the Great Blue Hole
I don’t imagine there are too many scuba divers who haven’t heard of the famous Blue Hole, off the east coast of Belize. It is a sinkhole that lies in the Lighthouse Reef, one of three atolls in Belize. What I had heard about the dive from those that have been there was fairly polarized: either that it was an amazing surreal experience, not to be missed, or that it was super-duper boring and no one should waste their money. Given those reviews, I needed to see for myself. 🙂
All I really knew about the dive was that it was pretty deep, and the big attraction was that at 120′ to 130′ there was an indented portion of the wall where you could swim among some stalagmites and stalactites. Sounded pretty cool. I imagined that it would be a small group of fairly experienced divers and that at the appointed depth we’d all duck under the ledge into a mystical darkened cavern with the big hanging pointy things, and sticky-uppy pointy things. We’d swim in this magical kingdom for a few minutes probably with a few huge reef sharks, and then leave with the memory of a fantastic experience, which would stay with us forever; this would be a landmark dive.
We got on the dive boat at about 5:30 a.m. with a dozen or so other divers, some of whom were repeaters to the Blue Hole, and a couple of whom looked like they were barely dry from their certification dives. We spent about 2 and a half hours driving to the dive site – long boat ride. We got there, got briefed (our instructions were that once you got to 1,000 psi, please advise the divemaster), got in, and went to a sandy spot at the mooring at about 45′. Several fairly large sharks were hanging around, and I always enjoy seeing sharks. Once we were all ready, over the ledge we went, into the Blue Hole! Down, down, down, not much to see, a few more sharks, the wall on the left side of us, the deep blue on the right side. I got to 130′ and looked around for the magic. I was there, where I was supposed to be, but I didn’t see it. The divemaster banged his tank, and I looked over. He was pointing at a stalactite, and then he swam between it and the wall. Oh… I see. This is it. We’re there. The ledge that I had imagined we’d duck under was about six or seven feet wide. Not a magical cavern, just a dent. I followed the divemaster, swam between that one stalactite and the wall, then began the ascent. The divemaster at this point is motioning to one diver to dump some air out of his BCD; appropriate if someone is ascending too quickly, but kind of a beginner nightmare if you’re at 130′ – maybe that’s just me. As he checked the air of one of the divers, then rather frantically motioned for another divemaster to take this diver up, I thought “geez. it’s a bit early to be low on air…” as we were about 11 minutes into the dive at that point. We made our way slowly to the safety stop, and there were some more sharks and an eagle ray (always love a dive with an eagle ray). When we got to the mooring line the “low on air” diver was doing his stop on the extra tank they’d left hanging for folks just like him.
All in all, I’m glad I did the dive, as it really was one of those “have to see it” sites. Would I do it again? Not so sure. Perhaps, if it could be with a group of divers who were actually qualified to go to 130′, and we could spend a bit more time exploring.
I felt totally ripped off by the t-shirts I’ve seen which depict the opening more like a cavern than a dent. I was uneasy at having what looked like beginners on the dive. I’m all for everyone seeing everything – in the right time, but I thought a couple of people on that dive could have used a few more under their belts before hitting (possibly exceeding) the safe depth limit for recreational diving. I know there are no scuba police, but those guidelines are there for a reason, as is the idea “don’t push your limits.”
The rest of the trip:
In addition to the dive at the Blue Hole, that day included dives at Half Moon Caye and Long Caye. I loved both of these. Wall dives, like in Cozumel, but with far more soft coral which I love. In between these last two dives we had lunch on Half Moon Caye, the highlight of which was a walk through the jungle to a bird sanctuary (a bunch of big trees in the jungle) where there were some red-footed boobies, and frigate birds, which have this wonderful huge red balloon attached to their chest that they inflate and use to attract mates. (Who hasn’t seen one of THOSE in the bar, all puffed up and horny.) We also did three days of local dives off of Ambergris Caye. All the sites were similar to each other, and all were beautiful. The marine life is very much like Cozumel except for the corals; I didn’t see anything new on the fish front, but loved the wavy soft coral. Ambergris sites reminded me of Chunchakaab on Cozumel, my favourite site here.
wandering San Pedro Town
Other than diving, we ate, drank Belikin beer and shopped for trinkets. Ambergris Caye is a long, skinny island with San Pedro Town as the hub of activity. We stayed at the Conch Shell Inn right in the center of town, and depending on the day, took forays either north or south to test the cold beer and nachos. There are lots of ex-pats living here, most with a tall tale or two to tell, and the locals were some of the friendliest people ever; we wondered at one point if some sort of credits were giving for telling the tourists to “have a nice day!” The town is on the beach, and you can walk for miles on the sand with your toes in the ocean, and so I did that. We noted with interest, as we do in all the places we visit, how much property is for sale, where it is, what it looks like, and had the “if this was MY place, I’d…” conversations. I don’t remember everywhere we stopped, but we visited Caliente, Mojito Bar and Tapas (duh), Ruby’s, Cafe Cubano, Blue Water Grill, The Blue Iguana, Fido’s Restaurant and Bar, BC’s Beach Bar, The Pier Lounge, Crazy Canucks, El Patio, Cocina Caramba, The Baker, Palapa Bar and Grill, Tackle Box Grill, The Lime Bar, The Hummingbird Cafe, and at least one more that was fun where there was a slightly injured dog and a woman from Toronto who was the manager who talked our ear off.
All in all, I’d say a successful ticking off of one more item on the list, as well as addition of a couple more items to the list: Having been so close, but with so little time, I find myself now hoping to visit Caye Caulker and Turneffe Atoll before the completion of the hundred things. That’s the key, you know; always keep adding to the list.
another slice of paradise