Caye Caulker is small: about 8km long x 2km wide with a population of around 1300 people. You walk down the street once – you’ve just about covered the whole island and ‘lmost everyone knows who you are.
Here, they’re a mix of Mestizo, Garifuna and Creole people which makes for an interesting mix of looks, food, and talk. English is the official language but Kriol is spoken by roughly 70% of the people. It’s a fascinating language – a pidgin english with Caribbean influences, born in the times of slavery for the purposes of discreet communication. To my ear, I could hear Spanish and Afrikaans influences. It has a real poetic ghetto beat to it, and if you listen carefully, du con konprann wot di sahin moun (or something like that).
I loved it so much, I ended up staying nearly a week… there’s not a hell of a lot to do on Caye Caulker. But that’s the whole point.
It’s got one main strip with a few cafs, mini markets, shops and bars… It’s all dirt roads and most folk get around by bike or on foot. Hardly anyone wears shoes. There’s a couple of mopeds, golf carts and cars – but really, where’s to be in that much of a hurry?
When I wasn’t doing nothing, I was sharing stories with the locals. Belizeans, I have found to be very interested to know more about where you’re from, what your heritage is, a bit about your story and they’re open to sharing the same.
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On the Wednesday, I dived the world-famous Great Blue Hole. A vertical cave near the middle of Lighthouse Reef, an atoll which lies about 70km from the mainland. It was brought to the world’s attention by my childhood crush, Jacques Costeau in 1971.
It’s nearly a perfect circle and is more than 300m across and 124m deep at its lowest point. It’s the depth that gives off the dark blue color you see in aerial photos of the site.
The trip out there took 2 hours on a much bigger boat than the one that took us out to the whale sharks, so it was a much more gentle ride. The boat had a mattress out on the front deck which I thought was quite amusing. The chillout zone perhaps? I was lying there for no more than a couple of minutes, enjoying the solitude when one of the DMs, Mr Nicaragua stopped by for a chat. Hmmm.
We got to the site, got our briefing and geared up. There are are a few different ledges in the hole at depths of 21, 49, and 91m. We descended against a wall towards the second one, getting to a depth of 40m in under 3 minutes, which is pretty quick-going and means you need to be able to equalize quickly.
The site was filled with these huge limestone stalactites dramatically descending from overhangs. We navigated around and through them while closely watching the most intimidating Caribbean Reef Sharks which were about 2-3m long, stalking through murky waters not far below. I’ve never seen sharks like these guys before. Most sharks I’ve come across are completely bored or very friendly. These sharks were circling, eyeing us off hungrily. I must admit, I was a bit scared.
To be honest, it wasn’t the fishiest or prettiest dive I’ve done… Deeper waters mean less light, less colours. The deeper you go, the less time you can spend underwater because you chew through your air.
But this overwhelming sense of how ancient and enormous the earth is, overcame me. I was awestruck. Suddenly i felt really small and childlike.
I found this on another site, which sums it up really well: “Hovering amongst the stalactites, you can’t help but feel humbled by the knowledge that the massive formation before you once stood high and dry above the surface of the sea eons ago. The feeling is enhanced by the dizzying effect of nitrogen breathed at depths. The water is motionless and the visibility often approaches 200 feet (60m) as you break a very noticeable thermocline.”
Before i knew it, our time was up, and we started ‘climbing’ the wall, ascending slowly. The dive had lasted no more than 30-something minutes.
Most times when you come up from an extraordinary (or even just great) dive, there’s a lot of excited chatter about who saw what and a bunch of questions to the DMs. It was strangely still on deck… I think most folk, myself included, were quietly recounting and storing in their minds what they had just witnessed… A polaroid development of a memory, if you will.
We did another 2 dives that day, one at Half Moon Caye and the other at The Aquarium at Long Caye – both were amazing but totally eclipsed by the magnitude of the first dive. I couldn’t even tell you what i saw. It was a long boat ride home with the two motors alternatively giving out, and the crew scrabbling around to fix them. A bunch of us laid out front on the mattress in the sun, sharing around the rum punch and a bit of banter.
That night I had drinks and dinner with Mr Nicaragua who had asked me out in between dives. I’m telling you, the blokes over here do not waste any time. He was my age, single enough, a good conversationalist and a lot of fun. We later went to the local reggae club which was playing dancehall and punta rock. A lot of fun. I ambled on home, kicking up the dirt and talking Spanish to stray dogs on the way. There was a part of me that was a little bit sad for some strange reason. I really can’t tell you why. It had been one of the best days of my life.
Wed 10 August