Monthly Archives: June 2012

June 22nd 2012 – Advanced Open Water, Caye Caulker

OK well as much as I dislike doing this blog at the moment I have been informed by Jane that it is a permament record of our experiences on this trip, so even though it is SOOOOOO tedius to keep doing this I have to keep going.

In Egypt in 2010 I did the first three dives of the Advanced Open Water (there are 5 in all), I had little time and I was flying the next day, so to be on the safe side I never completed the whole thing. But I was informed that doing just three of them would result in the Adventure Diver Certification so I did that instead.

Fast forward 2 years and here I am in Belize with the opportunity of completing the last two dives of the AOW with a local dive shop in Caye Caulker. I won’t mention them because I was pretty unimpressed with thier attitude. Anyway I signed up for two dives, Deep Dive (which is mandatory for AOW) and Multi Level Dive. They told me to arrive a 8am to start. I arrived on time and they kept me waiting for an hour and fifteen minutes, I was pretty pissed off by this time.

Anyway… we set out to our first site “Raggedy Anne” for a deep dive. It was quite a plain reef and not much life but then again I was here to dive deep, not to look at pretty fish. I kept an eye on my guages – I didn’t want to descend too fast because I still have problems with my ears. But I managed without incident and for the first time in my diving I reached a depth of 30.2 metres!!! So that’s one mandatory dive done. Cool.

My next dive was a whole different ballgame… this dive was my Multilevel dive, where you start deep and make your way to shallower waters or”levels” with the use of a computer, the idea being that your body starts to expell nitrogen gradually so you can dive safely and don’t have to do too long a safety stop on the way back.

Our next dive took us to “Booring” which to me looked like the hills and mountains of Glencoe – only under 130ft of water, it was truly a sight to behold. We started the dive at Level One (the deepest part, about 27 metres) and glided effortlessly through the underwater plant life and through narrow sand gullies all the time keeping an eye on my guages so as not to inadvertantly go deeper than my first dive of the day (not good).

Half way through Level Two (about 20 metres) the instructor gestured to his ears pointing at them. I assumed he was having trouble with the water pressure. Until I heard it. The unmistakeable sound of sonar, a series of squeaks and clicks. The kind used by whales and dolphins to find thier way (and thier food) in the ocean. We both looked around but the water visability wasn’t perfect – about 10 metres, so we carried on with our dive. Again I heard it and I looked into the blue to see if there was any sign of a whale or dolphin. And suddenly I could see huge outlines ahead, but couldn’t make them out. Was that a group of Pilot Whales? Closer they came… closer… then bam! four HUGE bottlenose dolphins came straight for us, bombing around the rocks and plant life. Initially I thought they were feeding unil of course one blew a bubble ring right in front of me and proceeded to spin the bubble round until it got bigger and bigger then swam through it. Totally incredible! They darted past us, they span around doing forward rolls and pulled things from the rocks just to show they could. I copied them as much as I could to try and keep them interested in us (a trick I learned in New Zealand – Kaikoura), so I did forward rolls and spins, I made high falseto sounds from my throat so they could hear me and made shapes with body, arms outstretched like a starfish, waving my hands like a madman. But it worked, and one of them swam right up to me for a good look, straight in the eyes… so cool. About 10 minutes of total joy for them and for me. ByΒ  this time my instructor had basically nicked off and left me, I didn’t see where he was, so I assumed my Multilevel Dive skills were forgotten about once the dolphins arrived. I checked my guages to find I was nearly out of air (a big no no), so I made my way to 5 metres and stayed there for 3 minutes as a safety stop. As I surfaced, the boatΒ  pulled around and I got in. A truly magnificent day and easily the best dive of my life so far. I became an Advanced Open Water Diver that day, how? I’ve no idea, but don’t tell anyone.


June 11th 2012 – Caye Caulker Island

Well here we are, on yet another island, but this time we’ve rented a house – it was time for a bit of space and a kitchen was a priority as we are so bored with eating out, so we’re really looking forward to cooking our own grub. Belize doesn’t seem to have an identity when it comes to its food, its just rice and beans…with something, no seasoning or real flavour, so hopefully we can do better:)

Valerosa

Our home for a month – Valerosa

It only took an hour to cross to the island which sits 21 miles from Belize City. Caye Caulker is part of the barrier reef and sits in a shallow sea only 1 mile from the outer fringe where the coral wall ends and the deep ocean begins. Its really small, about 5 miles by 1 mile at its widest point and basically its just a sand bank held together by mangrove tree roots.

Mangroves

The framework of this island – Mangroves

Jetty

One of the many jettys

Its really chilled here and we’ve fallen into the ‘modus operandi’ almost immediately, but there is One Big Issue and that’s the insects!Β  It was really breezy for the first two days, so we were in ignorant bliss just bummin’ around our house, and then it turned still…and the nightmare began! I never thought I’d say this but mozzies are the least of our problems here. The culprits on this island are the sand flies, so small you can barely see them and they are everywhere. Over two days we got so many bites (Jane counted the ones on her legs and gave up at 200) that it was pretty depressing. The agency sent a guy with an arsenal of insecticides, and at the same time the authorities sprayed the streets with a toxic mist that smelled like cat piss. Jane is a bit peeved that we are not living the ‘organic’ life, but I say kill the bastards by whatever means:)

We seem to have stemmed the invasion and things have settled down a bit (we look forward to windy days) but we still get a couple of bites daily. Then there’s the cockroaches – we only seem to have one in the house – it spread its wings and flew around a bit (freakin’ Jane out) before disappearing under the fridge – but we had a whole load of flying roaches squawking around the outside of the house. Our ‘pet’ indoors kept answering back – loudly! Its a wierd noise, like a dog savaging a squeaky toy, no kidding.Β  Anyway we’ve got used to our cockroach calling to its mates outside. Oh, then there’s the rat I spotted nibbling on my toast in the toaster, and the lizard sitting on the shelf when I opened the kitchen cuboard…life on a small tropical island eh:)

We haven’t booked any diving or snorkling trips yet, but as we are here for three weeks there is no hurry. I will definately be diving the Blue Hole (ear probs permitting it’s 40 metres deep) and we really want to see the mannatees and sharks…so watch this space.

Main STreet in Caye Caulker

Aaaalllllriiight mon!


June 8 2012 – Belize City

This is a small city with the main area centered around the mouth of a river, called Haulover Creek. We arrived after 6pm and everything seemed to be shut around the dockside, so it was a relief to see the hotel really close by. The guy at the desk told us that there was a restaurant next door, but that it shut at 7pm, so we dropped the bags and headed straight in – we were starving! A slight moment of worry when we couldn’t get the door open – they had it bolted, so you are starting to get the picture of life in Belize City after dark πŸ™‚ – but then an old guy ambled over and let us in. It was just us and a small group of old creole men talking boats. The menu was chicken, beans and rice, Pork beans and rice , or…beans and rice…or just rice. Not the most varied diet. Anyway we settled on the chicken version and ate the lot.

Our hotel sits right on the river, next to a historic handcranked swing bridge – the only one in the world – and made in Liverpool! So its cool to sit out on the veranda and watch the world go by, and see the scissortails dive for fish in the river. Dolphins and Manatees come into the river mouth sometimes, but mainly they are out in the lagoon area between the mainland and the islands.

Belcove Hotel

Our hotel in Belize City

Hotel View

The view from the jetty ouside our room

We explored the main area the next day, streets of low clapboard houses and old colonial churchs and government buildings – not that we got much peace to look at them. The hawkers were out in force. We soon clicked that everyone thought we had just ‘got off the boat’, literally, a criuse ship had just docked and everyone thought we were rich Americans. Two days later, as soon as the ship was gone we were left alone. But meanwhile we got to know some real characters – first there was Prince Charles (his real name) who gave us an animated and very eloquent history of Belize for the fair exchange of BZ$1.50, about 50p. It was worth more but it was all the change I had. Then there was a guy (I forget his name but he looked like Carlos Santana) who made me a necklace out of a piece of shell that I found on a beach in New Zealand, then threw in a rap song for free. Next was Edwin, the blue eyed, black creole guy, who along with his life story, sold a shell to Jane (which I accidentally broke, sorry Pet). But the best has to be Lilly who talked Jane into getting her hair done Creole style. I haven’t laughed as much in ages. I did get a pic but if I put it on the blog she’ll kill me πŸ™‚

Belize City Swing Bridge

The Belize City Swing Bridge – Hand cranked πŸ™‚

Back in the ‘right next door’ restaurant (its really safe in the city through the day, but there’s a general recommendation not to go wandering after dark) we met an Australian woman in her late fifties, who was travelling alone (guts or what, good on yer Heather!) or should I say escaping and spending the inheritence, after years of looking after her elderly mother. She was sharing a table with an old local who had worked with Jacque Cousteau in the 60’s when he dived throughout the Caribbean. We invited her to join us when the boatman left, and had a really good night with someone who thinks just like us. We seriously over stayed our welcome by staying until 9pm, which is the equivalent of 2am to a Belize restaurant, before walking Heather back to her hotel across the bridge, with no problems at all.

After 5 days in the city we are really ready to cross over to the island of Caye Caulker. So tomorrow we travel 21 miles across the sea to a tiny island that measures 5 miles by 1 mile at its widest point, and just 1 mile off its shores is the Belize Barrier Reef, the largest reef in the Northern Hemisphere and the second largest in the world. And my next dive destination… Cool.


June 4th 2012 – Leaving Honduras

As we stepped off the ferry back onto mainland Honduras, we knew one thing – no way were we staying in La Cieba again! So, we headed straight for the bus station and within half an hour we were on our way to Tela. This is a seaside town at about the half-way point to the northern port (Puerto Cortes) where we hoped to get a boat to Belize. The guide book said Tela was a cool place to hang out, with fantastic beaches and great restaurants. We’re learning that the guide books are never to be entirely trusted πŸ™‚

Tela is a bit of a dump in some areas. The beach is pretty okay actually, once you negotiate passage through the sleeping tramps and disgarded rubbish. The resturants need a bit of ‘quality control’ – the first place, where we had a really great breakfast when we arrived, on ordering exactly the same thing the next day, we found it to be barely eatable. No, thats too kind – it was rank! – and it cost more than the day before. Another place where we had really good filter coffee one day, we were served the worst instant crap the next. So, top tip for Tela – don’t go to the same place twice πŸ™‚

Tela, Honduras

One of the better streets of Tela

Two uneventful days later we got up really early to get the first bus out. We were at the bus station at 6.30 for a 7am bus. It left at 9am, and was the crappiest bag of smashed crabs we have travelled on yet – and we’ve been on some bangers!

Tela Express

The Tela Express – Hold onto your hats, we’ll be leaving late and arriving later!

To really piss me off it also dropped us on the outer perimeter of San Pedro Sula (re: one of the most dangerous cities in the world) rather than at the central terminal, where we had to change for Puerto Cortes. We jumped in a taxi, who definately took us the long way round, but was decent enough to drop us right next to the bus we needed, so all was forgiven.

We were on a wing and a prayer going to Puerto Cortes, as we had very little information about the boat to Belize, except that it only left once a week, but we had read conflicting information about what day that was! The guide book stated that you shouldn’t stay there, as there were no decent hotels, recommending a place 18km away – but how the hell were we supposed to book tickets? If they existed! And if it didn’t…

So we thought lets just get there and see. As it turns out it could not have been easier – after the bus dropped us off we jumped in a taxi and I asked him (in my pidgeon spanish) to take us to a hotel… after a few blank looks and shoulder shrugs, and lots of mention of ‘La Lancha’ (boat) I eventually understood that he was taking us to the port, which as luck would have it there was a great (and cheap) hotel right next door! Result! (so much for lonely planet guide books). Let’s hear it for The Hotel Prince Wilson in Puerto Cortez! Nice people, nice room, good coffee and cable TV what more does a European need πŸ™‚

Our evening meal was by the river where we shared a verranda with a Honduran family. The baby had been given the car keys to play with and then promptly threw them in the river! Hilarious πŸ™‚ The father asked a couple of local kids (who had been jumping off the bridge into the river) to dive for them, but they couldn’t find them, so he had to strip off and jump in himself. He got them first dive! So a pretty entertaining evening.

Puerto Cortez

The Key Hunters of Puerto Cortez

Next morning it was up early for the 9am boat The Pride of Belize which would take us on our 4 hour journey to Belize City. The guy running the boat told us the night before to be there for 8:30am so we could get through passport control and thus leave on time with no problems. Needless to say, in true Honduran style, we left at 11:30am on a crowded boat with luggage, parcels and the odd three piece suite. But the journey was fine albeit much longer than advertised.

Belize Ferry

The Pride of Belize ferry

We arrived in Belize City at around 6pm. But all is well – we found the hotel straight away and we’ve checked in for 5 nights before we head off to the island of Caye Caulker and the next dive – The Belize Blue Hole.

Belize

Arrival in Belize City – That’s our boat on the left


June 1st 2012 Laid-back Utila

Our days on the island are long and lazy, besides the odd dive that is! Although I have to admit even some of them were drift dives, where the current does all the work for you πŸ™‚ The Utilans have laid-back life off to an artform.

brolly

Street view of Utila – and me with brolly in the shade avoiding the sun πŸ™‚

We walk the street everyday, stopping for breakfast at the ‘Blue Hut’, where as long as you are not stupid enough to look in the kitchen (I was) while the food is being prepared, (“hygiene” has yet to enter the Utilan vocabulary) you can enjoy consistantly great food and a good cup of coffee. We enjoy the greetings and banter of the older generation who sit on the side walk chatting and playing harmonica… mostly church hymns πŸ™‚ The bars and restaurants are pretty good, but our favourite has to be Treetanic – made of glass and ceramics surrounded by organic, ‘Gaudi’ type terraces and huge trees. Really cool.

Treetanic bar

Treetanic bar with glass and pottery etc everywhere. Really cool place.

Gaudi Glass

Another pic of Treetanic Bar with Gaudi-esque decoration

We’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time watching crabs and thier hilarious behaviour – they all have thier own ‘door’ to a burrow which they are either agressively guarding, or nonchanantly chewing on any old crap that falls within reach. I won’t be surprised if Jane produces one from her backpack when we get home. There will definately be a cockroach or two in there when she unpacks – she found one in her wash bag recently – thought it was a hair clip, until it moved… she nearly hit the ceiling she jumped that high – hilarious!! πŸ™‚

divecentre

Another rival dive centre in a great location. Behind “The Blue Hut” where we have brekky! That’s not its name… we just christened it that.

I dive, eat, drink beer, walk and sit around. Jane snorkels, eats, drinks beer, goes riding, goes walking, and sits around. We’re exhausted.

A horse

A horse wot Jane rode πŸ™‚ Minus mozzies!

We have explored a bit (Jane a bit more than me…well okay a lot more) and I can honestly say I have seen the north side of the island from land, not just from the boat :), but there was no way she was getting me up Pumkin Hill – come on, it’s too damn HOT and HUMID! and energy levels are sapped from the moment you walk out the door πŸ™‚

View from the hill

A view from Pumpkin Hill

northside

Northside of the Island

We have been here three weeks now and its time to cross back to the mainland and make our way to Belize, so its goodbye Utila, Honduras its been fantastic, and backpacks on for the next leg…


May 29th – Dive Utila!

OK I’ll admit it… we’ve been on Utila for about 3 weeks and only now have I decided to write the blog… To be honest it’s hard to keep it up (the Blog!) but I feel it’s necessary to tell you about the diving here so… I’ll get out of bed, put down my snickers and beer, turn off my Muse album and summarise my dive experiences.

UDC

UDC – the girl on the left of the picture is actually a bloke πŸ™‚

I booked 10 dives at various sites around the island through Utila Dive Centre. This is the centre I discovered about 3 years ago online whilst searching for a place to escape to. It seemed a good idea at the time and I have to say, apart from a strange “conversion rate” the staff here are very friendly, organised and good at what they do. By conversion rate I mean I was charged a fee for using local money?? If I had paid in US dollars I could understand the exchange fee to Honduran Lempiras but the business runs in Lempiras which is how I paid, so I don’t understand the charge… converting Lempira to Lempira??? Don’t get it. Anyway I digress. Despite this the staff were great.

Old Tom

This is the dive boat “Old Tom” – pay no attention to the bikini clad blonde sunbathing at the end of the jetty there… pay it no mind. πŸ™‚

I decided to break the dives up, so I dived every other day and give my ears a chance to get acclimatised to the constant pressure changes. My ears have not been great since Australia’s Barrier reef when on a third dive I had excrutiating pain on my left side… needless to say I’m pretty cautious nowadays. I had two instructors/divemasters for the dives Chris (from Middlesborough… I know…mental eh?) and Brett who I think was a Canadian (sorry Brett if this is wrong). Both guys were great. Good dive and safety briefings every dive and very conscious of thier obligations of essentially being responsible for your life…Thanks for turning my air on Chris! πŸ™‚ They were always on hand pointing out points of interest on each dive. Even to the point where a large Moray eel` frightened the sh*t out of Chris when it emerged from a small cave on our first dive! After which it headed for me at which point I remembered my training and put my hands behind my back not to appearΒ  threatening in any way and just let it get bored with me πŸ™‚

Green Moray Eel

Green Moray Eel – pic from Julie

The reefs here are pretty diverse. From shallow sandy reef to steep rocky drop offs into the big blue (my max depth here is better than ever at 23.4 metres – I’m getting better and my ears have so far held up well!) these bring with them a range of sea life. Everything from Tarpin (four feet long fish) to Whale Sharks 50ft long (although I never saw any of those booooo!) can be found here. Sightings of whale shark have diminished over the last four weeks though so I never got the chance to see one… even though it’s a primary reason for being here…nevermind.

The water here is warm. Very warm. In fact a lot of the instructors don’t bother with wetsuits and just dive in shorts and t-shirts. I stuck with the suit just in case of stings or the odd fish nibble πŸ™‚ I didn’t see whale sharks or dolphins (both of which inhabit the bay island waters).. but I did see *deep breath* Tarpon, Clawless Lobsters (Big ones), Eagle Rays (a few of those) various tropical fish (I can’t name them even though I did do fish identification πŸ™‚ errr… turtle, we think we saw a tiger shark – trying to eat a turtle but we can’t be sure, razorfish, pipefish, green Moray Eel and a small shipwreck (Teds’ Wreck) which was really cool and I think I’ll do more of this when I can. My favourite dive site was “Jack Bight” – this was a rocky reef separated by various sand channels with overhangs and swim throughs and was very interesting despite the fact there wasn’t a lot of animal life (that I could see). It was a cool site.

Bluefish

Blue fish (no idea) – pic from Julie

baracuda

Baracuda – pic from Julie

Eagle Ray

Eagle Ray – pic from Julie

Lion Fish

Lion Fish – nice eating but poisonous spines – pic from Julie

Clawless Lobster

Clawless Lobster – pic from Julie

Wreck

Teds’ Wreck – at Teds’ Point – pic from Julie

Diving in Utila is as much about the dive community as it is about the dive sites themselves. The dive centres try and create an atmosphere of a home from home, with quiz nights and barbecue nights every week. Oh by the way, we came 3rd in the quiz just snatching defeat from the jaws of victory! They hire local staff in most cases, so employment is good for the locals too and the whole island survives – but not solely – on a dive economy, from gear shops to restaurants to nightclubs, the theme of diving is never far away.

We’ve met some good people here on Utila (locals and expats) and will miss it. I met a girl on my second dive called Julie… who is an Instructor from England who came here for a 3 month break and to do some volunteer work at the whale shark centre… Guess where she’s from??? Durham!! She makes a mean egg sandwich and is a very good instructor. She lives in Chester now (no not “le Street” the other one) and works at the Blue Planet Aquarium leading shark tank dives for disabled kids and adults.

I’ll definately pop down there Julie mate so make sure you have plenty eggs, coffee and underwater footage and thanks for all the advice! πŸ™‚

More to come…

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