So, here I am, sitting in a little bit of paradise. Just beyond my wooden cabana on this small island in the middle of the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve, Belize, I’m surrounded by swaying palm trees with my toes buried in warm white sand. Each day I’m able to wake up and stare straight out across the reef and wonder what our next dive will be like.
But first things first. My adventure with Blue Ventures began in Sarteneja, a large fishing village in northeastern Belize, along with 15 other volunteers from all over the world (aged between 18 and 59), with varying expectations, hopes and fears. We had about nine days to get to know each other, whilst enjoying time with our Sartenejan homestay families and soaking up our basic science training at the Blue Ventures ‘school’. There were also group activities and excursions, which gave my brain a bit of a break from the fish identification tests and provided opportunities to meet the Sartenejans.
A warm and sharing community spirit was present in everyone we met, not only amongst our hosts. I noticed a sense of pride in this community that I do not experience where I live in the UK, and it was heart-warming to see. However, witnessing firsthand how the Sartenejans live was a real awakening. Water needs to be pumped from a well, supplies are limited and are often sold off trucks or from individuals’ homes, and we were all having to take cold showers, when, just days before, we had left our homes with all their mod cons, hot and cold water on tap and virtually everything that we need easily available.
Each homestay family offered their volunteers different activities, including cooking lessons, riding a motorcycle round the village, engaging with the community sewing group, and even some veterinary experience – it seemed that the possibilities were endless.
The sadness of leaving our homestay families in Sarteneja was eased by the fact that we would be returning to see them in a few weeks’ time, and also by the excitement of arriving at Bacalar Chico Dive Camp! Diving was main reason I had come to Belize, and living at the dive camp has been an amazing experience – and a beautiful contrast between the incredibly basic and the enormously luxurious.
Bacalar Chico Dive Camp: a beautiful contrast between the incredibly basic and the enormously luxurious
Due to the isolation, water is limited (although there are flushing toilets – if you fill the cistern from the bucket outside). There are four people to each cabana, and grab your shelf fast! Showers are salt water unless you catch one of the torrential rain squalls that last about 10 minutes, and the state of our clothes leaves something to be desired – this is not a place to bring your fancy outfits! Camp chores include raking the beach, garbage collection, and cleaning the toilets and showers, but even these, done in the company of others, just add to the experience.
The luxury, however, is in the senses – the sights, sounds, tastes and smells that surround us on a daily basis. Lying in bed and not even having to get out of my bunk to watch the sunrise over the sea. Walking to the showers I am often greeted by one of the resident iguanas (there are at least half a dozen here at the moment), or by the family of raccoons that usually scoot out of the way very quickly. The food is superb, both in quantity and quality, and the Belizean influence is evident. Victor is able to cater for our various tastes in a kitchen lacking half the equipment I’d normally consider essential. Cooking three meals a day for 25 people (volunteers and staff) with electricity only available for a few hours in the evening and shopping done once a week, with no option to just pick up anything you have forgotten, would certainly challenge me!
I can lie in my hammock, looking up at the coconut palms laden with ripening fruit – which someone is always willing to get down and chop open – and just delight in this beautiful place which has more than enough to supply our simple needs. The amount of time I have spent just staring out to sea, across the mangroves, and over to the reef on the horizon feels both lavish and enormously relaxing.
Thanks to the supportive dive instructors Davide and Henry who allowed me to take things at my own pace, and the camaraderie of the other volunteers, I have come to love diving and the underwater world.
And then there is the diving; this has been a revelation to me, so much so that I don’t know where to start. The contrast to my dive training in the UK – which had left me wondering why on earth I, a novice and anxious diver, was doing this – has been startling. Thanks to the supportive dive instructors Davide and Henry who allowed me to take things at my own pace, and the camaraderie of the other volunteers, I have come to love diving and the underwater world. I’m now busy working out how to restructure my whole life to incorporate much more diving (I am nearly 60, so looking for yet another 10 year plan!).
When I think back to where I started – so nervous, not wanting to back-roll off the boat, feeling that I could only descend hanging onto the anchor rope, not being able to take off my mask underwater – I am now able to do all of this and do them without a second thought (although I still don’t like removing my regulator, but you can’t win them all!). I am even managing to dive with no weights, which is real evidence of how much more confident I have become. In addition to this I can now multi-task underwater, managing all the equipment which allows me to take part in fish surveys and contribute to Blue Ventures’ scientific data collection.
Experiencing the underwater world is something that I have always wanted to do – and it has lived up to all my hopes. Swimming with turtles, seeing nurse sharks, rays, and the astounding variety of fish on the reef has only inspired me to want to see, and do, more. But diving with Fredi and Henry (the multi-tasking field scientists) has added an extra dimension that I didn’t expect – this luxurious, fun expedition might also help to conserve all that I have been fortunate enough to see and experience, which for me adds further value to my stay here.
So now the ‘weh di gwan’ (plan for the day in Creole) is in place, the scientific surveys for the next dive have been assigned, and now I’m just waiting to get into the water. What more could I want?
Do something incredible this summer. Join a Blue Ventures Marine Conservation Expedition!
Need more convincing? Read more blogs from past volunteers!