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Vallarta Down Under
Christine Baird

From a scuba diver's perspective, there's nothing like exploring the fascinating world under the sea. I became a certified PADI Open Water diver about five years ago, shortly after snorkeling in Mexican waters. From the top of the water, I could see many types of aquatic life. Although I had no idea what the names of the fish were, I wondered what kind of fish and how many I could see from below. This is why I began my scuba adventures.

To become a certified diver, whether it's through PADI, NAUI or other certifications, one must take a combination of classroom and pool instruction as well as open water dives. When I was going through my certification, I lived in Colorado Springs, CO. After driving 8 hours south to get to Santa Rosa, New Mexico, my fellow divers and I donned our shortie wetsuits. Our dive master was better prepared and donned his drysuit, as it happened to be snowing and windy that day. Despite the cold, we bravely made our giant strides into the artesian well called Blue Hole.

Although a great time was had by all and we went home as certified divers, I reminisced of the warmer waters of Mexico and thought about the two students from class who missed out on all the fun and the near freezing temperatures of the blue hole, and instead were on their way to Mexico to do their open water training.

As a frequent traveler to Puerto Vallarta, the calm waters in the Bahia de Banderas (Bay of Flags) is a perfect place to do open water training as well as provide enough excitement for us experienced divers. Chico's Dive Shop, located right on the Malecon, is a great outfit for those thinking of getting certified or who just want to dive in warmer waters.

I dove with Chico's the other day (Chico is out most of the time, probably diving, but you can find the eleven year owner Rodolfo De Lamprecht helping customers). Chico's has been in business since 1968 and their smooth operation is impressive. After getting our dive gear, we walked across the street from the Malecon to the beach to board the La Fiesta, a functional, diver friendly rig. El Capitan was Moy and we headed out to Los Arcos, a famous rock outcropping visible from any beach in Puerto Vallarta, which is also a Marine National Park. Aboard the La Fiesta, the agile crew took great care of us. The dive masters, Nacho, Roger and Rafael divided the groups -- one group of about seven divers who were doing their open water training (lucky them) and two groups of the experienced divers.

My dive master Nacho Joya buddied everyone up, reviewed hand signals, and explained the dive plan and environment including the water conditions, depth and types of aquatic wildlife. Under the water we went along some sea walls and examined the various types of coral. Also we saw Trumpet Fish, Moorish Idol, Barberfish, Puffers, Spotted Snake Eel, Bumphead Parrotfish (I now find out the names of the fish I see) and Nacho even found a shy octopus hiding from us under a rock that he coaxed out to visit with us.

Not only has the fascination of the world under the sea captivated me, but also the camaraderie one finds aboard a dive boat with the crew and fellow divers.

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