Southern Belize

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Southern Belize

October 13, 2011 - 23:36

Hello. My name is Kelly and I’m a dive-aholic. I freely admit it. I’m unabashedly, totally and completely addicted to travelling the world scuba diving. I love soaking up foreign cultures and engaging in lively conversations with friendly locals. I love sampling exotic foods that make your mouth sing and your stomach angry. I love taking that first giant stride into turquoise waters and discovering what new and fascinating critters await in the depths below. Heck, I even love the long and cramped, often overbooked and under-serviced flights one has to endure to reach these remote destinations.

Blue Creek cave

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But there is one thing I am not a fan of—and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here—and that is the sagging, bitter disappointment I always feel when having to share my vacation with packs of people crowding every dive site and swarming each sight-seeing destination. It’s not that I’m selfish— well, okay, maybe I am just a little— and it’s not that I don’t want fellow travellers to have great vacations and wonderful excursions for themselves, because I really do. They deserve it just as much as anyone else.

But let’s face it. Don’t we all yearn to show up at a world-class dive spot hardly anyone knows exists and get to explore it all by ourselves? Haven’t we all fantasized about laying a towel under a swaying palm along some deserted stretch of white sand beach and feel that blissful contentment of knowing you’ve got the whole place to yourself? Haven’t each one of us stood in line with scores of other tourists waiting to see some natural wonder the guide-book promised was a “three-star, sight-seeing must” wondering, “What’s with all these people?”

You may be suffering under the delusion that all the great vacation destinations have already been discovered—that crowded dive sites, clogged beaches and endless lines are just a fact of life. Well, let me disabuse you of that idea here and now, loyal readers, because I have been to a place that defies even your grandest holiday wishes—Southern Belize.

Hopkins Village

Glover’s Reef Atoll. As I watched the gleaming white sands of the Hopkins shoreline grow fainter, my cousin and photographer, Kate Clark, said out loud what I was already thinking, “No one’s out on the beach yet—I guess they’re all still in bed.” She turned back around and stretched out on the large bow of our dive boat, soaking up the morning sun. It takes about an hour and 20 minutes to reach Glover’s Atoll, an unspoiled ring of lush islands on the world’s second largest barrier reef, but we both considered this a plus. It gives you time to wake up and shake off the cobwebs of jet-lag (or the foggy-headed remains of too many drinks the night before) while getting to enjoy the gentle swells and soft breeze of the Caribbean.

When we arrived at the southwest wall—the first of three dives that day—our small group began stepping off the stern. As I awaited my turn, I scanned the flat sea, and I was surprised that we were the only boat in the area. C-Dog, one of our dive masters, had told me earlier that Glover’s was a popular site due to the pristine waters. So, I was expecting other dive operators to be bringing groups out that morning. I thought briefly that our early start was the answer, and when we popped up, I would see several boats close by.

I took a giant step off the boat relishing the warm water and remarkable visibility. We dropped swiftly, levelling off and letting the mild current push us over the giant forest of purple sea fans, elkhorn, tube sponges and wire corals. Our dive master was right; Glover’s is absolutely teeming with life. A large school of black durgeons stopped circling a giant tube sponge to get a quick look at us but quickly realized we were no threat and went back to their never ending game of chase.

A pair of spiny lobsters twitched their tentacles nervously, trying to shove themselves further back into their hiding place as Kate moved closer for a picture or two. When she got the one she wanted, she took her reg out and flashed me a big smile, shaking her thumb and pinky at me, “This is so awesome!”

Rocky shelves and overhangs covered with red and green tube clusters dominated the seascape, and we immediately began searching for nurse sharks and morays. Neither showed themselves, but a curious hawksbill turtle came to greet us and inspected the glass on Kate’s housing before finding a spot to rest next to a glowing azure vase.

We slowly finned up a few meters and watched a pair of gray angelfish swimming in lazy, twisting loops around a group of star coral. They disturbed a sizable grouper that had his mouth open for a few tiny fish busily cleaning his teeth.

The current pushed us gently along the coral cliff for the next 20 minutes. Stoplight and butterfly fish darted in and out of craggy alcoves and a small school of barracuda eyed us with resentful suspicion.

I checked my air pressure and signalled to Kate that I needed to start ascending. She looked at her own gauge, still showing plenty of air left, and I could see no sign that she was exasperated by her time ...


Originally published

X-Ray Mag #43

July 13, 2011 - 21:47

Daniel Brinckmann and Scott Johnson on the wonders of Yap; Barb Roy and Wayne Grant on liveaboard diving on the Nautilus Swell in Port Hardy, BC, Canada; Dive team, Kelly LaClaire and Kate Clark, on diving Southern Belize; Elaine Kwee on dive volunteerism; Brian Keegan on a new tech wreck park in Sweden; Tyge Dahl Hermansen on mangroves; Aaron Gekoski on the broadnose sevengill shark in South Africa; AquaCorps Bob Halstead discusses the buddy system; Flash photography by Lawson Wood; Qian Dao Lake in China with Don Silcock; plus news and discoveries, equipment news, photo and video equipment, dive books, shark tales, whale tales and much more...