LEE A. WOOD
This article was written in `2000' or `2001'.
Though I have been back to Zihuatanejo several times I have not been back to Las Gatas, though I usually plan to.
I learned this week, 2006.1.27, of the passing of Jean Claude Duran.
Jean Claude was an icon of Zihuatanejo and will be missed.
I would like to dedicate this article to his memory.
I graduated from skin diving to scuba diving in the early `60's, in the Okanagan Valley, when regulators were behind your head and the mouthpiece had two hoses. I joined the Vernon Underwater Club and took my training from an ex professional trainer. He wasn't certified at the time so neither were we but upon completion of our training we received a membership card to the dive club.
The club membership card allowed us to buy equipment in the local dive shop and to get our tanks filled at the fire hall. The fire dept. had the only air facilities for many miles.
In the late `70's, I was living on the West Coast of Canada and got my PADI dive certification. I am an infrequent diver and I had made my last dive on Boxing Day '85. We were in Brentwood Bay, near Victoria, Canada, and it was snowing.
Carlo Scuba sent its boat to town to pick us up.
When my friend Paul asked me to join him for a trip to Zihuatanejo I jumped at the chance to get back in the water. I had often dreamed of diving in a place where the water was warm enough to dive without a wet suit.
In preparation for this trip I went to`Dive and Sea Sports' in New Westminster. There I was fitted out with a good: mask; snorkel; and a pair of fins that were chosen to fit my swimming ability.
The friendly helpful staff also gave me a good price because I mentioned my boss's name. At that time I was working in the special effects department on a TV series called `Level 9" and my boss was a professional diver.
After spending a day getting oriented, read that as, `getting lost', with the streets of Zihu. (I love Zihuatanejo so much I feel I have the right to call it by its abbreviation.) we took the ferry to the island to spend the day snorkeling.
There is no road to the island. Everything must go by boat.
Las Gatas is not really an island but a peninsula that has no road. The beach, Playa Las Gatas, is a very popular spot but is only available by boat. To reach it one buys a 30 Peso, return, ticket at the booth at the foot of the pier in Zihu. Halfway along the pier is a set of stairs and if there isn't a boat sitting there you simply wave the ticket in the air until one appears.
When we landed on Las Gatas I headed straight for `Carlo Scuba' where I arranged for a refresher dive. As luck would have it he had a training course going out the next day.
After having made my arrangements with Jean Claude I asked to see his `bra collection'. Someone had told me to do this. However at that time, mid January, Jean Claude had yet to start his new collection.
During the summer Jean Claude invites ladies to add the top of their swim suits to his collection while they bask in the sun. Each New Year's Eve he destroys his collection and starts a new one.
After leaving Carlo Scuba, we hit the water for some much awaited snorkeling. Having sat in my cupboard for several months, in anticipation of my trip, my new swim fins and mask were finally immersed in salt water.
Skin divers love to snorkel around the reef at Las Gatas.
Playa Las Gatas is a very popular spot for snorkelling as the water is warm, the surf is mild, and there is a rock reef not far off shore.
Unfortunately the rock of the reef extends, nearly, to the shore and there is very little sandy bottom that is suitable for swimmers. There is, however, towards the pier, a large section, with a nice sandy bottom, that is suitable for swimmers, waders, and children.
The next day was sunny and bright and Carlo Scuba had a boat pick me up at the pier and take me to the island where I was fitted for my equipment. They wanted me to wear a wet suit but luckily they didn't have one big enough and I settled for just a T-shirt so the straps would not chafe.
I joined a young man and lady from Seattle, Wash. who were training and the boat took us out around the point to a secluded beach, La Caleta Bay.
Here, while my friend Paul snorkeled above us, our dive master, Silvino Maciel, took us to a sandy bottom where we practiced hand signals, mask clearing, and buddy breathing.
During these exercises we knelt in the sand on the ocean floor. A few days later I developed a strange rash in the area of my knees. I acquired many red spots which were itchy for a few days and then disappeared. I never knew whether I contacted something in the sand or if it developed from something else.
After our training, Silvino took us on a tour of the bottom of the bay. The depth averaged thirty feet and the temperature seventy degrees. I was quite comfortable in just a T-shirt. Paul on the surface said he felt small jelly fish prickling his arms but I never felt anything.
Silvino showed us a billfish graveyard, many skeletons of large fish, probably dumped by some fisherman. He also pointed out to us; seahorses, a zebra eel, and a moray eel, which is not as ugly as the wolf eels we get in B. C. waters.
A mother and daughter sell colourful gifts on the beach.
Back at Las Gatas, while the trainees practiced emergency assents, Paul and I went snorkeling around the reef. After lunch the dive boat took us all back to town.
Zihuatanejo is definitely a destination for divers. Whether they be serious divers who want to try some night diving in Barra De Potosi or just casual divers who enjoy skin as well as scuba, the Zihuatanejo area has something for everyone.
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