“We live only when we adventure and give expression to the results of our adventure.”
-Lauren Harris, Group of Seven, notebook 1920’s
A quick two hour boat ride, with Belize Water Taxi, and we were on the tiny tropical island of Caye Caulker, Belize. We were instantly drawn to the walk and bike culture, as there is no use for cars on an island that’s only 8.2km in length and about 500m wide. Besides the quaintness of the island, it was the laid back attitude and welcoming people that really pulled on our heartstrings. We checked into our beach hut at Barefoot Beach Resort, a colourful oasis steps from the busy main strip, and decided to dine at tHabaneros, a local hot spot. We called it an early night as we had to be alert the following day.
We had booked our Open Water Scuba Dive certification course months prior with Belize Diving Services (BDS). In preparation for the course we had already completed 14 hours of online training, passed the final exam and had been waiting in anticipation for the hands-on training to begin. The day had come and I was quite nervous, while Jeff was absolutely thrilled. With so many risks involved in scuba diving, I had always been very apprehensive to try it; not to mention my crippling fear of sharks. Nonetheless, I had always been fascinated with all wildlife, so I decided it was time to face my fears…and I couldn’t be happier that I did.
We met our instructor, Jiovanni, who fitted us for our gear upon our arrival at BDS that first morning. He then taught us all about the scuba equipment and how to assemble and use our gear. We were required to complete a swim distance test, of 200m, and tread water for 10 minutes. The rest of the first day of training was within a confined space and Jiovanni taught us all of the skills required for us to learn before our first open water dive. After our time in the water was complete, we were back in the dive shop completing some paper work, when my fear of sharks was brought up in conversation with some of the BDS staff. I was told that I was bound to see a shark during my upcoming two days of diving and not to be afraid because, “…it’s just a big fish!” You would think the certainty of knowing I was going to see a shark would have heightened by anxiety, but I think it helped to ease it, knowing ahead of time and being able to mentally prepare.
We were finished our first day of training by 1:00pm and wanted to see more of what the island gem in the middle of the Caribbean Sea had to offer. We had first seen that the island has tarpon feeding on the amazing app, maps.me. We didn’t even know what tarpon were, so we asked around and found out that they’re large fish that live in coastal waters or lagoons, and that we could feed them from a small dock off the west side of the island. After 30 minutes of searching, as there was no signs and there are no street names on the island, we finally asked a local who escorted us to the exact dock. We bought a bag of sardines and fed the tarpon from our own hands, laughing and yelping as they jumped high into the air, startling the life out of us every time. It was a great way to spend the afternoon, feeding the fish we would be swimming with in the coming days.
Our first day of open water diving was at Turneffe Atoll, within the Belize Barrier Reef. Although we were the only two students taking the course, there were 13 other divers on the boat, all certified veterans of the sport. After an hour-long boat ride we had arrived at our first dive spot, Black Coral Wall. Jiovanni ran us through the skills we were be working on throughout this first dive, then we were geared up and in the water. This first dive was about 50 minutes and was completely consumed with training and skills. A hot lunch, of curry and rice, was served back on the boat after all divers had returned from their first dives of the day. We then moved along to our second dive spot, Sandy Slope, and after another quick briefing from Jiovanni we were 40ft down, practicing more skills. With about 10 minutes left in the dive we had completed all the required skills for that day and could finally put them to use, as we were able to finally enjoy the experience of being one with the ocean, still shark-free.
Our second day of open water diving, and final day of our course, we ventured 30 minutes to San Pedro. The first dive spot was Tres Cocos and on the boat ride there Jiovanni explained that we only had one more skill to go before we were certified, compass navigation. Upon completion of that skill, during our first dive of the day, we followed Jiovanni in exploration and saw our first shark! I could feel my heard pounding within the chest as it swam right past me, but as soon as it was out of sight I found myself wanting to see more. It was thrilling to, not only be able to face my fears, but have such a close encounter with such a graceful wild animal. Our second dive that day, and our last dive of the course, was at Esmeralda Canyon. Jiovanni’s last words before we jumped in were, “Congratulations guys, you’ve completed the course. Now lets go have some fun!” For the first time we were able to dive with the other certified divers on the boat, as we had completed our training. We all sank down 60ft, to the ocean floor, and were surrounded by coral to both our left and right. I began to see the canyon shape in the underwater world. Within minutes we were encircled by six sharks, numerous moray eels and dozens of small colourful fish of various shapes. As the other divers got close to the sharks and eels and reached their hands out for a touch, any of my small fear that was left completely dissipate and was replaced with complete wonderment. I was enthralled with everything in sight and all I wanted to do was see more and get closer to it all. That final dive was a life changing experience as I finally realized a door had just been opened to a whole new part of the world that I couldn’t wait to start exploring.
That night we painted the island red, with some new friends we had made a few nights prior, Sabrina and Matt, fellow Canucks. We were running on adrenaline and had a lot to celebrate, and they were more than happy to celebrate with us. Our first stop of the night was at Southside Pizza for a couple of pies and house made rum punch. Following our delicious dinner we dropped into an island favourite, Barrier Reef Sports Bar & Grill, where we indulged in free shots and danced to 90’s hip-hop. We wrapped the night up at I&I Reggae Bar, where we hung out with locals and enjoyed a beautiful view of the island from the top floor of the four-story bar.
Our final day in Belize we took full advantage of our oceanfront resort and didn’t move from our lounge chairs all day, sipping Belikins and catching rays. Some well-earned rest was in order.
Although our time in Belize and Caye Caulker was short-lived, it completely changed the face of travel for us. Exploring the natural wonders of the world has always been one of our main focuses of travelling. We seek out challenging hikes, hidden waterfalls or breathtaking views in every country we visit. We are thrilled to see interesting wildlife, flora and insects of foreign lands. But up until this point, we had only ever seen the ocean from the surface, as snorkelers. Now that we are certified scuba divers, there is a whole new part of the world, 71% to be exact, that has just become available for our exploration, and we could not be more thrilled for adventures ahead.