Readers of this blog will know that my short career as a scuba diver has been less glorious marine brochure and more P.S.A. warning.
It began with four treacherous certification dives in the frigid Southern California winter, and continued immediately with a Vietnamese dive in near zero visibility that saw me separated from the group and forced to practice my just-learned skills immediately. (Now what were they?)
I’m writing now after a pair of dives off Tranquility Bay on the island of Ambergris Caye, Belize, and I’m happy to report: I get it. I totally, totally get it. The appeal of diving, when it’s good, is intensely powerful and wonderful and undeniable.
It started with a pickup from our Victoria House home base (that’s in the south on the island) in a speedboat up to the Tranquility Bay resort, which kindly arranged our outing for the day. (Pause to note for those who’d say Tranquility Bay, the furthest resort north of the island’s town of San Pedro, is remote: It took us about 30 minutes by very pleasant boat to reach it. That’s about how long it takes me to find a parking spot at the Grove back home.)
Plus, no one seems very territorial around these parts (refreshing). Ask about the best scuba diving on Ambergris Caye and you’ll get a general shrug of, “It’s basically all great, all up and down the reef.” But I was able to piece together from a few conversations that scuba in the north of Ambergris could in some way be seen as more desirable because its out-of-the-way location makes it utterly unspoiled, with coral and everything else fully intact, and un-messed-with by a glut of divers’ and snorkelers’ fins. We didn’t see another diver — let alone more than exactly one non-resort-staff person all day. The aptly named Tranquility Bay is heaven for — you guessed it — tranquility seekers.
Scuba Diving Tranquility Bay, Belize
The 21-year-old Yemin was our divemaster for the day. I told him we were beginners, and rusty ones at that (though hubby dived Ixtapa only two weeks before, so I was mostly referring to myself). I was so impressed with Yemin’s patience and kindness. He had us assemble our own apparatus just as a refresher course on what everything is and does. Extremely useful.
Then he asked us if we wanted wetsuits and kind of shook his head like probably not, right? The water was about 84 degrees. (For reference: It was a limb-numbing 52 during our Catalina certification dives.) I chose the obvious option to go in only in my J. Crew nautical-striped one piece, and couldn’t believe what a difference it made in comfort over the seven-millimeter wetsuit (or hell, dry suit) necessary off the California coast in winter.
Dive No. 1 at Tranquility Bay, Belize: Basil Jones Canyon
With Winfield as our caption, it was literally a three-minute ride from the shore to the first dive spot, Basil Jones Canyon, and it was into the water. This time it was the backroll entry (compared to the stride-in method) which I’d never done before, but it couldn’t be easier.
Visibility might have been 20 meters or much more — this was all new territory compared to my limited other experiences.
We found a coral canyon type environment where we descended to about 24 meters (I believe the area continued down to 45 meters or so). The sea creatures were beautiful and too numerous, literally, to list in the designated area of my dive journal when we later surfaced. We saw two large sea turtles, a hawksbill and lagerhead, gliding so gracefully. We saw lion fish, queen parrotfish (among my favorites for their Lisa Frank-like quality), trigger fish, and barracuda.
Yemin’s hand gestures to point out what we were seeing kept me endlessly entertained: two fingers seeming to pull the trigger of a gun: trigger fish. One hand biting at the opposite arm: barracuda. A rub of the belly: anything tasty to eat, like conch.
After 38 minutes, we surfaced and headed easily back to the shore for the most civilized surface interval imaginable. We had a pleasant lunch at Tranquility Bay’s Aquarium restaurant, right on the water, where the kind staff far outnumbered the guests (it was the slow season, and we were the only guests in the restaurant at the time).
Dive No. 2 at Tranquility Bay, Belize: Basil Jones Aquarium
I asked Yemin about the Belize’s famous off-shore Blue Hole, where divers can descend practically to infinity — it’s something we didn’t even dare to try as beginners, and it would have been a long, early-morning boat ride out there just to snorkel. He said, “I can tell by your confidence and comfort in the water than you both could definitely dive the Blue Hole, no problem.” (If only the instructor from my flail-y, frigid certification dives could see me now!) Alright, Blue Hole: next time, we’re coming for you.