Published: October 18th 2002October 18th 2002
Entering Belize was strange, I had to resist the urge to speak bad Spanish when talking with the locals, the first language of the country is English. We had taken the shuttle bus service offered by San Juan travel in Flores. Spent 1 1/2 hours on the border waiting for the three Israelis on the bus to be allowed in. New travelling tip in Central America don't travel with people from countries beginning with I. The Irish that I had spoken with had also had trouble obtaining VISAs - after the trouble in Columbia.
Sharon, Lizette and I parted ways in San Ignacio. Near San Ignacio another set of Mayan ruins attract visitors, I have no idea whether these are more impressive than any of the other ruins I have seen but Sharon and Lizette needed to be back in Xela in a few days time. Said goodbye again a final goodbye for at least this trip.
After a catching a water taxi from Belize City to Caye Caulker - pronounced Key Colker - I arrived on the small dock. The tourists disembarking from the boat were besieged by many locals, many teenagers, offering to help find hotels or
diving shops. Being a savvy budget traveller, I avoided them and made my way down to Tina's backpackers hostel. Only $15 BZ a night, roughly $7.50 or £5. After getting used to the prices in Guatemala, this was quite a price hike. The hostel was not very full, met a guy I had met briefly in Xela sharing the same room. Went out and arranged diving for the following day. I had spoken to a few people about diving in Belize and they said that I had to dive the blue hole. £85 ($130) to dive the Blue Hole, I decided to dive anyway, blowing any kind of possible pretence at a budget I might have had.
Later in the evening I bumped into Jenny, the salsa dancing English girl from Antigua, another surprise. So on my first night in Belize a lot of catching up was done, a little drinking, and a lot of chatting, quite few old and new friends all in one place. The Blue Hole.
Diving the blue hole was so special it almost deserves its own section on my website, but due to my lack of any impressive pictures, I've put it
here. My digital camera isn't waterproof and my waterproof camera flooded after taking it down to about 10m, said it would only manage 4m - I should have paid attention to the instructions this time.
The blue hole is a huge volcano crater completely submerged in the Caribbean sea. From the air the coral rims around the edge of a deep blue circle, the bottom of which is deeper than the surrounding ocean, I'll link to a website with some aerial photos here. The coral rim is about 3m deep, at the edge a vertical cliff descends to 50m, at a depth of 40m the cliff wall recedes in on itself, leading to an overhanging area where huge stalagmites and stalactites, rise and hang. On entering the water I felt the exhilaration from doing something that you know is going to be special, plus there was a 6ft barracuda just eyeing me up, directly under the boat. I waited a brief while for the other three divers in my party to group, and started to descend as quickly as possible. A 40m dive is as deep as allowed for recreational diving, 10m deeper than I had ever dived before
and only allows for a 10-min bottom time. Going deeper requires special breathing mixtures to counteract the effects of nitrogen narcosis. Spending any longer at this depth would also require decompression stops to avoid decompression sickness - the bends. With such a small amount of bottom time we didn't want to spend to long descending.
About 10m down and I saw something big. A lot lot bigger than me. And then another and another - just at the point where the cliff wall drops severely maybe 20 sharks were circling, I started yelling at the top of my voice "There are SHARKS!!!!" and other things, "Burple burgle bubble burp" was all that came out but I couldn't help myself. I wasn't frightened but exhilarated, excited and impressed at the speed, power and grace of these fantastic creatures in the water. Compared to my own complete lack of speed, power and grace in the water they reminded me in how alien an environment diving puts you in. Keeping backs to the cliff wall, we descended down to 40m. The stalagmites and stalactites were huge the largest I have ever seen, at this depth all the colours and a lot of
the light had disappeared, swimming around the 5m diameter, 15m long formations was one of the eeriest experiences I have had. Knowing that just 10m above were natures best underwater hunting machines probably added a little something. I was told that the Shark's had been Black Tip, Bull and Nurse Sharks, but I wouldn't have been able to tell them apart.
On the way up as if the dive hadn't been impressive enough a huge eagle ray flew by us. Again a huge creature maybe 5m across, from wing to wing, spotted black and white, with the most graceful flying motion whilst swimming through the water. The 6ft barracuda was still waiting for us when we reached the surface after long safety stops, it wasn't as impressive as the first time I had seen it.
Lunch was on Half Moon Caye, a booby sanctuary and breeding ground. Frigate birds and booby's are flying all around the island, as graceful in the air as the sharks in the water. Lunch was a little on the small side, when diving I get really hungry. The next two dives, were shallower and more arranged for looking at the reef animals. The
reef wasn't quite as impressive as that in Honduras, I'm not sure why, less animals, and more damage, possibly from hurricanes that have ravaged the islands recently.
In the evening I took a walk, all my friends from the previous night had left. Walking up the main street a single blond girl was getting a lot of attention from the locals, the locals mostly rastaferian really friendly. She looked over towards me with a "I'm really sick of this" look in her eyes. So I met Teresa from Vancouver Island BC, Canada, had dinner together and hung out for the evening. She was on the first day of an 8 month visit to Central America, I had assumed the role of wizened and worldly traveller for the evening, I wrote down what I consider to be the highlights of my trip.
I hung out with Teresa the next day and went on a snorkelling trip in a sailboat with Captain Steve. The snorkelling was really cool, I had improved so much with my diving, can now hyperventilate to go down quite deep equalising pressure automatically and spot interesting things more easily. Met friendly and interesting people on the
boat as well. The highlight of the day was the feeding of stingrays in Shark Ray Alley. Inquisitive and interesting creatures, the largest about 5ft across. They quite happily brush up against you, and hung about until its obvious that we had no more little fish to feed them.
The Chinese restaurant on the Island was the first in Central America that I had been to run by Chinese people. The food was really good and cheap for the island. I could have spent a lot longer on Caye Caulker but I was starting to hunger once again for adventure city style. Plus my flight out from Los Angeles was in only 10 days.