SANTA LUCIA, CUBA April 2007
By Nicolas Lakoff
© Copyright 2007-2017
A few months after my trip to Playa Gìron, I was yearning to slip under the waves and dive again. I decided to return to Santa Lucia but this time opted for the Brisas right on the other side of the dive center. I asked my travel agent to request a room that was as close to the dive center as possible, saving me walking time in the morning.
After landing in Ignacio Agramonte International Airport near the city of Camaguey and a 90 minute bus ride I finally got to the resort. The room they assigned me was in the closest building to the dive center. The A/C was central and didn’t seem as strong as the wall mounted units I was used to but in the end it turned out that I preferred this as it didn’t get too cold and I got acclimatized that much quicker. This resort is better laid out for socializing as all the tables and chairs are laid out near the bar that is right next to the main pool. In fact I can say that during this stay I made more friends amongst non-divers than I did in my previous three trips. The food here was about the same standard as the Grand Club if not a notch above.
It was great to see the gang at Sharks Friends Dive Center again. It turns out that Macao’s wife Danny is my tour rep and a very beautiful and charming woman. I playfully told Macao during my stay that I feared that I was falling for his wife and that he had competition. All kidding aside she is a lovely woman and they make a very cute couple. Although I went on many of the same dives as on my last trip, this year marked a lot of firsts for me. My first shark dive, my first drift dive, my first encounter with a Manta Ray (Not once but twice!), my first encounter with a wild dolphin and the first time I have seen a free swimming porcupine fish.
When I arrived at the dive center the day after my arrival, I was told that the bull sharks were still in the channel and I was very excited. Six days after I arrived, I finally got to go to Mortera Wrecks and see the famous Bahia de Nuevitas Bull Sharks! After the short bus ride there, we all geared up and did a stride entry in the water. There was a large contingent of Italians that was diving here all week, part of the same dive club back in Italy. Italians are loud, gregarious and gesticulate wildly above and below the water which doesn’t necessarily mesh well with scuba diving. That being said I was too excited at seeing sharks for the first time to worry too much about them other than from a safety perspective. We went down starboard side of the wreck and at about 85 feet Erick the lead instructor told us to line up on the bottom along a sandy bottom facing the center of the channel. Mikeal and I were the last to get into place but it ended up being the best place for taking pictures. The visibility wasn’t as good as some of the other dives sites, about 80 feet (25 meters) and there was lots of particles in the water which I assumed came from the strong currents in the channel as the tides push and pull between fresh and salt waters. I remember how quiet it got while we were waiting there for the sharks to arrive.
I could hear my heart beating from excitement and a little apprehension. It reminded me of my first parachute jump and the utter silence I felt amidst all the noise from exiting the airplane and the bullhorn from the bottom reminding us our points of flight procedures step by step. Erick was ringing his noisemaker at interval to get the sharks attention.
We waited for what seemed to be an eternity but ended up being a few second. Then out of the fog of the bottom of the Channel we could briefly make out two shapes and as quickly as they appeared, they were gone again. Shortly after that they came closer, edging ever so cautiously to check things out. Finally we could make them out, two big bull sharks about 2.5 to 3 meters in length! I was told later from my pictures that they were females because they lacked claspers, male sexual organs that are forward of the anal fin.
Once they got real close, Erick started to carefully feed them the fish he had brought down with him. Feeding along with the sharks, hundreds of Yellowtail Snappers and Remoras hitching a ride with the Bulls were fighting it out for scraps. Time after time the sharks would turn around a make another pass in a sort of box pattern, lining themselves up just right for a piece of fish and an amazing pose for us.
I was snapping so many pictures that I hoped that my batteries would last and my memory space as well. It was then that I really fell in love with sharks. Any fear or apprehensions I initially felt totally melted away as I started to watch their behavior and their cautiousness around us. I then realized that they were more scared of us then we are of them. If we really were on their menu, they would have no problem devouring the majority of us. After the dive I was exhilarated and couldn’t wait to do it again and fortunately I got to do just that for the next 5 days. Every day more and more sharks showed up until I could count 8 Bull sharks consisting exclusively of females so far as I could tell. The visibility also improved over that time allowing me to take better pictures.
On the 4th of May we went with a group on a two tank dive trip. Our first dive was Puente Harbour where I saw a Manta Ray for the first time with Lazarro as our guide.
The animal was cruising along over us and was visibly curious coming in for a closer look. Once it decided it didn’t want to be there it took off like a jet plane in the water. I couldn’t believe how fast it was and I was disappointed I didn’t get more pictures. We did our surface interval at Bonita Beach, a beautiful little spot with an amazing beach and a little restaurant where we ate like kings. Once plied with food and drink we headed to Mortera Wrecks for another shark dive in the afternoon coinciding with slack tide.
One day we did a drift dive from the Channel Buoy towards the Channel during High Tide. I couldn’t believe how fast we were going. At the beginning about 20 feet below us I saw a porcupine fish free swimming, the first time I had seen one outside the protection of a coral formation. Then at the bottom of the channel we also saw a Bull shark but it was staying real close to the bottom not minding us one bit. We continued along for another 35 minutes when Lazarro decided we had gone far enough and gave the end dive sign. Dingo came with the boat and picked us up not without a little difficulty because of the current.
One of my favorite memories from this trip was an accidental encounter with a wild dolphin. I was on a dive called Cañon II with Gordy and another diver from Holland. It was a nice dive but up till the very end pretty uneventful. As we did our 3 minutes safety stop we saw a dolphin circling around us. It had been following the dive boat that was towards us to pick us up. I snapped as many pictures as humanly possible till a lack of air forced me out of the water. I wanted to stay longer but the others wanted to go. The dolphin followed us part of the way home, jumping and lurching ahead of the ripples caused by the boats wake. What a great memory!
Of course being my second time here I re-dove many sites but I always finds something great to take a picture of. Here are some of the highlights: