Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Do you Belize in Magic?

Today was my last full day on Caye Caulker. It was also my first full day as a certified scuba diver. It was an amazing experience! I was able to book a spot of a dive boat that was heading out to do three dives.

My alarm went off at 4:45am. I rolled out of bed, stretched and filled up my water bottle. I packed up more GoPro gear, grabbed my dive bag, and headed out the door. I got to the boat just about 530am. We were scheduled to have the boat packed and be out on the water around 6. I checked in and helped myself to the fresh Belizian coffee and breakfast sweet breads they had available.

© Christophe Moeller
All loaded up and ready to go!
 At about 6am, We boarded and headed out on the water. We had three dives planned for the day. The first was the 'Great Blue Hole'. This is one of the more popular dives in the area. The Great Blue Hole was made famous by Jacques Cousteau when he sailed there in 1971 and named it one of the top ten places to dive in the world. It is just under 1000 feet wide and goes straight down just over 400 feet. Not a bad place to log my first dive. It is about a two and half hour trip through rough seas to get there. I think I was about half an inch shorter when we arrived from all of the crashing over the swells on the way there. Once we got there, we had a quick briefing with our dive master, suited up and jumped in. We went down to a depth of 40' immediately, swam to the edge of the hole and then looked straight down. It was amazing to peer over the ledge and see nothing. We went over the edge and descended to about 100' and explored a bit of the stalactite system that formed there many years ago. This was a really cool first dive. We couldn't stay down long because of the depths we went to. I think we only had 8 or 10 minutes down at the depth of 100'. It was still really cool. We didn't see much marine life. We did have a shark or two pass by us, but that was about it. After our time down at depth, we started our ascent and eventually headed back to the boat. Once there, we climbed aboard and headed to our next stop, Half Moon Caye Wall.

After a 30 minute boat ride, we arrived at Half Moon Caye. We stopped at the island to let the snorkeling group off before we continued to our dive site. Once we got there, we once again suited up and jumped over board. The water was a little choppy at the surface, so our dive master just said, "I'll meet you 40' down". I was one of the first overboard and had a few minutes to get situated. One of the buttons on my GoPro housing had gotten stuck during the first dive. I tried to fix it between dives. I took it with me, it took one photo and then promptly got stuck again. I gave up and stowed it away and just enjoyed the dive.
The first, and last, picture I got out of my GoPro...
The dive was amazing. Once the dive master got down to depth with us he lead us through a tunnel made of coral. For the next 45 minutes, we swam through coral and schools of fish. To our left was a wall made of coral, to our right was a 100' drop. It was really interesting to see all of the moray eels, sea slugs, and other coral animals. Every once in awhile, we would have schools of larger fish swim by on our right in the deeper water. We had a shark that kept coming back and forth next to us for most of the dive. After our time was up, we ascended the surface where the boat came and picked us up. Once we were all on board, we headed to Half Moon Caye to have lunch and visit the bird sanctuary.
© Christopher Moeller
The view from our boat as we pulled up for lunch
Lunch consisted of a traditional Belizian lunch. We had Stewed Chicken, Rice and Beans and Coleslaw. It was absolutely delicious. The chicken fell off the bone and the rice/bean combination made it a very filling lunch. After finishing lunch, we had some time to explore the island. Half Moon Caye is run by the Belize Audubon Society. It was started in 1928 and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. There was a great hike that took us to a viewing platform that allowed us to see a ton of nesting sites for the Red Footed Booby Bird. It was awesome to see the birds in their natural habitat. They have wingspans up to 3 feet. After about an hour on the island, we went back to the boat and moved towards our third and final dive for the day, The Aquarium at Long Caye.
The path to the viewing platform. Had to watch out for hermit crabs crossing our path

Looking out over the sea.

A look back at our lunch site and the pier.

A little friend we made along the way.

 This last dive was full of marine-life, as one would expect from a name like "The Aquarium". We spent just under an hour swimming through the coral. It was another amazing experience. As soon as we got in the water, we were surrounded by schools of fish. They followed along with us for the entire dive. It was so neat to see all the different kinds of marine life that could live in such a close environment. I am really glad that I took the day to do these dives. They are definitely an experience that I won't forget anytime soon. Once everyone was back on board, we started our two hour ride back to Caye Caulker. When we were about 30 minutes away, we stopped to stretch our legs and celebrate the end of the day with some rum punch. I think one of the coolest experiences was meeting so many people from all over the world that had ended up on this boat to go diving. We had people from all nationalities with all kinds of different backgrounds and experience levels together to spend the day out diving in the Caribbean Sea. Those conversations and jokes just added to the experience and got me hooked on the sport.

Once back in Caye Caulker, we all packed up our gear and headed our separate ways. I headed back to my place with the intention of laying down for an hour and then heading out for dinner and to enjoy my last night on the Caye. I woke up about three hours later and realized it was to late to head out. So, I thought I might update this before setting to packing my bags to move on to the mainland tomorrow...

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