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The dive continued pretty uneventful for me, although I was a slight bit peeved about being up at 70' instead of down at 130' where I was supposed to be. Right on cue a few minutes later, Karl started to ascend and so did the group of divers. We took care to make sure everyone got in from the hole and onto the 30' ledge surrounding the hole. Once all divers were accounted for, Karl ascended alone ahead of us. I took the rest of the divers on a little tour of the fringe reef. Underwater, I also shook the hand of the female I had assisted in decending. She winked at me grateful for having made it down. I felt flattered as I had assisted a diver who had paid a lot of money to get to this dive site experience the dive. It's a pity I couldn't have done it for both the new divers.
After fifteen minutes of coasting the fringe reef, enjoying the parrot fish, the rock beauties and a small barracuda, we went up to the 15' mark and did our three minute safety stop. Once out of the water, I jumped on board and assisted Karl with bringing the equipment in. As soon as the equipment was out of the water, we changed tanks for the next dive. By the time the last diver made it on the boat, all the equipment had been changed. (Karl is soooo good at his job.)
In fact, in the ten minutes or so that Karl had gone ahead, he had managed to cut a fresh pineapple into slices. There is nothing more refreshing after a dive that something wet and sweet to take the salty taste out of your mouth. The pineapple was right on order. We exchanged dive stories with the other divers, three or four people from Austria, a couple from the United States, and a couple more from Germany and England. Some of the words used to describe the dive were "awesome", "great" and "spectacular."
Once everyone's quest for "sweet and wet" was satisfied, we loosed the boat from the moorings and headed out to Half Moon Caye. The boat that was moored at the Blue Hole when we got there - the Belize Agressor - had also already concluded its dive and was also heading in the direction of Half Moon Caye. Wanting to dive at a particular designated spot, we put on full throttle and passed the Agressor to become the first boat on our designated mooring. We later spotted the Agressor heading to another mooring in the same area.
On the ride to Half Moon Caye, which was rather calm and still, we passed several Eagle rays that could clearly be seen on the bottom of the ocean floor. The sound of the engine from the boat ruffled them enough to cause them to float off when we passed. We also spotted some jumbo sized barracudas - you know? The ones that are the best to barbecue. Mmmm! I could just envision one of them stuffed with sweet peppers, onions and garlic getting a tan over my grill!! But, I digress...
If you've ever visited this area, you will know that the Blue Hole and Half Moon Caye are in the same Atoll, so the boat ride is essentially "inside" the reef. "Outside" the reef system can be very rough and bumpy.
Our second dive spot, the Half Moon Caye Wall, is located about a half a mile or so from the southern tip of Half Moon Caye. Since the deepest dive should always be done first, the dive profile for the second dive would be at 60' for twenty minutes, then ascending the 40' for twenty five minutes. The total bottom time for this dive would be forty five minutes.
Now, I have done this dive several times before, but I continued to be equally as awed every time I do. Karl has decided to forgo this dive and so I become the chief divemaster on this second dive. We will do a drift dive - we will dive along the wall and wherever we are when forty five minutes are up or one of us runs out of air, that's where the boat will pick us up. No need to worry about navigating our way back to the boat.
Again, we (Karl and I both) do the dive briefing for the area. Where the boat is moored, there is a drop of about thirty feet to the bottom. This is where we will descend About one minute away is a small hill of corals, which forms the beginning of the wall system. A hop over the hill (another minute of dive time) and you are literally on the deep end facing a wall of coral that drops down to close to three thousand feet deep. Whew! Talk about awesome!
We descend and cross the wall and the view is spectacular (as usual). Corals and fishes of just every imaginable color and hue protrude in majestic splendor and just beckon us to come close and explore. This area is one of the most pristine and beautiful areas in marine context. There are corals from every group - brain coral, elkhorn coral, sea fans, black coral....sponges of every size, shape and color...words cannot describe the magnificence of the sea bed that calls this area it's home. There are blue and yellow angelfish, grey and yellow french angelfish, yellowtail snappers, multi-colored parrotfish, a couple of brown/grey pufferfish, two inquisitive barracudas, blue creole wrasse in schools of thousands or more, some sea horse looking fish that swim (and disguise themselves to look like) the coral twigs (I have forgotten the name)...We dove among coral patches, admiring everything individually and collectively...the serenity and pleasure that comes from diving I can only parallel to that of flying. This must be how a bird feels when it is flying overhead. We floated over, among, below, beside the coral patches....we played with a lobster, touched some king sized groupers, pointed out the black coral patches, marvelled at the depth of the hue of the deep area, took pictures inside schools of fishes, chased barracudas and delighted in the passage of a Manta Ray in the deep area. Today, I figured, was an exceptional day. After several trips to this same dive spot, this was the first time I had ever seen a Manta Ray go by. And I delighted in the sighting. I wished I could preserve the moment forever.
Forty five minutes of exploring the wall later, I gave the signal to ascend. At the fifteen foot mark, we again did a safety stop. Fortunately, in terms of diver anxiety, this dive went well.
Once inside the boat, absolutely no one could believe that forty five minutes could go by so fast. When you become so caught up in the wonder of nature, time goes by fast.
One of the divers from Europe had commented that her only previous diving experience had been in the Red Sea, and that the visibility was so poor that you literally had to hang onto your buddy to prevent separation. The visibility here was awesome (she said). Neither Karl nor I had the inclination to tell her that there was a large amount of planktons in the water today, and that it was a medium visibility day at best. Imagine if she had experienced this site on a good day!
We then headed to Half Moon Caye National Park to picnic and have lunch. There is a $10Bz charge to enter the park (including the diving area). The ranger (Euriah) greeted us at the pier and welcomed us to the island. Almost as you alight from the pier, there is a welcome center and a small museum that visitors can tour.
Almost the entire nothern half of the island is cleared, with tall palm trees covering most of the area. At the northernmost tip is a lighthouse. Make that two. The old lighthouse has now become rusted and obsolete and a new one is currently under construction. The southern part of the island is in its pristine state, covered with vegetation of different kinds. The southern part of the island is the home of choice for a large colony of red-footed booby birds. A half a mile walk on the West side of the island will bring you to an observation deck (about two stories high). Once you get to the top, you have a bird's eye view of the tops of the vegetation which is literally covered with birds. They coat the tops of the trees like a rug on a floor. The red-footed booby are thought to be endangered birds, hence the designated protected area.
A walk along the beach on the East side of the island can be somewhat treacherous. The island sits atop the reef system and so the beach is covered with large chunks of coral. However, for the more adventurous, this walk can yield many treasures - my favorite being finding the wilk shells with the snails in them. In my gift shop, I sold jewelery made from the wilk shell, and so my fascination with them. After my first trip to Half Moon Caye, though, I volunteered to ban the sale of wilk shell jewelery. I prefer to have nature natural.
Gertraude, Frenchie's' wife, had prepared some Austrian noodle salad for us. After visiting the boobies, we sat together on one of the picnic tables that have recently been constructed for the use of visitors and shared lunch.
On any given day, there are at least five to ten boats full of tourists visiting this attraction. My heart was a little sad, however, as I knew that for every five hundred tourists that get to visit this area, only one Belizean will be able to share the same experience. Moored just off the island and waiting to come ashore were the Rembrant Van Rijn, the Belize Agressor, the Bay Islands Agressor, the Hustler boat and the Blue Hole Express. And I languished in the privilege I had.