Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The JBBW Team goes to the Riviera Maya

As part of production for season 3 of Jonathan Bird's Blue World we headed down to the Riviera Maya region of Mexico last week to shoot a couple segments. We had an optimistic plan to shoot three segments. Last year we heard about a cool dive with Bull sharks that is organized by Phantom Divers in Playa Del Carmen. Then we heard about a nearby adventure to swim with sailfish feeding on baitballs organized by Solo Buceo up in Cancun. So we thought we could try to shoot those segments, plus another segment about cenotes. (I can't go to Mexico and not dive a cenote. I love those things!) To add to the fun, Todd Kelly was with us on his first Blue World shoot (talk about being thrown right into fire!) So, Mia, Todd and I headed out and landed in Cancun to mild, cool weather and strong winds. This was to be a theme of the week.

Unfortunately, right before we left Boston, we found out that fishermen had killed all the Bull sharks. We're not sure if they did it to get back at the dive shops (jealous of their success in turning shark tourism into money) or if they just saw it as easy money. Either way, it was very sad. Apparently some of them were finned and thrown back alive to die. Cruel, wasteful and shameful. We still hoped there would be enough left to dive with.

We had the chance to try the sailfish trip early in the week as it looked like our only weather break for the week. It was rough, but we still made the run out there with Solo Buceo in a trip organized through Jorge "Chino" Loria of Phantom Divers. In spite of heavy sea conditions, we jumped overboard into bait balls with 25-30 sailfish zipping around eating the fish. I looked at those long sharp bills and tried to put it out of my mind as I hid behind my video camera and kept it rolling. Swimming with the sailfish is hard work because the baitfish are trying to get away from them so they keep moving. It's all about swimming as hard as you can while trying to shoot steady video. Good exercise!

The next day we went out with Phantom Divers to find some Bull sharks. Unfortunately, in spite of a lot of chumming and waiting, we saw nothing. It looks like the fishermen did get them all. Hopefully in the next few months some more sharks will come to the area and Jorge from Phantom Divers can work a deal with the fishermen to protect the sharks.

The wind kept getting higher every day and by the middle of the week we couldn't do any ocean dives. Fortunately, you can dive cenotes anytime. For our first cenote, we joined cave diver Carlos "Charlie" Estrabeau from Phantom Divers diving a private sinkhole called Muyal-ha. At the bottom we found spooky sulphur layers that looked like clouds, mastadon bones and interesting "pillow" rock formations. Very cool!

The next day we joined Christine Loew, a cave diving instructor from Yucatec Divers to explore a cenote/cave system called Pet Cemetery. Our goal was to find and film a Blind Cavefish, which we did thanks to Christine's knowledge of where to find them. This is going to make a great segment.

The next day we headed down to Akumal and did a dive at the popular cenote Choc Mool, led by Alvaro Roldan of Akumal Divers. Choc Mool often has a lot of divers, and for a good reason--it's a really nice cenote. We got lucky and managed to do our dive between large groups so we mostly had the place to ourselves.

We expect that even though we got no Bull sharks, we have 3 nice segments from this shoot (2 cenote segments and a sailfish segment.) Now we have to get to work on editing these.

We stayed at two very nice properties on this trip. Unlike the last time we visited when we stayed at a huge all-inclusive resort out of town, this time we stayed right in Playa Del Carmen in two smaller places. We really loved being within easy walking distance of great restaurants and things to see. I really recommend staying in town when you visit. We stayed at the opulent and high end El Taj for a few days, and then at the charming and delightful Casa de Gopala for the rest of the week. Casa de Gopala is owned by the people who own Yucatec divers, so if you are visiting the Riviera Maya to do some cenote or cave diving, this is a great place to stay.