TBT - (1991) "Conched Out In The Caribbean"

My wife Barbara and I were looking for an interesting vacation in 1991 and found out through our close friends Robin and Rob Burr that a small group of investors were putting together a sports diving operation near the Mexican-Belize border on the Yucatan Peninsula. The Burrs produced and published a great SCUBA diving magazine called 'Fish Eye View' and they had been contacted by the investors - and that led to an invitation to send someone to visit the place. The Burrs were too busy - so we got lucky, again.

Arriving in Cancun we took the only viable option to getting to this remote location - we rented a car to drive ourselves there. A five hour drive if we went straight through to our destination. But independent travel is great - you make all the stops you want - be on the road when you want - and lots of opportunities to get into whatever mischief comes your way. So we did some exploring along the Mexican coast heading towards Belize and got to see many of the nicer areas of that part of the Yucatan before the subsequent 20+ years of buildup for tourism. At the time of our trip the scars from Hurricane Gilbert (1988) a cat 5 hurricane, were still evident - the most intense storm to hit Mexico in modern times. The 23' storm surge pushed over 3 miles inland and evidence of the intensity and destruction of Gilbert was everywhere.

Our actual destination was an unspoiled stretch of white sand beach opposite the largest coral atoll in the Western Hemisphere - Banco Chinchorro. We found that the first phase of this tourist development was basically just a camp with huts, a compressor for filling dive tanks, and a rickety dock. The guy running the operation was Bill - who had brought down a 55' boat to use for extended excursions of 2-3 days at the Chinchorro reefs, some 21 miles off shore. It was a primitive set up - but who cared! This is dive adventure of the first caliber!

There are numerous flourishing coral reefs that enclose this 600 square mile lagoon, inviting both snorkelers and divers to interact with marine life that had never seen divers before - you could tell by the lack of shyness by the animals we encountered that we were the first humans to be swimming here. Which made it fairly easy for us to supply the crew and other guests with fresh fish and conch for meals during the three days we spent at the lagoon. As much as Barbara and I love conch, served in any fashion, by the end of the trip we could hardly eat anymore of them . We were conched out!

That last dive, as we approached the boat's dive platform, a pod of wild dolphins swam up to us and we enjoyed a little frolicking around with them - until they got bored and left. That was a once in a lifetime experience. During the three days we were at Banco Chinchorro we did not see another boat - the only signs of civilization was the old lighthouse and a few rusty shipwrecks on the reefs.

On the last day we reluctantly left the beach camp and got in the VW and headed north to Cancun for our return trip home. It was almost a 'culture shock' feeling to return to the frenzied bustle of normal life again after spending a week with primitive nature and just the bare necessities.

Sometimes when you try to get away from it all - you really do!