Adventures in Diving — Turneffe Atoll, Belize

As a child, my idea of experiencing the ocean was to sit under a beach umbrella reading a book and listening to the waves.  I never really spent much time in the water, not being a huge fan of the gritty feeling of the salty water on my skin, and oh, the sting of the eyes!!  Not being a strong swimmer, I felt a bit weary of the power of the waves and currents.  This is all quite interesting to think back on, because over the past few years, it seems that I can’t stay away from the ocean for long at all.  It is like I am drawn to it, wanting any trip I take to be centered around time spent by it.  I love the salty, humid ocean breeze.  Hell, I would pay for an airline ticket simply to sit on a dock at night and feel that breeze on my skin.  I never tire of the sight of the ocean.  The vast expanses of blues, greens and grays.  The changing landscapes dependent on the winds, currents, weather…even a good storm.  I am entranced by the mystery and changing moods of the ocean, and I am insanely respectful of its power.  Spanish speakers may call it el mar, but I tend to agree with the fishermen…it’s la mar.  It’s a woman, Mother Ocean to be exact.

Tulum, Mexico

One of my favorite photos of the ocean.  Love that turquoise!  Tulum, Mexico

A year and a half ago, I spent some time in Belize, mostly Caye Caulker.  Here, I learned to scuba dive and obtained my open water certification.  The process went surprisingly smoothly, considering that early attempts at scuba diving in my teens were usually burdened by anxieties.  As a family, my step-father, mother, step-siblings and I had gotten our certification while I was in my teens.  We did this in a pool and very calm seas.  We dove infrequently, and anytime I was tasked with jumping into a rough ocean, I was overcome by anxieties, making the process fairly unenjoyable.  After an aborted attempt to dive the Great Barrier Reef in college, I put away my scuba equipment without a second thought for an entire decade.  As my draw to the ocean emerged over the past few years, I began to have a strong desire to get back in the water.  This desire to experience the deep ocean actually outweighed any fears I had of it, and I was able to approach the task of getting re-certified in a calm and collected manner, obstacles overcome with ease.

Surface interval after diving Turneffe Elbow, Belize.

Surface interval after diving Turneffe Elbow, Belize.

Since then, the experience has been wonderful.  Smooth sailing…with the exception of a few mask leak melodramas.  Keeping to the relatively calm waters of the Caribbean, the warm waters are silky smooth on the skin and completely soothing to the seemingly relentless itch of never ending insect bites.  The curiosities of marine life and the intricate details of the coral landscapes keep me interested.  The feeling of floating through the water is unreal.  Staring out at the blue or up at the sky from 60+ feet underwater, watching my bubbles rise to the surface, the changing weather above, all unreal.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am not the type of diver to dive 3 times a day, every day.  But, I really enjoy spending time underwater.  It is the only time my mind seems to stop reeling, where I truly enjoy the moment, only the moment — if it’s a good dive, that is.

Looking at the beautiful blue through a coral fan in Turneffe Atoll, Belize.

Looking at the beautiful blue through a coral fan in Turneffe Atoll, Belize.

Recently, I struggled with diving again, having more problems than not, spending too much time in my mind.  And, it was becoming quite frustrating.  So, when my mom began to dive again and forwarded an email about a deal on a dive resort in Turneffe Atoll, Belize, I bit.  A week on an island where there was nothing to do but lay in a hammock, snorkel and scuba dive…right in the midst of some of the best diving in Belize?  Yes, please.  Let’s do this!, I thought.  Perfect opportunity to force myself through the mental chaos I’d built up around the diving experience.  Wow!  And, it really was just what the doctor ordered!

Our cabana on Turneffe Caye, Belize.

Our cabana on Turneffe Caye, Belize.

The setting….Blackbird Caye Resort is a small resort with 18 beachfront cabanas on a private island only yards away from the beautiful reefs of Turneffe Atoll.  There is no where else to go on the island, so you eat, drink and hang out with the other guests.  Add to that a single dive shop forcing you to dive with the same dive masters and divers day in and day out, and you have yourself some serious camaraderie.  The first dive was a bit awkward, but overall ok.  But, by the second and third dives, I was hooked.  Bring it on!  I felt comfortable and in control.  A leaky mask here and there…no problem.  Our dive masters, Cardinal and Efron, were great.  We dove mostly with Cardinal.  He got to know us well, helping us with our weaknesses and reinforcing our strengths.  He took such an interest in making sure we saw things underwater and that we knew what they were…and we saw a lot of cool stuff — eagle rays, octopus (eating a conch out in the open in the middle of day!), shark suckers (pestering the hell out of us), reef sharks, barracudas, burr fish, garden eels, moray eels (even one free swimming), turtles, large groupers and snappers, and lots of cool smaller fish.  For a few days, it stormed pretty hard, causing us to abort one dive due to lightning and skip a few due to storms severe enough to be classified as a tropical depression.  When it was safe to dive, we watched the rain and rejoiced at the reappearance of the sun from below the surface.   I walked on the ocean floor without my fins and on my hands…and even recovered just short of a panic attack after becoming breathless from playing too hard and sprinting through a field of garden eels!  Learned a few lessons there…keep in control, don’t play so hard that you can’t breath, and, yes, I can calm myself when faced with distress underwater.  All very cool…and totally empowering to overcome your fears and anxieties, and as a result, have some really spectacular experiences!

Through the palm trees, you can see the research center at the tip of the island.  Very cool view.

Through the palm trees, you can see the research center at the tip of the island. Very cool view.

Some photos (all taken with my SeaLife camera, nothing fancy, but captures great little moments) from my time diving with my momma, Cardinal and my dive clique (you know who you are) at Turneffe Caye Resort:

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The center of my Turneffe world, unless you count our hammock!

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Mom and I with Cardinal, our main dive master.

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The diver clique…posing underwater like we know we’re bosses.

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Loved this turtle seemingly undisturbed by our company. It allowed me close enough to get such a beautiful photo!

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I couldn’t narrow down my shots of this turtle to a single photo. The blue of the ocean is so beautiful, and this amigo let me so close, I didn’t need a zoom!

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Totally into the texture and detail of this black coral lit up by my flash.

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The deep blue tone of the water this day was enchanting to me. I took so many photos of corals with the blue backdrop on this dive…couldn’t get enough.

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My mom was always laughing at me, turned on my head trying to see things and get photos of corals up close. This was so pretty that I just had to go through the bit of acrobatics it took to get in there!

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Turtle sightings never get old.

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When these shark suckers first started following us, I had no idea what they were. They were swimming through our legs, circling around us, pestering the hell out of us. It was kind of freaky. Very reassuring to learn their benign nature…only wish it wasn’t after I had sucked down all my air trying to calm myself from their nuisance.

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Uff…so pretty, so serene.

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Lion fish are an overbearing predator in the Caribbean Sea. We hunted them on every dive. Cardinal gave one to this barracuda who pounced at first opportunity. Crazy to watch these suckers in operation.

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Love all the bright colors in this photo. I just wish the white coral on the right was brighter.

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On one of our dives, the white sandy bottom was dotted with these delicate stands of algae, which caught my eye. Really beautiful.

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Once I became more comfortable under water, I began to notice small things, like this little creature inside a barrel sponge. Wish I could tell you what it was.

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What you looking at?!

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We found so many sea cucumbers. I am pretty sure that this was the only one we touched, but it was such a sticky smooth weird sensation to touch!

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More beautiful coral. The flash turned this black coral red, unplanned, but still nice on the eyes.

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Sea cucumber that I almost missed on float by. Sneaky…

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Spotted moray eel. Creepy looking…

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Love finding lobsters under ledges in the wall. First, you see their tentacles…hmmm…I wonder…ah, yes…yes, it is!

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These groupers followed us around trying to score one of our lion fish!

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Nurse shark sighting! Totally benign, but still fun!

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Burr fish inflated because we were bothering it. These creatures inflate so that they can not be swallowed easily. Fascinating!

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Colorful, funny looking corals catching my eye as always.

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This coral caught my eye because it was so odd for me. I have not seen coral grow like this before. Really cool!

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A family of drummer fish!

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Sleepy sting ray.

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My first spotted eagle ray sighting! Cardinal couldn’t drag me towards it quick enough. I had been talking about wanting to see one all week…I think this was the last dive too!

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Squid, actually seen on a snorkel trip. The snorkeling out here is unreal. We saw a group of 4 swimming past, and I was actually able to get close enough to these squirrelly creatures to get a good photo!

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2 responses to “Adventures in Diving — Turneffe Atoll, Belize

  1. Pingback: Gone too long. | pathway unconventional·

  2. Pingback: Mom & Daughter Travel to Belize. | pathway unconventional·

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