Category Archives: Diving

August 8th 2012 – Parasailing and Diving the Keys

Well this is something that Jane has been wanting to do for years… I on the other hand prefer to preserve life not to test it to see if it’ll break. Although I must confess I loved every minute of it… a precursor to a Skydive??? I don’t think so!!

We got strapped in at the back of the boat, and the minute they released the line we shot up on our thousand foot line. Its a fantastic sensation to be dangling from a parachute while being pulled across the bay by a boat – and the view was spectacular, we could see for miles down the keys, and though we were on the Gulf side of the water, we could see the Atlantic to the east. You can just lean back on your harness and enjoy! Coming in to land was just as much fun as the boat guys landed us deftly on the back of a boat (they dipped our legs in the water first for a laugh) but we landed perfectly! Great fun – I’d recommend this to anyone.

Parasailing

Parasailing Key Largo!!

Afterwards we went to the pub and sampled the Key West brew, well more than sampled actually. As a rule we never drink on an afternoon, but the bar faced west, the sun was going down slowly, and the mood was chilled after all our parasailing excitment…and the beer was great. So just this once we broke our rule and had a boozey afternoon…

Lager

For some reason lager was going down like nobody’s business… go figure.

We booked a dive/snorkel trip as we wanted to get out on the water and see the reefs, but it didn’t turn out so well. The water was too rough – so the previous afternoons drinking was probably not a good idea. Anyway, the weather at 7am was wet but warm and the water looked calm enough in the bay side, so off we went out to the ocean side for our dives. As soon as we hit the ocean side the difference in the swell was immediate. We had been told that there may be 3 foot waves but we didn’t expect 6 foot swells. The captain decided to abandon the original dive site, as he said he could probably make it over there but couldn’t guarantee safety. So we did 180 and moved to a different site.

Diving

Me “suited up” for a crap dive

We geared up for the dive (minus wetsuit as the water was 27 degrees) and jumped in. The water was indeed warm, but because of the rough sea I was constantly fighting the swell. And to make matters worse the swell had made the visibility really bad so you didn’t really see a great deal. I’d had enough by this point and headed back to the boat 10 minutes early, to find Jane in the the throes of sea-sickness (she never gets sea sick). And within 30 minutes of being back on board after the first dive I too was hurling over the side. This immediately put me off a second dive and I just lay down waiting for it all to be over. It was still an interesting morning with a good captain… but to be honest they should have cancelled the dives, and the fact that they sent Jane out to snorkel alone with up to 6 foot swells…well not professional.

We hit the edge of a storm on the way back and got soaked by lashing, and very cold, rain, but it was cool to experience – the beginning of the hurricane season – it was great to get back to the resort and have a hot shower.

Amoray Dive Resort

Amoray Dive Resort

We are getting ready to leave for home. it feels really odd to be packing for the last flight…the Keys have been great, a good ending to a fantastic year, but this is sign off time, see you all back in Britain!


August 6th 2012 – Turtles and Tanks, The Florida Keys

Driving the Keys is easy – you can’t get lost – its just one road through a handful of islands (about 150 miles long) joined by bridges. Most of the way you can see water on both sides, what they call the bay side leads out into the Gulf of Mexico, and then you have the Atlantic on the other. It’s pretty cool. From Key West, at the very tip, we headed back up through the Lower Keys to an area called Marathon, where we had noticed on the journey down that there was a turtle hospital. It was well worth the visit.

turtle

This guy was brain damaged and swam in circles – they are hopeful of full recovery though.

They do great work here, and we met a lot of turtles! There’s lots of different reasons why a turtle may need help, but the main reasons are injuries from boats, ingestion of plastics and fish hooks, and pollution, which causes a type of cancer. Basically, besides the odd shark attack, (we met one with only one fin left – he is now a permanent resident) its humans that cause the damage, and so its fitting that humans give up thier time and money to redress the balance.

turtle

This turtle has an On/OFF switch on its head πŸ™‚

Most of the turtles get re-released, but the average stay is about a year – injuries take a long time to heal, and those that have the tumors removed need to be observed for a year to make sure that they don’t grow back. And then there’s the permanant residents – one of them has been here for 23 years – all of these have the same injury, comically called ‘bubble-butt’ which means that they can only float on the surface, its impossible for them to dive. Its caused when they have serious impact by a boat, which damages the shell and creates oxygen pockets through the tissue of the shell – there’s no cure, so they would starve in the wild without the ability to dive for food. They have a good life here at the rescue center, in a large, natural, tide-fed pool, and they are huge! We fed them catfish pellets, and it was great to get close to them.

turtle

This guy has a collapsed lung, which is why he leans to one side.

Our next stop was on the island of Islamadorada – and a museum on the history of diving. It might sound a bit nerdy to visit a dive museum, but this place was fascinating, with exhibits going back to the 1700’s – equipment and diving bells straight out of a Jules Verne – all polished brass and copper! “Steampunk” if you will. Did you know that humans were diving in the 1700??? Amazing.

Dive Museum

Did you know that we’ve been diving since the 1700’s ?

Diving Bell Suit

Deep diving contraption (there’s 3 of these in this museum)

Assorted helmets

Assorted diving helmets

It surprised us just how long we spent in this place, especially the section on deep sea life – you don’t have to be a diver to interested in the bizzare creatures at the bottom of our oceans, and the equipment it takes to access them.

Fish tank

Me and my mate posing for the camera πŸ™‚

It was late afternoon by the time we surfaced and we found ourselves in Key largo, near the mainland, before we found somewhere to stay for the night, but as this is where I intended to do some diving before leaving we’ve settled in for a couple of days. Going to check out some dive places tommorrow.


July 27th 2012 – Goin’ Loco Down in Acapulco

It was a long journey here, not so much because of the distance, but like all of Mexico the roads are really slow going. The road into Acapulco from the south brings you in high above the bay, and it looks spectacular – a huge horseshoe curve with all the buildings and hotels nestled in the green hills right down to the sandy beach.

Acapulco bay

Acapulco bay – click to enlarge

Balloon horse

Acapulco = Balloons and Beetles

Our hotel isn’t great. We had a bad start with them as they overcharged us – We got it sorted but its still too much money for a post-war crappy “POW-camp-style” bungalow – but, to be fair, it’s a really quiet spot considering we are close to the main parade and beach, and to be able to sleep without any noise is bloody fantastic. On our first night we found a second floor restaurant that served good food and 50 pence beers (Coronas) where we watched the Acapulco world go by – balloon horses and beetle taxis are the norm here. Our best find though, (and now the only place we eat) is a natural food restaurant with fresh juice blends and, I can’t believe I’m saying this, salads. I know, if someone had told me a year ago that I would be ordering a burger with alfalfa sprouts willingly, from a restaurant with a ‘food combining’ chart to help you with good nutritional choices, I would have said “f*** off”. Jane, as always, took it a step too far and had a cactus salad πŸ™‚

Me eating proper

Mmmmmm luuuursh…

One day we were approached by “Carlos” – a tour guide – on the street who asked us if we had done any sightseeing, namely the Cliff Divers of La Quebrada, Acapulco. This was one of the reasons I was here…but admittedly I totally forgot until he mentioned it. My family will be familiar with this, as it was the place Elvis Presley made his debut as a cliff diver in the the film “Fun in Acapulco”. He really did the dives!!! (yeah right!).

Cliff divers

View on the way to the cliff divers

On the way to the cliff dive Carlos took us to a hotel called “The Flamingo”. This was a home from home for the hollywood jet-set in the 50’s and 60’s. The most famous was Johnny Weismuller (or Tarzan) who lived here most of the time when he wasn’t tarzan-ing. Other famous actors who stayed here include John Wayne and Cary Grant.

Flamingo hotel Acapulco

Flamingo Hotel, Acapulco – you can just see Tarzan on the wall

The dive show started at 1pm so we arrived in good time to get a decent view of the cliffs. There were about 5 divers who swam to the base of the 50 foot + cliff then scaled the cliff face to the top, where there were a couple of small altars where they did their prayers before leaping off the top. The locals call them “the crazy divers” (but in Spanish πŸ™‚ There was no music or drum rolls before each dive. The guys just lift up their arms, whistle to get the crowd going then hoy themselves off the top…mental…into a small channel of wild water. It’s a miracle that they don’t get smashed off the rocks! The last diver, the Head Honcho, has real balls – he not only dives off the highest point (after a lot of prayers) he also does a somersault before hitting the water. Its really immpressive stuff…and here’s some footage of the man himself….

Tomorrow we leave for Mexico City, our last destination here before boarding the plane to Miami in a few days. We are hoping that it’s going to be cooler there, as the temperature in Acapulco has hit 38 degrees centigrade, and we are melting πŸ™‚ It feels very strange to be winding down our stay here in Central America and Mexico… but it had to happen!


June 29th 2012 – Night Snorkel… and goodbye to Caye Caulker

There was one last thing to do before we left the island and Belize barrier reef, and that was to experience the water in the dark. So we booked a night snorkel. When we got to the Blue Angel office to pick up our wetsuits and meet our guide we had a bit of confusion. A local guy arrived and started chatting about the reef and what we would see, and we assumed he was our guide and boat captain, (he was pretty well informed) but after a while we realised that he was drunk. No-one wants to go out on a boat at night with a pissed captain. Then our actual guide arrived and we breathed a sigh of relief. It turns out that the guy we talked to is really good at his job sober…he’s just never sober:)

Shane

Capt Shane from Blue Angel Tours, Caye Caulker

us

Just before total darkness – note Jane’s hair πŸ™‚

So we set out, just us and another couple from California, and within minutes we were at the edge of the reef. Captain ‘Shane’ gave us a briefing, and at this point, fully paid and out on the water, told us we would not see bio-luminescence that night (the main reason we were out there) as there was a clear sky and almost full moon. Barely containing our disappointment we jumped into the black water and hoped that something would make up for it.

Sundown over Caye Caulker

Sundown over Caye Caulker

I have to say it is quite an experience navigating the water with nothing but a small torch. The first thing I saw was a big nurse shark swimming just ahead, and a few minutes later we followed a slow swimming turtle bathed in the light of our five torches. The reef is so different at night, the colour is gone and the day time fish are asleep. Parrot fish produce a slime from thier mouths and cover thier whole bodies in it as a protection while they rest, and if you point your torch at the right angle you can see the transluscent sac. We saw a lot of these but there was one that had also lodged itself safely in the reef wall to sleep soundly. We saw sharp-nosed puffer fish, lobster, crab, lots of miniscule krill and plankton, which show up well in the torchlight, and a big flashy lionfish, but the real stars of the show on the night reef are the octopus. Its fantastic to see them move, changing colour, texture and shape as they go. Lets face it we were there for the ‘lights’ but it still turned out to be a great experience even without them.Β  Shane took the boat around to the west, and quieter, side of the island to moor for the night, and managed to find us a critter that we didn’t even know frequented Caye Caulker – a salt water crocodile! Cool. It was just resting on the sand bank just waiting to have its photo taken!

croc

Woa rippa crocs rule!

We headed for a bar, mainly to use the toilet, but you have to buy a beer:) and bumped into a great couple who we had snorkeled with at Hol Chan (and joined for dinner that night), so we talked for a while, but as it was thier last night on the island, we left them to ‘romance’ and went looking for a bite to eat on one of the street stalls. By now it was late and they all seemed to be shut. It looked like we might go hungry (nowt in the fridge back at the pink house) when a restaurant owner said we could order what we liked and pay him the next day. Now you don’t get that back in Britain. We had whole lobster dinners and a couple of beers and it was bloody fantastic – thanks very much Jolly Rodger restaurant!

Our last day on the island was the first day of the Lobster Festival and it was just like the village fetes you get back home (or used to) a very family oriented day with lots of eating, drinking and playing rubbish games (such as Chicken Shit Bingo – where a live chicken runs around a numbered board and the first person to get the number the chicken shits on wins – inspiring stuff!!). We opted not to pay to see the beauty pageant and went home to pack. We’ll be sad to leave this island, but both of us are really looking forward to Mexico…next stop…


June 27th 2012 – Hol Chan Reserve

Well the diving has been really good here on the reef, but there are also some great snorkling trips on offer – to the Hol chan reserve – so we booked a day on the water with one of the many local businesses. Jane chose Raggamuffin Tours because they use sail boats, and it turned out to be one of our best days for seeing wildlife, and definately one of our best days for chillin’ out.

Captain

Captain Ash our guide for the day

It was a small boat, just two crew and six snorkelers, including us, and we headed north following the wall of the outer reef, making three stops that day. The first site was close to the reef wall east of the island, and was just fine, the usual fish life and coral that you get to take for granted when you’ve been living by the caribbean sea for a couple of months. We got back on the boat and had a delicious lunch, freshly prepared on board, as we sailed to our next stop. Further north, and on the edge of the reserve, we jumped in the water and the first thing we saw, beyond the masses of shoaling fish, was a nine foot nurse shark right below us! We were surrounded by smaller sharks and big sting rays swimming within inches of us. Where ever you looked there was sea life – big fish right in your face, enormous groupers, eagle spotted rays, sting rays, younger nurse sharks (our guide cradled one about three to four foot long and it was happy to have its belly scratched) there was something to look at and follow at every turn, it was fantastic. Eventually we were reluctantly dragged out of the water, Jane protesting, until she was promised turtles at the next stop πŸ™‚

Chillin

Chillin between snorkels

About twenty minutes later we were right in the heart of the reserve, and this time the second we hit the water we spotted three turtles grazing on the sea grass just feet below us – one (called Kevin) had only three flippers and we can only guess he had had a run-in with a shark at some point, but he was doing just fine in the protected waters. We just bobbed there quietly and watched them, as they fed and then leisurely surfaced right next to us for air. It was amazing. You can imagine we didn’t want to leave, but our guide insisted we follow him on a tour of the reef, and it didn’t take us long to see why. What a place. Jane calls it a zen garden beneath the waves and she’s not wrong. The reserve is beautiful, definately the best bit of reef we have ever seen. The diversity here is unparalelled, and that includes the Australian barrier reef – so anyone who is looking for the worlds best dive and snorkel site – here it is – Hol Chan and all of the Belize barrier reef. So even without seeing a manatee (they migrate here to mate at this time of year) we headed back to land content.

flipper

Dolphins join our trip home

It was a chilled journey home, with the sail up and our crew singing reggae songs as we drank rum punch and snacked on tortillas with shrimp salsa. We sat on the deck totally content. Then I spotted dolphins and our captain turned the boat for us to join them for twenty minutes, which, for Jane, turned a good day into a perfect day.


June 24th 2012 – The Blue Hole, Belize

Well the day has arrived for fun diving. And what better fun can you have than to dive in one of the most famous dive sites in the world The Blue Hole, Belize.

The Blue Hole lies in the second largest barrier reef in the world (Autralias being the first). It lies 71 miles from Caye Caulker, Belize and it’s about a 2 hour boat ride. Almost perfectly circular, it has a radius of more than 1,000 feet (305 m). It is considered one of the most astounding dive sites to be found anywhere on earth.

Located in the center of the Lighthouse Reef the Blue Hole is a large hole of water 480 feet (145 m) deep, which gives the deep blue color. The hole itself is the opening to a system of caves and passageway that penetrate this undersea mountain. In various places, massive limestone stalactites hang down from what was once the ceiling of air-filled caves before the end of the last Ice Age, the hole is the opening to what was a dry cave system during that time. When the ice melted and the sea level rose, the caves were flooded. The Blue Hole is famed for its sky beauty and ever since Jacques Cousteau came here in 1970 it has drawn divers from all over the world. OK thats the science bit over…

On the way to the Blue Hole

On the way to the Blue Hole

The beauty of fun diving is that usually the company you book with do all the work. They change your tanks after every dive and check your gear before each new dive (although you should always check it yourself too, which I do). Anyway our divemaster briefed us on what we were to do… we were diving to a depth of 40 metres for 8 minutes only and then slowing ascending to 30 metres. We would be swimming through those stalactities and keeping an eye into the blue for sharks (Grey Reef Sharks)… cool I love sharks!

The thing about diving with tour companies is that the gear they use is usually old and battered and ripped etc. This time though, even though it was a small operation, thier gear was really good quality, in fact most of it looked nearly new, so now for the plug… they were called Aqua Scuba out of San Pedro (north of Caye Caulker) and they were very good. I suited up and jumped in. Now after what I just said, my tanks started to whistle which basically means there’s a leak of air from the valve. Slightly concerned I called my divemaster and showed him… he was pretty used to this sort of thing and said “small bubble no trouble” and “at least I’ll be able to hear you”. So I took that to mean that there was no bother and carried on.

Between Dives

Between Dives

The first thing you notice about the Blue Hole is that it’s cold. To get to it you swim over the shallow reef surrounding the hole which is nice and warm, so its a bit of a shock when you go into the deep water. All of us shivered as we descended, especially the bikini clad ladies (think Ursula Andres) posing more than diving. I feel quite the professional now seeing as I’ve dived loads in the Bay Island and Caribbean so I found myself “looking after” the other divers. Some were going too deep (we were told to stay the same level as the divemaster but sometimes new divers have trouble with thier bouancy and drop lower than they should) so I politely gestured to them to come up to our level. And looking like an old fart as I do they assume I’m highly trained and do as thier told.

At this point we get to 40 metres (the absolute max for recreational divers) and we are greeted by the stalactites. I expected the same stuff you see in caves in europe, you know, the long limestone “icicles” hanging from the ceiling but no, these were the size of houses. So huge in fact you can swim around them like a slalom. The dive at this level is very short and after a swim through these magnificent formations we started to ascend. On the way up we kept the wall of the hole to our right and occassionally glanced into the deep dark blue for signs of life. And we weren’t disappointed… five reef sharks swam lazily above us. They were about nine feet in length. Then one more quite close to me but below me – a little disconcerting but a thrill none the less. The dive was short, but worth every minute.

Docking for lunch at Halfmoon Caye

Docking for lunch at Halfmoon Caye

Halfmoon Caye

Halfmoon Caye beach

After a lunch break on Halfmoon Caye (an architypal desert island and reserve). We did two other dives that day equally amazing (and warmer)Β  The first was “Halfmoon Caye” itself. More amazing wildlife, from turtles and stingrays to Baracuda and everything in between, oh, and yet another Grey Reef Shark… cool!

The second was Long Caye or “The Aquarium” – very aptly named. The divemaster took us down with a bottle ofΒ  left over rice from lunch. He opened it and within seconds he was surrounded by literally hundreds of big fish all vying for a free feed. He looked like he was being attacked by Pirahnas… it was great.

Belize has definately some of the most amazing and diverse animal life I’ve seen. Now that I’ve dived the Australian Great Barrier Reef, Sianoukville, Cambodia and Utila, Honduras I think I can say that Belize has some of the best diving in the world, without question.

We enjoyed a lazy rum-punch-filled ride home to Caye Caulker. A great day. Thanks to Aqua Scuba!


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.