The diving Tillers do Belize

by Rob Tiller

We got home at about 4:00 a.m. Sunday from our trip to Belize. There were various minor setbacks and challenges, like weather, malfunctioning gear, and cancelled flights, but all in all it was a good trip.

One of the great satisfactions for me was getting the last member of our little family certified as a PADI open water diver. Jocelyn did the course in 2014, and Gabe decided to buckle down late in 2015, while juggling his grad school course work. He completed everything but the open water dive requirements with two days before the trip to spare.

Jocelyn flew in from NYC on Christmas Eve, full of energy and humor. As will happen this time of year, I felt the spell of Christmases past, and needed to read through some Christmas carols at the piano (Joy to the World! We Three Kings, What Child Is This, O Come, All Ye Faithful, Hark the Herald Angels, etc.). We listened to the Nutcracker during our present exchange.

But for our family reunion dinner, we listened to the Beatles, whose work had just become available on Spotify, Rhapsody, and other streaming services that day. Starting with I Want to Hold Your Hand, we worked through a good part of the canon. That music is densely evocative of adolescence for me, but it still has a cheery, lively power, too, and a lot of variety. We talked a lot about the Fab Four, and it turned out that Gabe and Jocelyn knew every song and a lot of the backstories.
We left for the airport at 3:30 a.m. Our first flight took us to Houston, where we waited a while and then got a plane for Belize City, where we eventually got into a single engine plane for a 15-minute flight to Ambergris Caye. I got to sit next to the pilot and monitor the instruments, which was fun. We landed at sunset, then took a short cab ride to a nearby dock, where we and our stuff got loaded onto a speedy water taxi for a twenty-minute trip north.

We stayed at Costa Blu Resort, which, we came to learn, had just opened for the first time two weeks earlier. We thought it was pretty, comfortable, and well situated for diving, with a dive center on the property, along with palm trees and swimming pools.

The next day the wind was blowing hard – perhaps 25 miles per hour – and so morning diving was cancelled. We came to learn that the wind had been going like that for the previous two weeks or so, and even old-timers couldn’t recall so long a stretch of hard wind at this time of year. The skies were mostly sunny. We got out in the afternoon for a shallow (12 foot) dive in the afternoon, and Gabe completed the first of his two open water certification dives. The weather the next day was the same, which meant the small boats at our dive operation could not get out beyond the reef, so we did another shallow dive nearby, and Gabe completed his course. We were so proud!

On Tuesday, we took a longer boat ride out to Turneff Atoll, and did three separate dives. The visibility was about 50 feet, and the water was a pleasant 82 degrees F. We saw the locally common tropicals, such as durgons, surgeonfish, parrotfish, blue wrasse, butterflyfish, yellowtail snappers, and three kinds of angelfish. There were lobsters, and a yellow ray. Our guide, Bernie, speared five or six lionfish, which are beautiful but very destructive for the ecosystem. The dive was fun, though I was a little disappointed not to see sharks or other larger creatures.

We’d found the restaurant at Costa Blu adequate. The food was good, and the service was friendly, but really really slow. We deduced that the staff was mostly very green, and just learning. Anyhow, we walked along the beach to Temple Run resort for dinner on Tuesday. The walk was a little tricky in the dark, and we had to make our way through thick sargassum and other flotsam on the beach, but the dinner was good.

It was still blowing hard on Wednesday, so we decided not to dive, and instead to explore the little town of San Pedro. This required a 20- minute water taxi trip, on a little boat that was speedy, and crowded. It started to rain hard for the first time that week during the short trip, and it looked like we might have a damp and bedraggled afternoon. But it stopped raining and the sun came out just as we pulled up to the dock. San Pedro proper is colorful though bit down at the heels, with rust and peeling paint, but its narrow streets are full of local people strolling and buzzing around in golf carts. We ate at Casa Picasso, a highly rated spot run by friendly expats from Connecticut. We loved their Carrot Chic cocktail, and my eggplant napolean entree was excellent.
On Thursday, we tried to take a larger boat to the Blue Hole, the famous deep circular structure about three hours’ ride from San Pedro, and planned to do two other dives. The trip started badly, very early in the a.m., when we discovered that our equipment had not all been delivered to the boat, and we had to do last-minute rentals. Then, about 45 minutes into the trip, the boat developed engine trouble. We limped into a local village, and waited for a mechanic. The ultimate diagnosis was a blown gasket, which meant a blown trip.

But we did get in an afternoon shallow dive near Costa Blu at Mexican Reef with just us Tillers and our guide, Giovanni. We saw a pair of large sting rays that seemed to be courting, and a friendly green turtle that swam close enough to be petted. There was a large green moray eel, spade fish, and several nurse sharks, as well as many pretty small tropicals. It was especially sweet to be with my loved ones, and see our new divers keeping a good eye on their gauges.

Throughout the week, I’d been trying to get some pictures with my Canon G16 camera with an Ikelite housing. The equipment would work fine when I tested it out of the water, but under water there was one problem after another. On the Thursday dive, it worked fine when I took a few test shots, and then quit responding to any directions. I couldn’t even turn it off! It was disappointing to miss a lot of good shots. I couldn’t figure out why this equipment was so glitchy, but it was, and I made up my mind to get rid of it. I haven’t been able to find the camera (mislaid, or stolen from my bag?) so the problem may have resolved itself.

On Friday, the wind finally let up, and we were able to do three tanks outside the reef near Costa Blu in the morning. We got down to about 100 feet and admired the varied coral and tropicals, but didn’t see many larger creatures. I feel like we saw more marine life when we were last there in (I think) 2009. But we all know or should know that the long-term prospects for coral reefs all over the world are not good. For now, there’s still a lot of beauty to be savored.