By Joe Armstrong, Blue Ventures Volunteer, Sarteneja, Belize
As a group we spent a week in Sarteneja staying with local host families. My host family was amazing and the food was incredible! Everyone else seemed to be having similar experiences with their host families – generally just a very cool experience. Being a part of the culture and the community was amazing; the family really made me feel welcome and by the end I practically felt like a member of the family myself! The first few days consisted of general briefings and just getting to know each other. Getting acquainted with Sarteneja itself came quickly, particularly when it came to finding the way to Pablito’s bar in town where you can get Belikin, the local beer. Our research-based learning also started quickly; only a few days after arrival we started to learn our fish families and coral classifications. Over the next few days we gained more in-depth knowledge about the fish and coral as well as the potential hazards awaiting us at the dive camp, both in the water and on land. So far the biggest danger has been the mosquitoes, so many and their bites are so itchy. Sarteneja was great, very laid back and relaxing. The highlight of the week was definitely the community work we did and the integration with the local projects. We took a trip to the local school and helped some of the kids that were having trouble reading, which was a very rewarding experience. Personally I had the opportunity to work with a local project to vaccinate the dogs for rabies. As I am going to veterinary school in the fall, I found this experience exceptionally interesting. Having the opportunity to participate in something so relevant to my experience was amazing. The opportunities to participate in the community projects in Sarteneja are readily available and highly diverse. Everyone can find something to interest them and a project they want to put the effort into.
I was part of the first group to arrive at the dive camp, which although very exciting, also meant that we were in charge of all the cleaning and general camp preparation. The site is awesome – I could not imagine a more beautiful place to be spending the next four weeks! The second day at camp started with some heavy lifting, very heavy. The compressor weighs about 600 kilos (1400lbs), but with 6 people to transport it from San Juan we eventually managed to get the job done. Diving has been spectacular, especially since I had zero dive training before coming on this expedition. Learning here at this beautiful dive camp beats learning in a swimming pool any day! It’s unbelievable! Camp life is fast paced in the morning and the dives come one after another, but the training has been perfect. I passed my open water in three days and within the next two days I am already half way through the advanced open water training thanks to Gaz. Having two dive instructors on camp has allowed everyone to work at their own pace with the training which has helped tremendously. The food has been awesome, Desi is a very good cook, and the rest of the staff have been incredible. They have been great at helping everyone to learn the fish species, and very patient on the fish point-out dives. While I said that life on camp is fast paced, there is plenty of time to relax, often in the afternoon. Essential items include sunscreen, a hammock, a good book, and an Ipod. Also, definitely bring a camera to take pictures of all the amazing things you will be doing.