Rocio Del Mar, Sea of Cortez, Mexico
We weren't in the water for more than 10 seconds, having just dropped in off San Benedicto, one of the islands in Baja California's Sea of Cortez, when suddenly - right there in front of me - I saw the largest whale shark I had ever seen.
It was over 30 feet long, looked well-fed and had dozens of fish clinging to its skin, waiting to eat the remains of whatever the whale shark missed. As this giant of the deep slowly swam by, I got several pictures until it disappeared into the blue. But just when I thought the "show" was over, it headed back toward us for an encore, with about a dozen dolphins trailing behind, as if they were clowns in this underwater circus.
It was a good thing our dive leader signaled for us to swim back way we came - there were two more whale sharks awaiting us at a pinnacle. It was overwhelming.
This was the kind of big animal action we were often treated to on a weeklong adventure aboard the Rocio Del Mar, a stellar liveaboard vessel whose home port is Puerto Penasco.
I'd always dreamed of having encounters with whale sharks and giant mantas and now I - and a great group of people from all walks of life, from around the world - were diving the dream.
Savvy divers call the Socorros "the Galapagos Islands of Mexico" and even their patience - is tested on journeys there. It's a 24-hour sail from port to reach them and it takes just about that long to get your sea legs.
That allows plenty of time for the ship's captain and crew to brief lucky passengers about the wildlife they may encounter, depending on the time of year -- giant manta rays and several shark species, including whale sharks, hammerheads, white-tips, black-tips, Galapagos and tigers. The full day trip also allows voyagers time to relax in the ship's air-conditioned rooms, some furnished with queen size beds, private bathrooms with showers and amenities like a TV room and sun deck and eat some of the marvelous Mexican cuisine prepared by the supremely skilled chef.
Most of the diving we did was from inflatable boats called pangas and the ship also has a great prep area for diving. The tanks are high so that you only have to back into them standing up. What a great way to put on and take off your BCD with the tank. We were also given specific station numbers. Right next to each other and there was plenty of space to put away your fins, mask, and other diving necessities.
When we plunged back into the waters at another terrific site, the Boiler - so named for spots that look like boiling water, caused by the release of pressure deep below, the vis was very clear, and there was an abundance of sea life that I had not noticed before. This side of the pinnacle was like a big flat wall with these little ledges and wholes for creatures to hide in. The colors were amazing. I saw at least four large moray eels, dozens of lobsters, some fighting, or mating. There were fish everywhere, sharks, tuna, and jacks. It was like we walked into a fish condo and they were having a street party!
And it was here, on the last dive of the last dive day, where I saw what I was waiting for - giant mantas. Two suddenly came out to play and danced in front of us. Although we would have been happy with just the whale shark encounters, interfacing with the mantas was icing on the cake.
Warren Sims - Dive Travel Specialist, Scuba Travel Ventures
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