Day 4: Deep

Wow is it hard to get up at 5am while on vacation! This should be against the rules! But here we are up and ready for our next adventure.

At Frenchie’s we unload our bags in the back of the classroom and grab some bread and jam for breakfast. We’re told they don’t have bottled water, just local water from the local purification plant which seems like it’s better than nothing but the rest of my party isn’t so sure. Everyone seems down but really they’re just tired and the weather isn’t exactly perking people up, heavy dark clouds threatening to rain sit above us. Eventually it’s time to all get aboard and stow our things. Our rigs are already on board waiting for us.

Once outside the barrier reef the waters are rougher but still not white capped exactly. We’re bounced around a bit and I didn’t feel especially immune to sea sickness at the start. Chuck does get sea sick but he’s sitting at the back where he can get the least amount of movement and seems to be doing better than most.  After a brief flat area as we went through Turneffe Atol, we arrived within the Lighthouse reef home of the Great Blue Hole.

The dive was to be 70ft with the possibility of going deeper based on how the group as a whole was doing and how much time we had. Jenn’s problems equalizing and just 1 Divemaster with us meant that ours might be a shallow dive. After a lengthy dive meeting that included instructions to do with nitrogen narcosis, we all jumped in and were asked to do a buoyancy check to make sure we could descend fine with the weights we had. Then all grouped up we went down.

The first thing you notice when diving the Blue Hole is that the sandy bottom has a gradual slope at about 50ft down before falling off a cliff down to some extreme depths. You see the darkness of it and it contrasts so strongly with the white sand. Down we go along the edge sinking and sinking. Very quickly we hit 50ft then 70ft. Armando who is leading us is happy with our progress and Jenn’s ears are doing better than they ever have. Down 90ft and we can start to make out the stalactites, down 115ft and we’re almost down to the Advanced Divers and we’re asked to level off. Jenn needs more BCD air than she thinks I grab her arm and signal to add more which she does and finds neutrality. We swim along for maybe only 200ft before its time to start ascending. It’s dark down here and the Advanced Divers are moving in between the stalactites sticking down from the roof of the cave.  I’ve never been anywhere near as deep, before now the deepest I’d been was 69ft. Jenn seems to be wandering towards the advanced divers, I grab her hand and point to Armando and we both swim towards him as we go up slowly. Eventually we’re back towards the rim and we’re already down to 1000psi. We explore above the rim for a bit but now we’re down to 700psi and its time for our safety stop, 5minutes. Jenn tells me after the dive she really loved that one and she’d come back to do it again if she had an Advanced certification and could dive among the stalactites. I’ve never seen her so excited about diving!

On to the next site, Half Moon Caye, not to be confused with Half a Monkey our dive instructor says. This one goes down to 60ft we’re told and I considered bringing my Canon which has only semi-successfully gone down to 69ft before stopping to work. I decided just in case to bring the go pro which turned out to be a good idea, we made it as deep as 75ft at times. On the bright side, I’ve also figured out a bit how to make the camera work better by shooting at a lower pixel count and not wide, and with white balance set to raw. I’ve also figured out how to open images in Camera Raw utility even though they’re jpeg which helps a lot as it’s quite a powerful tool and leaves the original images intact. The images are still overly compressed if you ask me and I’d really like a real raw output for the extra bit depth, but this helps it go from kinda terrible to fine, just not great.

This second dive was awesome. While the Blue Hole is more of a geology dive, this one was all about wildlife. Away from the islands and main land there isn’t nearly so much human interference or pollution and the wildlife was amazing. This dive wasn’t easy either being a drift dive and down past the max certification limit of an Open Water diver. Everyone did great. I for the first time had issues equalizing at about 60ft and had to go back up a few feet and chill out for a few minutes moving my jaw before going back down. Then again at 70ft. But I knew how to deal with it and it was just a matter of patience. On this dive we saw a reef shark, were followed by a number of groupers and a small-ish barracuda for more than half the dive. The barracuda got so close it swam within 6ft of me, and right through the middle of our group, a really strange experience. We saw lobsters crabs and shrimp, cowries, ever tarpon and a turtle diving deep. The rarest of all being a juvenile drum fish. What a dive, I think this is the best one I’ve been on, and I think Niue might be the only place I’ve been that might come close.

The snorkelers had a great time too, starting off near our spot and moving onshore eventually getting out on Half Moon Caye. On land was a reserve for Blue Footed Boobies and Frigate birds. Iguanas wander the forest floors. Alyssa had my Canon and snapped a number of photos. Chuck ran into a full grown nurse shark, and they saw nearly as much wildlife as we did.

Our boat docked after picking us up and we had a traditional Belizean chicken stew with beans in rice (not beans and rice), and coleslaw. After lunch Jenn and I tried to make it down to see the birds but couldn’t make it before we were off to our next and final dive.

This final dive site, Lion’s Den was supposed to be only 50ft but like our other dives went deeper, all the way down to 65, and my Canon which I brought along on this one didn’t like it much and started having issues. I tried to keep myself a bit above and inshore of my Divemaster to keep the camera alive and it seems to have worked, the Canon survives well below its rating yet again, but I think I need to be a strict above 50ft with this camera. Later that night I found some moisture inside the camera. The Lion’s Den still had plenty to see including a crab down inside a trumpet shaped coral. The site gets its name from the plethora of lionfish that call this spot home, and we saw at least 5, two in one spot.

The snorkelers above us had an even better stop than we did, and crowned it the best snorkeling of the trip, which is pretty solid praise. I’m glad we did this and I’m glad they came along. Alyssa and Chuck both said they felt so much more comfortable after the DSD doing snorkeling, and Alyssa seemed down right at home. Before the trip she had been telling us she doesn’t like natural water, but I think she’s really changed her tune on that one and is quite at home in the ocean now. I love how travel can open up the world for people and I feel like these last few days have opened up the oceans a bit more for Jennifer’s sister.

On board for the final time I stripped off my wetsuit and got as dry as I could for the ride home. By now the sun was shining and we had a nice bit of weather headed home. Upwind this time round we expected a longer passage, but the wind had dropped and the seas were less kicked up so it took no longer. Passing through Turneffe the crew served us some nice rum punch and we had a pleasant trip back to the island. I had a great chat with half of this nice gay couple from New York, and he had a lot to say from his travels around the world and was able to advise us a bit on our next leg to San Ignacio and even Morocco.

Back on Caye Caulker, we were back in a rush after having gotten so relaxed. We changed quickly, tipped the dive crew, and then headed for the ferry dock. It was now 4:30 and we had a 4:45, 5:15 or 6:15 ferry to catch to Ambergris, our next stop, but I very much wanted to not waste time, get checked into our next hotel and go to bed! It was cause at the dock but we made it onboard and were on our way.

The ferry was a short 20 minutes but we were packed in like sardines. Arriving in Ambergris Caye we did our best to get our sense of distance and where our hotels were, and then headed off. The Stalleys had originally been booked at the same small 6 bedroom hotel as us, but some mistake with hotels.com had caused them to be double booked and lose their room. The website gave them some compensation and we had found them rooms at Banana Beach Resort further down the island but a mile or more from us and a ways from down town. We caught a taxi and got dropped at our place, showed and then walked the long remainder to their hotel for dinner.

Dinner, like nearly every one this trip was excellent, the drinks especially, but everyone was tired and hangry (hungry to the point of being angry), but after the food arrived and the drinks started coming things improved. An early bed time was in order and we left to catch a taxi. The island though, unlike Caulker, has paved roads and is filled with rented golf carts used by tourists to get around. We saw a couple pulling out of a parking lot clearly tourists and begged a ride a mile down the road or as far as they were going, and they were happen to help. As it turns out this couple was from Kentucky and had been to the Philippines recently for their son’s marriage to a Filipina woman, and remarked about how this was a trike ride down there. Suddenly we had so much to talk about, a shared experience and point of reference. #JennAndColinsNewFriends.

We were to sleep in no time.

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