AVALON 1 LIVEABOARD – CUBA
I’ve dived and gone to heaven. Part II of my week on the liveaboard Avalon 1. Click here to read the first part.
Dive nine was a shark feed at a site called “Black Coral 2”. This was the best shark dive to date. Descending to a depth of about 27m, the Caribe sharks were quick to smell the bait box and swoop in. Diving in the middle of all the sharks, we were circled by upwards of 20 at a time. The shark dive also saw the presence of a lone nurse shark and a few big groupers who wanted to join the party. This was a shorter dive of about 30 minutes and it was absolute carnage as the sharks attempted to get what was in the box. An exciting, quick dive but easily the best shark feed I’ve ever done. Note to divers out there – if you have a fear of sharks, this may not be the dive for you.
This day we didn’t have breakfast between dives but actually spent the surface interval out on the local island where we had a swim and some fruit on a local deserted beach. As if arriving at a scene from Madagascar, Iguanas, Rodias (large, cute rodents) and hermit crabs arrived on the beach to greet us and potentially start dancing to “I like to move it”….One can’t help but think that they know the dive boat and the papaya, pineapple and water that it delivers… An hour of experiencing what it would be like to be stranded on a Caribbean Island Jack Sparrow style, and we headed to the mangroves to feed and greet a crocodile by snorkel (if you dared). I consider it more of an alligator and well, I dared… Myself with a tasty American marine biologist were the only ones daring enough (or stupid enough, depending on your point of view) to get in. The American, because he wanted the million dollar shot, and me – well because you only live once…
After I merged from the mangroves with my limbs intact, we headed for the second dive of the day at a wreck dive called “5 mares”. It was a rather decomposed wreck, but the structure served as a perfect home to a large number of Tarpons. This dive was all about the Tarpons, with more appearing as we swam towards the Canyons and swim throughs bursting with coral and of course, more Tarpons. As sharks are the norm in Jardines de la Reina, true to form, the Caribe sharks were right there on our dive with us.
The last dive of the day was a macro dive on a site called “Patricia”. Truly. Beautiful. Coral. Reef. The dive started at about 20m and we worked our way up to about 7m over the course of the dive. This was our first drift dive of the trip, starting at a beautiful little bommie and then drifting our way down the wall. On this dive we saw a stack of great macro diving including Coral Bandit Shrimp and Ghost Shrimp, crabs, Tangs, Blenneys and more Sharks of course, as well as an array of beautiful coral. Like that wasn’t enough, the cream on the cake of the dive was the appearance of a 2-3m eagle ray and a turtle!
Dinner this night was an Italian night, but it hardly felt Italian on board as we spent the night listening to music, dancing salsa and having a few cocktails. Two things you can count on anywhere in Cuba – music is everywhere and everyone can dance. Take the opportunity to learn to dance from a Cuban.
Day four diving started with a shark feed at a site called “Vicent 4”. This shark feed had the presence of both Silky Sharks and Caribe Sharks. The dive was a relatively deep dive with a max depth of about 31 metres but not the best visibility. This was probably our only poor visibility dive on the trip, which wasn’t bad given that it was the first week back in dive season on the Avalon. The second dive of the day was “Cabezo de Cubero”, a beautiful reef dive with lots of swim throughs, overhangs, coral reef and channels to explore.
We finished day four of diving at a site called “Boca Anclitas”, a macro dive with a number of different coral, shrimp, barracuda, lots of marine life and at the end of the dive, a rather large turtle popped out of the rocks thinking it had avoided the divers only to come face to face with myself and one of the Divemasters. Visibility was about 20m. This was a great final dive for the day with conditions improving considerably by late afternoon.
Our last day of diving was the best, commencing on a site called “Los Indios”. We started with a shark dive at about 30 metres. Another Caribe Shark dive, and it has to be said that with each dive as we get more confident with the sharks, we can’t help but notice the sharks are getting closer and closer. In between the dives we went back to a local island to visit the Rodias and the Iguanas on our surface interval before heading back to see our toothy friends, the Cuban crocs again. One of the crocs was quite shy but the other had no qualms whatsoever getting up close… almost a little too close for our comfort. I still stand by the fact that this is an experience definitely worth ticking off the bucket list.
The next site called “La Puntica” was a wall dive with some more beautiful canyons to explore. With a max depth of around 24 metres and visibility of about 20 metres. Surprise, surprise, more Caribe Sharks, Tarpon, large schooling trevally and large groupers.
The final dive of the trip was a beautiful coral reef with a max depth of about 21metres “El Pervano”, top of the reef at about 7 metres. We started dropping down to 21 metres, spotting a green turtle as soon as we descended. Following the wall along, we spotted tarpon, large grouper and a couple of tawny nurse sharks who hid for a while and eventually followed us for the fish in the Divemaster’s hands.
As we finished our final dive, staring aimlessly at the school of various fish surrounding us on our safety stop, I felt nostalgic to leave this little piece of diving paradise…. Over time, I have found it can be easy to lose a little of your passion for diving, but experiencing this little piece of diving heaven on earth, the kind of location that’s rare to find and special when you find it, it’s recharging and refreshing. In a form that’s true to Cuba, diving Jardines de la Reina will ignite some of that fierce Cuban soul and passion into your diving as it did mine.