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Ali D’s Diving Travels!

“Into the Ocean went a world more fantastic than any imagination could inspire...” Join me on my ocean travels in 2020!
Jan 2020 - Shark School Bahamas
Mar 2020- Invasive Lionfish Speciality - volunteering in Belize
April 2020 - Florida Keys Road Trip
April 2020 - IDC & IE Bristol
May 2020 - Philippines
May 2020 - RAID Freediving course
July 2020 - White Shark cage diving Guadalupe
Aug 2020 - Shark Squad Liveaboard French Polynesia
Sep 2020 - Wrecks & Reefs Liveaboard Hurghada

Diary Entries

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Location: Placencia , Belize

We’d arranged to go out today with some locals on a fishing trip and it didn’t disappoint. Mervyn (aka Bubbles) and Gus have fished since their youth taught by their grandfather and we’re happy to let us girls lose with the lines. After a bumpy ride out we arrived at a sheltered lagoon where Mervyn netted the bait. We then headed out to sea where we were subsequently hooking and reeling in Yellowtail and Barracuda. I hooked a Barracuda - it wasn’t massive but it was hard work! I’ve never fished before but I now get the appeal. Total absorption in the task and oneness with the sea and skill involved - I’d love to give this another go. We headed into the stunning Moho Caye for lunch where we did bbq with the yellowtail - awesome to eat what we’d caught. Us girls swam, drank rum and coke, ate lunch, wandered the island. I felt so at peace and at oneness with my surroundings. Just the whole experience - catch your lunch, cook it, sustainable in stunning surroundings. Life doesn’t get much better than that. After lunch we then headed to Ivan’s Caye - this is an island developed for one family to live on from mangrove swamps. Somehow related to Mervyn they gave us a fantastic welcome. More rum and coke, bbq fish and gibnut - bbq rodent! But it’s good and tastes like chicken! Us three girls all fell in love with Luna the puppy and desperately wanted to smuggle her away with us! We headed back to land tired after a great day out. We’d been out from 8am to 5pm - thanks guys for an awesome day!

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Location: Placencia , Belize

23rd to 28th March 2020

Largely spent the last week trying to find stuff to do in an an ever closing down Placencia. Once the first case of Coronavirus was declared the bars were the first things to shut followed by hotels and restaurants. We managed to find enough places open to get a meal out for most of the week but by the Friday us three girls were all cooking for ourselves. We occupied ourselves with beach days - I found the local mangroves to be home to seahorses so spent some time paddling there with the GoPro. We hired bikes and rode all the way to Maya beach - round trip approx 26 Kms! Plenty of stuff to post on Facebook as we still have relative freedom to move providing we observe social distancing. More cases declared so we now await the impact of that. However meeting some great people locally. Whilst in the Pickled Parrot for lunch I met Bill from Maya beach with his dog Mollie who was beautiful. Then on the beach I met Wolfgang, a German/Canadian with a wealth of local knowledge. Subsequently introduced to his neighbours Bill and Andrea who were also stuck we started to form our own little gang meeting daily at the beach for sun and swimming sharing Sabrina’s Winnie the Pooh inflatable dingy brought in the local supermarket!

Monday, 23 March 2020

Location: Placencia , Belize

Belize declared its first Coronavirus case today - bit of a game changer! Despite me thinking I’d already arranged to stay in my accommodation, it seems the owner didn’t know this! So a hasty negotiation ensued which enabled me to stay on pretty much indefinitely (I paid for two weeks in advance). However I was asked not to leave that afternoon because an official was coming to see me. This turned out to be a doctor who questioned and examined me - timely reminder this is Central America because it felt like an interrogation! The end result however was I had no symptoms and he pronounced me ok to move around which was a relief. However I’m still confused because I seem to be the only tourist examined that day - I’ve asked others I’ve met since. Not sure why I was singled out but at least now I have accommodation with basic cooking facilities so I can get by indefinitely.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Location: Placencia , Belize

A day of angst - after chilling yesterday at the ruins today is a should I get out or shouldn’t I. Had an option via Miami and Spain into Heathrow but both are Corona hotspots. Also only 24 hours to get from Placencia to Belize which is pushing it. Resolve to settle in for the long haul!

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Location: Placencia , Belize

Woke up early for my 7am pick up still reeling from the previous nights news! What do I do? Shall I stay here today and plan my exit by Monday or visit the Mayan ruins!? Given that half my dive gear is still out at the island and the likelihood of getting out is slim, I choose to visit the ruins! And they did not disappoint. Three hour drive across changing scenery via Belmopan to San Ignacio we arrive at Xunantunich - literally translates as Lady in Stone. Our guide was superb and told us all about the Mayan belief in harmony between man and the heavens. The main pyramid is 140 feet high and aligned to the constellation Orion, just like the pyramids in Giza. Climbing it is no mean feet and would give a UK health and safety executive a heart attack! But the views are superb. Buzzards fly on the same level and you look out over the border to Guatemala. You can see the last town in Belize and the first town in Guatemala - and they contest the border hotly. Completely atmospheric experience enhanced by the quietness of the temple as a result of the Coronavirus. After a takeout lunch in town we headed for the Blue Hole for a welcome swim - this is a Cenotes and at the back at a dept of approx 24 m you can see a cave passage that could only be accessed by scuba. Got bitten on the bum here by a cheeky fish - I’m sure some people pay a lot for that! Then headed back to Placencia to meet up with Marion for food. We’re the only two left now from the original first week crew, the others having left today. But on my excursion today I met Sabrina from Germany who is also on her own so now we three have hooked up as a little gang! We therefore headed for a well earned dinner and drinks in Barefoot!

Friday, 20 March 2020

Location: Placencia , Belize

Back into Placencia today after a wet and bumpy ride! Arrived soaked to the skin but in this heat that’s quite refreshing. This weekend I’m staying at Julia’s Cabanas further up in the resort as opposed the the Paradise where I’ve stayed so far. Whereas the Paradise is a hotel with bar/small restaurant, here I have my own cabana with basic kitchen facilities - microwave, coffee maker, toaster and fridge. No bar but then Barefoot Bar is right next door and that’s where we’re due to meet for food later. Time to try and get my Mayan Ruins excursion and catch up on all that’s gone on in the world. Coronavirus is running mad it seems - the Florida Keys has closed down which puts the next stage of my journey in doubt. However with one more week to volunteer at Tom Owens Caye I figure I’ll worry about that next weekend when I come back. Success on the excursion front - found a company going to Xunantunich in the morning. I’m now very happy as this has been a long held ambition. Met up with the Reef CI crew as planned - Fabiene and Daniel have been advised by their embassy to shelve the volunteering and return to Switzerland. They’ve spent all afternoon booking it through a Mexico as advised - both however are in two minds and really want to stay! On the point of changing their mind however we get an email from Frank at Reef CI - volunteering is cancelled at the island due to Coronavirus for the foreseeable. All tourists advised to return home asap. This is then also the first I hear about the airport shutting for 30 days with effect from Monday - all a bit too much to process a few rums in at 10.30 pm at night!

Monday, 16 March 2020

Location: Placencia , Belize

16th to the 20th March Tom Owens Caye

Back at the Hokey Pokey Water taxi dock for our Monday morning pickup. The shock was that no new volunteers arrived - all 7 had cancelled presumably because of the Coronavirus outbreak. This meant only 5 of us from the previous week returned to the island - the smallest group they’d ever had to take out. Our journey out was smooth by comparison to the previous week and this time both Jimbo and Rex were there to greet us. As there were so few of us the three girls - myself, Fabiene and Marion claimed the three upstairs rooms in the main building living in real luxury with a bathroom a piece! However it was no messing around this week with orientations - within 20 mins of arriving the bell rang and we were in the water diving within 15 minutes! Two dives that first afternoon we slept well that night. However day two brought my first mishap. Trying to fillet a Lionfish after our first dive my hand slipped and I knocked against the spines of the fish lying next to it! Venom in the finger! Got straight to the kitchen and put it in the hot water - tablets for swelling and pain. After two hours immersion my hand looked dead crinkly but I’d effectively avoided major swelling. It hurt but I think the fact the fish was dead and we dealt with it immediately meant the venom didn’t travel far in my system. Made me appreciate the value of having stayed calm the day before when one escaped from my spear and shot round the back of my head. Mordy signalled breathe out and descend and I knew by his eyes don’t question it. A head sting would have been serious particularly on a dive when you’d need to get back to land for treatment.

Day three saw four dives - three day followed by a night dive. On the night dive my inflator stuck on the BCD and before I could vent or disconnect I’m puffed up like a Mitchelin man at the surface - thankfully only from 5 metres. Finished the dive by orally inflating and headed for a well earned shower - only to slip and fall on the tiled floor! Cut my foot on the wall and bent back my toes - unable to put any weight on the big toe. Swollen by morning but put on the boot and went diving only to be confronted by heavy bruising/more swelling when I took the boot off later. We’d stayed out for two dives so potentially the pressure of the water and the boot had brought it all out.

Whilst on our surface interval that day we stopped off at a fisherman’s island - real eye opener! Covered in rubbish. We did a bit of a beach clean (we couldn’t remove everything - there was too much) and removed some nets that would have ultimately become ghost nets had they gone back in the water. There were garden chairs, bottles, hard hats - all coming from Honduras. It just shows that the message still needs to get out there and that with all the education that’s been done we still have so much to learn.

Final dive Friday morning and head back in to Placencia for a well earned weekend break.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Location: Placencia , Belize

First weekend back on the mainland and back to the Paradise resort hotel - it was good to have a hot shower! Saturday was a chill day - joined Andrea at Sailfin hotel in their Infinity pool for cocktails. Sunday went on an excursion to the Cockscombe Jaguar Reserve. Spent time swimming in the waterfall (in my bra and pants as no one told me to take a swimsuit) and then river tubing! Fantastic day with two American couples from Seattle with our guide Oz ( who was fantastic!). Evenings were spent with our volunteering crew - looking forward to heading back out on Monday with a bunch of newbies!

Monday, 09 March 2020

Location: Tom Owens Caye, Belize

9th to 13th March Volunteering Tom Owens Caye Week 1

Got dropped off at the Hokey Pokey water taxi dock at around 9am ready to leave for Tom Owens Caye with the Reef CI team at 9.30. Needn’t have been so early! Belizan time! We didn’t leave till 10am. Basically the ride out the Caye is about an hour - but conditions were appalling! So choppy we were all soaked to the skin! One of the boats lost it’s engine cover mid journey so we had to transfer passengers before it turned back. It was a real relief to finally arrive at the island to be greeted by Jimbo the dog!

First task on arrival was island orientation. Tom Owens Caye is small but idyllic. Accommodation is shared and basic but with views of the Caribbean like that you don’t really mind. As a group we divided up into the newbies or Baby Seals as they christened themselves, and The Advanced! Baby Seals were basically doing their open water course. The advanced group was smaller - three of these were completing a a Rescue Course along with Lionfish specialities. One was taking Advanced Open Water and then me just along for the Lionfish Speciality.

Orientation dives done on day one, we settled into our routine for the week. 3 dives a day - 7am, 11am and 3pm (followed by a night dive on the Wednesday) covering Lionfish spearing, conch surveys, lobster surveys and fish ID. Through the course of the week we also had a lecture on each subject, coupled with learning to fillet and dissect Lionfish.

Lionfish are invasive to the Caribbean with no natural predators. A female Lionfish carries 2 egg sacks containing 15000 eggs each. She gives birth to mature Lionfish virtually every other week. Their voracious appetite coupled with overfishing is decimating the reef fish so removing the Lionfish through spearing is a vital activity. Fish fillets are sold to local restaurants and their tails for jewellery. Each day 10 are dissected with recorded results - size, weight, sex, stomach contents. I took part in all these activities (spearing, containment, filleting and dissecting) as part of my specialty.

Wednesday heralded the arrival of Rex - a friend for Jimbo, to be the second island dog. Jimbo’s response was to try to hump Rex at every opportunity which was really comical.

It was also on Wednesday that I came down with food poisoning! I was sick 7 times - diarrhoea at least 5! I spent a terrible night! However at about 3am Jimbo and Rex decided to play nurse and join me in bed! However you don’t really need two dogs in your bed when laid up like that!

As a result of I lost a whole day diving on the Thursday - managed back in the water Friday am! I was still suffering over the weekend back in Placencia feeling stupidly weak, but I finally got my act together again!

Fantastic week with a fantastic team. Five of us due to head back out on Monday for a second week with another set of new recruits, others heading home. All Baby Seals qualified as Open Water students - all in all awesome week!

Sunday, 08 March 2020

Location: Placencia , Belize

It’s rained virtually all day to day on and off - and when it comes down it hammers down! Borrowed one of the complimentary bicycles this morning and went back up to the airport to do a bit of spotting. Dry as I went, got soaked to the skin on the way back! Still in the high 70’s though! There’s a hotel near the airport owned by the director Francis Ford Coppola with its own private helipad. Apparently he doesn’t come that often but it shows what you can do if you’ve got the money. Most of the more exclusive hotels are near the airport - Placencia is more rustic and the hotels here are small and often consist of individual cabanas. Once I’d dried off I took the bike out again around Placencia however the saddle makes my bum sore so in the end I headed back to the hotel. Found a little restaurant nearby and sat on the terrace for some lunch - given the weather I had no choice but to drink rum punch and was very merry by 2pm. Just had my siesta while the kids had a birthday party in the hotel bar downstairs. Now it’s happy hour - do I fancy a rum and coke? I need to get up earlyish as I meet up with the team from Reef CI in the morning to head out to the island on the reef. Can’t wait to get in the water!

Saturday, 07 March 2020

Location: Placencia Village, Belize

Left the Black Orchid hotel this morning after a great sleep (like 10 hours) and even better breakfast (scrambled eggs, refried beans and diced spicy potatoes)! Back to Belize International airport for my flight down to Placencia. The plane was a 12 seater Cessna Caravan, so a bit of an experience! Awesome views over the jungle and coast. Was met at the airport by a driver from my hotel and was sitting eating quesadillas and drinking rum by lunch time. Had a walk around Placencia - it’s quiet but seems like there’s plenty of excursions on offer. Came back and sat by the beach with another rum doing some study for my IDC - hard life! - followed by a little siesta (and I’m not normally a sleep in the day person!). I had a family of turtles on my bed made out of towels - hotel is small like all of them around here and right on the beach. Will chill for the rest of the day and it’s pizza night later so I’ll certainly be tucking into one of those!

Friday, 06 March 2020

Location: Belize City, Belize

Today’s learn - Prices on menus are in Belize dollars, and it’s 2 Belize to 1 American dollar! Nearly paid double for my dinner thinking price was quoted in US! I must be tired!

Friday, 06 March 2020

Location: Belize City, Belize

Arrived in Belize City airport after a 2 hour flight - took nearly as long to get through immigration! After Miami yesterday and this today I’m so glad I did this over two days. One more short flight tomorrow before I reach my final destination of Placencia so a relatively early start - hope I get more sleep tonight. Staying tonight in a hotel outside Belize City near the airport called the Black Orchid. It’s quiet and authentic Belize which is nice after impersonal Miami - there are howler monkeys about and it’s right by the main river in Belize (mind the crocodiles!). Couple of rums in - need to eat shortly!

Friday, 06 March 2020

Location: Miami, USA

5am - been awake since 3am! On UK time so finally accepted I’m not sleeping and got the telly on! Already hear planes going overhead - think they’ve been going all night! Coronavirus on the news - 14 dead and 230 cases is US. It was interesting so see quite a few people even at Heathrow wearing masks yesterday. But it’s not stopping cruises - most of those on the plane appeared to be heading for the cruise ships. Now time for coffee!

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