Today I achieved something that I never considered possible.
I became a certified Open Water diver!
It may not sound like much but after having childhood asthma since I was three years old, which I suffered with for most of my life, it’s amazing that I’ve finally managed to “grow out of it” and be physically able to breathe underwater.
I must say I felt pretty distressed the first time I had to take my regulator out of my mouth underwater, but the fear soon passed and I realised that the calmer I am the easier it is.
My dive buddy Iona (look her up at firstname.lastname@example.org) and I took the course over the three days, tackling our challeges and celebrating our achievements together.
We were treated to Grey Nurse sharks, Moray eels, slippery dicks (yes that’s their name), stingrays as bug as me and all kinds of crazy colourful fish on our first series of dives here on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua.
I’ll admit to having the Mario Bros song in my head from the underwater scene as we swam amongst the coral, an almost surreal feeling at first. But right now I’m stoked that I’ve been able to explore this underwater world 🙂
Belize, as the locals say, is absolutely unbeliezeable! Hearing how expensive it was, I had considered cutting it out of my itenerary and heading into Guatemala overland via Palenque instead. I’m very glad I stuck to the original plan!
I took a string of three Collectivos (shared vans) to get to Chetumal which is the ferry departure point. I can’t say that I’ve ever entered another country by ferry before!
After a short walk (about 1km) from the collectivo stop, I arrived at the ferry terminal a little hot and bothered. It was there that I first met Ben, the rather tall amd extremely funny Englishman that I would end up travelling with for the next few weeks. Going through the departure process was an experience – was caught up by the mexican ferry departure tax scam – although annoying, there’s little one can do but pay the money when the guy won’t stamp your passport 🙁
Bags were placed on the ground outside while we waited for the 3pm ferry, secruity was water tight here. Snacking on a sandwich as we hadn’t eaten all day, 3:30 arrived and so did the armed police who carried out the drug search. We all stood in a line behind our bags while the canines circled around, all clear, by 4pm we had set sail for Belize.
My first impression of Belize was cemeted when we arrived at the customs hall in San Pedro. After a convoluted process of standing in lines to get passports stamped, we had officially entered the country. Taking a moment to savour the flavour of our first Belikin, we quickly realised that nowhere else in the world had we had a beer at a customs hall! I only wish we got a photo.
Another short ferry ride later and we touched down at Caye Caulker which would be the start of many friendships. Arriving at Dirty McNasty’s (it’s really not that bad) I sauntered nervously up to the bar as I didn’t know anyone, and started chatting with the Italian bartender. Then I saw some people playing cards outside and thought one guy in a aussie akubra hat looked friendly enough, so I approached and met Will, who turned out to be a brother from another mother. No, completely seriously, he lives in the area where I grew up just a few streets away from my parents (and later busted out the Beder football jersey – those who know the area will know the significance!)
The next few days invloved plenty of swimming, snorkelling, exploring, socialising and of course the nightly dose of free rum which always ended up in a procession to the sports bar, and then the ‘reggae bar’ – which while I was there only seemed to play the classics, such as Justin Bieber. At least that seemed a safe enough place to hide from the American girl who brought along her Tazer for reasons unknown – which she also took great delight in firing off the hostel balcony in a misguided bid to impress the lads. How did she even get that into the country?
A hurricane divided the island in two in the 1960s and the spit is a popular place to swim, with a cool little bar and a laid back vibe. One of the days we decided to make the crossing, swimming across the lake only to find disappointment on the other side – seemingly now only inhabited by creepy animals and some local housing.
The laid back feel of the island is such that you will be yelled at by the locals for walking too fast – shouts of “go slooooow!” were not uncommon. However, it should be noted that while the rasta vibe is prevalent, the police tolerance for drugs was not, and one of the Mexicans in our crew was unfortunate enough to be caught red handed which resulted in an unfortunate night in the police cell followed by an unplanned boat trip to the court in San Pedro. No major issue, but I’m sure it wasn’t the most pleasant experience!
Bendict was the local man about town – a very laid back rasta kind of character. We would often see him wondering about the hostel trying to charm all the ladies. His aura seems to work for him, as most of the people we know arranged their tours through him, the clever guy picking up a tidy commission.
We were lucky enough to arrange an absolutely amazing day tour through him, snorkelling with sharks and sting rays in the marine reserve and then in the afternoon spearfishing which resulted in a very, very tasty fish stew dinner!
He also took us down to the local dock to have the tarpins (big fish!) take the bait fish from right out of our hands!
On the last night we met an interesting English lass named Willow who had invested £150,000 to buy a local Belizean Island – Virginia Caye. Needless to say she hadnt had company in weeks and was eager to share a few drinks with us. While Ben and I were super keen to visit and check out what life is like on your very own island, it wasn’t to be as Willow had rented it out for the weekend on AirBnB to a nudist hippy couple… Maybe best to leave that one right alone!
So to sum it all up on the day we were meant to leave for ‘Hopkins’ on the mainland (more on that in my next post), we ended up missing our ferry, and the next one, and the one after that… After a brilliant few days in paradise, I can completely see why it is such a favourite on the gringo trail.