Having packed our gear and luggage the night before, Travis and I were ready to go when Grandma rang the doorbell at a quarter to six on the morning our Belize adventure was to begin.  We loaded our bags into the car and took one last look around in wonder of what we had forgotten.  I spotted a can of insect repellent, but set it back down as (somewhat irrational) visions of the pressurized can exploding in the cargo bay of the plane wandered around in my brain.

We arrived at the airport in plenty of time and checked our four bags, watched security ruffle through our carry-ons as they checked our regulators for explosive powders, ate a quick McDonalds breakfast and boarded our little jet (I could touch the windows on both sides of the plane at the same time) for our ride to Houston.  Between the 8-month old baby making faces at us from the seat across the isle and the Flubber movie, the trip to Texas went quite fast and before we knew it we were wandering around another airport eating Texas BBQ and taking bets on who would be the first to hear someone say "Y'all come back now ya hear".  Another two hour flight (this time on a 737) and we were touching down on a very short runway in a new country (new to us anyway).

Travis stepped off the plane right behind me and I heard him exclaim in surprise.  I couldn't help but chuckle a little knowing that his shock was due to the hot humidity that hits you like a smothering blanket as soon as you take your first breath.  I turned to catch more of his reaction but as it turned out, it wasn't the humidity that caught him by surprise... it was my backpack hitting him in the head as I swung it over my shoulder.  Oops...  Once he got over that though, the humidity was the second thing that caught him by surprise.

We made it through customs (after switching lines three times to find the quickest one (which never works)) picked up our bags and headed around the corner to the departure desk.  Thirty minutes later, we were on a Cessna Caravan for the short hop (17 minutes) to Ambergris Caye (pronounced "key", as in island). Other passengers on the little plane must have been just a little nervous as they asked if we were nervous.  Travis said he loved little planes.  I myself was feeling a little "jumpy" as I had never landed in a Caravan before even though I've had many takeoffs in one. 
The flight to San Pedro, the big city on Ambergris, is short but you get a nice perspective of the layout of the islands, and look down into the clear waters behind the barrier reef.  As we approached the Caye we could see (through the front window) the runway stretched out diagonally across the island with San Pedro wrapped around it like a corndog on a stick. 

Once the plane was parked, we walked to the terminal, which was just an outside bench, and waited for them to wheel the luggage over.  We grabbed our bags and walked a few dozen feet to our cab that was waiting for us (the island airline had called ahead).  A short, and informative ride in a taxi brought us to our hotel and we were at our new home ( www.bananabeach.com ).

After checking into our room, we walked along the beach to the center of town (about a mile north).  The beach combing was a blast... we even smashed open a cocoanut with a rock and tasted the fresh meat (don't know what Tom Hank's problem was).  I still don't care much for cocoanut though. 

While in town, we stopped at Joe's bike shop and rented our transportation for the week.  At $25 USD per week, you can't beat the price.  Golf carts were much more but people didn't seem to mind since the number of golf carts running around on the dirt (or crush coral) streets was about equal with the number of bikes.  The third type of vehicle sharing the road were taxi vans.  One taxi driver told us when he started driving about five years ago, there were 10 taxis on the whole island.  That number has grown to around 60 today.  There were also a few private vehicles running around but those ranked third on the frequency scale.

The mosquitoes are wicked in spots and after asking at no less than six stores, we finally found some repellant.  Make that surprise number one.  Somehow insect repellant doesn't seem to be that hot of a commodity around here.  I guess everyone brings their own.  (I later found out that it wasn't that the stores don't carry repellant, it's just that they can't keep it in stock).

We decided to explore the road heading north (opposite direction as our hotel).  The road soon came to a ferry crossing, but this wasn't the typical ferry.  You boarded a vessel just big enough to squeeze four golf carts on if they held their breath (okay... that doesn't make any sense, but you get the picture).  Then two bare-foot locals pulled the ferry to the other side by hand using a thick rope strung across the channel.

The road continues on to a couple of resorts, but we didn't make it that far as the mosquitoes attacked us so bad we had to turn around.  We headed back to town, finally found some repellant and headed back to the hotel.


It stormed and rained all day today.  We canceled our dive trip because most boats weren't going out anyway and we didn't want our first dive to involve fighting a lot of wave action on top of all the other new stuff that we'd experience.

After breakfast we hopped on our bikes and road into town again, but this time we followed the road.  The crushed coral roads, when drenched with rain, look more like wet cement and have about the same consistency.  We rode through puddles that were up to the axles or our bikes (13+ inches).  You couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity until you discovered an underwater pot hole.  The bikes were actually better at getting around than all the golf carts that we shared the road with. 

We spotted Amigo's Del Mar on one of the many piers that line the beach.  Our taxi driver had told us that this was one of the best dive shops on the island so we road our bikes to the end of the pier to check them out.  They were indeed one of the most organized shops we had visited and had a clean boat that was on the larger end of the scale that we had seen.  While we were talking with them, one of the dive masters came in and started talking to Travis about his bike as they walked out the door.  As it turned out, while we were checking out the dive shop, Travis' bike had blown over and fallen into the ocean.  The dive master had fished it out and set it back on the dock before we even noticed it was missing.  Travis noticed that the pad lock had fallen out of his basket so the guy went back in with a hook on the end of a pole and fished it out for him.  We knew at that point this was the right outfit to do business with and signed up for a two tank dive for the next morning. 

We rode back to the hotel, put on our swimming suits and headed down to embrace the water (which was still pouring out of the sky).  We tried snorkeling around the dock but the vis was more like the Puget Sound on a bad day so we moved into the pool and played there.   

We had dinner at Fido's restaurant which is right on the beach and has live music in the evening (although we didn't stay long enough to listen to).  The days end early here so by the time we left (around 8:30 or so) it was already dark.  As we unlocked our bikes, a local kid asked if we wanted some weed.  I pretended that I couldn't hear him and asked him to speak up.  He didn't of course and we rode off.

As we later found out, after closing hours that night the security guard was murdered with a hammer.  Apparently, the guard had busted some guys a few months earlier and they came back to take their revenge.  This was the biggest crime on the island for years.  It was rather shocking to us too since everyone on the island was incredibly friendly, and we always felt very save there, even after dark.





By morning the rain had stopped and we were set for our first dive. 

We were to meet the dive boat on the dock in front of our hotel and found other divers already there waiting for their own dive boat to pick them up. 


We didn't wait long before a small boat from the dive shop came by, picked us up and whisked us off to the dive shop.

We boarded the larger (38 foot) dive boat and shot the gap in the barrier reef.  The waves were large enough that the bow of the boat would submerge into the next wave as we darted through the trough.  I'm afraid Travis and I showed our western origins as we whooped it up like cowboys as we bounced across the largest waves.  Once outside the reef the wave action was a little less and we geared up to take our first plunge.


This dive would be to 80 feet.  The deepest Travis had gone before this was to 58 feet in Blue Lake.  The water was so clear though, that there wasn't much difference between 60 feet and 80 feet as far as visibility goes, so when we reached the bottom, Trav was surprised when he looked at his depth gauge and saw that we were already at our deepest point.
The reef is cut with deep canyons that make you feel like you're in a Star Wars movie as you swim through them.  Some of the deeper cuts actually turn into caves as the top edges of the canyon have grown together.  Swimming through them was one of the best parts of the dive.

Needless to say, Travis was feeling right at home.

Everyone ran their air down at about the same time so we all drifted to the surface, made our 3-minute safety stop and boarded the boat. 

We made a quick run back inside the reef to the dive shop for some surface time.  Trav didn't want to quit diving so we grabbed our snorkels and explored under the docks.  We were both surprised to see the number of fish that were hanging out there.

Our second dive was just as good as our first, but the batteries in the camera gave up the ghost just before we hit the water so we don't have any pictures of it.  The highlight of that dive was a large shark that swam by.  I think it was a nurse shark but we didn't get close enough to get a really good look.


To say the least... I think Travis is hooked!

After diving Travis spent most of the afternoon pushing other kids around on life rafts in the pool.  There are a lot more guests in the hotel than you would have guessed looking around here yesterday.  The sun brings 'em out I guess.

I finally dragged the kid out of the pool in time to pedal down to Jerry's Crab Shack for dinner before it got dark.  On the way back, we passed our hotel and went a few hundred more yards to the place where the lagoon meets the road.  This is where the locals told us to go to watch the crocodiles feed.  We got there a little late but we still saw three crocs.  A taxi driver and his family were down there trying to coax the lizards in with a string of chicken wings.  They never came very close, but it was interesting talking to the guy as he told us all about where to get fishing tackle and how to get the restaurants to cook up our catch for us.



Today was most definitely "Shark Day".  There was another boat unloading at our first dive so we didn't get the buoy and Alex (the dive master) said all six of us were to line up, three on each side of the boat, and enter the water together.  Travis and I were ready first and sat on the edge of the boat with our tanks hanging over the side waiting for the others to get ready.  After watching them dork around for several minutes Alex told us to go since it wasn't the most comfortable holding position to be in.  We flopped backwards together and hung out on the surface for a while but got tired of bobbing in the waves and headed down to wait for the others on the bottom.  We were no more than ten feet down when we realized this was going to be a little on the exciting side as there was a swarm of sharks circling around just below.  It seemed they were attracted by the boat... no doubt trained to expect a little food to drop from above.

We met the others in the middle of a sand bed and then headed out across the reef.  Sharks were all around for the entire dive, at one point I counted seven in a single group above us.  That, I thought to myself, would have made a great picture had I remembered to take the camera with us. 

Our second dive was more of the same.  Lots of sharks...

big coral...

and good times.


After our second dive, the boat dropped us off at Banana Beach and we took a one hour break before heading out again.  This time to Hol Chan Cut for some snorkeling.  Allen the guide, led us over this shallow section of reef and pointed out at least a hundred different things we would have missed on our own, all the while explaining their significance.  The Moray Eel was probably the most exciting animal.  Especially after seeing the bite marks on Alex's arm (the dive master from Amigos Del Mar). 

After a couple of hours of Marine Biology school, we got back in the boat and headed over to "Shark-Ray Alley".  There they loaded a perforated PCV tube with sliced fish and threw it overboard.  Instantly the water was swarming with six foot Nurse Sharks and Sting Rays.  We all jumped in and spent the next hour or so swimming with the sharks and rays.  By the time we got back to the hotel, we were pretty tired, but rode down the road to see if they were feeding the crocs.  We were a little too early this time and too tired to stay around and wait so we called it a day and turned in.



We took a day off from scuba today and headed inland to the jungle.  A short hop in a Caravan and a one hour van ride brought us to the foothills of the Mayan mountains and into the edge of the rain forest.  There, we took a short hike up a small hill to a smallish wooden platform built around the trunk of a tree.  From there, we road zip lines through the forest canopy to additional platforms, some as high as 75 feet off the forest floor.  We also learned a dozen uses for the various trees in the forest, from making Chiklettes gum to soothing aches and pains.  They even have one tree you can sprinkle with termites and live on if you're really desperate.  


After the zip lines, we ate some lunch at the Jaguar Resort before taking an inner tube trip down a river that meandered through the forest until it entered a cave, at which point we drifted underground for a mile or so.  It was a nice break from the heat.  Travis was pretty worn out and is having a little trouble with his sinuses so it was a good time to break from the scuba.  He fell asleep at every chance he got today (except for the airplane ride back, as they let him sit in the co-pilots seat).  

I guess it's time to rest a little.


We didn't dive for the next few days because Trav picked up a sinus irritation from the pool (we think).  Instead of diving we spent a lot of time on the beach.  We took a sailing class on a catamaran, rented a sail board and played on that, and generally relaxed for a few days.

By the weekend, we were ready for more diving.