Sunday, March 4, 2012

Life in the Sea

I spent my afternoon with sea life. I am in awe of the life that exists underwater in the sea.  It’s one of the reasons I love to scuba dive. Breathing underwater and visiting this part of our world is awesome. I have been a certified diver since 1985, and appreciate the opportunity to exist for a short time in this other world. Paul and I have wanted to scuba dive in Belize since our Cozumel experience in 1994. We are grateful that the winds have died down on our last day in Belize… our final opportunity to dive. We’ve been hanging out for three days, waiting for the gusty winds to subside.  

The motorboat transporting us and a bunch of other scuba divers, travels for about forty-five minutes to a shallow spot of ocean spread out with coral reef. The area is called Esmeralda. Our two tank “drift dive” means we get to relax and take it easy. It should be effortless because the drifting water keeps us all moving in the same direction. It’s perfect to simply observe and enjoy. Gearing up, one by one, we each back-drop into the ocean. Almost immediately I become in tune with my surroundings as I hear the sound of my own breathing and regulate its rhythm through the regulator. I feel in sync with the fish and sea animals.

During our dive, I am followed by what I believe is a yellow and white snapper. He swims with me for a long distance, and several times, he seems to make direct eye contact with me. My daughters would say we became "BFF” (best friends forever). I’m not sure if my presence amused him or baffled him, but I am convinced he was trying hard to tell me something!

Yellow is the colour that I noticed the most amongst the fish. Some are pure yellow. Others are white and yellow striped, and still others turquoise or iridescent blue making sure to present a yellow splash somewhere on their body. Yellow is the colour that most absorbs light! That makes sense in the underwater world. The sun shines right through, even 80 feet below!

I understand now the concept of ‘sepia’. God’s colours are very different in the depths of the ocean world. Browns, tans, chocolates, with a smattering of orange and yellow.  Dark greens clearly differ from the greens and browns of our earth surface. Long tubes of swaying purple or orange or blue plants remind me of Dr. Suess…”And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.”  Underwater life is otherworldly. It’s a place that I know exists, and just doesn’t feel completely real.

The blue sky shines through. Even at 80 feet below the surface, when I look upward I can see the sky. I wonder if the fish notice that too and if they too survive on the vitamin D provided by the sun.

Scuba diving is a co-operative sport. I would never dive solo! We are carefully arranged with buddies prior to descending. It’s important to review the hand signals together. Rounding your fingers reinforces “Are you okay?”  Conspicuously handling your air gauge asks, “How’s your air level?”  Moving fingers in a walking motion says, “Look! A lobster!” In the beginning of our first dive, I couldn’t find Paul! He often descends slowly because it’s hard for him to clear his ears at first. I know that, but still, I didn’t like not seeing him. In underwater sign language, I had a lengthy conversation with our dive master. “Are you okay?” he asks. “Yes. I’m fine. I’m fine,” I said again, “but my partner isn’t here. I don’t know where he is.” “Don’t worry!” Edwel responds, “He’s coming down. He’ll be here soon. You stay with me.” Reassured, I continue, but not until I actually see Paul and swim together am I feeling completely at ease.

Big fish! Barracudas, stingrays, nurse sharks sometimes measuring the length of my outstretched arms (about 5 feet). I was in awe of the way they swim, or just drift, coming so close to me and then moving on. I experienced no fear! It felt natural to be there with them!

It is a wonder to me that there is so much life under water, and, sometimes I even see evidence of socialization. At one point there were large groups of fish hanging out together near beautiful coral walls. There must have been about 50 of them! Though they congregated together in one place, they were clearly segregated, each hanging out with their own colours. The solid yellow tunas in one group, striped in another, and the plain silver kept to them selves in still another. It was a unique glimpse of sociological fish world. Just like what goes on in our own schoolyards!

This was our first dive in several years. If we had one more day, we’d go for the famous “Blue Hole”. Well….we’ll leave that for another time!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Belize- Moving Towards Canada

In 1994 Paul and I were scuba diving in Cozumel Mexico. On our way out, while waiting in the airport, we met someone who was just coming from Belize. He told us, “Belize has the best scuba diving in the world!” Since then we’ve wanted to come and, enroute from Guatemala to Mexico, we decided to make it happen.

As we walked ourselves over the Guatemala/Belize border, I asked a woman to snap our photograph. I chose this particular woman because she seemed to speak clear English. Not being familiar at all with Belizean culture, I assumed this woman was Western, of African American descent. I later realized that she is clearly Belizean!

There are several things that are surprising to me about Belize. I knew the country was English speaking, but quite honestly I hadn’t realized that English was the first language here. Actually, it’s a different dialect than what I’m used to, and I find this form of English (Creole) even more difficult to understand than Spanish. Here, is the only English speaking country in Central America. In fact, Belize used to be named British Honduras until receiving independence in 1981. I find it a little weird here.

Caye Caulker is the Island where most of the great reefs exist, so, after crossing the border, we begin to slowly make our way. First stop is to visit a friend in San Ignacio. Sarah is the sister of our son, Philip’s, partner, Karen. It was great to meet Sarah and spend the time with her, eating a couple of meals together and seeing some of the sights of her little city. We stayed right ‘downtown’ which, I’d have to say seemed a bit depressed. Shanty shacks and roadside tables, occupied by (somewhat) miserable looking people, contributed to the lazy, dragged out feel of the town. Apparently, next week the place rocks with a major canoe race, La Ruta Maya. The annual Belize Endurance Canoe race is the longest race of its kind in Central America featuring 170 miles of paddling on the Belize River over the course of 4 days. Otherwise, however, we wonder why anyone would choose to be here!

The ferry from San Ignacio brings us directly to Caye Caulker. We arrive by mid afternoon and quickly began our pursuit for comfortable lodging. We find an affordable small shack on the beach, and grab it. Unfortunately, we forget to check for some basics (like hot water and a mirror) It’s probably the funkiest accommodation we’ve had since our trip began. The best part is that it’s on the beach, and, the worst part is that it’s on the beach. The winds are so gusty and fierce that it kept us awake all night. And…when we went for our 9:00 scuba dive, we discover it is cancelled due to winds. We weren’t surprised…. disappointed, but not surprised.

The Pacific waters are clear and blue and the beaches here are not beautiful. In fact, there are no beaches, per say. Some hotels built long docks where people can dive into the water. They have arranged a chair or two on the docks where people stay and relax, but, generally, there is no beach space.I think that’s a little strange. Caye Caulker is a resort area, and yet, there is no beach space? I suppose most people come here for diving or snorkeling.

We rented two bicycles for the 3 days we’re here and have traversed the entire island before lunch. The low, lush growth of jungle plants and old palm trees cover the land. Houses are simple and shanty like, and, as we ride further out from the tourist area we find huge, empty houses, many of which are for sale, along the water. The ‘strip’ offers resorts and restaurants…nothing fancy, and, if we ride off the beaten tracks we find simple, and delicious places to eat and hang out. The people, mostly Caribbean descendents, are friendly yet reserved, and helpful. They respond to our smiling greetings, although they don’t usually initiate. Most people come here for vacationing, which includes lots of drinking and partying. It’s not necessarily our style, but we’re here for the snorkeling and scuba diving, so we end up doing our own thing.
We are definitely in a ‘returning to Canada’ mind frame. Belize is our last stop before making our way back to Cancun for our flight to New York to visit friends and family, pick up our car and begin our ride back to Canada. Our time in Toronto will be all about work, and friends. I am excited about facilitating a 3-day workshop with a group of teacher candidates from various universities and connecting with the various organizations with whom I work. Then we begin our drive across the country to set up our new/old home on Gabriola...for now!