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Diving

5 February, 2009 Leave a comment

I quite liked it. As you can see.

Was lucky enough to be diving with two great dive photographers. So many thanks (and copyright) to Chris and Rod.

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In an octopus’s garden

6 December, 2008 1 comment

I’d forgotten just how fantastic diving can be.

A caribbean idyll. Palm trees, white sandy beaches, a jetty poking out into turquoise blue waters. And that’s just on the surface. The best bit is submerged. It’s too easy to hyperbolise – but there is a reason why people use words like “teeming with life” and “incredible abundance of colours”.

Fish that are 4ft long and rather interested in you. A hawksbill turtle, about 4ft and happy for us to sit and take photos till it got bored – and then moved away with remarkable grace and speed. And schools of all sorts of different fish – at one stage with thousands of tiny glass fish swarming round us while a couple of massive groupers just dawdled past. All this, of course, set against the backdrop of some of the most beautiful and weird plant life which live on the coral. And lobster. And fish that can change colour or change sex at will. Ones that are monogomous, ones that work on the hareem principle – but if the male dies the next oldest female turns herself into the lead male… and all of it an incredibly finely balanced ecosystem.

Something for you fact lovers out there: the oceans making up 70% of the earth’s surface (so why do we call it Earth?). Reefs make up only 0.1% of the ocean. BUT they support 25% of marine life. So you can imagine why they’re so special, and so protected. The Belizean barrier reef is 174 miles long and is second only to the Australian great barrier reef in size. Hunting Caye (pron Key) is the island where Reef Conservation International is based, in the Sapodilla collection of cayes right a the very south of the reef, equidistant from Honduras, Guatemala and Belize, but is in Belizean waters.

I’ve spent a week working with Polly and the rest of the people who’d also paid to come here on holiday and work as part of the conservation project to monitor and protect this reef. You fly to get here and pay them a rather modest fee – then you get everything paid for, including excellent dive training, all the kit, air, boat fees, accomodation and food… and of course some incredible dives. No-one knows the waters round here like Polly, boat captain Roland and the rest of the crew. More on the rest of the project details when I write it up for tiscali.

In short, the work is simple and enjoyable – when else do you get a chance to gather together the conch from the Stadium diving site (a huge sandy bowl surrounded by a bank of coral, hence the name), check their tags and measure their size, lip thickness, sexual maturity… ahem… and then swim off for a bit of pure fun diving to finish the session.

After 3 weeks in mountains, jungle, and cities seeing cultures modern and ancient, issues social and sacred, coming to English speaking country (well, creole… i can get 1 word in 5) with the Queen’s head on the dollars, and coming out to an island paradise to spend my time in another world… And, most importantly, to feel like i’m doing something worthwhile – something that, however, small, makes a contribution, makes a bit of a difference… well, it’s very rewarding. If the aim of a holiday is to get you away from the humdrum elements of your life, to give you perspective, space, an alternative to the norm… something to give you wonder and awe and fun, to delight you and tire you… and it can do this while giving you a justified sense of self worth? Well, now that’s a holiday.

Oh, and there’s no mobile phone coverage, no internet, and only one phone. Bliss.

Boat from Punto Gorda (from where I’m sending this) tomorrow over to Puerto Barrios in Guatemala. From there a long bus ride down to the South West of the country to Antigua and the area around Lake Atitlan for a few days before flying out to Santiago next Friday.

[ed: sorry for the hyperbole earlier – but i did warn you. perhaps all those jacques cousteau programmes when i was young have sunk into my dna]
[ps. for my godsons Oli and Seb – re: dougal the deep sea diver… it’s all true]

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