Ambergris Caye, Belize
March 1999

I had a busy 3 day runup to my Sat departure. The Banff Mtn Film Fest was Wed/Thu (very inconvenient as the NY Underground Film Fest was on at the same time--altho I did get to that on Fri). I was tired, but excited for my early flight out of Newark. We changed planes in Miami, but the plane had a fuel pump problem that couldn't be resolved in time. So we moved gates and planes. That takeoff was delayed over 90 min b/c a 727 had tipped all the way back. The wheelie was quite impressive.

We arrived in Belize City about 3:30, and took the next Tropic Air flight to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. Ramon's Village was our destination, a short walk from the air strip. The weather was atypical for late winter. Windy and occasional rain. Seas beyond the reef were high enough to cancel diving for the past 3 days. We Northeasterners are used to much worse, tho, so they agreed to take us out as scheduled. Some excitement was occasioned by the 36+ hour blackout on the island and the massive storm that tore thatch from our roofs.

The diving was superb. Lots of life on the reef (the only exception was the first day). Nurse and lemon sharks, Sting and Eagle rays. Large groupers, barracuda and turtles. Huge brain coral and gorgonians (sp?). Quite inspirational. We had good camaraderie among the group. I roomed with a French teenager who lives in Princeton. Jean-Francoise has been diving since he was 7 (European rules. in US you can't even start until 12). A pretty typical teen, he was almost as excited about getting to drive around in golf carts as he was the spectacular diving.

There were lots of Nurse sharks. Three footers. They'd adopt our group of divers and hang about with us as we explored. Some would actually let you pet them. This was cool.

San Pedro is an odd mix of subsistence living and tourist affluence. The beach is used by some tourists as a main street (thus bypassing the town itself). But the residents were quite friendly to me (even if they were amused by my anti-sun hat :) We found good eats at Elvi's Kitchen and the Jade Garden.

We had one night dive, which turned out to be memorable for a couple reasons.

We left early in the tiny boat. It held 7 people including the skipper. We sat at anchor for more than an hour waiting for the deep post-dusk darkness. I lay on the tiny covered prow and took in the stars. I've never seen a sky this detailed. It made the New Mexico desert sky look like a New York City view. No joke.

The Milky Way was oppressive. The colors I'd never seen! We saw many shooting stars and some satellites. I forgot we were about to dive, lost in the sky.

There is a break in the barrier reef. The tide was flowing in this night, generating a 3 knot current. Way strong. The water was about 12 feet deep, which meant bouyancy control was at a premium. Most people opted to get negative and crawl along the bottom. Not a bad idea except for the stingrays everywhere. In general the water was crowded with life. The current carries mondo nutrients and there's a line for the buffet. We saw multiple kinds of sharks, including a Lemon. I stopped counting the rays and lots of big fish as I swept across the scene with my light. It was a hard dive, but rewarding in the sights department.

Thursday the group split up. One set of people wanted a break from the diving and took a river rafting trip through caves. A low key day. I joined the other group and took the 3 hr boat trip to the Blue Hole (a collapsed, formerly-dry, underwater cave made famous by Jacques Cousteau). There we went deep. I got down to 141 (a record for me). I was mildly narc'd, but still thrilling to the huge stalactites and the many large sharks milling about.

Subsequent dives on a steep wall at nearby Half-moon Caye were just as amazing. One is known as the Aquarium, and rightly so. The sheer density of marine life was awe-inspiring. The Red-footed Booby bird sanctuary was also pretty cool. I saw a massive Iguana in the small jungle that surrounds the observation deck.

There was a regrettable incident. One of the few turtles we saw happened by a gaggle of photographers. The divemaster grabbed it by the flippers and held it for them. I was so made the water around me started boiling. I wanted to break it up, but feared their retribution while we were all underwater. I made complaints later on board. Thinking about it afterward, I will take action next time.

The return trip was uneventful. We arrived at midnight. I missed yet another chance to collect rewards for delaying my flight. I really must pay closer attention.