Scuba Diving in Belize

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.)

Scuba Belize 14_feistyharriet_April 2017Some 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.Scuba Belize 18_feistyharriet_April 2017

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!

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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.

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I’m still dreaming of these white sand beaches and this tiny little island in the middle of miles of turquoise water.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Caye Caulker, Belize

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Want to hear my version of paradise? You better belize that it involves a tiny little island in the Caribbean, one so small that there are literally only three named roads: Front Street, Middle Street, and Back Street. Those roads aren’t really “streets” at all, but white sand packed hard from years of bare feet and beach cruiser bicycles taking residents and visitors from beach to bar and back to the beach. There are fresh fish tacos and shrimp ceviche and whole white fish with fins and eyes and everything still attached for sale at every restaurant, most food has some kind of Mexican-Central American flavor, or maybe a Chinsee-Arab-Kriole infusion that is both familiar and completely out of this world. The pace of life in this paradise is much, much slower than anywhere you’ve been before; the island motto is, literally, Go Slow. Also, this particular paradise is located in a country with an advertising campaign focused on how many ways you can use Belize as a pun for believe. Frankly, it is unbelizeable how much this word-nerd (points at self with both thumbs) swooned over ridiculous puns in paradise.

Caye Caulker (pronounced Key Caw-ker) is a tiny island off the northern coast of Belize and located just inside the barrier reef that runs along the Yucatan south towards Panama, it’s the second longest barrier reef in the world (and not to be confused with the Australian Great Barrier Reef, capitalized because that is it’s proper name). Caye Caulker is famous for being perfect for backpackers, a little rough around the edges with an unpolished tourism scene, and overall ridiculously low-key. Honestly, it was a perfect place to start our trip and I would go back in a heartbeat.

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This? This is the busiest street on the island, Front Street, at 2:00 in the afternoon. This sleepy island did so much to help me chill out, relax, and just go with the very laid-back flow.

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On the days we weren’t diving along the reef, we spent a lot of time riding bicycles around the island, lounging in the shade, and trying to decide where I’d get my next burrito and pina colada. It was REAL rough, ya’ll.

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The only downside to Caye Caulker was the humidity, I mean, it’s a sub-tropical island in the Caribbean, OF COURSE it will have humidity. I actually didn’t mind it too much until it was time to go to sleep, despite an AC unit in our AirBnB it was always a little muggy and too warm for my taste. But hey, if that’s your only real complaint? Frankly, sounds like a lovely way to spend a week, right? (Answer: you better belize it!) (Sorry/NotSorry)

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I think our two favorite restaurants were the Rainbow Bar & Grill, and Habanero’s, which had the most amazing Caye Lime Pie of my entire life (see? More puns! I love Belize!)

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I’m still sorting through my pictures of our SCUBA diving adventures, which I’ll post soon! Caye Caulker was amazing, you should definitely go visit at the next possible chance!

Vacation re-entry would be easier with more fish tacos

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A few weeks ago Mr. Blue Eyes and I took the most lovely, long-planned and saved for vacation, we spent most of our time on a tiny Caribbean island, lots of hammocks and fish tacos and scuba diving; and then we hopped inland to visit some Mayan ruins before the sad-to-be-leaving-but-looking-forward-to-proper-AC-and-Diet-Dr-Pepper flight home.

And while I am not lounging beach-side or feasting on ridiculously cheap fresh-caught fish, I still kind of feel like I’m on vacation. The weeks leading up to our adventure were crazy stressful for both of us, mostly in a general Life Is Stressful way, but also with trying to make sure to have everything we needed taken care of for this big adventure. Life is still a little stressful, but not NEARLY what it was, and we are both literally glowing from spending a week in the Caribbean. Well, Blue Eyes is glowing and golden; I’m mostly just covered in sand fly bites that make me look like I have some kind of pox.

This may be surprising (but it totally shouldn’t be), but I can be super Type A, and I planned this vacation out like crazy. We don’t have the luxury of extra time, but do have the luxury of a little extra money, so we planned to spend our money in ways to maximize our time (meaning all travel was pre-booked, even down to the golf-cart taxi to take us and our luggage from the ferry to our Caribbean AirBnB). I spent the two or three weeks before we left finalizing all those little travel details on top of making sure our technology was all in order (cameras charged, memory cards emptied, details on phone use while abroad notated), ordering foreign currency for two countries, trying to memorize the exchange rates (2:$1 / 7.333:$1), making sure our credit and debit cards wouldn’t get flagged for fraud if we needed to use them, finalizing travel insurance, printing out every. single. confirmation. in triplicate, just in case, having the post office hold our mail while we were gone, asking a kind neighbor to come babysit my plants and make sure they didn’t shrivel and die, packing my suitcase and then re-packing my suitcase several times, having lengthy conversations with my sister on what shorts or cover ups I could leave home without missing (she was right on every single one) and what would be essential to my happiness, buying waterproof mascara and stocking up on sunscreen (I went through 3 full size tubes in one week, SPF 85, SPF 45, and SPF 30, and that is a post all by itself)…you know, the usual.

Or, maybe that is 100% not The Usual when people go on a big vacation, and maybe it was part of the reason why the weeks leading up to our trip were kind of stressful? Whatever, that pre-planning made our week away SO much more relaxed and we ended up coming in significantly under budget because I had a 15 oz bottle of SPF 85 IN MY SUITCASE and didn’t have to spend $20 dollars for a 4 oz tube, or, maybe $80 dollars for four 4 oz tubes (and $80 more for SPF 45, and $80 more for SPF 30, and, and, and…).

We’ve been back for a week or two and life is mostly back to normal…kind of. I mean, I still honestly feel like I’m on a part-time vacation. Let me explain: I still go to work, I still take care of my garden, I still make dinner and do the washing up and on Saturday I had the tremendously glamorous job of shampooing the family room rug and furniture, which is the epitome of Not A Vacation-y Experience. However, for the most part, life is easy-breezy. I’m not going to the gym every night in anticipation (uh, dread) of spending a week in a swimming suit; I’m not cutting out all sugar and carbs and happiness anymore; my To Do list is short and mostly unimportant… I spend my evenings reading…and slowly am going through and editing my photos…and, uh, hanging out on the patio and enjoying the last of the semi-pleasant weather…? I mean, I honestly feel like I’m still on vacation a little bit. And I’m afraid if I start writing about it here it will break the spell.

Dammit, I probably ruined it; it’s 1:24 am and my body is not at all interested in sleeping despite work as usually in the morning, and maybe that means the vacation spell is broken now anyway? I don’t know, but it is nice to stretch my write-y muscles here again, fish tacos or not, I’ve missed this little corner of my world.

So, what’s been up with you? Fill me in on everything.