Cozumel

Eilat beachMy uncle Yossi was a story teller, passionate about the sea and a colorful character.
He loved making things from wood, a hobby which 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 he was often called “The Israeli Jacques Cousteau”, taking scuba divers to the most breathtaking spots in the Red Sea, at one time considered one of the the most pristine coral reef anywhere, filled with brilliantly colored fish, red coral and on deeper dives, sharks and bottom feeders. The divers who frequented the club were Europeans, who adored the climate, abundant sea life and my uncle.

For my twelfth birthday my gift from him was a deep sea diving certification and I became a girl obsessed. I thought there was no place as beautiful and up until I became older, Eilat and the red Sea was IT.

Some other divers, Americans in fact, told me about a place in Mexico, called Cozumel. They said it was bigger, had even more variety of ocean life, amazing coral reefs extending for miles off the Yucatan Peninsula, shallow coral formation for snorkeling members of the family, too young to scuba dive. Even uncle Yossi said it was a marvel…

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, and 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 it’s sub tropical 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 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 limestones and coral formation 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 and it was Jacques Costeau who discovered Cozamel as a premier diving spot. Visitors discovered it as a peaceful, gorgeous vacation spot to walk the Mayan remains and the sea side. Or just relax and soak in the beauty and peace.

image: wikipedia.org

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