|Ariel - a few years ago before Fenix Restaurante existed|
“Do you ever take a day off?” I asked Bonnie Hamilton early on a Sunday morning last week.
She flashed her high-wattage smile and said, “In hurricane season,” which probably meant; we do if it is raining like hell and the weather is too rough for our boats, otherwise no, we don’t take a day off.
|Bonnie Hamilton and Ariel Barandica and staff Dec 2015|
Well-known islanders Bonnie Hamilton and Ariel Barandica met on Isla Mujeres in 1985, when Ariel was operating his Sea Hawk Dive Shop from the beach near what is now Fenix Restaurante. Every morning he stuck a colourful umbrella in the sand, and placed a dive tank under the umbrella then added a sign proclaiming Sea Hawk was open for the day. His boat was either anchored in the bay, or tied to the bridge that gives access to what is now the Mia Hotel.
|Diver and turtle - photo by Tyto|
Originally from Veracruz, Ariel arrived on Isla Mujeres in the late 1970’s. He had been working the oil rigs near Campeche for a few years, before deciding the work was too dangerous and there had to be a better way to make a living. Ariel originally operated his business from another beachside location at the south end of the island, before it was designated as Garrafon Natural Reef Park. The snorkeling was outstanding with thousands of nearby fish inhabiting clear blue waters. By 1981 the reef was beginning to show signs of decay with too many boats dumping effluent, and people carelessly walking on the coral not realizing how delicate it is. Ariel and friends petitioned the government to protect the reef from abuse. It’s an ongoing problem.
|Eagle Ray - photo by Tyto|
Married in 1987, Bonnie and Ariel’s two adult children have dual citizenship - Canadian and Mexican.
Their son Jerson is an engineer by trade, but an award-winning soccer player by passion. He learned to play five-a-side futsal on Isla Mujeres, utilizing sand lots, streets, basketball courts, soccer fields and beaches.
Any level space would do. He is currently the Head Coach of the Women’s soccer program at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, and a coach for the White Caps High Performance Academy. Also well-educated, their daughter Leira enjoys traveling the world and helping out at the dive shop whenever she returns to the island.
|Omer & Avital, Israel - going to swim with Whale Sharks|
By 1999 Bonnie and Ariel had built their current Sea Hawk Dive Shop & Suites facility on Avenida Carlos Lazo, near the Convention Centre and just block off north beach. Their cozy little hotel has six rooms, allowing guests easy access to snorkeling or diving tours, diving lessons, and trips to swim with the beautiful whale sharks. The cool thing about booking a whale sharks swim with Sea Hawk Dive Shop is they supply wet suits for all of their customers. Wearing a wet suit in place of the mandatory and clumsy life vest provides buoyancy but a lot more flexibility when swimming.
According to Ariel, here in Mexico we have the largest congregation of whale sharks in the world and it is very interesting to compare the prices for a day trip to see these gentle giants. Australian tour boats charge between $600.00 and $650.00 USD per person per trip, while the tour companies that arrange trips from Playa del Carmen Mexico to see the pod that congregates near Isla Mujeres charge between $300.00 and $400.00 USD per person. If you deal with an island tour boat the cost is typically $100.00 to $125.00 USD per person. Shop local! Save money!
|Zephyr & Megan from USA, Roberto & Tyto|
Marine biologist Tyto Morales is the dive master and Roberto Leiva is the boat captain at Sea Hawk Dive Shop. The two guys work hard to make your experience fun and informative. A number of the gorgeous photographs, labeled Atlahua, on their Facebook page and in this blog article were taken by Tyto.
|Daniele & Assuna, Italy going to swim with Whale Sharks|
Bonnie and Ariel are busy, community-minded islanders who donate a lot of time, money and energy to the betterment of the island. When she isn’t working at their businesses, Bonnie might be practicing dance routines for the next Carnaval parade, typically held in February or March, or perhaps teaching yoga in the evenings at NaBalam Hotel. Some evenings you might find her live-trapping feral cats to be spayed and neutered, in an attempt to keep the island domestic cat population manageable.
Anytime you see a cat with a notch out of one ear, it’s a pretty good bet that the cat has paid a visit to the local veterinarian to be altered, compliments of Bonnie and her like-minded friends. It’s a smelly and thankless job, but she is committed to helping out.
|Bonnie dancing for 2016 Carnaval|
Next time you want a snorkeling trip, dive on a wreck, learn to dive, or visit during the whale shark season drop them a note on their Facebook page, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org – you’ll have a great experience.
Lynda & Lawrie
|Ariel smiling as always!|