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The Dive God Visits Cuba
by Sue Cocking, Guy Harvey Outpost staff writer
In his 62 years of scuba diving, Neal Watson (a.k.a. the Dive God) has pretty much done it all: set world records for depth and distance; tangoed with huge sharks; travelled the world; and appeared underwater in numerous television shows and movies. But there WAS one place on the globe that Guy Harvey Outpost’s dive team leader had never taken the plunge: Cuba.
That is, until very recently.
Watson joined Guy Harvey Outpost Resorts president Mark Ellert; Guy Harvey Research Institute head Mahmood Shivji; and Scuba Radio founder Greg Holt on a four-day diving/fact-finding mission to the island nation under the ‘people-to-people’ program.
To say the Dive God was wowed by his visit would be a gross understatement.
“This place ROCKS!” Watson said. “This is the pinnacle. I have literally travelled around the world and you’d be hard-pressed to find any place as uniquely different from any other culture in the world as you find 45 minutes from South Florida. Unbelievable!”
Watson’s enchantment began almost as soon as he deplaned in Havana: downtown streets filled with vintage American cars.
“It was like being in the world’s biggest antique car show,” he said.
And things only got better from there.
Accompanied by their Cuban American guide, the group rented a 1957 Pontiac, overnighted at a family-run bed and breakfast; sampled hand-rolled cigars at a tobacco farm; enjoyed dancing and listening to acoustic salsa music at various Havana night spots; sampled the signature daiquiris at La Floridita– a favorite hangout of author Ernest Hemingway; and, oh yes, dived.
The group cruised west in the Pontiac for about six hours from Havana to a dive resort in the village of Maria La Gorda located on the western tip of the Pinar del Rio province. Watson was pleasantly surprised at the fleet of clean, modern dive boats; well-maintained rental and first-aid equipment and the capable, friendly and knowledgeable dive crew.
The group only had time for a one-tank dive — an 80-foot-deep guided drift along mountainous coral heads and scenic caverns in a marine park established in 1984. It reminded Watson of his underwater explorations of Andros and the Exuma Islands in the Bahamas.
“Amazing,” Watson said.
Shivji, a marine scientist who has logged hundreds of dives, also was impressed.
“The coral reefs are in really good shape compared to quite a few other places I’ve been diving,” Shivji said.
The Guy Harvey Outpost team enjoyed the whirlwind visit so much that it organized another cultural/scientific/diving expedition to Cuba in June in conjunction with the Reef Environmental Education Foundation. The trip sold out in one hour. Stay tuned for more about future Guy Harvey Outpost expeditions to the island.
Sue Cocking chronicles the Guy Harvey Outpost travel and adventure experience in regular blog posts on GuyHarveyOutpostNews.com/. For 21 years, Cocking covered the full spectrum of outdoors adventure opportunities in South Florida and beyond for the Miami Herald, including fishing, diving, hunting, paddling, camping, sailing and powerboat racing. She is a certified scuba diver and holder of an IGFA women’s world fly fishing record for a 29-pound permit.
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