The Odd Lot listed alphabetically. It was impossible to do this by bottom time, order of appearance, or capacity for Beliken Beer. Eric, Frank, George, Henning, Larry, Linda, Lisa, Nancy, Terry, and of course, P J
Our Easter trip has left us all tan, relaxed and, naturally, looking forward to our next dive trip !!
Some brave-of-heart E - Buddies decided to become Dive Buddies for an excursion that began on Monday, April Fool’s Day !! Along with some friends from here in Houston, we had a very diverse group of people from Alabama, Tennessee and California who flew into Houston, where they joined us for the non-stop journey ~~ with no turbulence ~~ to Belize City. As we exited Customs, Captain Neno was there to greet us, taxis at the ready for the short ride into town to the water taxi stand at the Texaco Station, where our gear was loaded for our afternoon crossing to Caye Caulker. With our 2nd round of Beliken beers in hand, we shoved off. Once under the bridge [ watch your head ] we hit open water, and I realized just how much the sun and wind was welcome, after such a long winter. Armed with Sinus medication, the city falling behind us, Terry took her turn at the helm. Eat your hearts out, you land-locked snowbirds !! was the toast of the day.
Upon our arrival, we realized just how important the Easter holiday is to the Belizeans. The population of Caye Caulker was exploding, if only temporarily and on Easter Sunday, there were hundreds of people listening to the live bands and in "serious party mode".
Our first dinner was a feast at the Sandbox. As we sat outside for our appetizers, the jokes flowed around the table and I sat back and reflected that the camaraderie of the group was excellent. As the sky was threatening with isolated drops of rain and heat lightning through the twilight, we opted for dinner inside. By the end of dinner, Frank had determined what to do with pussywillow, and you see the majority of the "Odd Lot" from left to right Nancy, Larry, Terry, Linda, Henning, Frank and George. As the week progressed, this camaraderie only improved. I could not have hand-picked a better group to travel with. Everyone got along, despite certain unforeseen circumstances ( like Nancy’s luggage taking 2 more days to arrive than we did ) and Terry’s allergies acting up, so she could not smell the salt air for a couple of days !
After dinner, George and I went out onto the Reef dock to watch the light show. What an awesome display of nature, seemingly just for us ! The heat lightning lit up the entire sky and by 9 p.m. we began to see huge lightning bolts crashing from the clouds onto the ocean with rolling thunder following not far behind. Thoughts of the Greek gods playing games in the sky, ran through my head as we were routinely amazed by the power of nature !! By 10 p.m. it was pouring and although the rain slacked off after 11, the light show continued most of the night.
I always feel closer to the heavens in this tropical paradise. We had this wonderful storm experience which was the only rain we saw the entire week, and most of the group slept through it !!
Tuesday, Francois guided the group on 2 dives off St. George’s Caye and Cathedral. The waters were a bit murky due to the norther, but there was lots of life to see. After the 2nd dive, the sun finally came out from the clouds for a good ride back to the dock. Tuesday night was a fabulous meal, "just for us" at Martinez Restaurant, and we learned from Dennis that the soccer team was undefeated, and moving up to national competition. Even the old-timers take their soccer seriously !
Wednesday, we weighed anchor at 7:15 am. Captain Frank and Francois took our gang on an all-day 3-tank trip to Turneffe Island. There were 14 of us on the boat, including a couple from Italy, Oscar from British Columbia and Diana (far right) from Seattle. Molly & John from Missoula, Montana. Back at the dock @ 5:30 made for a long and satisfying day of diving. There was plenty of leisure time as Nancy & Larry and George relaxed on the bow. Linda, Frank with Nancy joining them on the aft deck to set up their gear and enjoy the ride, anticipating wildlife galore.
Our sites that day were Rendezvous Point; Black Coral Mountain, where a 4 foot barracuda greeted us upon our entry and was still on guard, baring his teeth as we got back into the boat; and Mauger Caye. All my dives that day were 80 feet + . Early in the day there was lots of cloud cover, so colors were not vibrant until the 3rd dive at Mauger Caye where the vis was great ! Highlights of the day include plate corals so big they looked like Christmas trees, huge conch and Barracuda galore. Also in great abundance were yellow tail snappers, squirrelfish, trunkfish, gobies, fairy basslets and trumpetfish, hard to spot and shy for the cameras. Large schools of blue chromis, porkfish and too many 4-eyed butterflyfish to count, and of course, scattered encounters with beautiful and varied angelfish swimming in pairs, posing for their picture in the album and parrotfish munching coral with total disregard for us.
The sea rods and sea whips were plentiful and healthy and the barrel sponges, taller than I am and covered with brittlestars held my attention for some time. Those of us on computers got considerably more bottom time, and Larry & I had what I consider, the most entertaining safety stop in my 99 dive experiences. Molly & John take the cake with their under-water jitterbug at the end of the 3rd dive. Larry, our resident videographer has that one on tape for posterity’s sake !! And here you can see a digitized frame ( just imagine me giggling through my regulator).
As the moon rose off the horizon, just outside my hotel room door, it was a red sliver. Wasn’t it supposed to be full tonight ???? This is a total eclipse we were witnessing as we gathered for dinner, tired and pleased with our adventures that day ?!?! YES, nature was wowing us again as we walked to the other end of the island to Chan’s Garden for Chinese food, Belizean style. We had a true island-style dining experience: which means 1 person trying her best to serve 9 people in a timely fashion. The food at Chan’s Garden is worth the wait ~ the conch soup is spicy, full of meat and good veggies. Nancy ordered the piece de resistance Grilled Barracuda. Everybody but Frank took a taste and we all loved it ! Once again, more food than most of us could finish and good to the last bite. Fresh fruit for dessert and a leisurely walk back to our rooms, admiring the once-again-full moon.
Thursday of course, Lisa & Eric’s plane arrived late, and the rest of the group took off for the Marine Reserve with Neno and a few leisurely hours in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. Dinner at the Paradise with all the members of the "Odd Lot", joined by our buds from Turneffe, Diana and Oscar, and Captain Amado with appearances by Neno, Doctor Debbie and Francois to spice up the conversation !
Friday began our LIVEABOARD experience !!!!
Another early morning at the concrete pier for pickup by the Offshore Express. Eric and Terry saw us off at the pier and the 8 of us began our ocean crossing. Making sure to spoil us was a crew of 6 with Captain Horace at the helm, Divemaster Don from New Orleans (I’m taking him crawfish as a treat next time ! ) Norma and John, our galley chefs, and crewmen Allen and Manuel.
The upper deck is spacious and the weather was simply gorgeous for catching rays for our ocean crossing. The 1st dive was Silver Caves, voted by the vast majority as their favorite spot of the trip. As Frank surfaced, he said " you can’t top this !" When it was suggested that we turn the boat back then, the laughter and cries of protest set the tone for a wonderful relaxing time ahead.
We docked at Half Moon Caye and as the sun set, the walk to the bird observation tower yielded dusk’s surprises. Frigates grabbing the Booby Birds by their tail feathers, stealing their food, but releasing them in plenty of time to fly away to gather another morsel. The balance of nature at this sanctuary is a tribute to man’s ability to preserve the natural environment when prompted. You can take nothing off the island, living or dead ( except pictures ) and after a wonderful dinner, we lay star gazing listening to good sounds.
A first for most of us were the phosphorescent worms in the water at night. The females, living glow sticks attracting their mate for the night in the shallows, cast a comforting glow across the waters near the dock.
The world renowned Blue Hole at Lighthouse Reef. Don lead the dive with Horace and Manuel in the "big pool" with us. Many have written about the Hole and its creation. It was a thrilling experience, one that teaches you that diving can be "on the edge". We dove the south side of the Hole, and Horace took us right to the resident spotted drum. During our slow ascent and safety stop ~~ about 25 minutes, we got playful as we swam around the sandy rim.
While crossing the deep waters, the crew set up trolling fish lines and Linda brought in a barracuda. Wish I would have been at the ready with my camera. Sorry, Linda. Nancy, excited about the prospect of more grilled ‘cuda was quite convincing and a couple of hours and 1 ‘cuda later, reeled in by George. Don took care of the hook, staying clear of those menacing teeth, and we had the start of a great dinner!
Next on the agenda was West Point sometimes called West Elbow. With about 70 foot vis the abundant wild life was a stark contrast to the Blue Hole. Logging 50 minutes of bottom time with a maximum depth of 87 feet gave me plenty of time to spot most of my favorite Caribbean residents - 3 to 5 ft. barracudas, big, I mean BIG lobsters, 3 foot trumpetfish camouflaged in the whips with her family of 4 just slightly over a foot in length. Blue chomis everywhere schooling just out of camera range, a friendly strawberry grouper, and squirrelfish galore. it would be boring to name all that struck our fancy, from angels to stonefish. A momento of the day was a perfectly intact tulip conch shell. Black durgeons and Queen triggers and Black triggers burning up the film !! As we cruised over the top of the reef back to the boat, a spotted moray eel came out for a swim giving the perfect Kodak moment tail going in the “front door” while the head popped back out the "back".
Our third dive that day was Rene’s Wall off Sandbore Caye. Rene is the Mayor, and made us all feel quite welcome, as he joins Captain Horace and George for the flash of my camera. Nancy led the lighthouse climb, followed by George and Henning. The rest of us were content to take their pictures and wait for duplicates of the vista!
With a fresh conch stew, ribs and ‘cuda, Norma threw in some corn and potatoes ( we needed our carbs ! ) and although it was a late supper, everyone ended the meal licking our fingers after 2nds, tired and ready to snuggle up for the night. The islanders really enjoyed our visit as we enjoyed the native rum and conversation. Talk of the mainland tours, local customs and a discussion of “what the poor folk were doing tonight” are permanently etched in my mind. Linda modeled the latest in liveaboard lingerie and the moon rose long after most of us were asleep, dreaming of the beckoning blue.
We left the dock at 6:15 with the hopes of getting in 3 dives before the journey back across open water. We began with the Abyss, my personal favorite for the trip ! Once again, Horace & Manuel joined Don in guiding this dive site. This crack in the earth was probably formed at the end of the ice age, but is not round like the Blue Hole. As we descended down a coral mountain, a 5 foot grouper hung suspended over a barrel sponge. We traversed a sandy slope to the abyss where the crack starts below 170 feet. Stalactites were vague formations below as I logged my all-time deep of 149 feet !! Then we leisurely swam back up to the top of the reef where we saw hundreds of fairy basslets and chromis. A turtle sat poised on a coral mound posing for Lisa and her flash didn’t even phase him when she swam in for a close-up. This 40 minute dive ranks in my top 5 without a doubt, and I intend to dive here again !
Plenty of surface interval as we motored to Turneffe. On the way, we spoke with Captain Tim from the Manta IV and waved hello to our hosts from Thanksgiving. What became our final dive was one of Belize’s premiere sites - Cockroaches. We swam across cut and groove coral mounds again, very healthy sponges, corals and scads of fish. Linda is partial to Black durgeons, and boy did she get her fill at this site, larger than any I’ve seen in Cozumel ! Nancy was the Pied Piper with the Cheese Whiz, and I thought all the fish wanted to follow her home . . . . Groupers and Triggers everywhere and an 8 inch diameter crab that would have made a lovely lunch for 8, but alas it was back to Caye Caulker, our diving done for the week.
Back on the island for the Easter Party, I had lots of fun giving away the Easter eggs filled with chocolate to the local children. We all gathered at the Split Bar for Patti’s famous frozen concoctions, Beliken, live music and of course, the swim suit contest. Henning is caught unawares, as he looks on to see the children swinging into the warm, blue water. Once again, Francois was a great companion, and dancer, as Terry demonstrated, and how could I neglect to mention wonderful Linda fortifying us with bug spray for the obnoxious sand fleas, getting a good view between hubby "Farmer Frank" and Amado Perez. For me, it was an early dinner and back to the room to rinse my gear for the journey home and try to get my land legs back-- my room at the Rainbow was “rocking” till I woke on Monday morning.
Again, Neno was our personal taxi back to the city, and when we had all boarded, we thought the adventure was winding down. Boy were we wrong !! As we passed St. George’s Caye we spotted a bottlenose dolphin swimming at the surface. He flirted with us and swam around the boat for about 10 minutes before heading to his next playground and THEN we spotted the first manatee !!!! Swimming from 1 side of the boat to the other in about 10 feet of water, we all got good looks at the ramoras clinging to his body, and then I spotted a 2nd manatee coming to the surface for air. He was more playful and stayed with us until our watches brought us back to reality - time to get to the airport.
A good number of us bought duty free goodies to bring home, and another ‘no turbulence’ flight brought us back into Houston Intercontinental Airport. Customs passed us all through without a fuss ( Guess those dogs don’t like the smell of salt water !) and making a connection was a snap. No one had over an hour to wait for their next flight.
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