Back in the late eighties, long before I even considered becoming a certified open water SCUBA diver, I went on a weeklong excursion with two friends of mine (James and Chris) to Mexico. We had been planning and dreaming of the trip for months. I had been to Mexico before, a couple of day trips to Tijuana and a week of vacation in Mazatlán. But I never drove there myself. I must say we were young and naïve. Stupid more like. We thought we could drive all the way from Portland to Cabo San Lucas. No problem, we said. It will be fun, we said. Boy, were we wrong.
Despite the long drive, despite the treacherous terrain and the questionable accommodations, the trip was a success. I saw many things that I never would have seen in an airliner, I made some memories for a lifetime, and most of all I was introduced to the world of underwater exploration via the amazing invention of Snuba.
What is Snuba?
A combination of the words “Snorkel” and “SCUBA,” Snuba is a form of surface-supplied diving in which an underwater breathing system developed by Snuba International is used. The swimmer uses swim fins, a diving mask, weights, and diving regulator as in scuba diving. (Wikipedia)
That’s the technical definition. The real world definition is pure and simple fun. Let me set the stage a little first. James, way before we even embarked on our voyage, got me fired up when he described his snuba unit. Inherited from his dad, he said it was old (his dad bought it when he was a kid) but it worked well and we would be able to dive with it. Now, let me tell you how thrilled I was. I had always wanted to SCUBA dive ever since I was a little kid. But, lacking the guts to do it, I figured snuba would be a good way to start. The unit floats on the water using an ordinary inner tube. A gas powered engine pushes air through two twenty foot hoses which are connected to face masks. You can’t go beyond that twenty foot range, and you have to stay close to your buddy, but it all sounded so awesome. I was jazzed.
Then we hit the road, in a huge black Chevy pickup with no air conditioning, I might add, with dreams of exploring the azure waters of Cabo.
Reality Hits Home
We drove eighteen hours straight to San Diego. I don’t have to tell you, but we were frazzled. We were road weary, we were irritated, and we were at each other’s throats. We needed a hotel room. Problem was, we were too early. Nothing was open. We tried to sleep in the cab, but that didn’t work. So we decided to keep going, down to Ensenada, where we finally crashed for a few hours.
After we got some needed rest, we embarked on the drive down Baja along the famous Highway 1. After Ensenada, the road became a patchwork of asphalt, potholes, and gravel. To say the least it was not your average road. The driving was slow as a result. It didn’t help that we were driving a gas guzzler and had to stop for fuel every 100 miles!
We had started with the best of intentions. We meant to drive all the way to Cabo. But the road got to us. The drive, though gorgeous, became too much. Soon we decided to change our plans and stop at the next town we encountered. That town, in the dark of night, was a lonely fishing village on the sea of Cortez called Bahia De Los Angeles.
I haven’t been there since, but at the time, Bahia De Los Angeles was such a small town that it had only one paved road, the main drag. It also had only one power source—a diesel generator that was turned off at 10pm. That aspect made the town quaint, and so did it’s amazingly friendly inhabitants. They would have given the shirts off their backs if we asked. They were so giving and nice. I’ll never forget the oyster and fish feast they treated us to one night, just because.
I mention the amazing people of Bahia De Los Angeles because if it wasn’t for them, our snuba experience never would have happened. You see, the day before we were set to try it, we found that the motor that pushed the air didn’t start. Despite all of our valiant mechanical attempts, we couldn’t get it to run. That’s when we met a local handyman who offered to help. He was so generous in giving his time that when it was done, when he had the unit running, all he asked for in return was an English to Spanish dictionary so he could bone up on his language skills.
Snuba Is Phenomenal
We asked the locals about the best beach to do some diving, and they pointed us to a shallow cove on the outskirts of town. We pitched our tents and got our gear in place. The great thing about snuba is you don’t really have gear. You don’t have to worry about running low on air or decompression stops. You are limited in range, but for a beginner like I was, that’s just fine.
When we entered the water, it was like another world had opened up for us. The Sea of Cortez has been called the world’s aquarium by Jacques Cousteau, and he was right. The wildlife underwater just blew me away. The most intriguing sealife were the rays. The first one I spotted scared the willies out of me because it was hidden under a thin layer of sand and just when I came upon it, it swam away. Then another did the same thing, then another. James and Chris were just as excited as we glided along, taking turns, not a care in the world.
My trip to Bahia De Los Angeles will always hold a special place in my heart. I will always treasure the memories. And most of all I will always look at my snuba experience as the precursor to my future SCUBA endeavors.