Jason and I love to scuba dive. We first got certified together over a decade ago and ever since we’ve tended to plan our vacation destinations around where we could go and dive. So when we started planning where we would move to, being near a body of water that we could dive in was one of the key components. But as our income stream was revised down by leaving our full-time – and full-paying – jobs so did our ability to dive often (it is definitely not a cheap sport). In addition, over the years while we’ve had some really amazing dives, for a variety of reasons lately our dives had been not so great. So we turned to snorkeling, after all we already have the gear and the ocean doesn’t charge a fee.
But we do still look for, and get excited by, new challenges and adventures and so recently we decided to splurge and make a trip out to Banco Chinchorro, the largest atoll in the Western Hemisphere that just so happens to be located about 40 miles straight out to sea from Xcalak. It had been on our list of things to do while living here in Xcalak, but for one reason or another we just hadn’t gone. Enough was enough we said and so we signed up for a scuba diving trip and tour of Banco Chinchorro with the XTC Dive Center, a local dive shop. Banco Chinchorro is about an 1.5 to 2 hour boat ride away so we had to arrive at the shop bright and early.
When we got onto the boat our dive master and captain started handing out rain coats. We kind of shrugged it off, it was a beautiful day and we didn’t mind if we got a little bit wet.
Jason and I have both been known to feed the fishes during even smooth boat rides and it was just so cold that for awhile during that boat ride we both had moments of wondering if all of this was actually worth it. But once we stopped for our first dive of the day?
After having had some not so great dives in the last couple of years we were just awestruck by what we saw. There were so many vibrant and healthy coral and reef structures, there were massive amounts of fish (and they were HUGE) as well as crabs, lobster and even an overly friendly nurse shark that hung with us the whole time. Because these animals so rarely see a human they are quite curious and love to interact and play. If we had wanted to, we could have reached out and petted multiple barracudas, angel and parrot fish and even the shark. There are also a couple hundred shipwrecks all around Banco Chinchorro because basically it’s a mountain that just appears in shallow water. I’m really glad our boat captain knew his way around.
After our first dive of the day we got back on the boat and headed to the very small part of the atoll that is above water. On Banco Chinchorro there is exactly one building which houses the Marine Park Department and a few structures for fishermen. Fishermen are allowed to fish Banco Chinchorro during certain times of the year but it is highly regulated and monitored to make sure no over fishing or depletion or destruction of the environment occurs.
Everybody had recently been evacuated from the atoll due to some strong storms in the area and they had yet to return so we had the whole run of the place. Although we weren’t completely alone.
When we moved to Xcalak. I thought it was this incredibly remote place in the middle of nowhere. But really, it’s all relative, isn’t it? Banco Chinchorro is miles away from any sort of civilization, there isn’t any other land in sight and it takes a strong stomach and a hopefully padded seat on a boat to get here. I wish I could convey how really, really, extremely, utterly, completely remote this place is but I just don’t think I have the words. While there I just felt so infinitesimal compared to, well, the entire world. It was a strange, and also very humbling, moment.
After our stop above water for a tour of the land part of the atoll and a bite to eat we got back on the boat and headed out for one more dive. This one was probably even better than the first.
After our second dive, another long, wet, bumpy ride on the boat brought us back to Xcalak. I cannot emphasize enough how long it had been since we had seen such healthy and vibrant marine life. It was gratifying to find out that we humans have not completely destroyed all parts of the world and that there is work being done to diligently protect and preserve this area. Thanks to Banco Chinchorro, our diving bug is definitely back.