Cabo San Lucas and Revillagigedo Islands (Socorro); December 27, 2013 - January 5, 2014

We relocated from Todos Santos to Cabo San Lucas as planned, spent the afternoon walking around the touristy, American-ized, cruise-ship-passenger oriented Cabo harborfront and beaches (photo 1), then set off the next morning for our 8-day adventure on the liveaboard scuba diving boat Sea Escape (photos 2 and 3). The boat isn't especially luxurious, but it's clean, comfortable, and functional, the double cabins are roomy enough, the crew excellent, the food plentiful and varied, and most importantly the diving world-class.

It took us just under 24 hours to reach the Revillagigedo Islands (often referred to as Socorro, after the biggest island), about 250 miles south-southwest of Cabo San Lucas, where we'd be diving for the week. During the somewhat bouncy passage we got to know our fellow passengers (more on them below), we relaxed, read, and slept, and under the tutelage of the boat's dive guide/instructor Julian (though largely working through the book on our own), the four of us completed a PADI certification course allowing us to dive using "enriched oxygen blend" air, commonly known as Nitrox. Nitrox doesn't enable one to go deeper, but the reduced nitrogen allows one to stay at moderate depths (50-90 feet) far longer than with regular air. All of the other divers were Nitrox-certified already -- we'd only waited this long because, until recently, the minimum age was 16. Nitrox is becoming commonplace in recreational diving; it was a necessity for the dive profiles on this trip.

When we reached uninhabited San Benedicto Island (photo 3), about 220 miles from Cabo and the first of our three diving locations, we most definitely felt we were on the frontier. San Benedicto's remoteness was outdone only by our second location, Roca Partida, nothing more than a small rock jutting out of the Pacific (photo 4), a good 50 miles from any other land mass. The third location was Socorro Island itself, much larger than the other two and housing a small Mexican navy outpost (photos 2 and 5, the latter showing the military headed out for their routine inspection of each boat that comes by).

The diving at Socorro is famed not for colorful reefs (though we did see a few; photos 6 and 7), but rather for the "big stuff." Over the course of our 19 dives we encountered innumerable sharks of all persuasions (photo 8): White-tip, Silvertip, Silky, Galapagos, and everyone's favorite, the Hammerhead. Dolphins visited us underwater on a couple of occasions (photo 9), and in one highly memorable encounter, a 25+ foot whale shark emerged from the depths (photo 10). Friendly manta rays are a specialty of the islands; on our last two magical dives, eight 10-15 foot rays circled us curiously for the entire duration (photos 11 and 12, with Emily). At 75-76F the water was colder than true tropical diving, necessitating thicker wetsuits than we usually wear, a small price to pay for the uniquely exciting underwater life.

Our most recent winter dive trips were to Komodo, Indonesia in 2012 and Palau, Micronesia in 2011. For both, we were extremely fortunate to find an affordable scuba liveaboard small enough to accommodate just our family. Far more common are 15-20 passenger boats, like the Sea Escape and the other 2-3 vessels serving the Revillagigedo Islands. The Sea Escape can accommodate up to 18 passengers, but we had only 11, which made for uncrowded diving and meals, and allowed the kids to have their own cabins -- that is until we took two women aboard at Socorro Island near the end of the trip, for transport back to Cabo San Lucas. (They were park rangers, marine biologists, military personnel, or some combination; we were never quite sure.) The other seven passengers were all experienced, well-traveled divers, quite an interesting and eclectic group:

  • An American mother and son who had been vagabonds for much of the last 15 years, traveling by camper then sailboat. The son was home-schooled until he entered UC San Diego in 2011.
  • A Mexican dive instructor from Cozumel visiting his daughter (also a dive instructor) who's currently a student at nearby University of La Paz. Despite diving day in and day out as a profession, they chose a diving holiday for their winter vacation. (Together with Tim and Emily, there were four under-22's on board, quite unusual for a dive group.)
  • A Japanese woman traveling on her own. She currently works for an aid organization in Vietnam; she's lived and worked previously in Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Palestine.
  • A burly, congenial Danish Certified Public Accountant living permanently in Greenland.
  • A corporate finance lawyer from Manhattan who escapes on dive trips whenever his hectic work schedule suddenly permits it. (He booked this trip just a few days in advance, as soon as an important deal closed.)
Julian, the aforementioned dive guide, did an excellent job with the diving, as well as serving as overall trip director. Around the middle of the trip we learned that Julian is an aspiring actor -- his significant role in the ocean-themed B-movie Sharktopus was a hoot for us to watch one night. Rounding out the crew of eight were the boat captain, a general-purpose engineer, the cook, a kitchen helper, a food server & cabin cleaner, and two dinghy drivers. The dinghy drivers may have worked the hardest of all, ferrying us between the mother-ship and the dive sites, and keeping an eagle eye out to ensure nobody got swept away by the currents. Only Julian spoke English, but all of the crew were friendly and helpful. Never before have we been on a liveaboard where the captain drapes a warm towel over one's shoulders after each dive while whisking away one's dripping wetsuit.

Our 23-hour passage back to Cabo San Lucas was on mirror-smooth waters -- apparently quite unusual, and we certainly weren't complaining.
Dolphins played by the boat's bow (photo 13), and we briefly lucked into a couple of Orcas. We enjoyed time with the crew and passengers whom we now knew well, in the evening watching a movie and trying (but failing) to polish off what wine remained on board.

Back in Cabo San Lucas we had one overnight before flying home.
Hoping to relive their memorable mother-son nightclub excursion last year during an overnight in Bali, Jennifer & Tim checked out the bars, joined by some of our boat companions. Unlike in Indonesia, IDs are checked closely, but the drinking age is 18 and so is Tim. Photo 14 shows the giant margaritas served up at cleverly-named El Squid Roe, a fun and wild Cabo institution. The next morning Emily took a long training run through some gated neighborhoods in the steep hills above town, then it was time to head home, another successful trip in the bag.

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