Though a straight line appears to be the shortest distance between 2 points, life has a way of confounding geography. Often it is the dalliances and the detours that define us. There are no maps to guide our most important searches; we must rely on hope, chance, intuition and a willingness to be surprised.

Friday, November 24, 2006

D-I’ve got the Caye

Another top holiday weekend. Teri and I went out to San Pedro, so missed out on the Garifuna celebrations but had a really relaxing weekend. Had a fantastic meal at the best restaurant in Belize. Did some great shopping, chilled, sunbathed, swam…

On Sunday I got up at 5am to do the big one – The Blue Hole. For millions of years, The Blue Hole was just a cave on dry land where huge stalactites and stalagmites formed over eons. And then in the last ice-age, rising sea levels flooded the cave, the ceiling collapsed and the Blue Hole became a submerged sink-hole, plunging hundreds of feet below the surrounding shallow sea.

The dive was definitely an experience. I got to a depth of over 40m, at which point it was disturbingly difficult to make out the surface. Visibility was still good even though the lighting was poor and I could see a chasm below me which was also unnerving. There was little marine life – just a few gigantic groupers. The attraction was the cave itself though – I could swim in and out of huge stalactites and had the real sensation of being in a different world. Due to the nitrogen levels we could only spend 8 minutes at that depth. Not especially pretty, not much in the way of fish, but really atmospheric. Thanks to Everette and his company, Belize Diving Adventures.

[underwater photo of me TO FOLLOW!]
Me, 139 feet under the Caribbean. This picture was taken by Ivan Leshko, a photographer on our dive. More photos on I didn’t invest in an underwater camera for this trip, so all the other photos here are taken by me on photogenic and wildlife-rich Half Moon Caye, two hours by speedboat from San Pedro.

Three Cayes Trees

Now been in Belize for 10 weeks, done 6 dives, spent 3 days snorkelling. Here’s the fish I spotted snorkelling for half an hour at Hol Chan Cut. This was all in just one small area, where a channel cuts through the barrier reef.

Eagle Spotted Ray - Southern Stingray - Green Moray Eel – Octopus - Great Barracuda (one huge example was 4-5 feet) - Nurse Shark (6 feet plus) - *Turpon (huge fish) - Goliath Grouper - Tiger Grouper - Nassau Grouper - Red Grouper - Parrotfish (inc Midnight Parrotfish) - Black Durgon - Scrawled Filefish - Big Snapper - Horse-Eyed Jacks – Pufferfish – Squirrelfish – Hogfish – Flutefish - Blue Tangs – Grunts. And a variety of angelfish, damsels, butterfly fish, snappers, wrasses…

…didn’t see any Shellfish. Hope I haven’t caught the last one.

The giant green Moray Eel appears extremely aggressive though when I came across one in October I ‘remembered’ that it was harmless and spent a bit of time getting really close to one. And then the last time out our guide warned me that they can actually hospitalise you, so erm…I’ve been a bit more cautious since. The eagle spotted rays are a spectacular and other-worldly sight. So great to see them up close. Also saw good examples of Brain coral, Fire Coral, Staghorn Coral, Common Seafan Coral and Elkhorn Forest Coral.

Half Moon Caye is home to both the rare red-footed booby (above) and the magnificent Frigate Bird (below).

So that’s been the diving in Belize. Hope to do quite a bit more in the rest of my trip – i should have good opportunities in Australia, Kenya (Lake Victoria), Tanzania and South Africa. I’m also really keen to get into wreck diving. I’ve seen one wreck under the water, just a fishing boat, but it scared the hell out of me. It was a real buzz. And wreck diving has plenty of potential. According to historians, around 10,000 ships lie at the bottom of the Great Lakes in the US. That’s not even out at sea! That’s on lakes… inland! There’s a few wreck dives in Scotland – I’ll have to try this when I get back home.

There’s only one wreck dive in Belize – a boat deliberately sunk to create an artificial reef for marine life. This is symptomatic of something that Belize is getting right – it’s respect for the marine environment. There are a large number of marine parks for such a small country, with a large proportion of the coastline and reefs completely protected from fishing.

Mari’s brother-in-law Wilbur is in charge of one of the key environmental organisations in Belize. Good to see that Belize takes this so seriously.

Pic with a story. The first diving I did in Belize was with Aqua Dives. Having asked them to watch out for me as I hadn’t dived for a year, they had me way down at 33m, doing a drift dive and running down to 100psi as we chased after a turtle… this is the Aqua Dives boat, stranded out at Long Caye where it ran aground last Wednesday!