Swimming back toward the coral-encrusted mound, I find the seabed covered with an enormous school of snapper. The shoal envelopes us as we swim in its midst, and I rack my brain for a way to capture its splendour within a photograph.
A Mexican hogfish poses proudly before the school, like the troop leader at the head of a huge fish parade.
Still wrestling with this conundrum, I realise that I seem to have made a new friend: a Mexican hogfish is following me wherever I go, his curious eyes and toothy grin a constant companion. He is happy to pose too, sticking his colourful body right on the dome as I shoot away.
I enjoy our time together tremendously, and remember the moment best through an image of the hogfish posing proudly in front of the huge school of fish, like the troop leader at the head of a huge fish parade.
The school is more agitated now, and I soon figure out why. A lone cormorant is bombing down on them from the surface, hungrily looking for its next meal.
With a hint of guilt, I abandon the hogfish and go after the bird, squinting at the surface as I try to keep up with its movements.
Cormorants are actually better designed for swimming than flying, and once the bird starts its descent, I have to fin at full pelt to get anywhere near it.
I hide in the school of fish, trying to predict where it will go next, and get a surprise shot as the cormorant bursts through the pack. It’s both exhilarating and frustrating, and I continue to observe this strange dance between the cormorant and its prey until my air supply demands a return to the surface.
It’s a cracking start, and the day’s diving isn’t even over yet. We return to camp for a quick meal, before dropping into the inky waters of our cove for a night-time spectacle.
A playful sea-lion pup strikes a pose on top of a table coral. Right: mobula rays rush in from the dark as they vacuum up the plankton attracted to the divers’ lights.
A single, powerful light is hung on a line from the surface, and a fuzzy mass of plankton soon congregates around it.
This in turn quickly attracts the attention of feeding mobula rays, and they arrive from the dark in squadrons.
Mobula rays are like mini mantas, and these majestic animals swoop right up to us as they vacuum up the plankton.
It’s an incredible scene, and just a couple of hundred metres from where we will lay our heads tonight, it sure beats Netflix for evening entertainment.
Los Islotes is the spot that really draws the crowds, and we head there the next day. It’s home to a huge sea-lion colony, and the big selling point is that they can be found in warm, blue water (well, at least for a few months of the year).
We’re briefed that the sea-lions are usually playful, but that we should also be wary of warning signs that we are encroaching too far into their territory.
The adult males, with their dark bodies, bowler-hat heads and white whiskers, will be the ones who send this message. These dominant males are the grumpiest and noisiest in the colony, and an intimidating presence when passing you under water.