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Day 243 – Blue Waters, Brown Guides, Green Money (Diving Cozumel)

June 10, 2011

Location: Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Date: Friday, June 10, 2011

You come to Cozumel to dive the phenomenal reefs—reefs so close to shore that if you have your own gear and a well-maintained cardiovascular system, you can suit up on a beach and swim there. My heart and lungs, unfortunately, have been subjected to too many chocolate bananas and other earthly delights–I took a boat.

Belinda–my Aussie travel buddy–and I spent yesterday walking the sun soaked streets of San Miguel, a town built to tourist tastes but whose heart still beats Mexican–the mercado, michoacanas, and posters for upcoming lucha libre made this undeniably Tierra Azteca. As we searched for the right (read: cheapest) dive shop we couldn’t help but notice that most were run by Mexicans.

And so it came to pass that, for the first time, I hired a wholly locally owned and operated dive shop instead of a place run by gringos or farang or any-other-mildly-dismissive-term-for-foreigners. But I’ve been traveling and diving for over a year–how can locally owned dive shops be so rare?

The lack of native owned dive shops probably stems from this truth: Operating an adventure sports business (like scuba diving) tends to require financial means and technical know-how. The gear—air tanks, boats, parachutes, gliders, etc.—are expensive. Maintaining and operating that gear requires expertise. That means people who run adventure operations tend to have a lot of money (i.e. White people) and are people who engage in adventure sports (i.e. White tourists) will believe have the expertise to safeguard their lives (i.e. yup, other White people).

I, of course, use the term “White people” generically (some of my best friends are Whites) to mean people who have the money, expectations, and cultural habits of the White-dominated Western world. This, of course, includes wayward, former-yuppie Asians like me. In fact, in the States, Asians are practically honorary Whites thanks to respectful demeanors, professional achievements, and the noble efforts of Asian women coupled with the romantic tastes of White men–it’s been a long, hard road to near-equality.

But I digress. The point is that on today’s dive not only was our captain a native (not uncommon) but so were most of our divemasters (very rare). The one exception was an American who decided she liked tropical living more than she liked accounts receivable–a woman who happened to also be Filipina (an ancestry which basically equates to the Mexicans of the Asian world).

So what was the difference between this operation and its Western competitors? From what I could tell, not much. The operation was as professional as they come. Plus, I’m pretty sure the reef didn’t look any less spectacular with local guides.

After our dives, I chatted in Spanish with one of the divemasters. He informed me that most of the dive shops in Cozumel are Mexican owned and operated. What started out as a gringo enterprise has become a mostly Mexican affair. The locals have trained each other up to be dive instructors and operators and now dominate the business.

Here, on Cozumel, locals are capturing money from tourist invaders with something more than bracelets and wood carvings. Cozumel, a place created for tourists but manages to keep its Mexican soul in more ways than one.

GALLERY: No bonus pictures today.

Mervyn is a traveler who brings too much, eats too much, and writes way too much.  To learn more, read his overwritten FAQ or flip through the archives.  If you enjoyed this post, please recommend it using the buttons below and Mervyn’ll be your best friend forever.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Gibralter217 permalink
    September 29, 2011 5:05 pm

    They should sell the hand carved dolphins AT THE BOTTOM of the reef. Admit it… You’d buy one. Especially if it was carved there too.

  2. October 6, 2011 10:54 pm

    Hello! You spoke at my journalism class, and I’ve been perusing your blog ever since. Thanks for telling us so much about your travels, you’ve got another fan.

  3. December 1, 2011 11:19 pm

    so true about dive shops and the white people who run them and the white dive tourists who trust them> i was just in Quepos Costa Rica and yep sure enough white people running the dive operation there – Ocean Adventures> very professional,- they take each dive very seriously> takes a lot of money too to buy all that equipment, the boat the shop with giant compressors the dive equipment>i”m glad to see that there is no policital correctness going on here, its just how you see it and that the same as how I saw it! thanks

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