Belize Part 2 (Caye Caulker as a Tourist) – May 2009

– As soon as Kirsty and I got off the boat, we were stampeded, I mean greeted, by so many taxi drivers (in golf carts) and people trying to get us to stay at their hotel. It was super annoying, and we kept asking people to leave us as we had a reservation (even though we didn’t). We just wanted to check out a few places that we were considering. Since it was early in the afternoon, at 2:15, we didn’t think we would have a problem finding a place, but as bad luck has it, the first place we wanted was full. Then we started walking (and the sweat started to drip down my face as it was so hot) and more taxi drivers started to follow us. They were all friendly and nice, but it was annoying and I finally raised my voice to have them leave us, but they didn’t so I turned my back to talk to Kirsty. All is fun and games till you really get annoyed! Next place we went was odd as the woman that ran the hotel didn’t really want business as she showed us the room, but then told us of another place down the street that was nicer for a little more. Ends up she did this to three other people we met on the island as I guess she doesn’t want to make money or something. We finally settle into the place she recommend at the Tropical Paradise. It looked fancy and we lucked out in the low season and got a private room with bathroom and air conditioning. We were thrilled!!!

– I tend to keep running into the same people as I’m out traveling on my own, and I was happy to run into Angela at our hotel. I met her on the boat from Honduras to Belize and she met up with her friend Veronica and the four of us had a great week in Caye Caulker.

– One of the main reasons I came to Belize was to scuba dive. I really wanted to dive the famous blue hole (it is known to be super deep, with tons of sharks and is very famous). After talking to many divers in the prior weeks, I heard negative thing after negative thing about the dive, lack of visibility, lack of animal or coral life and lack of sharks. Plus it is a really expensive dive. So after doing enough of my own “traveler based research”, I decided to skip it and go to another dive spot that other divers raved about.

Dive Trip to Turneff Atoll – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!
– Showing up at the dive center at 6am was the start to an interesting day. We gathered our gear the night before, but it was very chaotic in the dive center. So we looked at it all and it looked good, but we didn’t get to test anything on an air tank. When we were on the boat that morning, I started to hook up my gear and my BCD was leaking air (not good), other divers were having issues with leaking gear and air tanks that weren’t full. That didn’t start me off on the right food with much confidence in my gear. I asked to change it but wasn’t able to. In the end, it was a faulty tank and not my BCD so I felt better as it was looking like it was working ok.

– After an hour boat ride, we were about to start a three tank dive on Turneff atoll, south side, known as the elbow. As we were about to enter the water, I put my regulator (what I breath with) in my mouth and noticed the mouth grips were missing on one side and other other side was hanging on by a thread, so I had nothing to grip and this is not good. I asked to change this, but was told there were no extras to swap. So if I wanted to dive, I had to us my back up air supply (octopus). Sadly, this happened to another girls as well and we made the most of it. I was not happy but going to deal with it and my buddy was aware as well.

The Good – including a hammerhead shark!
– The first dive was great. Daniel was our first dive master and was wonderful. We were lucky as a sea turtle came up towards us and was swimming directly below me, and it was so close and awesome! More large and colorful fish, tons of snappers and jack fish. The best part was as we were about to go up to the surface, we had to stop for three minutes for our safety stop. At that moment, we looked over and saw a 10 foot hammerhead shark swimming right past us. So what do we do…we follow it. When in my life would I say I actually went out swimming to chase a shark. Oh wait…I guess I have a few times on this trip, but it was still so great and I loved seeing it.

The Bad
– The second dive was the bad part. We had a new, inexperienced dive master leading us. When one of our group members had problems equalizing the pressure on her ears during the decent, the dive master went to hep her and never returned. He signaled for us to wait right there when he went to help her. Three of us were hanging at the bottom, with nothing to look at, for about 10 minutes before we decided to surfaced to find our dive master. He was no where to be found and we didn’t see anyone on the boat either. He had in fact forgotten where he left us. He said he looked around for us, but couldn’t get back to where we were. He says he went back to where we were, but we didn’t move and know it was his inability to find us.

– Finally we started to swim at the surface looking down for him, and I found him and the three of us went back down with him. At that point, he didn’t know where we were under water, lead us to see nothing for that dive, and we saw the other dive master’s group on the other side of the water, but we didn’t go near them. Plus, we came to a giant lobster and the dive master wanted to play and torment this lobster. He started to try to pull it out by the antenna and ended up breaking off 6 inches of the antenna. This was upsetting to me as there was no need to do this. Soon after the lobster, the dive master signaled us to go up, and I was shocked as I still had more than half a talk of air left (and the other two girls did as well).

– When we got to the surface, I asked why we came up so early, as the other group was still down there and he said, “It’s lunchtime”. I was pissed off at this point as it was a wasted dive, ended early and the other group that actually got the dive was still down there. I was fuming, but kept most of it in (I know I showed a little frustration), but I knew I would deal with the dive center manager when I got back.

– For the third and final dive, I went back to the first dive master, Daniel, and asked him if he would take our group out as we had a great time with him on the first dive. I didn’t say anything about the bad experience, just praised him, and he said he would love to take us if we wanted him. So the third dive was great and we got to see a lot of grass or sea eels, huge crab, more giant lobsters (these lobsters can’t be caught until lobster season starts on June 15th), so they are huge and ready for dinner! Too bad it wasn’t my dinner as I would have loved to bring one home! At least this last dive ended on a positive note.

The Ugly
– When we got back to the dive shop, I asked to speak to the manager outside (as I didn’t want to make a scene in front of the other customers) and I was upset. This was a very expensive dive trip and a third of it was wasted on this dive and the faulty equipment was bad as well. So I expressed all this to the manager in a calm and professional manner, and he said I needed to come back tomorrow as the owner will need to be involved in this and the dive master. He said the owner was not on the island that day, but would be in at 10am tomorrow so I agreed to come back. In the end when I returned, I waited for 30 minutes as the owner was really late. The dive master never showed up, and I had to explain this all over again twice. In the end after I stated my case to the owner, I got a third of the price refunded (which was what I wanted but I didn’t think it would happen in Belize). My big lesson learned is to really inspect every piece of equipment, test it out on a tank and demand that even if the dive shop says its fine. If I would have been able to test it all out, some of the equipment problems wouldn’t have been an issue.

– That night, Kristy, Angela and Veronica and I went out to dinner at a fun place with swings as the chairs. It was fun to just swing and drink and eat. I think I had the biggest burrito of my life. No joke, this burrito was over 12 inches long and about 6 inches wide and stuffed. Two of us split it and still over ate. It could have fed a family!

– We ended the night at the reggae bar in town as that was known as one of the hot spots. Too bad we were the only ones there at 10pm (and it closed at midnight). Kirsty found this little hermit crab on the road and decided to pick it up to save it from getting crushed by a gold cart and it became our mascot for the night at the bar. At the end of the night, we returned it to a safe place in the grass where close to where we found him.

– So my first few days in Caye Caulker were fun and relaxing and I felt like a tourist doing the tourist thing. Next part of my trip was different…but I can’t talk too much about it until after June 15th…

Logistics:
Tropical Paradise Hotel – http://www.tropicalparadise-cayecaulker.com Right on the water and beautiful! We got a private room with bathroom, air conditioning for $12.50 US each. Great place that I would go back to (just a little far walk from the split to swim, but good exercise)

This is a first on my site…but DO NOT dive with Big Fish. That was the company we used and I don’t think they did anything right.

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