Underwater Adventures

March 20, 2010 in Belize, North America, Travelogue

Ocean view

He sat on the dock, staring out at the ocean, listening for the dragonfly hum of an approaching motor, chin in his hands.  Next, he paced, back and forth across the sand, scanning the horizon at the end of each pass.  He’d been up since seven thirty, and his last words before bed were, “Sixteen hours until I get to go FISHING!”  Needless to say, he was a little more than dejected when Doggie failed to show this morning for our scheduled fishing trip.  We were all disappointed, but Ezra took it the hardest.  Even two games of “Five Crowns” and two separate snorkeling expeditions didn’t completely make up for it.  It wasn’t until late afternoon when Daddy arranged another attempt (this time with AC, not Doggie) for in the morning that he rallied a little.   “Well, it was rather windy this morning, maybe tomorrow will be better,” he philosophized.  When it was announced that only he and Elisha would be going, that Hannah and Gabe “didn’t make the cut,” well, then he was jubilent; rare is the privilege that the little guys enjoy that the big ones haven’t done first or at least get to share in.  Ocean fishing with a real guide is a boon for the under ten crowd.  The rest of the afternoon was spent sitting on the dock, alternately watching the fellow with spiky dreadlocks, bleached on the ends, in Doc Holiday glasses  dismember king fish, and bringing me reports of “HUGE barracuda!!” coming off of AC’s boat in the hands of a grandfather with his grey bead braided into tiny strands and beaded on the ends, giving him a delightfully “pirate-ish” look to the boys.

Returning from their first SCUBA dive

It isn’t as if Hannah and Gabe are suffering.  They’re not missing out on fishing due to some major infraction that finds them sitting under a coconut tree with their hands folded for a week, or anything like that.  Instead, they are off on their own enormous adventure, with Mr. Boo, at the beginning of a four day SCUBA certification class.  Ever since Gabe sweet talked an instructor into letting him tool around the deep end of a pool with a tank on when he was five, he’s been on a mission.  Each summer he’s stretched his capacity to swim under water until he could make almost two lengths of the pool at the campground.  Hannah was right behind him.  They sit and time one another’s attempts to hold their breath until they nearly turn blue.  They practice taking off their masks underwater and putting them back on, clearing them with a face full of bubbles.  They’ve learned all the hand signs for diving from Daddy and they’ve watched the clock for Gabriel to turn eleven, the earliest age for certification (turns out it’s actually ten and now he’s lamenting “losing” a year.)

The thick PADI books were delivered yesterday afternoon.  They read by headlamp late into the night.  Daddy grilled them at breakfast as to the particulars of the first three chapters.  They too spent the morning on the dock, waiting for their instructor to arrive.  He came just as we were pushing off from the dock to swim out around the barrier reef to snorkel.  It was with no small amount of trepidation that I waved off the two biggest projects of my life with this creatively named fellow to take a boat out of sight and then breathe ten meters down for their exploratory dive.  “You sure this guy’s okay?” I whispered to Tony.  Hannah overheard, “Mom,” insert eye roll here, “He’s FINE, he’s just got a funny name, you know, like Boo Radley.”  Right, of course, an odd name is proof that he’s completely reliable and as innocent as his “To Kill a Mockingbird” counterpart.  Silly mother, what am I worried about.  Insert MY eye roll here.

The boat house, with huge osprey nest on top

It turns out that the reefs around this caye are not too bad.  There is a lot of death, to be sure, but that’s the case everywhere as the oceans continue to warm a degree at a time and these fragile little life forms can’t adapt.  But, there’s still a lot of life too.  There are many of the great big brain coral that awed me when I was a little kid, and I counted at least fifteen different varieties of other coral, as well as sea fans in several colors, anemones, and a good deal of greenery growing here and there.  A partial list of critters from our two short dives:  two manta ray, a spotted ray, a sting ray, a moray eel, a spotted eel, spiny lobster, shovel nosed lobster, many big parrot fish, angel fish, “Dory” fish, trigger fish and a plethora of long legged, fast moving serpent starfish like Mrs. Barker’s ‘medusa’ in the salt water tank we love in Germany.  Oh, and Ezra’s personal favorites:  While suiting up for the second dive he spits into his mask and starts scrubbing, pensively, “Mom, are we going to see more of those TERRIFYING fish?”  I stifle a giggle, “Terrifying fish?  Which ones are you terrified of?”  He looks at me with shock, how could I not have noticed?  “The pinkish ones that are a little big striped, they have the awful spikes on top and that BIG RED EYE that just looks at you!”  “Oh, you mean the red snappers,” I explain, “You know, those are really good eating.”  “Yeah?  Well, they’re also terrifying,” he pronounces with finality.  And here I’d thought he meant the lion fish that the sweet Australian girl manning the Marine Station carries a stick for when she dives.  “They’re not native here, somebody probably turned one out of a fish tank in Florida.  They’re aggressive little buggers and they’re messing up the eco-system.  We beat them to death when we find one… except the one we captured for the bowl, you can have a look up at the station… that was a tricky business!” she explained brightly as she dried the salt tips of her hair.  “If you see one, kill it with your dive knife please.” she earnestly requested.

Juliette sat with us for dinner, a grandmother from New Mexico, she’s taken to the kids and is traveling alone.  She couldn’t get a word in edgewise as the kids bubbled over with excitement following their first real dive and the little boys strove to catch them up on all of the adventures they’d “missed out on” while they were gone.  When the kids finally evaporated, full of pork chops, fried fish, red beans and rice and cake that Miss Lana had made especially for Elisha to reward him for his hard work on the business end of a wheel barrow moving tree clippings to the compost for her that morning, I finally was able to ask her what she did.  “I’m a therapist,” she replied with a serene smile, “Or, I used to be.  Now I’m mostly a Grandma.”  “Great,” I thought, “A therapist, I wonder what the analysis of this mess is!”  Evidently she could hear my thoughts.  “Your kids are so lively and so happy,” she marveled, “They really have a lot of joy.”  I’m sure she could have said a lot of things, but I’m glad she said that.  I suppose when you’re a therapist joyful kids are in short supply.

Marianne (of the scorpion sting at Barton Creek Outpost) and her friend Beth turned up on this Caye yesterday.  We were glad to see them again and have spent most of the day in their pleasant company.  After dinner we traded Beth the use of our guitar for the sweet sound of her voice.  She sang her own songs by the light of a chalice moon that spilled liquid silver onto the surface of a flat calm sea, until the drumming started.  Then, of course, we had to go and see the natives dance.