Articles on Belize and San Pedro|
San Pedro Stories<BR>
by: Katherine Huskey
One Ticket to Belize (Day One)
It took my older sister several weeks to email me after I told her I was going to Belize, by myself, in order to scuba dive. No one in my family understood. I had to reassure them a billion times that I wasn't scared and that I didn't need one of them to go with me. Then I had to promise over a zillion times that I would BE CAREFUL. The night before I left, I talked to my mom on the phone:
"Now, I want you to be careful."
"Don't worry about me, I'll be careful. Kim (that's my older sister) finally emailed me! She said I was giving everyone heart failure."
"You are giving everyone heart failure."
"I'm sure any heart problems can be blamed on fast food and are no fault of mine."
"We are just worried about you all alone in some far away primitive country. Now promise you will be careful."
"DON'T WORRY. I've put together a first aid kit."
"Yeah, it has some bandages, neosporin, hydrogen peroxide..."
I could feel the "I was in labor for seventeen hours with you" speech coming up, so I promised to be careful one last time and we said our good-byes.
Getting There- Friday, November 22, 2002
The pilot was kind enough to take the scenic route into Belize International. After flying over nothing but trees and water, Belize City came into sight. We flew over the city and out to sea before turning around to land on a remarkable short runway. The first thing I saw upon landing in Belize was a giant Belinkin sign.
|Tropic Air flight|
After I purchased my Tropic Air ticket, I stepped outside, just to say that I had been on the Belizean mainland. I was really surprised at how many American Company advertisements there were.
The puddle jumper flight was so much fun that I was thinking it would be great to be a pilot for Tropic Air. By the time we landed in San Pedro, I had already used up one roll of film.
Carlo at the Information Center
After checking in at Ruby's and finding a dive shop for tomorrow, I headed into town to pick up a few provisions (beer and water) at the grocery store. There was a man riding his bicycle around town with a big red cooler. He rode back and forth yelling, "Bananas! Bananas!" It was growing dark so I decided to stop at the information center in Central Park and ask directions.
"Hi! Can you tell me where there is a grocery store?"
|San Pedro street|
"Yes." Carlo officially sets out a map of San Pedro and proceeds to show me a new restaurant. "Cocina Carambra, very good. Also, if you like pizza, the best pizza place in town is here." He drew a little dot on the map and then handed me a yellow flyer. "Just give them this paper and you'll get a discount on your meal and also free drinks. But not alcoholic drinks, just rum punch and sodas are free."
"Isn't rum punch an alcoholic drink?"
"Well yes. But drinks like beer and cocktails aren't free."
"So I reckon rum belongs to the juice category?"
We had a good laugh, then back to business. "Do you like to go out at night? Party?
"Well then tonight, you should go to Big Daddy's." Drew another little dot on the map.
"Are you traveling alone?"
"You don't have any friends?"
"No, no friends."
"Fido's is another good place to go." Drew a circle around Fido's. "They play very loud music there. Over here is Laguna Columbia." Drew a moon shaped lagoon.
"Do they have crocodiles there?"
"Yes, but don't get too close to the crocodiles. Sweet Basil is another good restaurant." Drew a circle around Sweet Basil and then handed me the map along with a copy of the San Pedro newspaper. "This map is yours. You can take it."
"Thanks! Umm, Can you show me where there is a grocery store?"
NOT Being Careful
I walked along the seashore toward the little dot that marked Big Daddy's on my map, but a great heron wading in the water near Central Park distracted me. I sat on a wooden picnic table and watched as the graceful bird, with her great long neck and her great long legs and her great long beak strolled through the water.
As I walked through Central Park, I knew that I was going to love this town. How? Well, because they have two teeter-totters in Central Park of course. I love teeter-totters. I've looked all over Austin, but cannot find one. I hope before my trip is out, I will get to teeter-totter with someone.
Somehow, I managed to pass by Big Daddy's. No problem. I found Cholos seaside sports bar and it looked like my kind of place so I stopped by and ordered a rum punch. As I waited for my drink, I realized I was the only woman in the place, so I decided to go sit at a table in the sand rather than drink at the bar.
|Cholo's Sports Bar|
Before long, some guys came over and started talking to me. A big beautiful orange moon rose over the water as these guys explained to me how everyone on the island has a nickname.
"No one is know by their real name. There's Pill. We call him Pill because his real name is Philip."
"Then there's Half-day. That's his nickname because once he led a full-day snorkel trip to Caye Caulker. Around 12, the boat returned. We asked him why he was back so soon. Was there something wrong with the boat? ‘No. We went snorkeling and now we're were back.' He can only hear half way."
I quickly learned that while drinking in San Pedro, a new fresh drink will suddenly appear in front of you, before you have finished the one in your hand...
Later, we stumbled over to Fido's, but didn't want to pay the cover charge. Then we stumbled over to Shark's Bar, but didn't want to pay the even higher cover charge. So we ended up at Jaguar's. Jaguar's has a super size model of a jaguar's head. Complete with four super sized teeth. Very cool. But I didn't really like the place on account of the American music they were playing.
I'm not going to go into the embarrassing details. Let's just say that I was NOT being careful (it was completely my fault) and by the end of the night, I returned to Ruby's room eight with two open wounds, one bruise and a fairly large red irritation. (Note to self- no more rum punch.) As I lay in bed I remembered that I was suppose to be careful, so I got up and rubbed some Neosporin on the open wounds.
Neutrally Buoyant (Day two)
Before I knew how to talk and before I knew how to walk, my mom took me to the local YMCA and taught me how to swim. I don't know why she did this. She didn't do it for my older or younger sisters. Perhaps she recognized in her tiny daughter a certain restlessness, an alienation between the world and her helpless baby.
Somehow I remember this experience. I don't know how I could remember a situation when I didn't even have the words at the time to describe it. But I remember the hot stuffy air of the indoor pool. I remember everything was so blue and peaceful that I think I stopped crying. But what I remember most, is the first plunge into the water. As soon as my chubby legs touched the water, they started kicking. My arms beat the enchanting liquid and I was free.
As I grew, I spent my summers at the public pool. Always, I headed to the deep end. Always, I swam down, down to the metal drain. My ears ached for I didn't know then about equalizing; the pain was simply accepted. I remained at the bottom enjoying the sweet touch of the water over my body. The stillness and the silence calmed me. Only when it felt like a wrench was squeezing my lungs together, would I slowly rise to the surface.
Water has always been my true home. I can relate to the whale when she crawled back into the sea. With each dive, I ask the ocean to take me back as well. And for thirty to seventy minutes, she does.
Thus today I was very happy to be making my sixteenth dive with Bottom Time dive shop. The dive monster was Eddie and Captain Chocolate was at the helm. By the way, this was the best dive boat I've ever been on. Lots of shade and even a little cabin in the bow of the boat. There were three other goofy divers from Nebraska: Joe, Tom and Mike.
Cypress Canyons 1 hour 6 minutes, 67 feet
As I slowly melted into the sea, I immediately noticed a nurse shark. As if they were long lost friends, Eddie gave him some food and a big hug. The shark rolled over like a pussycat and Eddie scratched his white underside. I timidly swan near and petted the shark. This magnificent animal has purple, gray and white bumps that feel like the traction that cover the feet of those adorable pajamas that toddlers wear.
We said good-bye to the shark and swam through a swaying gorgonian forest. Yellow tail snappers curiously looked at me with one eye then quickly scurried away. Then Eddie found a gargantuan Jewfish. Even though this fish was nearly as long as I am tall, he was almost hard to see because he was so well camouflaged! When the group swam into a swim through, I followed their bubbles over the reef. (I love being alone on the reef.) I yelled out to any mermen that might be swimming about, "Here I am. Come and get me." But no one heard.
To end our tour, Eddie showed us an enormous pillar coral. Pillar corals look like melted wax that has been turned upside down. It is also covered with thousands of tiny tentacles. A baby squirrelfish, afraid I might want to eat him but curious at the same time, darted in and out among the coral "drips". A beautiful end to a beautiful dive.
The End of Day Two
I spent the afternoon wondering around San Pedro. I think perhaps there are more "Beware of Dog" signs than there are actual dogs. Sometime before sunset, I was strolling along the beach when I sniffed a whiff of fresh baked cinnamon roll. So I followed my nose to Celi's Deli. As it turned out, I'd eat many times at Celi's. It was close to Ruby's, cheap and tasty. (They put cabbage instead of lettuce on the burritos. I thought this was a grand idea, because lettuce usually just gets soggy when put on hot foods. And besides, cabbage is so yummy; I'm always looking for new ways to eat it.) Anyway, I purchased a cinnamon roll, roast beef sandwich, coke light and walked to the end of one of the many wooden piers to eat my dinner. In the sea grass below the pier I saw a harvest moon sized stingray, a green eel, a conch, a flamboyantly spotted eagle ray and a baby shark. Just in time, I remembered to turn around to catch the sunset. A lovely dinner.
Back at Ruby's, the rhythms of a dreamy song drifted through my open window. "Welcome to San Pedro. And now you are here. It was just yesterday you were so far away. But now you're here. Forget your worries and throw away your grief. I'm so glad that you have come. Welcome to San Pedro." (Wil Nunez and Dale Wallace Sr.)
According to the newspaper that Carlo had given me, there was to be a big PUP (People United Party) rally in Central Park tonight so I made my way over there. I watched the dancers, but it was so cold that I went to Fido's.
Fido's is right on the beach, has a high thatched roof and really high wooden steps leading to the entrance. Naturally, I stumbled while walking up these steps. Great, another bruise.
Category Seven was playing more American music, but it was all good dance tunes. Like I said before, in San Pedro, before you finish with one drink, there's another in front of you. Needless to say everyone was having a swell time. Joe, Tom and Mike (from the dive boat) were there. These guys were such big dorks that we got alone swimmingly. We danced, drank and played dice until the place closed down and we were kindly kicked out.
I had never played this game before, but it was great fun:
You need six dice to play. The object is to get the lowest score. Threes count as zero points. After you roll the dice, you can set aside as many threes as you've rolled. If no threes, take away only one of the lowest dice and roll again. Repeat. In case of a tie, everyone throws in more money and play again for a bigger pot.
If Only I were a Stingray (Day three)
The Wreck 1 hour 1 minute, 75 feet
"Don't forget to blink. Don't forget to blink." Many interesting thoughts flow through my mind as I float among the coral reefs, but "don't forget to blink" occurs on every dive. There's so much to see that I stare with wide and unblinking eyes at the corals, sponges, fish and even at the sky above.
We were diving between coral canyons when I saw in the distance the fuzzy outlines of a drowned ship. The desolate ship rested on the sandy bottom between the walls of the coral canyon. As we descended toward it, the ship became more distinct. There were two large nurse sharks guarding their home with typical shark ferocity. But no worries. As usual, Eddie and the sharks were good friends. I had a wonderful time hovering above the ship, watching the sharks, enormous groupers and the ubiquitous yellow tail snapper go about their lives on the wreck.
There was a large hole on the deck so I sank onto the sandy bottom beneath the ship. Out of the darkness raced a beautiful orange polka dotted maroon fish. He was very mad that I had so rudely invaded his home and asked if I would please leave.
I was utterly excited about my first wreck experience, but we soon began to ascend up and over the coral canyons. I looked back one last time at the silent ship. The two sharks had calmed down and rested peacefully on the ship's corroded surface. The yellow tail snappers still swam about, but the groupers had wondered off.
To end the dive, Eddie pointed out an adult spotted drum. Her long tail waved about her as she swam back and forth, guarding her special part of the reef.
This was one of the best surface intervals ever. No, no wait. This was one of the best experiences of my life. After our wreck dive, Captain Chocolate drove us to Shark Ray Alley for a bit of snorkeling.
As soon as I entered the water, I was surrounded by incredible large stingrays and several nurse sharks. Everyone was very friendly. I even petted the bumpy wings of a stingray.
There was a small patch reef where Eddie was able to coax out a gigantic green moray. This guy had to be twenty feet long. (And that is no fish story.)
|Blue Tang and Green Eel|
I think Joe, Tom and Mike had too much partying last night because they returned to the boat. But Eddie and I swam around a little longer and found a flounder! I tried to skin dive down to him, but this was very hard to do in a full 3mm wetsuit!
Now, here comes the best part. Are you sitting down? The stingrays wondered back over to us and I hugged one of them!!! That's right. I wrapped my arms around the stingray's squishy white underbelly and gave him a big fat hug. The underside feels different from his topside. The underside is smooth and feels something like silly putty only a tad firmer.
So I had my arms around the stingray's wings and we were floating belly to belly. Apparently the stingray looked like he was enjoying it as much as I was and the guys on the boat were laughing and said I had found me a boyfriend. Too bad I'm not a stingray.
Pillar Canyons(?) 1 hour 8 minutes, 70 feet
As soon as I descended, a large speckled grouper decided to become my best friend. He followed me all along the reef. Exquisite yellow tail damselfish danced among their coral gardens. With a vibrant yellow tail and dark body with bright neon blue spots, this is just one on the hundreds of beautiful fish on the reef.
Next, Eddie found a green sea turtle. I had seen Hawksbills before, but never one of the highly endangered green turtles. I could not stop myself from reaching out and touching his slimy orange shell. Giving new meaning to the word graceful, the green turtle glided over the reef. I followed close behind and my good friend the speckled grouper followed behind me. All we needed was a marching band.
This was my last day to dive with Bottom Time. Hoping to go with a smaller group to the great Blue Hole, I had bought a package with Ambergris Divers. But, Bottom Time is a great dive shop. Like their name implies, they are all about bottom time. For example, one of the guys was using up his air faster than the rest of us, so Eddie brought him a larger tank. This wasn't so we'd have regular bottom times, but rather unusually long bottom times. Each of the last three dives was an hour long! I was really impressed by that. Today will always stand out as one of my best days of diving/snorkeling. Thanks Eddie and Chocolate!
The Punta Boys were playing at Fido's tonight. Their music is great. I really enjoyed dancing to their lively tunes and also drinking and also dice playing. Yep, I could get used to this.
"Where life is a breeze in ol' Belize" (Day Four)
Unknown Dive Location 47 minutes, 90 feet
My new favorite marine animal, a stingray was chillin' on the sand as I descended into the water. Before long, the stingray flapped his mighty wings and swam away. A green moray poked his frightful head out of his coral home and told us to be on our bubbly way as well.
So the group went into a swim through and I glided over the top. Tiny purple and yellow Fairy Basslets and blazing blue chromis darted into tiny holes and crevices then out again. When Tascio emerged from the swim through, he was hugging a nurse shark. So much lovin' in this sea!
As we neared the edge of the coral canyon, I gazed into the abyss and watched a large mama spotted eagle ray and a small baby spotted eagle ray fade into the deep blue.
Another Unknown Dive Location 43 minutes, 75 feet
(Sorry about the poor dive site location information. I must have spaced out during the dive briefings.)
This was my first day to dive with Ambergris Divers. They have a nice boat with shade. Tascio and Al were the great DMs. Before this second dive, my fin strap wouldn't snap shut. I was getting very nervous that I might not get to make the dive, but Al fixed it for me. Whew!
The currents at this site were unusual. In the past I've always had a steady current that just drifts you along the reef. But here, there was a back and forth current. This was a lot of fun. One, to watch the gorgonians sway back and forth, back and forth. And two, to try and make some sort of forward progress. During the backward sweep of the current, I pushed my fins down to try and stop myself from sliding too far back. Then, during the forward sweep, I kicked kicked as hard as I could. It was one of those two steps forward, one step back situations.
I have really enjoyed staying at Ruby's. I chose Ruby's because people on this board said it was clean and safe. Also, the price was fantastic. The most impressive thing about Ruby's, however, is that it has character and personality. It is not a cookie-cutter hotel.
I stayed in Room Eight on the second floor facing the street. Everyday I trudged up the skinny staircase with my wet heavy dive bag on my back. Now, on account of a slight construction miscalculation, the wooded floor leading to my room was at an angle. Still wearing my sea legs and a little light headed from all the compressed air, I had to maneuver across this tilted patio. It felt at times like I was walking in the fun house at six flags!
Another great thing about Ruby's is their breakfast cafe right next door. Every morning I enjoyed a delicious Johnnycake or fried jack or a fresh fruit salad. Some mornings I enjoyed a Johnnycake and a fruit salad. But get there early. By 9am, they are usually sold out of everything!
|The Book Center Plus|
There is another shop across the street called The Book Center Plus. It's the plus part of the business that is so useful for they also sell beer, water, snacks and music. Most of the time the man who runs the shop kept music playing in the streets, which of course I could hear in my room. It was great!
Tonight though, I was a little bummed because my Great Blue Hole trip for tomorrow had been canceled. Ambergris Divers needed at least eight divers to take the boat out and four of them had cancelled at the last minute. So, to drown my sorrows, I had gone over to the Book Center Plus and bought three Belinkins. I sat on the balcony, watched the golf carts buzz by, drank my beers and enjoyed the good music.
John, who was staying next door, come home and joined me. Before long we decided to go have dinner at Shark's Bar. Well, I went inside to change clothes when I heard this wonderful song, the same one I had heard on my second night in San Pedro. "Welcome To San Pedro" The first time I heard it, I fell in love with its mellow tropical rhythm.
|Golf carts buzzing by|
Fortunately, I remembered to put my shirt back on. Then I went racing out of my room, tripped over John (who didn't know what in the world was going on), bounded down the stairs, across the street and asked if I could buy a copy of the music that was playing. It turned out to be two local guys, Wil Nunez and Dale Wallace Sr. It's a marvelous CD.
Eventually, we made it over to Shark's Bar. They have very good pizza here, but they also have two sharks trapped in a small cage. Too bad I forgot my wire cutters back in Austin or I would have set them free.
Mis Dios! It's a WOman! (Day Five)
Well, I had to take a day off from diving and today was it. Sigh. I walked over to the Book Center Plus for a bottle of water. When I asked the owner where there was a place to rent a bike, he said,
|Road to the north island area|
"Just around the corner."
Sure enough, just around the corner there was a place renting bikes. I rode around town a little and also around the lagoon before heading to the North end of the island. There is a mangrove tree lined river that divides Ambergris Caye. The only way to cross to the North side is to get on this ancient rusty platform. Then a man PULLS everyone across using a rope that is attached to both sides of the river!
I rode down a sandy road, which was only about six feet across, and past a swamp with lots of birds and mangrove patches. The difference between the houses in San Pedro town and on the North side is enormous. This must be where the people with lots of money live. It almost made me wish I cared more about making money, if it might be possible for me to live in a place like this some day. It was just so beautiful. The gardens were filled with flowers, trees and shrubs.
There was a tiny path leading off the main lane and I decided to ride down it a little ways. As soon as I turned off, the air became thick and a wild buzzing sound surrounded me. Suddenly I was covered from head to foot with a billion hungry mosquitoes! Needless to say I turned around and high tailed it out of there. But the mosquitoes were not going to give up that easily. They chased me out of the jungle and down the sandy path. I was pumping my bike so fast that I felt like the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz. Yet still this titanic swarm of mosquitoes was on my tail. I raced down the path, bumping in holes and splashing in puddles. I tore around a corner, throwing sand up into the air. Then, I don't know why, but the mosquitoes decided to return to their jungle home.
|The tiny jungle path|
I stopped the bike, got a drink of water, applied some of my 100% deet bug repellant and went straight back to the tiny jungle path. Slowly I rode down the path until I was completely surrounded by the lush jungle plants. I listened to the scurrying sound of unseen jungle creatures, the twitting of birds and of course, the buzzing of the mosquitoes. There is so much beauty on this island. A beauty that fills me with such extreme emotion that my body simply does not know how to process it. Fearing I might spontaneously combust, I leave the little jungle trail.
Next, I journeyed down to the seaside. But I couldn't travel two feet before I had to stop and take a picture. Again and again. At one point, as I was merrily riding along, a coconut fell out of a tree not ten feet in front of me. You see, I don't always have bad luck.
I decided to take a little rest under a palapa at the end of a pier where I met these two crazy pelicans. They soared through the sky then suddenly nose-dived straight into the water, over and over again. Then, they also took a little rest on the pier where they relieved themselves and promptly flew away.
On my return trip, it began to rain so I hide under another palapa at the end of a pier. The rain seemed to let up so I continued. But it rapidly returned, stronger, harder. In all the rain, I couldn't see but a few feet in front of me. I lost the trail and ended up trying to peddle along the sand covered with seaweed and pieces of driftwood. I must admit, I didn't like this part too much. I turned around and found the trail again.
The rain continued to pour. Thankfully, it wasn't cold, but I was worried about my camera getting wet. So when I saw the Palapa Bar, I was relieved.
I parked my bike and ran onto the patio. There were three men sitting at the bar and two men bartenders. Everyone stared at me and I'm sure I was quite a sight. I was completely soaked. Wet, stringy hair hanging down. Sand from head to toe. Everyone continued to stare. It was such an unfriendly reception, which is unusual for San Pedro, that I thought for a moment I had blundered into someone's private backyard. Finally I asked, "Is this a restaurant?"
"It's a bar."
Sigh of relief. "Then I'll have a beer."
For a moment, no one moved. I sat down with a big smile and still, no one moved. I just sat this with a silly grin on my face and finally Juan gave me a beer. The men who had been sitting at the bar, jumped up and were now hiding behind a wall. As I sat and stared at the pouring rain I heard one of them say, "Mis Dios! It's a WOman!"
Every once in a while, I'd glance in the direction of the men just in time to see a smiling face disappear behind the wall. And the rain continued to pour.
After awhile, the sun came out and another woman arrived. She worked there and was relieving the two other bartenders for lunch. Before they left however, she had one of them cut down two coconuts. He whacked off the top of one, stuck a straw into the hole and handed it to me. I drank the sweet coconut juice and listen to this lady and another man who had also just arrived. It was interesting to hear them talk because, for the most part, I could not understand what they were saying. But they were talking English as I understood about every third word.
Anyway when I decided it was time to move on, I asked how much I owed. I said, "I had two beers, two chocolate chip cookies and a coconut juice drink."
She laughed and said, "I'm not charging you for the coconut!"
"But why not? It was really good."
"No, No. I can't charge you for the coconut. That would be ripping you off."
"I've never drank coconut juice out of a coconut before."
She said something I couldn't understand to the other gentleman. Then she charged me for two beers and two chocolate chip cookies.
Which proves that the best things in San Pedro are free.
Rainbow Out My Window (Day Six)
It was 5:30am when I sleepily stumbled to the end of the pier. (Once again Ambergris Divers didn't have eight divers to go to the Blue Hole so they put me on the Amigos Del Mar boat. At least I tried to get on a smaller boat. I usually get very grumpy on a large dive boat, but ADM divided the divers into two groups and did an excellent job getting us quickly in the water. The DMs, Alex and Philipe did a fantastic job.) As I waited on the pier, the world slowly grew light, but the sunrise was blocked by puffy pink clouds.
The ride out to the Great Blue Hole was a heap fun. The waves were the most enormous waves I had ever seen! The boat bounced up and down until I felt sure it would crack in two. Whenever the boat crashed down into the sea, a fine mist of water splashed into the air over the stern. At the same time, the early morning sun shone through the water droplets creating a perfect little rainbow. All the way to the Great Blue Hole, this tiny rainbow followed the ship. While I watched the rainbow disappear and reappear, I understood that this is truly a magical place.
Before I knew it we were at the Great Blue Hole. I didn't believe it at first because there was ocean all around. One or two rocks jutted out of the sea, but certainly not a surrounding circular wall like you see in the pictures. But when I looked down and saw the deep dark blue of the water, I knew we weren't in the shallows of a coral reef.
The Great Blue Hole 27 minutes, 153 feet
We descended over a shallow sandy bottom, but the massive drop off loomed so large, that the long barracuda, scant corals and other fishes seemed like a child's dream. It was the abrupt drop off into the cold dark waters that dominated the scene. I was scared.
Of course I didn't have a dive buddy, so I stuck close to Alex, the dive master, as we descended along a lifeless dark wall. It was a somber journey down. But a quick journey that past in a blurry haze. At 132 feet the wall curved inward and a monstrous stalactite hung from the ceiling. The stalactites were much larger than I had ever imagined. They were so big that they reminded me of those sculptures found on Easter Island.
As I swam in, out and around the colossal stalactites, I realized this was the most beautiful, wonderful, and inspiring thing I had ever done. The stalactites started swaying in the currents and the fuzzy plantlike growth that covered them started growing at an amazingly fast rate. Immediately, Alex was right next to me asking if I was OK, but it took a moment for me to process the question. I looked at my SPG, plenty of air. Then I looked at my depth and we began to ascend.
There must have been some sort of Caribbean reef shark convention going on because there were reef sharks everywhere! On the edge of murk and visibility, a pair of reef sharks lurked. Visible one second, gone the next. When I looked up, three sharks swaggered in the sunbeams far, so far away, until with lightening speed, they zoomed out of sight. Below me, I glimpsed a shark's fin vanishing into the darkness.
The safety stop was another extraordinary experience. I was hovering off to the side of the group trying somehow to absorb what had just happened. A slow breath and I rose to around fifteen feet; exhale and I sank down a few feet. It just didn't seem real. Another breath. Suddenly, the guys on the boat began to thrown in dead fish heads and other yucky fish parts and the reef sharks swarmed all around me. If I had been so inclined, which I wasn't, I could have reached out and touched one. Once again, Alex came over and saved me. He took me back to hang on to the anchor line with the rest of the group.
Half Moon Wall 46 minutes, 67 feet
There were several very long tarpon swimming among the canyons. Unfortunately, I couldn't enjoy them because my mask kept fogging up! I let a little water seep in to clear away the fog. By the time I blew the water out of my mask, it would fog up again! At one point, I completely flooded the mask. My eyes were burning. I had inhaled water through my nose and I still had a foggy mask. I finally just left a small amount of water in the mask and continually swished it back and forth to keep the lens clear. I suppose things like this are going to happen if you dive enough and perhaps I'm a better diver for the experience. Nonetheless, I wish it hadn't happened.
Half Moon Caye
After a delicious lunch we walked to the observation tower. We were greeted along the way by softball sized land hermit crabs and also an iguana. I loved walking along the forest path in my barefeet, tripping over exposed roots. But the real excitement was climbing to the top of the tower. Standing on this tower I was immersed the bird's world. Red footed booby birds were nesting not five feet away. Large black frigate birds continually flew overhead. Whenever those frigate birds puffed out their big red necks, I totally cracked up.
Walking along the beach was yet another amazing experience. Since no one is allowed to remove anything from the caye, the seashore is scattered with big shells and gorgeous corals. For a moment, I felt a twinge of loneliness. There are few perfect places in the world. Half Moon Caye is one of them and I wished I had someone to share it with. Too soon, the signal was given for everyone to return to the boat for our last dive of the day.
Eagle Ray Wall into Aquarium 1 hour 3 minutes, 59 feet
Gray Bermuda Chumps and Yellow tail Snappers. Sure I had seen them before. But never, never like this. The moment I sank onto the reef, a Yellow Tail swam up to me. She wasn't curious. She wasn't scared. She was hungry. I didn't have any food, but someone else did. Before I knew it hundreds, thousands of Chumps and Snappers surrounded me. I could see nothing but Chumps and Snappers. I couldn't see the blue water, the reef, the other divers. I could only see gray and yellow bodies zooming around in a frenzied feast. Most of the dive I swam in the middle of this school of fish. They didn't mind I was there. We just swam along, everyone as happy as a mosquito on a tourist.
When the food ran out, the Chumps and Snappers scattered across the water and once again I could see the reef. Queen angels, spotted drums and parrotfish swam about. Philipe, the DM, was very excited as he pointed to a patch of sand. Hummm. Why was he so excited about some sand? I stared and stared. Everyone else had already come, taken pictures and gone. Still I stared. All of a sudden, I saw a long, skinny lizardfish hanging out on the sand! Wow, how did Philipe find that thing?
Then Philipe made the signal I had been hoping and waiting for: hammerhead shark! But look as I might, I never saw any hammerhead shark. What a bummer.
Rainbow out my window
When we returned to the boat, Alex handed out Snicker candy bars. I don't think I had ever tasted anything so scrumptious.
Then the boat started bouncing up and down in the waves. I don't think I stop smiling when the boat crashes up and down like that. It's so much fun!
I stared out the window at the blue ocean waves, when what should appear, but a rainbow. Every time the boat crashed down, sending mist into the air, the evening sun made another rainbow. I was transfixed by the waves, the rainbow, the boat's constant motion. Slowly, something changed. For once, I was a part of nature's harmony. It was like I understood something, which I have for so long struggled to know. But words simply cannot describe the moment.
We approached San Pedro just in time to witness the big orange sun drop behind long whips of clouds and then disappear over the horizon.
That evening I had dinner with a couple that I had met on the boat. Holiday House was having their weekly Wednesday night BBQ on the beach. Excellent food. We ended up at Fido's, of course. But I was distracted and soon left to wonder down the beach. I ended up laying on the pier in front of Ruby's staring at the shinning, sparking stars. There was not a cloud in the sky and the brilliant light of the stars pounded through my body.
My mind kept returning to that rainbow, that feeling. Never before had I experienced such a powerful spiritual sensation. It truly bothered me that I could not explain what it was. That I could not attach words to it. It was so intangible, that I was afraid to the depths of my soul that I might forget it.
Thanksgiving in San Pedro (Day Seven)
I was eating a Johnnycake at the end of the pier when the Ambergris Divers boat arrived. There were two other divers already on the boat, Cristin and Drew, and of course they got an earful of my Great Blue Hole dive.
Tres Cocos 41 minutes, 87 feet
Well, I didn't see any coconuts, but I did see numerous purple barrel sponges. The best creatures on this reef, however, were the flawless brain corals. Everywhere there were perfect round mounds of brain coral.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a fish suddenly dart away. Now fish do not normally move that fast, unless someone is trying to eat them, so I swam over to investigate. It was a spiny lobster waving his antennae from inside his home that was causing all the commotion. Of course the lobster didn't dare to venture out in the daylight, but he was swinging his antennae with such ferocity, that I didn't blame the little fishes from darting away.
Victoria Tunnels 38 minutes, 98 feet
We swam perpendicular over the spur and groove reef formations. Reef, white sandy valley, reef, white sandy valley. At the bottom of the next reef, there was a dark and dreary tunnel entrance. We glided down toward the opening. It wasn't so dark and dreary so I swam inside and it was fun floating between the jagged walls. In front of the exit, there was a strong down current, so it was a little difficult to gracefully leave the tunnel.
Ascending from the tunnel we approached my final coral reef to dive on this trip. Corals were everywhere with thousands of tiny fish flitting about while glowing neon blue sponges lighted the seascape. As we approached the edge of the reef, I looked down at the sandy bottom and saw the largest fish I had ever seen. There, on the sandy bottom, was a 12-foot nurse shark! This shark was the granddaddy of all sharks. We hovered above him so long, he finally decided to give the tourists a show and slowly swam along the bottom and then up the side of the reef. There was no better way to end my last dive.
Christin had invited me to share Thanksgiving dinner with her and Drew. It was one of the best Thanksgivings I have had in quite awhile. We had dinner by the sea at a table with a lovely pink tablecloth. (Celi's restaurant.) Ham, turkey, dumplings, stuffing, cranberries, strawberry ice cream and no dishes to wash.
Afterwards, we wondered up to Jambel Jerk Pit. This place was rockin'. The Punta Boys were playing and there was a lady dancer with them. She was fantastic! If you want to learn to Punta Dance, go here.
Later, we dropped off Christin and Drew and I went to, let's all say it together, Fido's. Pineapple Whilly was playing and I met his lovely and friendly wife, Martin (sp?). Another great time dancing until the place closed down.
As Drew and I walked past Central Park I asked, "Do you want to teeter totter?"
That's right folks, on my last night in San Pedro, I was teeter tottering with a wonderful man who, by the way, has the most amazing dimples. Life is good.
Eight bruises, three cuts and two blisters later (Day eight)
This morning when I went down to Ruby's Café for my last johnnycake, it was raining. And that's just about how I felt. As so often happens in San Pedro, the rain soon stopped and the sun came out. One last time, I put on my bikini and decided to live on the wild side of life and use only SPF 15 sunblock. Then down to the beach.
I have traveled to many fantastic places in my life, but this vacation was one of, if not the best so far. The people of San Pedro were so friendly. Everyone always said hello. Even the children said hi. I wonder if the children here get the same "don't talk to strangers" lecture as the children in the states get? I doubt it.
Sometimes they were so excited to greet you, that they had to said it twice, "morning,morning."
But my favorite greeting was, "Hello, beautiful." Apparently, I am beautiful in Belize.
But everything in Belize is beautiful. The sea gulls at the end of the pier. The breaking of the waves on the reef, not so far away. The beaming stars at night. It's beautiful how some palm trees are perfectly straight and others are crooked. The people, the sand streets, the teeter totters.........
Too quickly, the morning ended. It was time to go home. Time to wear shoes again. When I arrived eight days ago, I took off my shoes, tucked them under my bed and there they have remained. Aside from wearing sandals when I rode the bike around (the pedals were very prickly) I had gone everywhere in my barefeet. Just another hint that you're in paradise.
By one o'clock I was slumped on the back seat of Tropic Air. When the wheels left San Pedro until they landed at Belize International, I struggled, unsuccessfully, to not cry. It was painful leaving this incredible island. It felt as if a part of me was being ripped out to remain always on Ambergris Caye.
I moped into a tiny bar tucked away in the corner of the airport. There were twinkling yellow and pink Christmas lights strung up and a sign that said, "No matter where I serve my guest, it seems they like Jet's Bar best." A profusion of police, sheriff and fire rescue patches completed the decorations.
But the best thing about Jet's Bar was Jet. Whenever anyone ordered a drink he asked, "Do you want your beer cold or very cold?" I thought that was hilarious.
Anyway, after one last Belinkin and one of Jet's delicious hot dogs, I was feeling much better. Jet had this manner about him that made me feel as if everything was all right in the world. That I could return home. But I was returning home a very different person.
Thank you Jet, and everyone else in Belize, for sharing your land with me.
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