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07 October 2007

you better BELIZE it!!!, part II

good lord, i'm so sorry it took so long for the last part of the trip... snorkeling. it's been almost 2 months to the day since the first belize post, man time flies. i hope it didn't build up the suspense too much. so here we go (btw, all pix are clickable for larger views).

well, TheJay and TheRachel and i got back to the hotel for me to rent some snorkeling gear. that went well enough, the weather had cleared up considerably from the morning, and they decided i should practice at the end of the pier first, where i could stand just in case. they have their own snorkeling gear because they are fancy. so i put on my mask, learned how to check to see if it's sealed correctly, put on mt flippers, popped the snorkel into my mouth, and awkwardly waddled down the steps into the caribbean sea. it is a strange feeling to be able to breathe underwater. occasionally, i would bob a bit too deep and would get an unwelcome snorkel-full of seawater, but, on the whole, i did pretty well. the water was murky from the morning rains, but i continued practicing for a bit, then we waited for our boat to pick us up at the end of the pier.

i'll say this now, to get the plug out of the way... if you ever go to san pedro, belize, stay at the xanadu island resort, and book your snorkeling through them on the boat, lil' alfonse. also, if possible, see if victor can do your tour. amazing. anyways, the lil' alfonse pulled up with alfonse and victor. alfonse had on a polo shirt i believe, a white ball cap, i had a good feeling about him. victor, on the other hand, scared me a bit. he was shirtless (which in this biz, is okay), had a big gold earring, and a LARGE homemade tattoo across his chest of a girl's name. i think he had a scare too, but i can't be sure now. we hopped down the coast a bit to pick up another couple at another resort, and alfonse got off at the same time. now, i was a little uneasy with victor, as i've traveled enough to know when to be cautious, but i also know that looks can be horrible deceiving. victor made a couple jokes, some small talk, and soon enough, i was comfortable that this guy was OK (turns out the huge tattoo is his daughter's name). the couple with us spoke a foreign language that i thought i recognized, so i asked if they were from russia. i forget if he was, but i recall she was from kazakhstan. i've worked in kazakhstan for a brief time, so that opened up a whole 1 or 2 minute conversation. about 10 minutes later we arrived at hol chan marine reserve.

there are multiple buoys that all the tour boats can tie up to, the hol chan admissions guy drives his boat over to each and collects the tickets from the passengers. victor taught us no to have "lazy lips", that is, we have to make a pouty face with out lips to make a tight seal and keep the saltwater out. after that, the fun begins. it seems lil' alfonse is one of the few, if not the only, boat that chums the water. he threw fish-heads and various other seafood parts into the water, and almost immediately the fish swarmed. i think they were grouper or flounder, i can't recall (again, i'm sorry i took so long to write this). the nurse sharks came along with the fish, apparently lured by the sounds of engines, these animals have been pavlovianly conditioned to know that engines mean food and people. after some trepidation by everyone except victor (we were told the nurse sharks are harmless, nevertheless, they were big), we all jumped into the waist deep water to start our tour. we swam around the boat at first getting used to the clear water and marine life EVERYWHERE around us. i need to mention that these fish had the best vision in the world. i figured maybe they moved toward the sound of the chum hitting the water, but these fish were speedily on the move as soon as the chum left victor's hand. sometimes, victor would play with us by tossing the chum just in front of us, so if we were underwater and looked in front of us, we saw a stampede of fish heading directly for us to get their food. after acclimating to the environment, victor grabbed his equipment, jumped in, and started the tour.

i have to say, victor is an amazing tour guide. he was really informative about the types of sealife we were seeing. he'd point at a few things underwater, and occasionally, even freedive down to point out the smaller things at the bottom, then he'd pop up and describe everything he'd pointed to. i think the tour was supposed to last 2 hours, and i wasn't sure i was up for swimming in the deep for that long, but i was going to give it my best. well, i did, and it wasn't too bad. i hadn't exercised for 2 hours in a LONG time, but it was amazing fun. sadly, i did have a case of the "lazy lips" , so i had to tread water every couple of minutes to spit out the seawater and re-adjust my snorkel. as soon as we started the tour, victor noticed two large barracuda following us. then he took us a little ways further, and we got to hold a sea urchin. i was pleasantly surprised to find out that they aren't sharp at all; rather, at the end of their spines are suction cups, so it would actually suck onto our hands. this was passed around to the group, whoever wanted to hold it, and then he put it back where he found it. i've heard conflicting stories about touching. either you can't touch the animals or you can't touch the coral. i KNOW you aren't supposed to touch the coral because you can get crazy bad infections, but, i'm not sure about the rest.

the next thing we saw was an arrow crab. with all the water in my ears and trying to get fresh air instead of salt water, i wasn't sure whether victor had said "arrow crab" or "arab crab", so i had to look it up. it was pretty cool. this isn't the type of crab you'd want on your place at a red lobster (but due to it's size, you'd likely find it at one of those fancy restaurants that you pay $500 for a 7 -course meal and are STILL hungry afterwards). victor let us hold this crab as well, passing it around. it was quite nimble, as it would try to hop out of our hands. looking back, i guess it might've been a bit traumatic for the poor thing, as it tried to escape another flesh-colored monster's hand would come out of nowhere to keep it afloat. we were gentle with it, but i'm guessing it was a bit frustrated. victor then saw a green moray eel hiding down in some rocks on the ocean floor. he freedove down to point it out to us novices who didn't know where to look, and as he approached the eel slid out a bit warning victor to back off. when it slid out, was when we noticed it. he came to the surface and told us that you don't want to mess with the moray eel, it has strong jaws and will take off a finger if you get too close. we swam around for the remaining time, swam over some pretty deep water, and saw some amazing coral. at one point i was just lolling about in some kinda deep water, taking in the experience, and i looked below me. maybe 15 feet below me, a HUGE green moray eel, maybe 4-5 feet long, was slithering through the water. it was kinda freaky because not too many people, if any, saw it but me. it was stalking us. after a brief moment of awe and maybe a 1/4 tablespoon of panic, i calmed down, continued on, and we were soon back on the boat on our way to shark and ray alley.

shark and ray alley came into being because of the local fishermen. many years ago, the fishermen would clean their catch in this area, and apparently sharks and rays are quick studies. before long, the waters were teeming with life going after the leftovers. soon, this area became a wildlife sanctuary, and now it's a cool place to scuba/snorkel with FAIRLY domesticated animals. larger nurse sharks hang out there, and there are loads of stingrays (actually, a group is called a "fever"). when victor chummed some more, they lathered up with water pretty well. while we were here, we saw some stingrays buried in the sand which is their main defense technique, camouflage. they were way down on the bottom of some of the deeper areas. still, some came to the shallower places (maybe 10' or so) with the nurse sharks. victor showed how tame they were several times. on occasion, he would bear hug a nurse shark and hand it off to someone. TheJay held a few actually. he didn't do so well at chasing them down on his own, though it was entertaining to watch him try. victor also took a stingray and put it on his head like a sombrero, then spun around in the water. it was comical to say the least. again i say, victor rocked. i petted a few stingrays, they are incredibly slimy, but docile, it seems, at least in this park. after a bit more swimming with the fishes, it was time to get on the boat, have a pop, and take the ride home.

it was a really amazing trip (sorry i made it so long for you), and i'm so glad TheJay and TheRachel invited me along. there are other little tidbits and bobs about the weekend i may come to randomly at a later date, but i think i've taken enough of your time for now. if you have the chance, definitely visit san pedro, belize, stay at xanadu, eat at caliente and... i forget (TheJay, what was the restaurant we ran into the russians at after snorkeling?), and go snorkeling with victor on the lil' alfonse. maybe i'll have to try scuba diving next time, or night diving.

here's TheRachel and TheJay on the boat going back to the hotel after an enjoyable day of snorkeling... thanks for inviting me

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Blogger themom said...

Take it from me - I KNOW TheJay CAN smile - guess not when slyght is pointing a camera at him though!!

8:30 AM, October 07, 2007  

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