We spend a week aboard the Avalon IV, a combined fishing and scuba dive boat. An odd combination of sportspeople: fishers who, basically, torture a fish trying to catch it and divers who love and protect fish. Some of the divers would not even talk to the fishers. We, of course, did. We met three other Albertans on a fishing holiday and two lovely older gentlemen from Dublin, Ireland. We sat with the Dubliners at meals and enjoyed their company very much.
After traveling for about 3 hours, we are in the Garden of the Queen. This marine area was named by Christopher Columbus to honour Queen Isabella, of Spain. The first night is spent on open water close to some mangroves. While we are out diving on our first dive day, the boat moves into the mangroves. The company has set up quite the operation and houses fishing skiffs, fishing guide accommodations, fuel tanker and storage sheds all inside the area. Very functional but not so idyllic for my tastes. Plus we are now mosquito food.
We learn that the mangroves are home to many creatures. All sorts of birds: Cuban Eagles, Ibises, Herons. Land creatures: Iguanas, Hermit Crabs and furry creatures called Cuban Hutia. And of course, the infamous water creatures: El Niño, the Saltwater Crocodile. El Niño is semi tame and will come most times if called as he knows there is usually chicken as a treat. The dive guides and some other brave souls (not us) snorkel around him. “Just stay away from his mouth” is the advice!
We have come to the Garden of the Queen because we heard how healthy the reef is. A sign of good health is the number of sharks in the waters. Oh are there a ton of sharks! On every single dive we have anywhere from three to eight sharks swimming with us. Caribbean Reef, Silky and Blacktip are the usual species. They do not check us out and go away, they stay with us through the whole dive.
The terrain below the water is quite varied and interesting. We see no bleaching of coral, but there is lots of algae growing, which is a sign of warmer water. There is not a ton of fish everywhere but we encounter large schools here and there. Some of the dives are deep as we look for big creatures like sharks and eagle rays. The diving is easy as there is almost no current. There is some surge but surge just makes it fun to move through the water. We see a few fish and creatures we have not seen before in the Caribbean, so that is exciting.
The week passes quickly and before we know it, it is Saturday and we must move onto land again.