By Rissa L. Johnson
Edited by Naturalight Productions
"Three dives and then clubbing?" I questioned with a tone and a look that clearly said, Are you nuts?
Rachel turned back to the salesman and requested the price of an afternoon dive and a night dive. Money was exchanged and diving certifications flashed.
A little over an hour before, Rachel and I had boarded a boat from Belize City en route for Belize's only island town, and one of it's most popular tourist destinations in the country, San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. The subject of Madonna's hit, La Isla Bonita (beautiful island), it was also the first film location for Fox TV's reality show, Temptation Island. If you move away from what little hustle and bustle there actually is in town and head up to the more secluded Captain Morgan's Retreat, you can boast of having walked on the same white sandy beach as those very first "tempters" (Temptation Islanders). Too bad none of those "normal" guys with movie-star looks were still hanging around three years later.
Rachel was the more experienced diver; however, in San Pedro I had the home court advantage. San Pedro was where I had been certified and done ninety percent of my dives, including two night dives. Rachel, on the other hand, had never done a night dive. As we wandered the streets with the business of our diving "dates" set, we hunted for food and lodging, while I chattered happily. I was content in the moment that for once, I was looking like the more experienced in the party -- at least in San Pedrano waters.
Hotel squared away, we sat eating garnaches at a little café, enjoying our breeze-conditioned retreat from the afternoon sun. Then I did it. I was so sure of my San Pedrano waters, my big mouth made a bet. It guaranteed Rachel that we'd see at least two of my favorite sea creatures. I gave her a rather extensive list including: strange looking creatures like the scrawled file fish, a puffer fish or a spotted trunkfish; or an exotic angelfish like the queen or French angel, or maybe a sleek nurse shark, an eagle ray or a hawksbill turtle. The cost of the bet, a drink. We shook on it.
As time ticked towards our first diving adventure, we ambled down the main streets of the town. They were lined with hotels, from quaint little rooms added to a local's home to thatched cabanas to the more suite-style comfort many have come to expect from the "hotel" designation. Tucked amongst the hotels, souvenir shops and tour shops were the homes of the San Pedranos. Vendors sat beside small tables selling hand-made jewelry and wood-carved creatures on the corners or in the park. As we sauntered on, we encountered rush hour traffic: a family in a golf cart, a couple taxis offering us their services, a bike or two and fellow pedestrians. Our walk ended back at the dive shop where we met Myrick, our guide, and geared up for the afternoon dive.
A short boat ride took us outside the barrier reef where the
water changed from crystal clear green to deep regal blue and
the waves were no longer mellow ripples but had become gentle
yet constant rolls. Myrick's dive plan prepared us for the site
layout, hand signals and reminded us of safety precautions. One
giant stride later, the warm Caribbean sea water was rushing
up and around me. The soothing sound of the slow gentle
drag of my breathing filled my ear (in addition to water of course).
I quickly located Rachel and Myrick as we descended. The sea-bed
with coral; tiny fish along with not so tiny fish darted
among them. We glided along the bottom in a weightless surreal
environment. Myrick pointed out a
creature here and there.
dappled, thick-lipped grouper swam
very close to us as if to say, "Aren't I gorgeous?".
If only he could hear my giggle and accompanying thought that
my dad would have been very happy to have him on a dinner plate.
My relaxed state of mind was soon invaded by a twinge of panic as I glanced at the air on my pressure gauge. No, I wasn't running out of air; rather, the dive was half way through and we hadn't seen any of the creatures on my list. Yes, we had seen plenty of fish and the biggest crab I'd ever seen, but none of these had made my list. As if to answer my prayers, I caught a flash of bright yellow and blue out the corner of my eye. Sure enough, there was a dainty queen angel fish. One down.
We swam on. Shortly after, Myrick was banging on his tank to get our attention;
his hand was held in a fin like position to his head. Recognizing
the shark signal, our eyes followed to where his outstretched
hand pointed. The sleek body of a predator with the perfectly
lithe movements of a creature whose bones were rather not bones
at all, but pure cartilage, tail swishing it forward was a
nurse shark. Not
frightened at all, we knew this docile beauty wouldn't bother
us so long as we didn't go out of our way to provoke it. Not caring
at all whether we were there or not, it swam by as quickly as
it had appeared. Two down and a sigh of relief.
I had sighed too quickly. Myrick was pointing down a man-sized gap in the coral. Surely he didn't expect us to go through that! No sooner had the thought been formed than Myrick disappeared through the gap. I could easily have gone around; however, what's the fun in that? I streamlined my body for the dive through and launched, only to find partway through that my ear was screaming from the pressure. I needed to equalize. I reached for my nose and quickly popped it; the graceful dive-through had to be aborted. Nonchalantly returning my hands to my side I finished the dive-around as if that was what I had intended in the first place. Not the most graceful maneuver. From the other side I turned to watch Rachel swim through like an expert.
Can I please just get one thing right? I silently asked that higher power. As if in answer, Myrick was pointing to another gap, but this one was more like a tunnel, the one he had explained to us before the dive.
"There's no space for swimming so just lie flat on the bottom and let your fingers on the sandy bottom pull you through." he had explained.
There was no change of depth so I wouldn't have to worry about equalizing my ears. He disappeared into the tunnel, and I followed close behind. It was dark for a second and then we emerged into the light. No hitches but a bit mermaid-like I thought. I was rather proud of myself. Rachel, of course, breezed through it. A glance at my air on the pressure gauge and a signal from Myrick told me with certainty that it was time to head to the surface. Back on the boat, Myrick, who had noticed a brisk change in current at the end of our dive, opted to cancel the night session out of concern for our safety.
From her periodic muttering I could tell that Rachel was bummed at the postponement of her first night dive. We settled instead for a lazy lounge on the pier, losing all sense of time until the honey-colored sun painted the island before dipping for a night's rest. Rachel was about to retire herself, until I reminded her that it was Saturday night in San Pedro.
Saturday night and San Pedro provides a variety of clubbing options beginning with most of the hotel bars. Fido's grooves with a live band featuring Jimmy Buffet style beats and the occasional country and is a great place to hang out on the beach. However I was in the mood for Jaguar's, Big Daddy's and Bare Foot Iguana, where the "younger crowd" gravitated and then gyrated to Techno, Latin techno and rock, hip hop, Belizean punta, Caribbean soca, and Mexican salsa (the dance not the tomato dip).
Rachel emerged from the bathroom as one hot mamasita. Soon I was dressed myself. Our night on the town began with a search for the right spot for me to collect on our bet and to check out the "tempters", of course.
Special Thanks to:
Captain Morgan's Retreat
Images Courtesy of:
Tony Rath Photography
Rissa L Johnson