You better Belize it

14 May

After meticulous research and planning I did something I have never done before in my life.  I went on holiday on my own.  No groups, no packages, no idea what to expect.  But it was the best thing I have done for myself in a long time.  I don’t say it often, but I am proud of myself.  I felt the fear and did it anyway and all that.

I have been to nearly all the continents in the world save for Antarctica (bit out of the way) and South America.  The nearest I could get this time was Central America in actual fact, and the charming little country I chose for my adventure was Belize. Formerly British Honduras, pre-1982.  A population of 300,000. Tiny really. But it packed a big punch.  It’s the only Latin American country that speaks English and as I don’t speak any Spanish I have never ventured that far. Whale sharks hang out on the barrier reef there.  So I signed up.

The kindly Jeremy at Mercator Travel found me an independent little guesthouse and recommended a dive shop. That’s all I was looking for really.  So after over 24 hours of travel on 6 separate flights and a lost suitcase I finally set foot in Placencia, southern Belize.  Stepping out of the little Cessna at the airstrip, that searing humid hot air hit me like opening an oven door.  That is when I know I am on holiday, when the heat hits me and my hair explodes into a frizz.  Elroy took me to the Sky Flower guesthouse where I met Olga, the manageress who immediately took pity on me, possessing only the clothes I stood up in – full length trousers, socks and Converse in 32 C heat, it was unbearable. So she did what any woman would do, she took me shopping.  Shorts and flip flops later I was able to relax a little and enjoy the sensations of a whole new world – independent travel, hot sun, warm breeze, a Belikin beer, freshly made tortillas and beans, fresh fruit only the tropics can provide, hoots and whistles from the local wildlife all around me.  I was in my own personal heaven.

The adventures started the next day after I showed up at Splash Dive Centre and Norman reminded me how to set up the diving equipment.  Sufficiently reminded I was ready for my first whale shark trip the next day.  Alas, no whale sharks. For the first time in millennia they decided not to show up.  Everyone was at a loss as to why with suspicions ranging from too many dive boats, overfishing of the spawning yellow snappers, to global warming.  Whatever it was, it was disappointing, but as I have learnt with nature, it is unpredictable.

Next day we dived at Pompion.  This was much more interesting – lots of hard and soft coral and plenty of acquatic life. Just what I love.  We even saw bull sharks, a huge loggerhead turtle with a shark bite injury to his shell, octopus, squid, nurse sharks, lemon sharks, rays of all descriptions (eagle, manta, southern sting).  Too many fish to remember precisely.  Fantastic.  I also made some new friends, both part of the dive crew and other divers.  Phil North from Dive Worldwide regaled me with stories of travelling the world as a divemaster and now being a tour operator and being shown the red carpet wherever he went on research trips.

After that I just dived, dived and dived again.  More friends, more fun, more stories, more characters.  Some annoying, but still interesting in their own right.  This is was travel is supposed to be like and this is the way I love to travel.

I did venture into the jungle to the Cockscomb Jaguar Reserve and I met Cirillo, one of the guides who assisted the American naturalist who help set it up in the 80s. What an honour.  His son, Cirillo Junior was a lovely little boy and we went on the zip-line together. Me shrieking like a girl, him with a grin set across his face the whole time.  Jesus and Hugo looked after us and I even managed a 10 minute conversation about football of all subjects, having started off by saying  how much I hate football!

Subsequent dive trips saw me meet the inimitable Mark and the lovely Edlin.  The beautiful Andre and the funny Brian to name but a few.  Tom the US soldier got so drunk at the annual Fur Ball run by the Placencia Humane Society, his last night on holiday, that Edlin and I had to taxi him back to his hotel but what became of him I have no idea.  I have images of him staggering around Placencia, lost forever with the world’s worst hangover.  He got to dance with a 70 year old woman who looked like she was 30 though so well done Tom!

Silk Caye, Glovers Reef, South Water Caye – all beautiful dive sites on the Belize barrier reef.  Although the coral is not as pristine as say the Maldives, the wildlife is more abundant.  I have now logged up 70 dives so another great achievement, and Mark has taught me to be a better diver.  I am just so eternally grateful to have had the opportunity and the guts to strike out on my own and conquer the world.  Travelling alone really made the holiday for me.  I doubt I would have met so many interesting people if I had been part of a group or even a couple.  I have always felt slightly self-conscious on my own, ashamed even, but now I feel proud. I hold my head up and I admit that I am on my own and I am loving it.  I have discovered a whole new me.  Like Alex the photo journalist told me on the beach during my first ever modelling assignment (that’s another story) – “believe you are the most desirable woman in the world”.  I’ll try.
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