Ambergris Caye, Belize, Central America, dive, diving, eel, master diver, Nurse shark, SCUBA, sea turtle, travel
A few years ago, I spent almost two weeks in Belize with my friend, Katie. Frankly, it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I have ever had, especially the daily SCUBA diving in the azure crystal clear waters of Ambergris Caye. Each morning, we would go beyond the barrier reef that outlines the island and do two dives. One morning mid-way through our vacation, during our first dive we saw all sorts of aquatic life, including some very large green eels, as well as a few sea turtles.
What a glorious day. I really enjoyed that first dive. We rested for about an hour, before preparing for our next dive. As was typical, the Master Diver went over the safety brief while we drank refreshments and ate some fruit. More times than not, this brief is routine, but nevertheless, you always listen in case the master diver emphasizes something unusual. OH OH! This dive was going to be a bit unusual. Specifically, he indicated that he would be bringing down a bag of “chum” to attract sharks . . . WTF? Gulp. He did note they were Nurse sharks, adding that they were harmless, but my brain didn’t process this part immediately. In short, this didn’t allay my fears of being eaten. Ha. The way my brain works, I’m thinking, “Hmm . . . OK, the Nurse sharks show up for the chum, but what if some other types of sharks show up? Like Tiger or Bull sharks, both predators? Or worse, a Great White shark makes an appearance.” Consequently, I only heard the word – SHARK and it was spelled in big capital letters. So, I was a bit disconcerted, although I tried outwardly not to betray any fear to my fellow divers, especially to my friend, Katie – who is a very self sufficient, confident woman.
Large sharks with big teeth I kept on thinking. Double gulp. I was wondering if anyone else was thinking what I was thinking.
So, we checked our regulators, then donned our masks, fins, and tanks, preparing for something that I certainly hadn’t experienced before. I looked over at Katie and she was all excited and “Gung Ho” about doing this. Hmm. I tried to muster the enthusiasm she displayed, but admittedly, I probably wasn’t too convincing. Regardless, I put on my best “shit eating grin” and tried to relax.
Over the side of the boat we went, approximately 6-7 divers, our master diver leading the way. We wouldn’t be going very deep, only 35-45 feet deep, this being our second dive of the day. We followed the master diver, descending slowly to the bottom, ensuring our ears were equalized. So far so good. We gathered near the sand and coral reef. A quick check by the master diver confirmed all divers were accounted for. We had been underwater for approximately 4-5 minutes and I’m thinking, “So, where are the sharks? Have they already eaten lunch? No problemo . . . ”
Then they appeared. A lot of them. At least a dozen. Oh my god! One swam right under my legs. Wow!
Then the master diver tried to get my attention. He did the universal signal for watch or look at this . . . He then grabbed one of the sharks, flipping it on its back and started cradling it. Then he rubbed its stomach. The shark was actually docile. Unfrickingbelievable!
Then he signaled me to do it. Who me? Umm . . . Sorry, not this kid. He insisted. Shit. Everyone was watching me. Dammit. How do I get myself in these messes? So, I did what he instructed and after grabbing one, I flipped it on its back and the shark didn’t fight me. Hey, this is actually kind of cool. The master diver signaled me to rub its stomach, so I did. Sheesh, I almost felt like singing:
Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall
And down will come baby, cradle and all
Well, all my anxiety was for naught. We stayed down for approximately 40-45 minutes and it turned out to be one of the best SCUBA dives I have ever experienced. I will never forget that dive and will treasure it forever. I hope the shark I cradled felt the same way. Grin.
WOW! That is so incredibly cool; what an awesome experience. I haven’t tried scuba diving yet, but I find myself addicted to snorkeling! The eel reminds me of my first time in Hanama Bay and something struck me along side the leg. It kind of freaked me out….I got the message: Move away from the reef! Nature has it’s way of communicating, eh. Have fun!
Laurie, you mentioning the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, reminds me of a vacation I took with my good friend Gary, back when I was 25-26 years old. I didn’t know how to SCUBA dive back then, but loved to snorkel and while doing so at Hanauma Bay, I had a frightening experience at the time (that is hilarious today). While snorkeling and fascinated with the myriad types of aquatic life below me, my friend Gary, swam up to me and said, “Hey Steve, take this roll of bread under the water and feed the fish.” I didn’t notice that he purposefully kept his hand with the bread above the surface of the water. My bad.
I said thanks, then disappeared under the water, with the entire roll of bread in my hand (instead of what I should have done, was break off small pieces from the roll) . . . AND WAS ATTACKED BY LITERALLY DOZENS OF SMALL FISH, NIBBLING ON ME! It didn’t hurt, but it absolutely freaked me out and in what seemed like one motion – I went to the surface, swimming like frickin’ Michael Phelps toward the shore, throwing the bread in back of me. Scared the living hell out of me and I cussed out Gary for pulling that stunt.
Of course, later that evening, we were cracking up about it. 🙂
Barb Hart said:
Great story, Steve. You’re becoming quite the suspense writer. Do I sense a second career in the making for you? 🙂
LOL . . . No, not I. Thank you though for appreciating that story. Seriously, at the time – I was a bit scared prior to the dive occurring.
that green cat looks like someone I could definitely hang out with—under water, above water, I’m down with that dude. 🙂
Flav, usually these suckers don’t show themselves as readily as these two did. They’re nocturnal (similar to crabs, octopuses, and lobsters) and only come out when the sun goes down. It’s quite cool to go on a night dive. Almost as if the next shift of “aliens” came out to play. During the day time, you’ll find eels in deep pits and crevasses in the coral.
Great pictures and stories, Blade. I have been certified for years, but have not been diving in a long time. Would love to do some dives and spend some time with some critters (no, not Great Whites), but have always wanted to dive with some sharks, manta rays, etc.
I use to plan entire 1-2 week vacations around diving, where I would do 2 dives every day for the entire trip (like I did with this Belize trip almost 3 years ago). However, it’s really hard on the body and I can’t do that anymore. It’s amazing that those master divers can dive as much as they do, week in and week out. When was the last time you dived Chi?
Wow, epic photos Blade. Cool blog too. Traveling around the world? I’m jealous.
Chico, thank you for the comments . . . Feel free to stop by anytime (or follow) the blog. 🙂
Paul Kocak said:
You’re a braver man than I, Gunga Din. I barely was able to snorkel in a safe little quarry on Cayman Brac. Got obsessively afraid of sea urchins. But that’s me.
Umm . . . You don’t know me. I just put on a brave front, but the reality is that I am “Chicken Little.”
I spent a week in Belize a few years back and the water/diving is amazing. Went into the jungle and saw some old bits, Aztec if I remember right.
You’re probably correct, Inca ruins are further south. Belize is an amazing country and I really enjoyed my time there.
It is also where the British Army does their jungle training
I didn’t know that. Interesting.
Thomas & Katherine said:
That’s fantastic!!! First step, get in the water with sharks. Second step, cradle them and rub their bellies. No problem! 🙂
Thanks for liking “no great shakes,” for the great underwater photos on your dive, and for having A WHOLE LOT MORE COURAGE than I do.
You’re quite welcome. I am sitting in an LA airport, waiting for my flight to Auckland, New Zealand, via Fiji islands.
Isn’t it amazing when you have an experience like this. Wow! How cool was that!?
One of the best experiences of my life! Thank you Cara for commenting. 🙂