When we visited Belize for the first time last year, I was aware of its stature as one of the world's top sites for scuba diving. But with all the time and expense involved with planning a wedding, I wasn't able to get dive certified in time for the trip (J has been certified for years). Turned out not to matter too much--we stayed on an island where good snorkeling could be had right off the beach, and J had a cold and wouldn't have been able to dive anyhow.
But when we decided to return to Belize earlier this year, I was determined to be able to dive there and see what all the fuss was about. I completed the first half of a PADI Open Water Diver course (classroom and pool sessions) in one weekend here in CT. While the rest of the suckers in my class would complete the open water portion of the certification in a Pennsylvania quarry, I headed down to the warm waters of Belize, referral in hand.
To complete my Open Water Diver certification, I would have to do 4 dives in 2 days. When we arrived on Caye Caulker, we stopped by the Belize Diving Service office to shore up our plans for the next day's dives. The weather had been overcast and rainy since we'd been in Belize, but we were told that they'd probably still be going out the next day, and to show up around 9 am.
The next morning, I was nervous. Diving sounded like a lot of fun, and I was excited to explore life under the sea, but it's an activity not without its very real dangers. On top of that, my anxiety was increased because of the fact that I had lied about one small item on my medical form, and had been advised not to dive by my neurologist but decided to take my chances (I'll save the details for another post, but in the meantime don't be alarmed...it's a migraine-related problem).
So anyway, having demonstrated that I knew how to assemble my gear, we (me, some other referral students, as well as a group of certified divers) got on the boat and headed off to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, about a 40 minute boat ride. The sky was still darkish, and there was intermittent rain. The water was choppy, and most everyone on the boat was keeping an eye on the horizon in an effort to ward off seasickness. Until recently, I have been immune to any kind of motion sickness. Maybe it's related to the onset of the migraine problem, but I've noticed that I'm a bit more sensitive to it these days. So needless to say, I was trying really hard to hold it together on the boat. I'd been assured that any seasickness would disappear once I got under the water, so I geared up and fell backwards over the side of the boat, ready for my first dive experience.
We descended slowly, but the abundance of the sea life was immediately apparent. Fish were everywhere, we didn't have to go very deep to see beautiful coral formations, and we even saw a group of nurse sharks. The problem was, I still felt pretty damned queasy. I had not been instructed on the finer points of retching underwater while trying to breathe from a tank, and I really didn't want to find out how well that would work. I breathed as calmly and steadily as possible, and tried to enjoy my first dive.
After about 35 minutes, we made our way to the surface, and within seconds of my head hitting air, the contents of my stomach were being gobbled up by a group of fish who had quickly found their way to my special floating buffet. J came up below me, so he got a nice view of this scene. A few more hurls in the rough water, and I got back into the boat. We had to wait an hour before diving again, an hour which I spent sitting silently, trying to calm my stomach. After one more fish-feeding session over the side of the boat, it was time to dive again. I felt better during the second dive than during the first, but once again, upon hitting the surface, the heaving began. This time, there wasn't much left...nothing the fish were particularly interested in, anyway.
We returned to the island around 3:30, and I didn't feel normal again until about 8 that night. Determined to finish my certification, I loaded up on Dramamine and showed up at the dive shop again the next morning. The other students were impressed at my tenacity and resilience, but no way was I going home with the damn thing half-finished (no quarry dives for me!).
The second day of diving was a completely different experience. We had better weather (and thus no choppy boat ride), and I think Dramamine is a miracle drug (I'd never tried it before). Unlike the end of the first day, by the end of the second I was already thinking about when I'd get to dive again.
Just call me Jacqueline Cousteau:
*Note: The whole crew at Belize Diving Service, including my instructor Ines, were awesome, and I would highly recommend them if you're ever on Caye Caulker and want to dive.