Divernet


AS I TYPE THIS, IM LOOKING AT MEXICO RECEDING in our rear-view mirrors, shimmering and gasping in the heat. Its been so hot here that, without a sturdy hat, your head bursts into flames.
Our journey here was epic. There is no other word. I love what were doing, but that section was undeniably cheeky. Ill describe it as best I can - note that it was accompanied by 360kg of baggage that had to be manhandled on and off things about five times a day by a sweaty film-crew (us).
The trip took 48 hours, and involved six flights, three hours sleep, queuing for four
and half hours in Mexico City Airport (a new record, I believe), and an exuberant bout of food-poisoning halfway through.
It culminated in our arrival in the tiny town of Santa Rosalina, stupid with fatigue. The ideal time, then, to flop into the water and windmill wildly at irate Humboldt squid in the dark for six hours.
The Mexicans call Santa Rosalina the House of the Devil, as nothing grows or survives there. Its a genuine frontier town that sits in a sweltering canyon and generates income from squid-fishing.
The place stinks to high heaven, populated by sweaty fishermen armed with huge filleting knives who want nothing more than to pass a wriggling public schoolboy like myself around like a cigarette butt. Its the bleakest place Ive ever visited - unbelievable.
Our hotel, built in 1888, was straight out of the Wild West. They had even thoughtfully provided some 19th century porn for me, in the form of a sepia picture in my bathroom of a plump lady removing what can only be described as hosiery while glancing coquettishly at the camera.
We arranged to dive with the squid in a nearby town. This was one of those dives on which the skipper takes us out into stygian gloom, turns off the boat engine, drops anchor into deep inky water, and looks expectantly at us. When asked if he would be joining us on the dive, his response was a snort of derision.
Gibbering with fear, Simon, Jason and I lowered ourselves into the water, and slipped down the anchorline in a tight group (After you. No, no, after you.). Huddling in the blackness, 45m of water beneath our trembling fin-tips, we suddenly became aware of flashes of light beneath and around us. Big ones. Moving ones. Moving towards us ones.
I was then tapped roughly on the head from behind by a cameramen. I looked up to see both of them several metres ahead, looking at me with eyes the size of bantam eggs.
A wildly flashing squid was fondling my scalp, doubtless prior to removing a lump of it with a furiously scissoring beak. Its in such situations that ones experience and training immediately kicks in. I squealed like a piglet and span round, waving my arms dementedly while calling stridently for my mum. This is an unusual reaction for the normal prey items of the squid, which fled back into the Hadal gloom.
What followed was an hour of large squid zipping out of the darkness for a quick multi-armed fumble of the lures our guide had thoughtfully draped all around us. This will, Im fairly sure, be the next big thing in diving encounters.
But the memory of that first squid will stay with me for some time. I imagine he still thinks of me occasionally, as well.
Up to British Columbia, where Northern Vancouver island is chocolate-box beautiful, absurdly green and lush, with pine forests plunging theatrically into ribbons of shining sea lochs criss-crossed by whales and sea otters, interspersed with the odd splash of a bald eagle spoiling a trouts afternoon.
Best way to get around is on the water. You see all manner of extraordinary activity as you putter through shaded inlets, and in any case the roads run out just as you get to the really interesting bits. We were here to see killer whales, giant octopus and - a personal ambition - wolf-eels. But first we took an afternoon trip with some intrepid tourists to watch grizzlies fishing for salmon.
This involves creeping up on a bear as it peers into the water, trying to be as quiet as possible in a bloody great big aluminium boat. Try pushing a skip quietly down your local high street, and youll get an idea of how tricky this is.
We got really close to a bear (large), and then crunched on some gravel. The bear looked up, cogs plainly whirring in its I eat absolutely anything brain. Why bother chasing salmon that swim like bullets when I can just wander over there, hoick out a fat American tourist and eat well for a week, it must have thought.
It ambled over, causing our guides to reverse our skiff (no engine, its all done by hand). The idea was to get to deep water, which we did as the bear was an exhilarating few metres away. Our guide was swimming in waders, little legs whirring frantically. All we could see was a white set of knuckles on the side of boat.
When I asked him later if this was normal, he looked at me with hollow eyes and, rather huskily, said: No.
Our backwater hideaway could be reached only by a two-hour boat trip from a tiny fishing port. This float home, a shack floating on massive logs up a creek, was owned by amiable giant John, a scarred, ambling thing of a man. I very badly wanted him to be my friend, as the alternative was too awful to contemplate.
Our first dive was with the wolf-eels. Eight foot long, with a face that would make a funeral cortege turn down a side street, they are among the friendliest of fish. They associate divers with food (divers have been feeding them for years) and - bizarrely - love having a damn good scratch.
An expert from Vancouver Aquarium told us that wolf-eels do not have the normal fish slime because of their cramped living quarters and (I suppose) pin-cushion diet, so we could reciprocate any advances. We had a wonderful dive with a huge specimen that gazed at me adoringly from about an inch away as I scratched it under the chin. The last time I was that close to something that ugly was an unfortunate lapse of judgement during a slow dance in Plymouth many years ago.
Our giant octopus proved a tad more elusive. You have to dive at night, and after many nights we finally found one crouched in its gloomy lair. We had been assured that if you wiggle your fingers (glove off) in front of the hole, the octopus will emerge.
This I did, forgetting that the octopus is a distinctly bendy affair. Six of its legs stayed glued to the inside of the den, and the other two wrapped themselves around my hand and dragged my arm in, while the rest of me stayed resolutely outside.
We gurned at each other for about 10 minutes from this tug-of-war position until Jason (small underwater cameraman with a big lens) got bored and hauled on the bits of me still outside the hole.
The octopus emerged smartly, and a tremendous 10 minutes ensued with him being filmed from all angles as he explored the camera lens and my kit, before - his curiosity satisfied - he slithered silently back into his hole.
From there we made our way through inlets and sleepy hollows, looking for orcas. No success, but it gave us a chance to hear John the Giants many stories of the sea. I felt that his freak wave and the boat was 60ft under water before I knew it put my felt a bit squiffy in gusty conditions off Scotland once story neatly into perspective.

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