Years ago I got SCUBA certified, both my Open Water and Advanced Open Water, but due to a really boring combination of circumstances, I had never actually gone diving in the ocean. Now, I don’t particularly like the beach, I don’t like sand in all my bits and I don’t like salt water in my eyes. After only diving in fresh water (and geothermal hot springs, no less), I was worried about my first foray into the actual ocean. Would I like it? Would I hate it? Would I freak out in all that WIDE OPEN water? Would I be eaten by sharks?
Mr. Blue Eyes and I talked about the possibility of diving while we were in the Caribbean, I mean, Belize is home to the second longest barrier reef in the world (Great Barrier in Australia is the biggest) and apparently has some amazing diving opportunities. Blue Eyes decided to get certified before we got there, just in case, and we decided we’d play it by ear a bit once we got to Caye Caulker.
Blue Eyes finished up his certificate right before we left and I had done a little research on a few of the dive shops on the island, there were maybe a half-dozen options, but I was most impressed by Frenchie’s and we decided to pay them a visit once we arrived.
One our first day on Caye Caulker we actually rode our bikes around the entire island checking out the other diving outfits, everything from a hand-painted sign tacked to someone’s carport, to a super fancy technical dive shop with a couple of their own yacht-sized boats. But after spending a few minutes talking with the staff at Frenchie’s we knew we’d come to the right place. The staff were helpful and okay with us newbie divers and promised to get us down with the turtles and tropical fish in short order. They fit us for wet suits and fins and got us tricked out with the rest of our gear. Blue Eyes and I signed up for a quick refresher course (refresher for me, old hat for him) and a couple of dives the next day. Blue Eyes INSTANTLY fell in love with diving and we ended up diving three days in a row with Frenchie’s! Totally. Worth it!
See that? That’s me NOT freaking out under the big, vast ocean with all sorts of fishies and plants and the potential to come face to face with a SHARK and still, not freaking out. (Ok, the truth? My first several dives I was carrying WAY too much weight and I kept feeling like I was sinking…because I was literally sinking. I was having to essentially tread water to stay in one place, but I couldn’t figure out what the problem was and assumed it was just stupid anxiety. After 4 or 5 dives I finally realized I was probably just too heavy and I dropped half of the weights I was carrying (dropped into the boat, not, like, into the ocean, I’m not a monster). All of a sudden, I could float, effortlessly, and my experience was changed. I wasn’t tiring myself out by treading water for 45 minutes, and I wasn’t sucking oxygen because I was treading water…it was glorious. Note to Harriet: you need 8 pounds of weights, not 14.)
Some areas had a lot more wildlife than others, but overall the floor (and walls!) were FULL of plants and corals and fish. Our Frenchie’s Dive Masters were really great at pointing things out, knowing where certain fish would hide or hunt, and navigating us along the reef.
Our first two days of diving were pretty relaxed, lots of coral reefs and some amazing formations and animals. We saw green moray eels hiding in the coral, an octopus, angel fish and trumpet fish and camo fish and a zillion other brightly colored swarms that I can’t remember or name. There were crabs and lobster and conch and corals in turquoise and purple and lime green. I swam with sting rays and nurse sharks and barracuda, there were several massive spotted eagle rays (above), their wingspan is something like 8 feet. They are bigger than a dining room table and the most glorious creature I’ve ever seen. Whoever called them Majestic Flap-Flaps was on to something; these creatures are so amazing!
The biggest dive we did was the Blue Hole, a massive submerged cave 1000 feet across with stalagtites at about 130 feet below the surface. We slowly made our way down to the hanging rock fingers and swam between them. It was dark, and murky, and there was LEGIT a freaking shark. Not a little shark (barracuda) or a harmless shark (nurse shark), but a 12 foot long Belizean Reef Shark. Ok, so maybe it’s not, like, Great White dangerous, but it is a SHARK. In 25 minutes I managed to face my three biggest fears: open water, the dark, and sharks. And I couldn’t scream and knew I couldn’t run…I just had to keep breathing. In the dark. In the ocean. With a shark. I am a freaking badass. (The Blue Hole is so deep and even though we were the first boat in for the day it was still pretty murky from kicked-up sediment, none of the photos turned out very clear, so, just believe me when I say that I came literal face-to-face with a SHARK and my heart didn’t stop or anything.
Between the Blue Hole dive and the rest of our day, Frenchie’s took us to Half Moon Caye, a tiny little island dedicated to the Belize Audubon Society. Our Dive Masters made us a traditional Belizean lunch (rice and beans, pasta salad, fruit, spicy wings) and let us wander around for a while, stretching our legs and getting our nitrogen levels back to normal.
I’m still dreaming of these white sand beaches and this tiny little island in the middle of miles of turquoise water.
On our way back to Caye Caulker we had one more dive, The Aquarium. Honestly, it is just what it sounds like, a peep show at a zillion fish in their super gorgeous natural habitat.
I think that big gaping hole is a coral tube? They were everywhere, some tiny ones, some that were several feet across and a hiding place for little creatures and home to colorful sea anemones.
This last dive was amazing, another spotted eagle ray and a big ole turtle, just hanging out with us divers (that’s me on the right of Ms. Turtle). This wasn’t the biggest turtle we saw, but she was the most stationary. One of our earlier dives brought me face to face with a massive loggerhead, over 5 feet long and covered in barnacles and wrinkles, just like the Old Man of the Sea, poking his wizened head over the reef wall, seeing a bunch of us in his pool, and slowly swimming away towards less touristy waters, I assume.
PS. All these photos were taken with a GoPro, it’s tricky to take a photo underwater with low light and you floating around not staying still. Also, without a red underwater filter, most of the colors are far more chartreuse than they should be and my editing skills are not quite up to the challenge of combatting chartreuse. Some of these are from Mr. Blue Eyes’ GoPro, others from Jen from Australia. Thanks Jen!