Come fly with me.. under the sea

Photography Tony Rath and Mike Toy

I’ve always wanted to fly.

This seems to be a fairly common human desire. Apparently, we have all had the same sort of dream, where we are gliding effortlessly over the world, surrounded by a deep blue expanse that seemingly goes on forever, all the spectacular colours of nature swirling beneath us.

And then just when we cannot believe our wish has finally been answered, boom! We are awake, back lying flat in the disappointing and trapping parameters of our bed. Admit it, you’ve been there. Well, I have a secret to tell you. I’ve finally found a way to fly.

And it is the sport of diving.

Okay, maybe it’s not that much of a secret, but I am always amazed by the number of people who don’t realise that diving—being suspended in the ocean’s arms, gliding through the deep cerulean, with your arms spread out like an eagle, gravity nowhere near your universe—is the closest thing to flying there is in this world.

You are completely surrounded by a deep hush; the only sound is your own rhythmic breathing and the gentle lull of waves. Colours are somewhat brighter beneath the surface; you pass over vivid botanical gardens and rock canyons. Divers are observers; just as birds in the sky are fortunate enough to come down to land to check out the strange goings-on in the human world, so can we humans mingle with the creatures of the deep at the bottom of the ocean. And it is well and truly a different universe down below.

The crustaceans, the fish, the fans, the coral and the predators—it all belongs to them. But thanks to the imagination and ambition of Jacques Cousteau, PADI, and diving instructors worldwide, we can now be part of that universe. With metal lungs, we can embrace the wonder, the beauty and the awe of underwater.

So go ahead, don’t be shy. Fly.

Located in the Caribbean Sea, bordered by Mexico and Guatemala and referred to as one of the Seven Underwater Wonders of the World, Belize is a diver’s playground. Belize has the second largest barrier reef in the world, stretching 185 miles from Yucatan to Central America, home to 70 types of hard coral, over 400 species of fish, three magnificent atolls (there are only four in the entire Caribbean!) and nearly 200 offshore cays. Like a gigantic living wall, it is lined with a rainbow of large, colourful sponges that play home to a host of teeming creatures. Rays, sharks, turtles, barracudas, seahorses, groupers, eels, lobsters, conch and butterfly fish, just to name a few. This significant marine life includes many threatened species —altogether forming a showcase of natural phenomena that takes your breath away. (But not for too long. Remember, the first rule of diving is never to hold your breath!) On this reef, beginners, intermediates and advanced divers alike can choose from an array of dive sites at any given time. Gardens, canyons, wrecks, caves, tunnels—it’s all here. With mysterious names like the Blue Hole, the Abyss, Elbow, Laughing Bird, Shark Ray Alley and the exotic Hoi Chon, the sheer range of choice might make a diver’s head spin. The waters have inspired new names for the colour blue and the visibility is crystal clear, expanding your accessibility to lengths of over 200 feet on the sunniest of days.

Ambergris Caye, Belize’s most well-known island, is home to such dive sites as Rocky Point, Mexico Rocks, the Tunnels of Mata, Hoi Chon and Caulker Cut. This cay provides access to the Northern Barrier Reef, 25 miles of solid barrier reef, one-third mile from shore, with several channels passing through. Ambergris Caye is a known for its sharp drop-off on the outside of the reef. This is where the water submerges into intense, velvety shades of cobalt, and new species of fish swim past your goggles. This is also home to Shark-Ray Alley, where you brag to all your friends that you interacted with sharks and stingrays! (Don’t be daunted—these are mostly nurse sharks and playful eagle rays.) Lighthouse Reef is known for the most varied and best diving in Belize. It includes the famous and thrilling Blue Hole. This wonder was once an above-ground cave, but has been submerged since the Ice Age. A portion of its ceiling collapsed over time, forming a sinkhole more than 400 feet deep and nearly 1,000 feet in diameter, rich with mammoth stalactites. Off the southern tip of the Turneffe Islands is another legendary dive site known as the Elbow. The clash of currents provide for a fascinating ecosystem, loaded with fish. Staggering sharp drop-offs and a gentle slope make for an interesting diving “hike.’’ Also renowned for its steep drop-offs, hundreds of patch reefs, and picturesque islands, Glover’s Reef is Belize’s third atoll and boasts beautiful walls on the southeast face. For beginner divers, the Southern Main Reef has perfect, shallow diving with plentiful fish, canyons and grottos, and is home to the Laughing Bird—and aren’t you curious as to why its called that? I’m not going to let you live vicariously through this article. Get in the water and find out!

If you are going to fly, I say fly in style. Belize has been adopted by some of the foremost dive instructors in the world, armed with the very latest in dive apparatus. It has been called the Diving Capital of the World by Skin Diver Magazine. With its unspoiled waters, immaculate reefs and abundance of marine life, this no big surprise.

The very father of diving, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, pioneered this spot in the 1970s. So, if you are going to explore a whole new universe, why not start at the celestial pinnacle? Cousteau once said, “When you dive, you begin to feel that you’re an angel.”

So go to Belize, and spread your wings.M

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