, and just small and quaint enough to fit nicely with the overall vibe of the hotel. The most important thing is that it's clean and offers a nice variety of services by trained professionals. The brochure mentions yoga and pilates, but when I asked about this, the receptionist explained that the "lady left town" for a while, and also, that it wasn't "real" pilates but something similar. I thought that was kind of hysterical. The one thing about this laid back island is that you have to be flexible. Fortunately, I'm so relaxed here that I feel very able to go with the flow.
And how could you not be relaxed having almost an entire hotel (and a 4 1/2 star one at that!) to yourself!!

I highly recommend this hotel to anyone who loves a little taste of the finer things mixed in with their diving. It strikes just the right balance between easy casual and luxury service and accommodation. It's unpretentious yet impressive. And what a view!

Hugs and fishes,
Jenny Mo

Divelog: Palancar Gardens / Chankanaab Reef

Today was a SCUBA dream! Our first dive day in Cozumel, and it was fantastic! Palancar Caves, followed by Chankanaab Reef. A great way to begin over a week of diving one of the world's best locations.

I have to back up a bit and explain that after trying on my Mares BCD, I exchanged it for a SeaQuest Libra travel BCD. The Mares looked great, but I could tell it would chafe my neck. So today I broke in the new SeaQuest Libra BCD. It has back inflation with integrated weights. Before today, I've always rented my BC -so I was excited to see if this improved the dive.

This morning we didn't have to wake up at 6 am to wolf down coffee and breakfast and lug our gear to a car and drive to a dock. Instead, we walked right out of the hotel room onto the beach at 7 am, had a leisurely breakfast on the water, and walked about 25 feet to the dive boat in time for an 8:15 departure. Scuba Du - the onsite diveshop at the Presidente Intercontinental - was fantastic. The dive masters are extremely professional yet easy-going. It's no wonder they have a top PADI rating. On our boat, we had divemasters Sarah (who spoke French, English, and Spanish!) and Giovanni (our divemaster who was simply the best I've had the pleasure of diving with). They helped us set up our gear quickly and correctly and had every detail covered.

Palancar Gardens was our first destination, and it was gorgeous. Incredible coral formations, grouper, sea turtles, and a nice current that made finning almost completely unnecessary on the entire dive. Both of today's dives were drift dives as Cozumel is famous for its currents. It was a multi-level dive: we started around 40 and went as far as 80 ft. deep. The water was as warm and as clear as I've ever seen. I wore a 2 mil. shorty wetsuit and I was perfectly comfortable.

Two particular details to mention: (1) I was under-weighted - I only brought 8 lbs. and I needed 10. I struggled with buoyancy most of the dive and kept floating upwards. It became a real problem when I tried to do a 3 minute safety stop toward the end, and simply couldn't stay down. I don't know if it was the air expanding in my tank or the back inflation, but combined with the fact that I was underweighted, I didn't manage more than a minute at most. Fortunately, no harm done. (2) I kept getting stung by tiny jellyfish. Nothing serious, but they felt like pinpricks. Gloves are strictly prohibited in the area (as I discovered when putting them on), and naturally the jellyfish went straight for my hands. The stings didn't leave any marks, and I didn't feel them at all once I surfaced.

Once we surfaced, I realized that the back-flotation meant that it was far easier to lay on my back horizontally than to try to bob up and down in a vertical position where I had to keep treading water to stay upright.

On our second dive, we headed over to Chankanaab Reef after a brief surface interval when the dive crew brought us fresh cantaloupe and bananas. The Reef was gorgeous, although it was not as spectacular as the Palencar Gardens. Still, there were incredible colors, coral, grouper, and we even saw a massive Barracuda just hanging out. While we were down, a brief rainstorm passed over us. We could see the raindrops on the surface, but the visibility was still remarkably good. What a great way to ride out a little rain! This time, my weight was correct and I had gotten used to the back flotation to the point where my buoyancy was clearly much better. The currents were strong, but staying with the group was easy. Properly weighted, I was able to do a 3 minute safety stop with no problem.

A short boat ride to the dock at the hotel, and we were back in time for a nice lunch and a nap in the sunshine. We met a couple of nice divers - Jeff and Julie from Houston - which is always a plus.

The photos (taken yesterday) with this post are of the restaurant and Scuba Du - right on the beach, steps from each other and the hotel room. I can't imagine anything easier.

Hugs and fishes,
Jenny Mo