The diving atlas is speckled with legendary blue holes. The untold depths, the flawless geometry, the abrupt change in color from aquamarine to cobalt blue – their very existence tempt our imagination. Whether you find it tantalizing or ominous or a bit of both, it is nearly impossible to stand before such a curious portal and not feel the need to swim at least partway down …
…. just to see what’s there.
The first blue hole I dived was in the Red Sea, and it is still one of my favorite dives ever. As you waddle up to the rocky entrance strapped in full diving gear, you bow your head solemnly to the tombstones of those who have perished in its depths, and your pulse quickens in part from the exertion and in part from trepidation. Last chance, the tombstones called out gaily, No turning back after this point. But instead of turning on your tail, you avail yourself to the Egyptian waters, and after plummeting for a distance, the hole opens under a giant marine arch, and a world of colorful creatures come to greet you as you slowly, blissfully swim back up to shore.
I had high hopes for the Great Blue Hole in Belize, my second visit to a sinkhole in the sea. The journey by boat from Caye Caulker took 2 hours. S had purchased some anti-nausea pills from the island’s Chinese supermarket, downed it as the boat unmoored, then fell asleep halfway through beckoning me to do the same.
There was no way I could sleep; I was just too excited. I tried to pass the time by reading A Feast for Crows, then ended up daydreaming as I faced the back of the boat where the motor made whale fluke trails in the water. I had this image of the Great Blue Hole in my mind and my anticipation revolved like a burst of golden sparks at the edge of my breastbone.
Finally, the boat slowed down and we could make out a shallow ridge of corals that formed the blue hole. Admittedly, the visual effect is more spectacular when viewed from the air. You can even see it from space. But if you were in space, you wouldn’t be able to dip your widdle toes in this awesome natural phenomenon…
Splash in the water, wait for the ok, air out, pinch nose, breeeeatheeeee …. level out, head down, kick back, vertical drop and breeeeatheeeee …. hearing dims, pinch nose, blow out, pop of sound, falling further, breeeeatheeeee …. whitish sands, squall to hover, push out to dark blue, align vertical, drop and breeeeatheeeee …..
At 40 m we had come to our limit. Coincidentally, we had also arrived at the roof what was once an above water cave, part of which had crumbled thousands of years ago, allowing water to flow in as the sea levels rose. Growing down from the ceiling like gigantic souvenirs of the past were stalactites, which had been forming for thousands of years before that. I felt a rush of euphoria, and a daub of fear. I breathed in a gulp of recreational compressed air and thought about things for a second :
Above me, the sum of all the water molecules for a hundred and thirty feet were exerting pressure on my lungs, my brain, my synovial membranes and my vasculature. It held all the oxygen I can handle in a form that I could not access for lack of gills. And here I was, weaving in and out of the stalactites with my human-made flippers while out in the blue, stealthy sharks left shadows and shapes as they swam past. So, consciously or unconsciously, I took refuge between the roots of a giant’s limestone canines, never knowing when he might close his mouth. Seeing nothing more than darkness below me, I rolled over to marvel at the roof of the cave. Subhanallah … thank God for the things we do which are beyond contemplation.
There were nothing but smiles back on the boat.
I am pleased to report that having dived the famous Great Blue Hole, our day was not even half over. We proceeded to 2 other dive sites, shallower, but more colorful, and took a celebratory lunch break on the shores of Half Moon Caye.
From the boat’s secret hold, the dive crew hauled up large containers of hot food and fizzy drinks. S, Gary and I settled down for tucker on one of the whitewashed picnic tables, looking out to the green-blue Caribbean sea. We worked the mask lines off our cheeks as we chewed and chatted and dug our wrinkled toes into the white sand which we shared with the resident hermit crabs.
Once our bellies were full, the divemasters rounded us up for a walk to the bird sanctuary. The trail led inland and was populated by iguanas which either scuttled across the undergrowth or stood regal while basking in the sun.
I came across some low lying orange flowers from the ziricote trees, telling us that we must be close to reaching the colony of red-footed boobies which have chosen these trees as their habitat. It wasn’t until we ascended a viewing platform at the level of the jungle canopy that their incredible world unfolded in front of us.
The sky was their ceiling and the treetops their nesting floor. The red-footed boobies looked so peaceful in their natural surroundings, a bright white congregation with long blue beaks and a pink flush near their cheeks. Their feet were scarlet and webbed, to help the boobies dive and swim in the ocean to feed, and they helped to nourish the ziricote tree homes with their guano. The darker-plumed frigatebirds roosted alongside them and could almost pass for members of the same flock with different colorings; they both had a similar shaped head with long beaks which curved down at the end. But once the frigatebird takes flight, all doubts are put to rest. Its angular wings are pterodactyl-like and unmistakable, as any fisherman would tell you. It was a very Jurassic Park moment for me, and I wanted to stay there all day! Especially when I caught a cheeky, fluffy face with big black eyes and a blue beak peeking out from one of the nests – a little booby chick with an afro!
On our way back to the boat, another Jurassic Park moment: a grim-faced iguana had climbed onto the base of a coconut tree and was devouring a freshly-caught forest rodent! If you’re squeamish, look away now! However, that was the whole problem. It was so freaking gruesome that we couldn’t look away. Here was a modern-day dinosaur stuffing a poor helpless mammal down its throat. En route to the last dive site of the day, all I could say to S was, “He was eeeeeeaaattiing it!!!!!!”
* * *
My first scuba instructor and dear friend Chris told me that there are only 2 types of divers, “Those who pee in their wetsuits, and those who lie about it.” My friend Jon used to moan about 2 other type of divers, “The ones who just dive quietly, and the annoying tank bangers.” Personally, I always notice 2 other denominations, being one of the two myself: the ones who dive with cameras (moi) and those who seem content to memorize hundreds of expeditions underwater without attempting to record it on film.
In S, my sweet giant, my gentle sturgeon, I have found another type …
“Make sure you don’t delete them,” he warned me as I offered to transfer the photos from his underwater camera onto my tablet along with the other underwater shots I had taken today. It is with all the love in my heart that I present his repertoire:
However, in the midst of all that blue, we came across a few gems:
So dive on, sayang, dive on!
Great Blue Hole from the air by Google search
Very artsy blue photos by S
The rest from moi, hope you like em!