My first post about Belize focused on the amazing things happening from a boat, from the land, above. However, this trip was all about the water, and what was under the water was beyond amazing! Part II of our trip to Belize.
When I was a kid, I watched every episode of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau (hit link to read about why he mattered). I was madly in love with his beautiful world, and wanted to be him, when I grew up… not be like him, but be him. When we are children, magic still seems possible, and if I could have twitched my nose, I would have been on the Calypso in a blink. I was drawn to the ocean from the time I could walk. Many of my earliest memories are beside the sea. But Jacques Cousteau made that world so much more beautiful, exciting and alluring. I wanted to go below the surface and see what he filmed each week; I wanted to ride the waves and explore. However, forty-five years have passed since I first dreamed of that life, and I still have not learned to dive. Each time I set out to do it, something blocks my path. Ear problems, asthma, and on our recent trip– when I finally thought I would do a “resort dive” (a quick training, and then a brief open water dive, with instructors), I had my accident, and all hope of diving that week, disappeared. Poof! But the magic did not vanish.
I’ve never been diving, but I’ve been very fortunate to have enjoyed many magical experiences in the sea. I’ve been to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) twice, and both times snorkeled. When I was at the GBR in college, nearly 30 years ago, there was much less loss of reef and reef-life than there is today. It was beautiful! But I was a poor college student, who had scrimped and saved for that trip, and was living and mooching off the kindness of Australians. My snorkeling experiences were mostly closer to shore, and not as far out on the reef as I would have liked. When I returned many years later, kids in tow, there were so many tourist boats; the water was crowded, and the reef was showing the stress of this industry. That said, it was still beautiful! I’ve been to Hawaii numerous times and snorkeled there, but I’ve never been down deep… where the fish really live. However, even without diving, Belize really upped the ante for all future water adventures.
We spent our days and nights on a fantastic catamaran; every day was a water day! Belize offered an amazing opportunity to imagine what it must be like to explore the depths, even though I never got any deeper than I could hold my breath. Though my ribs prevented me from going deep, my cohorts were able to dive down and swim through a short cave/bridge, on the reef! Watching each of them do it was fantastic! Most of the reef around Belize is protected. It is the 2nd largest barrier reef, outside the GBR, and the people of Belize take its health and protection very seriously! There were “police” everywhere– their small boats coming up to make sure you had a permit to be there, that you weren’t taking anything you shouldn’t, that you were careful with the coral, and that the turtles, rays, and other magnificent creatures were not teased or stressed. The animals that live there are unafraid of humans, and just as curious to check out us, as we were to check out them!
One night we did a “night snorkel.” This involved heading out from Caye Caulker at twilight, by small boat. I’d already broken my ribs by then, so the bouncing boat was not fun. We anchored near the reef, and the guides waited until we could see at least 3 stars in the sky. Then, we all slipped into the water, high-powered flash lights in hand, and our guides took us on a magical trip that I will never forget! We did not bring our underwater camera, as we hadn’t used it in the dark and worried we’d have trouble holding that and a flash light. We did bring our Go-Pro, and got some fun videos. The creatures that come out at night tend to be that much more amazing because of bioluminescence.
“the biochemical emission of light by living organisms such as fireflies and deep-sea fishes. • the light emitted in such a way.”
Many of the creatures of the sea glow, shimmer, flash colorful lights, at night, because of bioluminescence, and it’s sheer magic to witness! We saw three separate octopuses, one of them hunting a bright yellow fish! He pursued the fish, our group in awe and squealing inside our masks (cover your mouth and yell “Oh my god! Look at that! Guys! Guys! Look at this!” and you may have a sense of what we sounded like). The octopus finally spread his entire body across a rock, flashed blue, green, then blue again in a glowing blue-light brilliance, and ate the fish. It was stunning! A small squid swam amongst us, spots on its body blinking many colors– you might swear you had seen a UFO, underwater! Then, it turned its entire body toward us and shot a stream of dark ink! (More mask/snorkel screaming!)
If you can imagine all of this, imagine it as seen with the aid of our super, high-powered flash lights. The water was black without them, as our guides memorably demonstrated, by having us all shut them off. I had never been so far from shore (it would be a monumental swim back, if need be), at night, in pitch dark. It was scary and thrilling and beautiful, all at once! Our flashlights sent off beams of light, illuminating outcroppings of giant Elk coral, or coral cliffs. The fish came out to see what was happening, and came closer out of curiosity. Spiny lobsters, their eyes glowing red, crawled along the bottom, and giant rays swam by– appearing like ghosts into our beams. One came right between our exchange student, David and friend Shayne, and David was out of there in a flash! I’m not sure who was more shocked: the ray or David. The video shows a ray suddenly appear, right in front of the lens, and David’s legs madly swimming away!
(In this video, you can see one of the rays, swimming by us. Then, you can hear me yelling that one is right under us!)
By day we explored the Hol Chan Marine Preserve, where turtles and rays watched us, as closely as we watched them. Highly protected and guarded, the marine life there was not fearful of us, and came up to watch us as we snorkeled along. There were thousands of conch shells covering the bottom of the preserve. They’ve been left there for hundreds of years, by fishermen, marine life, and guides– who use the conch to bring sea turtles, nurse sharks and rays, in closer. The nurse sharks are not threatening, and though it took me a while to believe it, we ended up swimming amongst them numerous times. Sea turtles swam alongside us, and while we were not suppose to pet them, they often would come so close that you had to touch them, to give them space. Endless varieties of fish swam up to our masks… watching us, and darting away again.
While we were living on a boat, and the underwater world was always around us, it was particularly spectacular to don a mask each day and feel free to see these things whenever we wanted. It was not a case of needing to go find the fish, but merely a matter of slipping into the water to watch. It never got old! We swam when we woke up, we swam before bed. We bathed in the sea, we floated there. We watched it, when we weren’t in it. I’m not sure I’ve ever been any place that was more beautiful, and that made me feel so enchanted. I may not have gotten to dive, but for one week the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau was at my fingertips, and I loved every single moment. The creatures that live on and around the Belizean reef made our week extra special. It was an honor to share their world, and the things we saw only made me want to go deeper, see more… get my certification!
If this sounds like a dream vacation you might want to take too, contact Belize Sailing Vacations, and make your own memories. It was Un-Belizeable!
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