It was 3pm. The Mexican sun was scorching hot as we stood on the empty dock at the Puerto Los Cabos Marina. We were supposed to board the boat now. But it was nowhere in sight.
Sandy laughed, exasperated, at the thought of not knowing where his boat was. He was to take over as captain of the Nautilus Explorer, yet no one had told him where it had gone. He called over to another boat docked nearby and asked if he could borrow their radio.
It turns out he and the captain knew each other, sort of. They had been coordinating over the radio the past few months, and they were delighted to finally put faces to the voices. The captain was also nice enough to give us a tour of his boat, before they closed-up shop for the season.
Just as our impromptu tour finished, she arrived.
The Nautilus Explorer is a liveaboard dive boat operating in the West Coast of Mexico. She does week-long runs to the Revillagigedo Archipelago, about 24 hours away from land. It was to be my first liveaboard experience, and I was anxious and excited all the same.
I had never gone this long without land. I had bouts with motion sickness all my life. And the thought of nothing solid beneath my feet for so long was downright stressful.
The crew got the boat ready for the oncoming guests while I killed time on the captain’s chair, reading and taking photos. Not a bad life, I thought. Little did I know that the next 24 hours would be some of the worst I’ll ever know.
The first few hours of sailing was pretty magical. It was something seeing my boyfriend in his element (“How do you know it’s time to turn, that the boat’s far enough from the dock and won’t hit?” I asked. “You feel it,” was his short answer, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world.) Going on the top deck and feeling the wind, seeing the city lights fade into oblivion, and watching the unobstructed sky was breathtaking. It felt very freeing, sailing into the open ocean, with nothing holding you back.
And then it happened. The boat started rolling a little too much. The waves started looking a little too monstrous. The seat started feeling a little too roller coaster-y.
Except that in roller coasters your stomach only tumbled for 2 minutes. Whereas, I was 4 hours into a 24-hour sailing. Misery took over like waves on a shore at high tide. I spent the rest of the night and most of the following day clinging on to pillows for dear life, the bed offering little solace as the white walls bounced around me. I never knew the real meaning of “wretched” until then.
Finally, at dawn on our second day, I woke up to a still boat. The engine was off, and all I could hear was wind and soft waves crashing on the side. We had arrived at Isla San Benedicto, our first stop for the trip.
It was an active volcanic island, whose face is still continually evolving from the lava flow. It was amazing, seeing it initially as a dead and dry piece of land in the middle of nowhere, unable to support any life, when it truth it was just as alive – if not more so – than the greenest forest and jungles I’ve seen. And the life? It was all beneath.
There was to be 4 dives in and around the area. And because I was the captain’s guest, he gave me my own private tours separate from the other guests. Underwater date!
By sunset it was time to pack up to head to our next destination, but not without a spectacular light show by the sky itself.
Before sailing I loaded up on anti-seasickness pills and took them religiously. They worked wonders, and the rest of the trip was smooth-sailing from there.
The following morning we arrived at Roca Partida, a little islet sitting alone in the middle of the vast blue. It was quite a sight in itself, with its white-capped (as in bird poop) double peak. It was equally as barren as Isla San Benedicto on the surface, but beneath was a goldmine of creatures.
Here I saw my first school of white tip sharks, dolphins, and giant mantas. The crazy thing was they were all actively playing on the surface too. One of the mantas even came up to the boat and swam around for a while, as if asking for some playmates. And the dolphins, well, pure attention whores.
I was told that the trip was pretty lucky because the conditions in Roca Partida were usually very rough. High waves made it tough to shimmy in and out of the dinghies, and currents would be very strong. But our time there was relatively relaxed and peaceful.
Day 3 found us in Cabo Pearce, yet another volcanic island. It was piercing red in the sunlight, and its surface patterns were unlike the previous two. Some parts almost looked like hanging shingles or tiles, and the swirling patterns on their edges reminded me of Art Nouveau swashes married with Gothic motifs. I wanted to take my camera right beneath them so I could take more detailed photos, but the waves were pretty rough and I didn’t have protection for it.
The dives here lent me my first hammerhead, which looked more weird than majestic at eye-level, and a great big tiger shark. An angry fish also followed me around giving me the stink eye, but I held my own. And more mantas, first a pair playing around and chasing each other, then a lone one swimming past.
We relocated to a nearby spot for the evening and the boat hosted the Silky Snorkel. As the name implies, it’s a snorkeling session with silky sharks. Guests were given flashlights so they could spot them in the water. I didn’t try it though. It was enough for me to see them on the surface. I didn’t need to stare into inky darkness only to be surprised at the last minute by a 6-foot-long shark popping up beside me.
That same night we set sail back to Isla San Benedicto as we started our return trip to San Jose del Cabo. This time around, however, we didn’t have it all to ourselves as the Nautilus Explorer’s sister, the Belle Amie, was also there.
My last dive was also my 50th dive since getting certified, and it was by far the most epic I’ve had yet. We had about 6 mantas in total, 3 staying for the duration of the dive. They swam around us playfully, flanking us, doing their dance. They would react to us, positively, and you can tell that these creatures knew exactly what they were doing, and that they understood what it did to us. You could see their curiosity, as well as their comprehension. It was amazing. It was by far one of the most humbling moments of my life.
By the afternoon, we made our way back to port where we arrived the next morning. I had never been more relieved in my life to step back on concrete. This trip definitely affirmed that I was a land creature and needed solid ground in my life. But it also affirmed, if not strengthened, my love for the ocean.
It was magical. Magnificent. Seasickness or not, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.