Lost in Belize I: Diving the Blue HoleAdventure Travel, Belize, Central and South America, Lost Girls, Sports & Games, Tours & Attractions, Wildlife & Animals — By Holly C on February 26, 2010 at 12:14 pm
I’d always wanted to see Belize after hearing Jen and Amanda’s tales of petting nurse sharks and doing wall dives when they visited before our round-the-world trip. So I made my way to the small country (roughly the size of New Hampshire) and the only English-speaking nation in Central America (it’s a British Commonwealth).
My first stop was Ambergris Caye, the tiny Caribbean island off the coast of Belize that’s a fishing town-turned-dive destination. Home to the second largest barrier reef in the world where your odds of spotting marine life are as likely as a sports star getting caught in a sex scandal, I stayed in the city of San Pedro. The city is also known as La Isla Bonita (remember that 80′s Madonna song?), and golf carts rather than cars are the only source of the occasional traffic jam on these sandy cobblestone streets.
One of the first things I did when I arrived was also what drew me to Belize the most: diving the famous Blue Hole. Created after an ancient underwater cave collapsed to form a sink hole that can be seen in outer space, it’s more than 400 feet deep and 1,000 feet across. Our group met before the sun was up at Amigos Del Mar, a dive shop that’s been in business since 1991 and is staffed by good-natured locals who have been on the water practically all their lives.
We took a two-hour boat ride to our destination, and my stomach turned the whole time. But it wasn’t from seasickness, it was from nerves. I’d never been below 80 feet and our dive instructors said we had to go to at least 120 feet to pass the ledge of the abyss and make the experience worth it. I overheard other divers talking about how they’d done more than 200 dives, and started to sweat thinking the eight measly dives I had under my own belt were child’s play.
As we pulled on our wet suits, strapped on our weight belts, and slipped into our vests, I tried to flip my mindset from fear to excitement-I was about to explore a geographic wonder in the dark depths of the ocean. How often do we ever get this chance?
So I took the leap-and dropped. And dropped. And dropped. The water went from bath temperature to icy, and the light grew weaker the farther I fell. And then I was there: at the ledge of this seemingly never-ending wall. I kicked my flippers and swam deeper, past 20-foot stalactites and a few sharks. Below me everything was black, and I looked up to see a circle of glowing light from the sun, bubbles of air floating up like those in one of the lava lamps my dorm mate had in college. It was surreal, and then it was time to go up again. So I swam back towards the light.
When I surfaced, my nose was bleeding from the pressure, and one of the guys I met on the boat who had a computerized watch said we’d reach 147 feet. Honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference between 50 feet and 150 feet when I was under.
We did two more dives that day, going to about 100 feet and then 80 feet (I wasn’t supposed to go that deep but didn’t have a computerized watch to tell me how far down I was–the other divers told me when I’d surfaced again). We stopped at Half Moon Caye to see the red-footed boobies in the island’s bird sanctuary and to have a lunch of rice and beans, stewed chicken, and coconut cake.
You don’t have to be PADI certified to see the amazing animals living among the 185-mile barrier reef. Amigos Del Mar took me on a snorkeling excursion where I actually got to hold a wild nurse shark, pet a sting ray, and dodged a Moray eel. The best spot to go is Shark Ray Alley in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve because you can swim with nurse sharks and rays in just six to eight feet of water. You’ll also see fluorescent-colored fish, four-feet long black groupers, and delicate sea fans. Stayed tuned for a roundup of the best places to stay, eat, and explore in Belize…
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