Oh, Mexico ! (Part I)

Travel Fun – Not !

When travelling out of the UK the fun always starts early, this was no exception! By the time I arrived in La Paz Airport I was really starting to feel quite travel weary, and so was glad to arrive in the evening and thus spared the intensity of the full heat of day.  As I stood waiting for my bags to come along the luggage conveyer I spotted Aharon and MT Solomons in Arrivals with little Ze’ev sat atop Aharon’s shoulders.  Thankfully they were easily recognisable from photos I’d seen of them, truly a welcome sight, smiling faces and waving.

After the initial, very welcoming introductions, I was glad to let them steer me to their truck and bundle me and my luggage in.

I was there! Under a warm Mexican sky in as good a company as you could wish for.

The first day

I had arranged with Aharon and MT to have 5 days of instruction broken up over the two weeks of my stay, with the remainder spent exploring or doing a spot of fishing.  The idea was to stay flexible enough to allow for the conditions and take each day as it came. 

Most of the first morning was spent getting the last of the necessary supplies, as once we were out of town we were going to be at least a couple of hours from anywhere except a couple of fish camps.  

As we travelled out of La Paz both the traffic and built up areas dwindled quickly, leaving a movie-like scene of desert scrub with a shimmering tarmac road stretching off into the distance, with a horizon of rising orange and green tinted hills. 

We happily chatted away about all sorts in the truck that afternoon and before long we were turning off the tarmac road onto the desert road (San Juán de la Costa).

We arrived at the Solomons’ camp sometime in the afternoon.

Once we had tidied up and got everything unpacked and sorted out, MT ran me through the basics of how the camp was run, the toilet facilities, safety and the local wildlife. 

The site of the camp, El Coyote, is a stone’s throw from the sea and nicely sheltered all round by scrub, not half as exposed as I suspected it might be, with the houses of the Clammers and their families just a little further inland.  The heat of the sun is intense when it’s overhead, but in true camp fashion there’s a shelter over the table, which like most kitchen areas forms a natural focal point.  With the shade from the sun and the front of the camp open to the cool Coromuel breeze off the sea it made for a very comfortable spot.  The remainder of the evening was spent by the fire chatting and discussing the days ahead, until my eyes, still heavy with travel,refused to stay open any longer, forcing me to retire to my tent.

El Coyote – Tuesday

I awoke the next morning to the sound of gulls and the sea lapping gently at the shore.  Today was going to be my first day in the water and the acid test as to whether I was going to use a monofin or work with bi-fins.

MT showed me a few exercises, mainly different monofin training techniques, which I was to repeat under their watchful eyes.  I’m not sure if the problem was a combination of all the new input, the first time I’d used it with a wetsuit, forward facing snorkel, and merely swimming on the surface in the sea all at once, or if I was just naff with a monofin.  Aharon and MT seemed quite optimistic however, sympathetic maybe, but decided we would use the rest of the day to try something else. 

After being told about the fun my pal Haydn had during his stay collecting Chocolatas, I decided that on Aharon’s recommendation I’d give it a go, so off with the monofin and on with the bi-fins! Chocolatas are a type of clam, about 2-3” across with a very shiny chocolate brown shell, which reside in the sand in shallow water buried an inch or so out of view.

After 10 minutes or so of looking in vain I decided it was time to learn by example, so I followed MT down to see how it was done.  Once I had seen what I was looking for I saw them all over the place.  I was amazed that without a clear picture of what you were looking for you could swim blindly across the apparently featureless sandy bottom, and see absolutely nothing!  I think that for the minimal effort involved it’s certainly one of the most fun and rewarding methods of game gathering I’ve encountered. 

Once the boat was unloaded, the wetsuits rinsed and hung to dry, we sat down to enjoy our catch. 

While we ate, Aharon started working through the theory contained in the manual provided with the course.  This manual is a thoroughly interesting read and a very comprehensive guide to understanding the subject matter surrounding freediving.  Once we started discussing the contents,though, it became clear that as comprehensive a guide as it was to me, it seemed to be more of a structured set of ‘bullet points’ , used as a launch pad, to delve into the wealth of knowledge that Aharon and MT possess and are able to recall and discuss in great detail.  This was going to be a great learning experience!

This became pretty much the routine for the duration of my stay. After a great day diving (as they all were!), we would sit down, discuss the day, what had been learnt (lots!), and what could be improved – usually my many bad habits and technique !

Next Week: The Boy and the Dolphin (Kick), or, What Has This All Got To Do With My Freediving ?