My hubby and I just celebrated our four-year anniversary, woo hoo! I love you, baby! I can’t believe it’s been four years already. The time is flying! Anyway, we didn’t do much on the actual day as we had taken most of the following week off to go to Placencia and go whale shark diving. So we turned it into a romantic vacation for two (not including the other six people from the embassy)…with a little adventure thrown in. Thank you, Grandma K.C. for flying all the way to Belize and hanging out with the baby! We so needed the break and couldn’t have done it without you.

The trip was the perfect combination of socializing and alone time. We drove down on our own on Tuesday, and the rest of the group filtered down at their own pace. Most of them stayed in a small hotel right in Placencia; we opted for something a little more luxurious in honor of our special day, Robert’s Grove. One of the fun parts about living in a location rather than just visiting is that you get to try different hotels each time you go back to the same town. This was the third hotel we’d stayed at in Placencia and my favorite so far.

It was close to town but not right in it, so we had a sense of privacy. The rooms were brightly colored and had lots of character; there were three pools and plenty of sun, sand and palm trees. And the customer service in the restaurant was 10 times better than what we had at the Placencia Hotel. The food was pretty tasty too. We ate dinner there the first night and had Steak Tartare, Mushrooms Bourguignonne, Shrimp Caesar Salad and something involving snapper. Over the next few days we also popped in for breakfast and had Eggs Benedict and French toast, and tried the complimentary continental breakfast.

The food options in general were fantastic this time. On previous trips we hadn’t tried many of the local restaurants and always seemed to catch things at the wrong time. One place wasn’t open on the weekends, another didn’t open till 2pm, another not till 4:00. So being there for an extended period during the week introduced us to La Dolce Vita (the best Italian restaurant in Belize), Danube (the ONLY Austrian restaurant in the country), Rumfish y Vino (a tasty Mediterranean spot), the Cozy Corner (a lovely source of pina coladas right on the beach with a great breeze from the sea), and Tutti Frutti (the best ice cream and only gelato in Belize). So the trip was a culinary success as well!

And then there was the diving. I have never been whale shark diving, nor have I been diving in the open ocean with no point of reference…no visible bottom, no boat with a convenient anchor line pulling at the sand. On the trip out I asked our guide with almost morbid curiosity how deep the water was, and he said, “A thousand feet, maybe 2,000. Who knows?” A quick Google search suggests depths of up to 6,000 feet within six miles of the reef. We were just outside the reef though, so I can’t imagine that there was a mile of empty sea beneath us.

On the day of the dive, we all congregated at the dive shop at 8am, picked up our gear, and 10 of us boarded the smallest boat I’ve ever seen on the open ocean…I would hardly call it a sea-going vessel. It proved to be a very long hour and 20 minutes to the dive location with only the middle third of the boat covered with a tarp on poles to protect us from the Belizean sun. Needless to say, half of our group got sea sick when we hit six foot seas outside the reef, and I came back extremely sunburned…but that might’ve been the part where I went snorkeling during our surface interval sans wet suit or sunscreen. Who says you get wiser with age? But I knew better.

The first dive didn’t bode well. We didn’t see anything in the water, and we had quite a few equipment problems. We had one leaky BCD, my hubby’s depth gauge wasn’t reading, another person’s fin broke before we got off the boat, and the guide tied it together with fishing line, one person’s tank wasn’t secured and started to fall off at about 60 feet, the only underwater camera wasn’t working, and another guy was so seasick he actually threw up underwater. Happily, he was in a different group…and didn’t drown.

But the second dive went much better. When a guide is trying to get your attention underwater, he will tap something metal against the side of his tank so the sound carries. At one point, we were swimming along admiring the wall of divers off to the right of us (I counted 10 boats during our surface interval back inside the reef), when my ears began to ring with the sound of half a dozen guides hidden in the cloudy blue all hurriedly tapping their tanks in excitement.

We sped forward and hovered over a massive school of snapper, the whale shark’s main attraction. And slowly, very slowly, a massive spotted whale shark about the size of school bus slid into view about 30 feet below us. The water beyond it was so dark, it would’ve been invisible but was outlined in stark contrast to the school of silver fish below it. I held my breath to minimize my noisy air bubbles and only began to breathe again when my view of the sea was once more empty and quiet.

A swarm of divers in the water (photo courtesy of TravelingCanucks.com).

Divers linking arms to simulate a school of fish (photo courtesy of http://trans-americas.com/blog).

A whale shark from above (photo courtesy of http://trans-americas.com/blog).

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