Diving Hol Chan
I’m currently that weird girl in the hostel asking everyone if they’ve seen a white, bandeau bathing suit. Because I left it in hanging in the bathroom to dry. And now it’s not there. So either someone accidentally grabbed it (unlikely) or someone is trying to squeeze into my really cute H&M bikini. Either way, I hope it turns up because it’s a new favorite of mine.
Onwards! Today was the first day I went diving. I’ve been waiting for the wind to mellow out, but have just accepted it as the typical Belizean breeze. I dove with a shop called Chuck and Robbie’s, which is a small dive operation that does a lot of the local, nearby dives. It cost $80 to snorkel Shark Alley and dive Hol Chan – which didn’t even include rental gear, because they gave me a deal since I’m staying at an associated hostel. $80 is ridiculously expensive – it cost me $25 for one dive in Thailand, including gear. I knew diving would be expensive in Belize, but I’m definitely missing the freedom I had in Thailand to just decide last minute whether or not I wanted to go diving because money wasn’t a big deal. Definitely not quite the same here in Belize…
I gave them my dive certification card, got fitted for gear, and scarfed down a toast and jelly sandwich. The boat left at 9am. The second the boat left the dock, I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. The sun was beating down (I put sunscreen on!), the boat was speeding through the waves, and the sky was clear. It only took 15 minutes to get out to Hol Chan, the dive site. I wish we had left before 9am because there were already 5-6 boats anchored, which makes for a crowded dive site.
Another odd thing that I’m still getting used to is the fact that the dive company sets up all the gear – the oxygen tanks, the BCDs, regulators, all of it. All you have to do is step into the BCD with the oxygen tank, close the buckle fasteners, and you’re good to go. At Roctopus, we set up our gear Every. Single. Time. No one touched your gear. You were responsible for it and you always did a buddy check before getting in the water – air, weights, BCD, final okay. I’m not really complaining about having all the gear set up for me, because I can’t remember all the steps at this point, but it’s strange to step into equipment that is responsible for your life and you haven’t even checked it or set it up yourself.
I’m also still a nervous diver. I love diving. But I’m definitely a novice diver and I don’t get to dive often. It’s been a year since Thailand and my last dive was over six months ago. So when I step into my gear, I have to constantly remind myself of a million different things – which button inflates the BCD? Deflates? How many weights do I need? What’s the hand signal for bars remaining? I even almost forgot to keep equalizing my ears. Not to mention, I still absolutely hate water in my mask, which is what I struggled with in the very beginning. So diving still continues to be a catch-22 for me in that I love it but I also still have a lot to learn. I want to be a more confident diver as opposed to someone who has dived advanced, deep sites.
Hol Chan is a really popular dive site, mainly because it’s a shallow dive with TONS to see. It’s only 28 feet deep – I could see the sun shining through the surface for most of the dive. Lots of people also snorkel the dive site; that’s how shallow it is. I dove with two other people; Michael and his sister, Margo. They take diving trips every year. Michael also had a GoPro, which was cool because we exchanged memory cards after the dive so now I have footage of myself diving. The dive was pretty spectacular, just in the fact with how much there is to see at only 28 feet. The best part, hands down, was the spotted eagle rays that were gloriously swimming throughout our dive. If I had to pick one word to describe it, it would be majestic. They are stunning creatures and they glide through the water so effortlessly. At one point, there were two eagle rays swimming side by side.
I got tons of GoPro footage, which was pretty neat. But it was also distracting because I realized I was spending most of my dive trying to chase really cool footage as opposed to actually focusing on my buoyancy, breathing, and where I was going. Which means I bumped into a ton of coral.
Then we snorkeled Shark Alley. I have mixed feelings about this. The nursing sharks have been fed there by fishermen for decades, so they know instantly that when a boat arrives, they are going to be given bait. I have problems with this because feeding marine animals is done as a tourist trap in the Philippines, Bali, and other diving spots, but I also know that this has been a long-time practice in Belize for 30+ years. I also felt a little distraught because I didn’t get to really see any sharks because they disappeared quickly once the boat’s bait was gone, so I wanted them to come back by feeding them… I got some cool footage from the boat, but tomorrow I plan on jumping in ASAP to try to get closer to them.
Tomorrow I plan on diving Hol Chan again – it’s an easy dive and the dive site is huge, so you see something different every time. I also want to take more pictures; I took a lot of video. Depending on the weather, I may try to swing a deeper dive site. I also somehow need to get over my nervousness. I’ve dived 80 foot shipwrecks and have never had a problem. I’m not sure why I’m nervous here in Belize to go any deeper.
I spent the rest of the day laying out, eating good food, and buying a cell phone. It’s an Android Samsung phone. It’s not bad. Best of all, it was cheap. I have to buy a SIM card, though, which will essentially give me a Belizean phone number and data that I can use for the remainder of my trip. This whole cell phone ordeal has been a good learning lesson because I’ve always wondered how to use a cell phone / SIM card abroad and well, now I know.
I also decided that I don’t want to go to inland Belize to see the jungle. I’ve seen Mayan ruins – I’m good. I came here to dive and sit on the beach and soak up the sun, so I plan on continuing to island hop. I’m going to Caye Caulker on Sunday, which is a smaller island than Ambergris Caye. I need to figure out when and how I’m getting to Placencia. I think I need to take a plane from Belize City.
I have also completely ignored my two grad school summer classes for the last four days, so tonight is unavoidable in that I have to do homework. I’m excited though because I found out IU will give me 6 credits for my professional work experience, which means I can definitely finish my degree by this December. MPA, I’m comin for ya!!!