April 6, 2010 Post subject: Diving in La Paz Mexico Avoid Baja Aventuras
Well I have to sadly say that we are back from our diving holiday in La Paz!! Sniff sniff... So I'de like to share what we did, learnt and experienced with you all....
We organised our trip VERY last minute ok! I'm talking a week before. Thanks to scubaboard I had found a few dive centers and after having comunication with them we decided on Baja Aventuras. Their website seemed fairly informative and initially they were very helpfull. We were 4PADI certified divers, 1 Instructor, 2 Divemasters and 1 Rescue Diver, with our 18 month old baby girl. We stayed at the Grand Plaza Hotel which I have to say...was lovely. It isn't the nicest or newest hotel , apperance wise, but the staff were extremely helpful and nice. The rooms were absoulty huge! So great for families, there is a fridge and coffee maker too so some evenings or lunches we went to the nearby walmart which was in walking distance or a 2 minute taxi ride and bought picnic type food to eat at the hotel. The hotel also has a restaurant, and although maybe a little slow, the food was generally pretty good. For transport as the hotel was a little out of town there were always taxi's outside the entrance and we also learnt to use the bus. Taxi's cost around 50-60 pesos from the hotel to the malecon. The bus was 8 pesos per person!!
So, for the diving... I have to say and I'm going to be very honest...I was really let down by Baja Aventuras www.baja-aventuras.com As I said in the beggining, I had made contact with other centers around La Paz, all of which offered us as a group a very fair price, Stupidly I let my guard down a little with Baja aventuras and litterally the day before we were due to leave it was brought to my attention that the so called ' best price in town' that they had offered us, was actually the going price on their website. I had basically been told that I would get a discount as..
1 of us is an instructor so 10% for the days he dives ( I have worked and travelled pretty much all over the place and the normal deal for divemasters and instructors for PADI based centers is a 10% discount).
We would get a small discount as we are bringing all of our own gear, all that we need are the tanks and weights. (That should also be the norm ..no?)
Then we would also get a package deal.... Well after doing the maths, we would actually have paid more for having our own equipment and having the instructor dive each day!
We were also being charged for transport to and from the boat in the morning and afternoon.. This being the only center to charge for this.... However they had been very helpfull at the start and given us a lot of info on the hotel and town etc, and I understood straight away that they were a small and new center, so wanting to give them a chance I said yes.
So our first day diving and Tessa the dutch girl who I had been in contact with for the last week came to meet us and take us to the port, the center is run by her and her mexican boyfriend mattias... I interrupt myself again here to add, we were expecting as we had been told during this last week, that the center had a new boat, and that for 2-3 dives a day we were looking at leaving at 8.00 and returning for 3.30-4.00 pm. This being pretty important as it was also a family holiday and my hubby and I were taking the diving days in turn.I was also told that the sea temp was from around 23 and that a 3mm -5mm would be fine. Also when we asked about what we were likely to see ( very keen to see some big fish!) I was told that El Bajo (one of the dive sites) was where the hammerheads are and they've been seen a lot, also not forgetting the giant mantas, whale sharks and sea lions etc... This was all pretty much guaranteed in the emails that I was being sent. Having worked myself in areas where these creatures exist, I learnt very quickly to NEVER guarantee anything, let the customers know that there is a possibilty of course, but don't sell anything based on the guarentee that they will be there.
So, she arrived to collect us and straight away wanted payment for the 8 days of diving that we would be doing. Even after having agreed by email, to pay at the end of the first 4 days and then the final 4 days. Bearing in mind that its 8 am and we had arrived late the night before after a 30 hour trip from Venice in Italy via Madrid (Spain) to Guardalajara to la paz... Yes 4 planes! After a little while of convincing her that we would pay when we returned from the diving, not that we would run off to another center as they had our gear!! Also because we had to change our euros to pesos etc... She agreed, but we were all made to feel that this was a big favour she was doing for us.This was the first alarm bell that went off for us, that indicated little professional service.. but we chose to ignore , We got into her car..(Yes the paid for transport 90 pesos a day! to the port and back all of 5 mins..this being the second alarm bell) and it wouldn't start..... OK, not her fault, but also not a great second impression, especially as the first impression was still taking time to sink in... So she called her partner Mattias and within seconds he arrived with his super banged out 4x4!! Fun, as this was really the type of car we had imagined to find in mexico!! Chucked our equipment into the back and off we went to the port... All a little worried about whether or not we would still have working equipment when we arrived or not!!
Once at the port we were shown our boat...Third alarm bell... It couldn't have been any more different from what I had been told... Tiny, old...not so safe fishing boat. OK again... this is probably just the way the boats are here in La Paz..sadly not, after after having a good nose around the other centers this one was definatly the oldest and most broken!!! So, our first day we did 3 dives, seing the sea lions was great, however I took full responsability after the 3 of us had raging headaches after each dive and were all 3 shivering down under. We were all in our 5mm as had been told to use, and the temp was 20-22 degrees, so just a little colder from what I had been told, but after the previous day of 30 hrs travelling I blamed it all on this, we're tired, hungry..(where are the refreshments and snacks between dives? Oh ok, that huge sandwich that was given to us after the 2nd dive could be saved and munched between the other dives..Water and sprite however were available.) ..and freezing! Not fogetting the banging heads. We had left the port at 9 ish, and we returned at around 5.30 ish... Why was the day so long? It was taking us 2 hours to get pretty much anywhere, the poor boat didn't have the power to go fast. The other centers passed us on the way out and had finished their dives and were on to the next by the time we arrived.
The second day was the same... In total I did 2 days of diving, (not the centers fault.my daughter got sick ) my husband (the instructor) who does suffer from the cold had to rent a dry suit as he couldn't take just how cold it was! Unfortunaly each day presented problems for them... 1 day was cancelled as the sea was too rough.. fair enough, but why are the other boats going out? Do you mean its cancelled because the boat needs fixing again? No refund if the dives are cancelled due to the weather. The second day for me we had a different boat as the other had completly died.... It was ok, slightly larger , new paint job! However the engine had problems causing us to stop 6 times..The next day which was the last day for us diving, was cancelled due to the weather... There was not a whisper of wind, My hand is on my heart and not a word of this is a lie... I had been ill the night before, my husband called me to say, we're back in the port and its 10.30 am, please come as we're having an argument with Tessa... I arrive in taxi with our daughter, and all I get, is attitude. I was told by my divers that after they had been promised to go to el bajo, the new divemaster said that the boat was not safe to go there as it was far away in the middle of the ocean, and after leaving the port had broken down around 25 times already.. , so he told the divers that they could go to the sites that they had dived each day for 7 days instead of going to el bajo, my husband said that they should return to the port straight away as he was not willing to go to ANY dive sites, (as they were all at least 2 hours away) on a boat that wasn't safe (this being one of the first rules of safe diving). And that they want a full refund for that day of diving, )as on the second day we had paid for everything... Unless they could provide us with another boat that was safe then they would continue..
The story I got from Tessa was all due to the weather!!! And that absolutly no way would there be any kind of refund!!! When I said that this is obviously a problem with the boat as the previous day it had broken down 6 times, and her boyfriend who was our divemaster for the entire time, knew about this, so why wasn't it fixed yesterday or why hadn't another boat been organised for us, seen has how 'their new boat' was supposed to be arriving on the day before..this also being a lie. She basically said that it wasn't true..yesterday there had been no problems with the boat..! How can someone be so fake? Or how can the divemaster /boyfriend/businesspartner/manager not talk about the days's events and problems..maybe diving is the last desire of theirs...maybe its just the money that is important. So its a case of Take the money and run!!
The refund for us wasn't the insentive, and quite honestly isn't what we are moaning about...We all really really wanted a chance of diving at El Bajo, to see if these beautiful hammerhead sharks are actually there, just to have had this chance to see or to look for something so beautiful, and so sadly that along with hundreds of other shark species are dissapearing before our own eyes. Totally due to mankind, and his desire to make money.
In reality, we did find the sharks...just that they were on land and not underwater!
I was then offered a trip the following day for 780 pesos per person to see the whale sharks, of which that morning I had been offered the same trip via facebook from her for 400 pesos...Lets see if we can steal some more money out of this group hey!!
I have to say we were left pretty speechless..
So, after diving 6 days, and having been told by all the locals and other dive centers, that no manta has been seen there for the last 8 years, and no recent sighting of any hammerheads either we were a little let down...but being frequent divers also knew that this possibility could of happened.
But the fact that we had trusted and given our full support to a center that has absolutly no idea on how to organise divers, or boats or even themselves was shocking. They are untrustworthy, they don't have the knowledge or means on organising the boat trips to and from the dive sites, safely nor adequatly, nor within a reasonable time limit.
Facts that haven't been mentioned so far...the divemaster had changed our tanks ofter the first dive, keen to help and impress, and had forgotten to remove the tape!
The divemasters fin broke on the 2nd day, so after seeing that he hadn't a spare (nor a spare kit box on board..then again, where would you put it on the tiny boat?) Our group gave him some duck tape and he stuck it back together...ok, does the job for one dive, for the next days of diving, he still used this fin...?? Does he think that once you befriend your customers, their opinions are all of a sudden lost and forgotten.
Sadly there seems to be no passion for this line of work/hobbie from baja aventuras. The divemaster was always keen to get in the water, and in his 3mm each day also commented on yes, the water is pretty cold! Tessa, deals only in the office as she explained to me that its not her 'thing'. She doesn't enjoy being underwater, or being with customers or on the boat all day long, ok fair enough it's not for everyone, but in this business its important that you share the passion with the people who are paying you for this service, not just be there to make sure you get every cent out of them and stand strong to not allow any refunds! Even when the reasons for not going out are completely due to the terrible conditions of their own equipment, ie the boat. They completely broke their own agreement. We paid for a service, and like all diving centers around the world signed an agreement that was just as much an agreement for them too. We arrived each day and did eveything they asked for. Dived the same sites daily, didn't create problems, and didn't complain. For the case of a refund of 2 days,or quite simply a boat that worked they could have saved all this bitterness .
One last thing to conclude this post, the leaving point for the boat in the small port area is found in front of the restaurant BANDIDOS.. Is this just a coincidence??