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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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: