CAYO COCO, CUBA, Oct 2008
By Nicolas Lakoff
© Copyright 2007-2017
After 3 years since my last trip to Cayo Coco, I was very happy to go back to the Tryp Cayo Coco and see all my friends at the Coco Diving Center. All the old gang was there including Paolo, Osvaldo, Noidel, Yaroy, Norgel and Colorado the boat Captain with one new addition, Pablo Jr., Pablo’s son.
The center has a brand new paint job and all new equipment including masks, snorkels, fins, wet suits, bcd’s and tanks.
The only thing was wasn’t quite right was the weather. On a day when we were waiting to see if the weather was going to calm down, Pablo showed me one of the permanent decorations of the shop.
An original Mistral second stage regulator made by Spirotechnique, in excellent condition. Spirotechnique (later name Aqua-Lung) was the diving equipment company founded by Jacques Cousteau and Émile Gagnan (a Canadian Engineer). I told Pablo to hold on to this as it was definitely an antique and a big part of diving history.
So far on all my Cuban trips I’ve been very lucky when it came to the weather. I had never travelled to Cuba in October but again the price was great and after a particularly difficult year with my business and after not diving for more than a year I decided it was time. Right away I could tell it would be different this year as from the minute I arrived at the resort the winds were relentless. For most of the first week it was impossible to dive and when we did the visibility wasn’t as good as I know it can be here. Out of 24 possible dives I made only 11 this trip. On the other hand I met a diving kindred spirit while I was here named Karen a young girl in her twenty’s from Honk Kong but living in Canada that is as crazy about diving as I am. She and I bonded rather quickly and spent as much time in the water as out. She was endlessly curious about all the other places I had been diving and soaked up like a sponge any information about diving I learned that I shared with her.
During one of the periods we couldn’t dive I decided to go back to Ciego de Avila with Pablo and Pablo Jr. As before I rented a car but this time I decided that I would drive. I’m not sure that Pablo liked that but I sort of insisted feeling the need to drive. It was a great drive to Ciego and I got to open up the little Korean hatchback on the highway. Once we got to Ciego we went straight to Pablo’s house which is temporarily his mother-in-laws house below his. His place is a construction zone as he finally started the expansion he was talking to me about when I first visited 3 years ago. One thing I’ve said about Cubans before, family is most important and so despite the inconvenience to his in-laws, they were more than welcome. The extra rooms were built and right now a crew was in the process of applying cement to the walls to smooth them out. Pablo took me on a tour of the site and the work crew was still working. Lacking the proper materials and tools they use the most primitive of techniques, throwing cement by hand on the ceiling and smoothing it out in patches. But in the end they will get the job done and the Perez Del Rey’s will be able to regain their new and improved abode.
Pablo’s daughter has grown up so much, she is really an angel. It was adorable to see her mother fussing about her hair in preparation for tonight’s outing.
Before forgetting, I decided to distribute the gifts I had brought for them. When I had left their home last time I asked them what I could bring back for them the next time I was back. Pablo had asked for Swiss Army cologne, his wife for anything relating to the New Kids on the Block and anything relating to Spiderman for their daughter. I wrote it down and when I knew I was coming back did some shopping prior to my flight. Pablo got his cologne and aftershave, his wife a New Kids on the Block cd and their daughter the Spiderman 3 dvd. I felt bad for the little girl cause the version I bought didn’t seem to include Spanish subtitles and she seemed very disappointed and I felt bad. Pablo tried to console her by saying it was a chance for her to practice her English. I decided that I would make it up to her one day.
After a little freshening up, we got ready to go out on the town. I was invited with all the family to Don Pepe’s, a popular local restaurant. The food was really great and the entertainment even better. A live band made the atmosphere there very festive. Colorado, the boat captain who invited me to his home on my last trip, joined us with his lovely new girlfriend. I was the only foreigner in the place but I felt very welcome, part of the family. I hadn’t felt that in a very long time and I have to admit, I really liked it.
After we left Don Pepe’s we went out walking around about the town for a while, stopping for some ice cream before going back to the house to hit the sack. I had to share a bed with Pablo jr., which was the first time I’ve had to share a bed with a guy since I was a kid. Fortunately he was pretty hammered and went to sleep quickly. We got up at dawn, had a quick breakfast and hit the road. We were back at the resort around 8:30, just time enough for me to shower and get ready for the days first dive.
As I mentioned the conditions during my stay weren’t ideal but I did have a few first here as well. On October 25th I made my deepest dive ever at 130ft. We had started a dive out past the reef and the visibility was very bad, maybe 10 to 15 ft (2 to 3 meters) and then we started swimming towards the coast but also progressively deeper. At about 60 ft the water clear up and the bottom appeared with stunning clarity. The visibility here was well over 200+ feet ( 60+ meters). I was hovering around 100 to 110 feet (30 to 33 meters) and I saw a beautiful lionfish on some colourful corals and decided to go deeper for a picture. I got a few shots off and quickly ascended back up. When I looked at my dive computer it showed 130ft (39 meters) ! One thing about the lionfish that I was alarmed by was that 3 years ago when I came to Cayo Coco I don’t remember sighting one and now they were all over, a real invasion. Apparently they are an invasive species that aggressively crowds out and eats other fish populations. As if the reefs didn’t have enough problems, now this! Another first on this trip was taking a picture of a Sargassum Triggerfish. I had never seen one before; it is truly a beautiful trigger. Sometimes difficult conditions can lead to some great photos and to prove my point despite lousy conditions, three pictures from this trip have made it on my ultimate best of album.