Much of my trip was spent on the small, pavement-less island of Caye Caulker getting my Open Water Scuba Certification. This meant that a) I got a killer snorkel mask tan that will probably stay with me until I die, and b) I had the pleasure of squeezing my body into a too-tight wetsuit for 4 out of 5 days.
Why did I get certified? It was just something I’ve always wanted to do, despite having absolutely no experience in diving.
Would it have been a better idea if I knew I liked diving before putting down a non-refundable deposit for the course? Probably. Who knew if I had this horrible, crippling fear of the open water or claustrophobia from breathing through a tube? But luckily, everything went swimmingly.
Sorry. I had to.
Even though I had to rush through a 16-chapter online course before arriving in Belize, I still felt horribly unprepared. First of all, the online course is basically 16 chapters of ways you could die while diving. There were some things that I never knew I had to be worried about, like how some people have air bubbles in the filling of their teeth that will cause anguish once you start ascending. Or how you could be one of the rare people with a certain heart condition that you discover while diving.
Second of all, it was really hard to visualize “Put the clamp onto the o-ring, which will run oxygen through the first stage to match ambient pressure”.
I was lucky to be in a 3-person class taught by one of the best shops on the island over 3 days. The first day had me waking up around 4AM in San Ignacio, busting my ass to get to Caye Caulker via local chicken bus, taxi, then water taxi in order to get to class on time by 10AM. Not particularly one of my favorite days during this vacation, but it was absolutely worth it.
What I liked most about getting certified in Belize is that our open water sessions were done at actual dive sites. Had I done the course at home before heading out to Belize, I would’ve done the open water sessions in a local quarry. Murky water is sweet and all, but takes a bit of a backseat to Belize.
My body freaked out a little the first time I put the regulator in my mouth and headed down. My mind couldn’t understand why I was able to breathe underwater and I kept finding myself holding my breath even when I didn’t need to, which is probably one of the worst habits that you can develop as a diver if you don’t want your lungs to explode.
During both the open water and confined water sessions, we had to get checked off on a series of exercises, like retrieving a lost regulator, emptying a water-logged mask, finding your neutral buoyancy, etc. What was done easily and worry-free in the confined water session came with a bit more risk in the open water session.
Retrieving my regulator in 6 feet of water was easy since I could just swim up if anything went wrong. Being on the bottom of the ocean, however, meant I would get the bends if I swam all the way to the surface.
I wish we could’ve taken a before and after picture of our first dive. We were so nervous about heading out that we barely talked on the way there. I thought I was going to use all my oxygen within the first 10 minutes down there!
Here’s the most accurate rendition of what we looked like before our first dive:
Although it was a bit torturous that we had to sit at the bottom of these dive site doing these emergency exercises while everyone else was exploring the ocean, it’s incredible that I was able to do it there. While my classmates were doing their drills, I was able to just float and try to process that I was actually 60 feet underwater, breathing.
Finishing the course felt so accomplishing and allowed me to occupy myself while on this lazy island. Each session took up half the day, which left the rest of the day to chill and relax at the Lazy Lizard or back at the hostel.
Caye Caulker, and Belize in general, is small enough that you’re able to form a pretty tight community of fellow backpackers. So, of course, even 5 hours of down time after diving didn’t feel like enough sometimes! There were so many people to hang out with and so many things to do that I had to carve out alone time for myself one day to be unabashedly anti-social.
Hey, a solo vacation means that I do what I want, right?
Have any awesome dive sites to recommend? Please share!