experiences of our lives. We first flew to one of the coast islands and stayed in the town of San Pedro from where
we planned to do a little scuba diving.
Our first dive, on the first
morning, was just a ten
minutes boat ride from the
town to the local reef where
we saw the expected
beautiful fish and coral in
crystal clear waters with 70
feet visibility. It was on our
second dive (that same
morning) that we realized this
might not be an ordinary trip.
Here in about 50 feet
of water, we came
across a school of
about a half dozen
sharks ranging from
maybe 4 to 8 feet
long. They seemed at
least as interested in
us as we were in
them, and stayed with
us for half of the dive.
Randye had a very
close encounter and
actual “pettedâ
€� one. (She claims
her hair standing up
was due to the water
not the shark, but
none of the other
pictures show that)
We planned to take another morning dive two days later with this same group but found out instead of doing a local
dive they were going 2-3 hours off shore to explore one of the only coral atoll’s not in the pacific. Although the
first dive would be an “expert only� affair we would have the option of seeing the atoll and snorkeling and
then joining for the two afternoon dives. We had absolutely perfect weather and a glass smooth sea.
the incredible and world
famous “Blue Holeâ
€�. Explored and made
famous by Jacques
Cousteau who labeled it
as one of the worldâ
€™s four “mustâ€�
dives for experienced

Following quote from
the national geographic
magazine “The
almost perfectly circular
Blue Hole is more than
1,000 feet across and
some 500 feet deep,
the opening to what was
a dry cave system
during the Ice Age.
When the ice melted
and the sea level rose,
the caves were flooded
creating what is now a
magnet for intrepid
divers. The journey into
the cavern is not for
fainthearted or unskilled
scuba divers. The
entrance to the cavern
cannot be reached
without descending
more than 110 feet
down a sheer rock wallâ
€”some 10 feet deeper
than the recommended
maximum depth for
recreational divers. At
these depths, a diver
has only a matter of
minutes before
breathing compressed
air becomes
dangerous, due to high
levels of nitrogen that
accumulate in the blood.
Well we were out there on a perfect day and snorkeling just did not
€� and had only done two post certification dives before this trip,
neither one more the 40 feet down.

This dive has to be done on a strict schedule – 4 minutes to
equalize, 7 minutes on the "bottom" and the rest of the time
decompressing on a graduated accent. At 50 feet down on the edge
of the hole we successfully equalized - at least to that point – and
we both steeped off the edge and plunged in a kind of free fall
straight down. It rapidly got darker, much colder and murkier as the
pressure grew. In what seemed less then a minute we found
ourselves passing the 110 foot point. Randye leveled off at 132 feet
I did at 140.  Incredibly the whole area and visibility clears at this
point with pitch darkness above and below. We could swim among
the gigantic stalactites and stalagmites as the cave widened out past
the hole’s 1000 foot diameter. A bull shark circled above
apparently guarding the exit. It was at this point I discovered I had
gone through more than 2/3 of my oxygen in only the first 1/3 of the
dive. I first thought maybe I had been hyper ventilating but then
discovered my regulator hose had sprung a leak at the connection
point. My hand over the leak did not work and a rapid accent from
this depth is absolutely not an option. I found our dive masters and
pointed out my predicament. To preserve my air for my final accent I
shared the air off his tank with a spare regulator. A maneuver last
tried in the YMCA pool – at 6 feet depth - some three years ago.
Fortunately I was not suffering from the nitrous narcosis - common at
this depth.  On deep dives the boat throws an extra tank in the water
at the point you do your 8 minute decompression stop and I could
then switch to that tank and then back to mine again for the finally
We lunched on the
atoll and our final dive
dream about,
swimming in schools of
multicolored fish
among the most
beautiful coral
imaginable. Altogether
one of the most
amazing days we have
ever had – but to be
surpassed only a few
days later.
airplane view - postcard
The second half of our week was spent in a Jungle
Lodge in south west Belize. We were advised to
take a day trip to a remote cave (Tunichil Muknal)
that had not yet made our travel books. It was only
recently explored and just opened to small guided
trips for the public in the last 4 years.
The first hour was a dirt road, the next hour a mud
“road� and the last hour on foot through a
dense jungle trail following and crossing a river.
The river exited from a hole in a 100 foot high cliff.
With our guide, and one other couple, we entered
the cave by swimming up stream in over 15 foot
deep waters where the river emerged from the
rock. Only our helmets and headlights were above
water as we made our way forward into the
The depth varied from ankle deep to over our
heads. Some passages were so tight the dry bag
with my camera and water had to be pushed
ahead before squishing my body through, at other
points it opened up to giant caverns.
Often (as in the photo) we
clung to the walls and walked
on underwater ledges. In one
narrow section I mentioned
that my head light was shining
on a medium sized black
scorpion. Randye then
realized that was what had just
stung her.

They guide rushed back and
declared this a non-poisonous
variety but indicated some
people have very bad
reactions to it (a subtle
distinction I thought) Randye
pulled out the stinger, and
hand throbbing moved
forward in waste deep water in
what we now realized was a
scorpion infested cave. At
least the vampire bats flying
above left us alone.
After an hour and a half in the river the guide had us
take off our shoes (to protect the cave) as we climbed
about 60 feet up the side of the cave to a very recently
discovered small opening that lead to a beautiful and
enormous cavern.  In this side cavern virtually everything
remained exactly as it was found and left by the Mayans
who clearly used this remote spot for ceremonial
purposes 1200 years ago.
They believed rain gods lived in this cave
and the pottery was used in some
ceremony for these Gods. Once use it had
to be destroyed as shown in the hole in the
upside down pot. We carefully made our
way through 100’s of Mayan artifacts
left just were they were used. All alone, in
pitch darkness –except for our
headlights- in the giant caverns, two hour
into the cave, with amazing formations it
was all surreal to be thinking of the Mayans
there before us.
We then came across the decapitated
scull of some sacrificed individual. The
artificially flattened head showed this was
a member of the Mayan elite. The stone
implement used for the execution was still
there. Perhaps a winner of one of their
games - sacrificed to appease the rain
Gods.  Other bones – of children and
adults -were scattered with the pottery.

Watching every step we cautiously made
our way deeper into the cavern.
Climbing up to a very high ledge we came across
this teenage maiden - skeleton fully intact –
crystallizing into the rocks for over a thousand
years. Some Mayan princess, in her finally
resting place, unfound and undisturbed for all
these years.
We worked our way back via same route.

On the next day we saw some above ground
Mayan temples. On our last day, directly from
our lodge, Randye and I paddled down river for
over two hour though the jungle to the closest
town - where our jeep meet us for our trip back
to the real world.

Martin August 2003
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