Belize~Thur. May, 13, 2004 ~ Snorkeling

Will wonders never cease? I’m out of bed before Mr. Eg. After brewing coffee, to the porch I go. Tulu is scheduled to arrive at 9:00 a.m. and I hunt down the wristwatch to see what time it is. There are two digital clocks but they are always flashing. It is not worth the effort to set them because the island experiences frequent power outages. 7:00? I have plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful morning and then prepare for snorkeling. It’s not long before Mr. Eg is up and cooking breakfast for himself. I clean the watermelon and bag some to take with us. The dive bag is packed, SeaSafe is liberally applied to the entire body and swimsuits are donned.

True to his word, a smiling Tulu is prompt. Off we go…through the grounds, out the front gate, down the pier and into the boat, Janelle. After a short trip to the South side of town we stop to pick up Pam and Melissa. Melissa needs the entire set of snorkel gear and I need fins. Tulu takes us where he believes we will get a good price. Gear is tried on and fitted. Melissa fills out the rental form and is told the price is $15.00 BZ. What about the cost for mine? It seems the young lady thought all the gear was on the same ticket and charges me $11.00 BZ. Methinks someone was overcharged. As we stroll down the pier, Tulu is shaking his head and muttering something about not a good price; it’s bad for his business and that he won’t be recommending that place again. Pam and Tulu are old friends and were busy chatting instead of watching the negotiations. I was just too excited about getting to the reef to even care. No problem. The Janelle is boarded and off we go to the reef.

The barrier reef is the largest in the Western Hemisphere and the second longest in the world. It extends continuously from Northern Belize to Sapodilla Caye in the South. Established in 1987, Hol Chan Marine Preserve is at the Southern tip of Ambergris Caye, a fifteen minute boat ride (6.5 miles S.E. of San Pedro), and has a maximum depth of thirty feet. Hol Chan is Mayan for “little channel” and is named so for a natural break in the reef that is twenty-five feet wide and thirty feet deep. The preserve has over one-hundred sixty species of fish, nearly forty species of coral, five different sponges, eight algaes, two seagrasses, three marine mammals and three species of sea turtles. Within the preserve is Shark Ray Alley, one of the seven best dive sights in the Caribbean, with a maximum depth of eight feet.

The sun is shining brightly, the water is crystal clear and we soon arrive at Hol Chan. The park rangers appear to collect the $10.00 BZ apiece entry fee. Tulu issues instructions. Do not keep your head looking straight down into the water. Look toward the surface instead. Stay aware of where you are. Stay with me. Follow me. Pam and Tulu are experienced divers while the rest of us are a novice. We had prepped the gear the night before, however, I made one mistake. I didn’t take the time to learn how the snorkel vest worked. There is that gorgeous water waiting for me and I’m fooling around with the vest. It is finally fitted into place but there is about two feet of strap (that I don’t need) dangling between my legs. This could be a problem if it snagged upon the coral. Tulu to the rescue. He whips out a long butcher knife and politely whacks off what is not needed. Yikes! Everyone found this amusing. NOTE TO SELF: Rule #1 – learn how to use ALL the gear before getting in the boat. All problems solved, we plop into the water. It should be noted there is no graceful way to get into the water with fins on.

It doesn’t take long to get the hang of it. Tulu is constantly popping up and telling us what we are seeing. Some is recognized, some not. Before long he became very excited and points out a Spotted Eagle Ray, which is not usually seen. They are in the area only this time of year. Three are eventually seen along with Staghorn Coral, Fire Coral, Brain Coral, Needlefish, Tarpon, Snapper, Parrotfish – male and female, Star Coral, and Sea Fans. The list just goes on and on. At one point, Tulu grabs my arm and begins to drag me over a very large formation of Staghorn Coral, which is extremely close to the surface. This was just a bit frightening. We make it into an open area without touching any coral and he swims back for Melissa. It doesn’t take long to realize we are in safe hands.

BLUE CHROMIS


BRAIN CORAL


Parrotfish
He’s in the center with the red underbelly. They are very quick and shy. Though we took lots of pictures of these fish not a one turned out very good.



SPOTTED EAGLE RAY


SEA FAN


SEARGENT MAJOR




Tulu eventually leads us back to the Janelle and with all aboard we change locations. He knows where the fishermen harvest conch and a sea turtle usually comes around to munch on the leftovers. Much to our disappointment, the turtle was not there today. Stingrays are spotted and Tulu jumps into the water to bring them close enough to pet. Deciding to rest, prior to the next stop, I lean over the side and pet one. They are very smooth. While Tulu swims off to bring up conch shells the view is enjoyed and watermelon is consumed. He finally brings up six shells, the anchor is raised and we head toward Shark Ray Alley