Underwater Art Museum

In what felt like no time at all, our quick trip to Cancún was coming to an end, but we still had one more day of diving left. I wasn’t eager at all to get back on a boat after the previous day’s whale shark tour, which had resulted in the worst bout of seasickness I’ve ever experienced. I took a couple of Dramamine tablets on our early morning drive from Puerto Morelos to Cancún, hoping desperately that they would actually work this time. At least the dive sites today would be on the western (inner) side of Isla Mujeres, which meant a shorter boat ride, and protection from the waves of the open ocean.

Vince and I met our divemaster, Aldo, from SCUBA Total earlier than expected. Since no one else had arrived yet, he offered us the opportunity to take out a private boat if we paid thirty dollars for park fees and fuel. He said he recommended it because the boats typically go out with about sixteen people and the experience of a private boat would be much better. It didn’t take much discussion for us to agree to pay for our own boat, and Aldo began loading up gear as Vince and I signed waivers and donned wetsuits. Just as we were nearly ready to leave, three professional looking divers arrived carrying all of their own gear. They were ready to go, and hopped on the boat with us, which was actually perfect because it meant we would get a nearly private experience, and wouldn’t have to pay the extra fee.

Soon we were zipping along on the impossibly aqua water, leaving the towering resorts of the hotel zone behind in exchange for the rocky southern coast of Isla Mujeres. We used the short boat ride to chat with the other divers, and Aldo gave us a briefing. He kept checking to make sure I wasn’t seasick since I had already regaled him with the story of our whale shark tour. Thankfully the water was much calmer this close to shore, and I felt totally fine.

Aldo told us that both dives would be shallow enough that we wouldn’t be doing a safety stop, and that our surface interval would just be the amount of time it took to drive from the first site to the next. The first dive would be straightforward with some of the clearest landmarks you could possibly ask for, and the second one would be at a beautiful reef known for having plentiful wildlife. By the time he finished his briefing, I could clearly see Punta Sur, a sea cliff and sculpture park that we visited in 2014. I knew this meant we were almost at our first site, and Aldo started helping us get into our gear.

Once we were all sorted out, we rolled into the warm water and started our descent down to MUSA (Museo Subacuático de Arte). This was especially exciting for me because it would be a combination of art and diving, two of all-time favorite things. Once we reached the ocean floor, we almost immediately encountered some of the submerged sculptures. We kicked past The Bomb, and Urban Reef by Jason Decaires Taylor, and then swam through Seascape by Karen Salinas Martinez.

We floated over the sandy sea floor until a crowd of shadowy figures became visible in the distance. The water was still a little murky from the storms earlier that week, but I immediately new that it was Silent Evolution, by Jason Decaires Taylor. As we grew closer to the sculptures, we could see individual human figures, standing stock still as corals grew on them and fish darted around their forms. As a long-time fan of Decaires Taylor, I couldn’t believe I was actually seeing one of his pieces in person. His figurative work was one of my influences when I created my thesis project, Zooxanthella, way back in art school. I was inspired by the idea of using artwork to create a foundation on which a reef could grow and thrive, and ended making a “wearable reef” for my project. Back then I never thought I would get to see any of his sculptures apart from pictures because the notion of SCUBA diving (and traveling for that matter) was just an abstract pipe dream. It felt surreal to float between and over the sculptures in person.

Next up, we saw some fish hovering on the hood of Anthropocene, and then approached The Banker, a group of figures with their heads in the sand. These two pieces are also by Decaires Taylor.

I touched down in the sand to try to get a good shot of The Banker with my GoPro, but as soon as I’d framed the scene, Vince called my attention to an irregular lump just a few inches to my right. A yellow sand ray had buried itself on the sea floor in attempt at camouflage that had worked on me, but didn’t get past Vince. I quickly abandoned the art and trained my camera on the ray, which soon unearthed itself from the sand.

Somehow, an hour always feels like it passes in an instant when you’re diving, and soon Aldo led us back to the center of Silent Evolution, where we made our ascent back to the surface.

The dive boat was waiting for us back above water, but it took a bit of time to find the three other divers. Eventually we saw three sets of bubbles, and soon we were on our way to the nearby Manchones Reef, where we all eagerly rolled back into the water and once again started to dive.

Just as Aldo had teased during our briefing, Manchones was a lovely reef teeming with life. Mesmerizing schools of fish moved in tandem with the swell of waves, and large purple fans waved at as us we kicked past. We saw a large grouper, a few French angelfish, and a yellow eel.

It was a relaxing dive, and once again it felt like it was over too soon. We resurfaced after about another hour, and then boated back to the hotel we’d met at that morning. Vince and I grabbed lunch while filling out our dive logs and pitching ideas for what to do with the rest of our last day.

Vince floated the idea of going parasailing, and I eagerly agreed since I’d never been before. He was able to get in contact with Parasail Cancún on WhatsApp to reserve tickets. Then we drove to the nearby Playa Tortuga where we were directed onto a water taxi along with a few others. The little taxi drove us out to the parasailing boat and we climbed aboard. Another couple was in line before me and Vince so I got to see how everything worked before it was our turn. Vince had parasailed in Florida as a kid so he already knew what to expect, but neither of us could resist inspecting the harnesses and carabiners before entrusting our lives to them.

I was satisfied that the gear looked safe, so by the time it was our turn to fly, I was giddy with excitement. The boat crew hooked us onto the bright yellow sail, told us to sit on the boat deck, and then began letting out the line that attached us to the boat. In no time, we were soaring high above the dazzling Caribbean, the water looking even more spectacular from the air than it did at sea level.

I was surprised to realize that the ride was actually quiet and peaceful. I’d been expecting a lot of noise, wind, and high adrenaline, but it turned out to be a very calm activity. It was cool to see the ocean and the hotel zone from the sky. When our ride was over, we made an easy landing back on the boat where the water taxi was waiting to ferry us back to the beach.

We spent the rest of our final day in Mexico lounging on our balcony, eating way too much, and doing some last minute shopping. It had been a fun, albeit short, getaway that had reignited my love of diving. Now I can’t stop imagining when and where our next dive will be. I am eager to get back underwater as soon as possible!

Some of my footage from our time in Cancún


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