Sunday, August 14, 2011

FROMMERS writer Alexis Lipsitz Flippin, describes CAYE CAULKER accurately!

Caye Caulker

For anyone who's ever had the urge to flee the rat race and parachute onto a tropical island with velvety air and a breezy, barefoot lifestyle, Caye Caulker would likely fit the bill. It's the kind of laid-back, sun-saturated spot that's as inoculated to the rat race as a civilized place can be.

Located 1.6km (1 mile) west of the Belize Barrier Reef, this funky fishing village is an 8km-long (5-mile) island that's situated a few miles south of Ambergris Caye . The vegetation is lush and tropical, houses are wooden clapboard, the streets are soft sand, and shoes are optional. The island motto is "Go Slow," and the languid pace might drive Type A folks batty but others appreciate the leisurely, meditative vibe.

Belize is a flavorful stew of cultures, of Creole, Chinese, Mestizo, Indian, Maya, and more -- and Caye Caulker has an authentic Belizean feel. Lodging largely consists of family-run inns, gaily painted guesthouses, and weather-beaten motels on stilts planted in the sand. Dining is local and home-cooked. Look for fish, rice and beans, and curries. In lobster season, which begins in June and ends 9 months later, you can eat local spiny lobster just about every night at modest prices.

In spite of its modest, no-frills demeanor, Caye Caulker has a fairly spectacular draw: the Belize Barrier Reef, the longest continuous barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere and one of the last unspoiled coral reefs in the world. It runs for 306km (190 miles) of rich and diverse marine habitat less than half a mile offshore. Just 16km (10 miles) north is the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, one of the most popular diving and snorkeling sites with a spectacular variety of marine life. Many people think the best diving in Belize lies on the outer atolls, just 20 minutes from Caye Caulker. Turneffe, the largest of the atolls, has a beautiful and varied underwater terrain.

Recommended tour operator, Frenchie's Diving (tel. 501/226-0234;, whose divemasters and captains have a combined 70 years of dive experience.

You can enjoy sailing, diving, birding, jungle tours, fishing, and windsurfing in the clear azure waters of the Caribbean here. One thing Caye Caulker does not have is big, wide, white-sand beaches. Sand beaches tend to be squeezed between mangrove forests and ocean, and sea grass grows in the wading shallows. Most people swim off the public piers that extend beyond the sea grass or at the Split, a gathering place to sip the local Belikin beer and watch the sunset. Go slow indeed. -- Alexis Lipsitz Flippin

Information: or

Getting There: Belize City to Caye Caulker (Tropic Air; 15 min.).

Nearest Port: Water taxi (45 min.) between Belize City, Caye Caulker, and San Pedro (Ambergris Caye): Caye Caulker Water Taxi Association (tel. 501/223-5752;

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Conquering your Fears vs. Knowing your Limits

He was struggling as he walked up the dock, a protruding belly on the middle aged man, the kind you get from drinking too many beers over the years; he reached up the stairs & turned the corner to the office. A few seconds later we saw his face and greeted him with a warm smile.

CUSTOMER:  "I'd like to get certified!, I wanna go diving"

FRENCHIES DIVING STAFF:  "Great, we can get you started as soon as you like."

The following day he shows up all excited, he has read the book and is now ready for the classroom and video portion. He does that for a day and a half, still very much keen on getting certified and he is getting along very well with his instructor Henry.

That afternoon, the instructor and his students went out to the Coral Reef and anchored just beneath the surf breaking on the corals about 50 yards from them.  This session is now to practice their skills, above water -checking your tank is turned on, proper weights etc. - underwater - mask removal , breathing techniques, buoyancy control etc.

Before he could even test whether the years of cigarette smoking have taken a toll on his lungs, the middle-age student was having a little difficulty with the whole experience at sea. 

It wasn't long after they had tied up to the floating buoy in the shallows, that this particular student began to feel a little nauseous. Coming from Middle-America, it was not something he did everyday - bobbing up and down in a tied up boat floating on this day,  a choppy Caribbean sea.

On solid land, he had practiced putting on his gear but this now was the real deal. Does he have the balance we all wondered, as he swayed and flopped around the boat struggling with his wetsuit and gear.  He accomplished the feat with some effort and after strapping his weight belt comfortably below the protruding beer belly; he made his way to the gate leading to the platform at the back of the boat where he could do an easy stride entry into the water.

One step....two step...almost there...three step....plop!

He heath was fine, his pride was injured.
He did not dive into the water.
He did not fall. 
He did not even get wet yet. 
He was still on the boat.

The weight belt under his belly, weighed down with 18 lbs of  little square lead bars and tightened without damaging vital organs; had not much meat to squeeze to.  The boney thights and skinny legs had walked a few steps to the back of the boat, but in the process, the weight-belt wiggled from its delicate position on his thighs and fell to the ground with a loud thump! The buckle of the belt did not even come un-done. The entire belt just slipped down his legs to his ankles & lucky for him, it missed his toes.
The decision was then  made by the instructor, to distribute the weights evenly in his BCD jacket and after a little re-adjusting, he continued trepidly into the water after the other students other students half his age.
The middle aged student was beginning to believe that he had made a mistake in assuming he could become a certified diver. Although he did not express this concern verbally at that time, "the fear was written on his face" says the instructor, he now thought it might be too strenuous a sport for him.

The instructor helped him in the water. He had done the other skills above surface well enough.
Once in the water standing in the shallows, after more instruction, the students were to test their breathing skills.  The elder student was already doubting his abilities and so when he was asked to perform the underwater portion of removing the regulator from his mouth, he simply wouldn't do it.

The elder student waited until everyone had climbed aboard the boat from the aluminum ladder. When it was his turn, the instructor offered him help.  He refused at first and grunted and growled as he made the effort seem as if he was hauling a tractor trailor full of logs while doing jumping jacks at the same time.
The potbelly was a big hindrance and he swore off beer at that moment.
Eventually, the instructor extended a hand and he accepted.

When they were all safely back on board, the instructor opened up the knot on the buoy and the Captain gunned the boat back to the dive shop.
The instructor had not pushed the student to continue while out at sea, it would have been in vain and not their style. He could see that the elder student was panicked.

Once back at the shop, he announced he would not continue the course.  It was then the instructor gently put his hand on his shoulder.

INSTRUCTOR:  You can do it!
 I know you can do it! 
It was the first day underwater with all that gear. Let me take you out again tomorrow and we try one more time before you throw in the towel. 

You told me you always wanted to dive so here is your chance!

STUDENT:  Well, if you are willing to give me another chance out there, I'll take it. 
I blew it today royally!

The instructor informs the owner of Frenchies that he would like to take the student out again for a one-on-one session the following day so that he does not completely discourage from diving which is on his check-list of things to do.  The owner, after considering that the extra expense of gasoline, paid instructor time and additional park fee for another day on the sea with this student would be well worth it just to have a customer have a satisfied experience with Frenchies Diving.

The following day after they went back out for another one-on-one session, he returned to the shop eager to finish the course. One more day left. The following day was easy for him and he knew it was the last day to complete before certification.  Once he completed the course, the guy came back to the dive shop and walked around proud like a Dive Master, that he had managed to complete his Open Water Certification and conquered his fears.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Abel Novelo was hired as the Support Diver for the Stars of DUAL SURVIVOR, a new show on the Discovery Channel.

This Episode in Belize features Abel as the diver in the cave lost, in the first minute of the show, filmed at the inland Blue Hole and other Cave systems in the Caves Branch area.

The scenes were filmed on February 28, 2010 - his girlfriends birthday:) She got to go along for the filming and exploration...!