Diving Diaries

31 08 2010

Warning: the following is an over-flowery account of my diving experience at Glover’s reef, and so may be barf-inducingly cheesy.  Proceed with caution.

Dive day. To say it didn’t look promising would be an understatement: it was thunderstorming violently as we pulled out of Placencia for the hour and a half journey out to Glover’s.  But we divers didn’t care – we were planning to be underwater, not above it.  I poured a coffee and sat back to enjoy the rain pelting my face [I hear it does wonders for wrinkles].

As our boat rocketed further and further offshore, islands would sporadically come into view, undulating in and out of the sea and dotting the horizon.  A few double-crested cormorants would panic in the wake of our boat, awkwardly running across the water until they gathered enough steam to take off.   The weather improved steadily with each passing mile and, by the time we reached Glover’s, we were greeted by two old friends: bright sunshine and blue sky.  I drank the last drop of my coffee and downed the last bite of banana bread. Perfection.

Glover’s reef is an atoll, a type of reef that is essentially a ring of coral that encircles a lagoon – remains left by a sinking volcano.  Belize has three of the four true atolls in the Western Hemisphere, Glover’s Reef, Turneffe Islands and Lighthouse Reef  (the fourth is off the Mexican Yucatan).  Glover’s is about 40 km long and 15 km wide, flanked by 5 tiny islands on its south-eastern curve, and is named after a 17th century English pirate, John Glover, who used the remote atoll as a hideout.  When people think of the tropics, they tend to associate it with “paradise”.  Images of palm trees swaying in the wind, vibrant turquoise waters bordered by white sandy beaches and, below the water, coral gardens teeming with multicoloured fishes so bizarre you can’t help but think you’re on an acid trip.  Glover’s meets these criteria in every sense – it really is a magical place.   I could not stop pinching myself.

Paradise Found: Glover's Reef

Arriving at the dive site, we struggled to get our gear on as the boat rocked in the swells.  Looking around, I could not help but revel in the collective awkwardness of trying to get into our wetsuits.  All the frenetic wriggling and wrestling and cursing and contorted positions.  Smiling, I turned to open the air valve and check to make sure my tank was full – yup, 3000 pounds of pressure per square inch. Then I tested my regulator and octopus by taking a full breath from each, and shot a small quantity of air into my B.C.    The flow of air was smooth.  Party time.

All suited up, fins on, I unsteadily staggered to the dive deck at the back of the boat and stride jumped in.  The water greeted me with a refreshing chill.  After a few minutes bobbing at the surface waiting for my fellow divers, we exchanged our snorkel for our regulators, emptied our BCs of air and began to drift down slowly to the silent world below.  I slowly made my way to the edge of the wall and descended further, devouring the surrounding visual feast of sponges, corals, sea fans and rainbow coloured fishes.  Suspended and weightless, all I could hear was the sound of my own breathing. Completely at peace.

Airway to Heaven

About 80 feet down, a Nassau grouper hid behind a large yellow barrel sponge while the antennae of a spiny lobster protruded from a hole in the reef.  A huge silvery tarpon – one of the Caribbean’s most prized sports fish – cruised by to check us out, as if patrolling the wall.  A spotted eagle ray gracefully glided into view, an apparition materializing from the waters and light…utterly mesmerizing.

As the dive wore on, we rose higher to the reef flats, where colours resume their full spectrum and where reef fish dazzle in both colour and patterns. Carl Safina said it best: “ the most varied group of vertebrates on Earth is in full bloom around us, galaxies of living stars burning brightly in this blue universe”.  Mmm hmm.  I scanned 360 degrees around me to take it all in.  Nearby a swirling school of blue-striped grunts hovered above the reef slope while a vibrant stoplight parrotfish emerged from behind a sea fan.  Surgeonfishes, butterfly fishes, angelfishes all darted in and out of view. A green sea turtle lazily picked at algae, seemingly oblivious to the awestruck divers observing him from a respectful distance. The beauty is overwhelming.

When our guide, Philip, gave the sign to ascend I was crushed with disappointment, not yet ready to leave this sublime world.  I tried to squeeze in an extra few moments by being the last diver to surface, drifting slowly and reluctantly up in slow twirls.  I took one last longing look and kicked upwards, gently breaking the surface, and so ending a wondrous, slow-motion 47 minutes in heaven.

The flag I pledge allegiance to

[We repeat this two more times.  Each dive just as breathtaking as the first.  Days like this make me so happy to be alive it almost hurts]

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