Discovering Scuba Diving in Placencia, Belize

Laughingbird Caye with Splash Dive Shop, Placencia | (c) Lebawit Girma

There are two things I’ve never particularly cared to try or experience during my travels anywhere: horseriding and scuba diving.

The former because I’m afraid of horses – downright scared – they seem unpredictable, prone to tantrums and just plain evil if they want to be. Mostly, I’d be riding an animal I had no control over, a thought that frightened me and still does.

And diving, well, where should I begin? Confined space, complicated-looking and heavy gear, potential lifetime respiratory and ear damage and oh yes, sharks! I was certain I’d never ever want to be a gazillion feet under water.

But after Patty Ramirez – the owner of Splash Dive Shop and the funniest woman I’ve met in a while – suggested I just try “Discover Scuba” to get a feel for it and decide whether to get PADI certified, I agreed. Surely I couldn’t say I didn’t like something without trying it a little bit first? Or come to Belize and not dive?

To discover scuba, the Splash team took me to an island just 30 minutes from Placencia: Laughingbird Caye (of course that’s after I signed my life away at the office, with a waiver mentioning all sorts of potential risks like… embolism! I didn’t even know what that was until now).

The ride alone was beautiful but when we got close to the Caye, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

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Aaaaaaah!!! That was pretty much my vocabulary for about thirty minutes, in unison with the sound of my camera snapping.

After we got onto the island,the park ranger gave me a brief introduction – Laughingbird Caye is a national park and a World Heritage Site – and he told me there was no fee since I was Belizean (too funny). He also told me to only take photos and nothing else (hello, I think he was talking to the right person).

My dive instructor Warren and I sat on the benches and went through the basic theory on diving – every single step from getting into the water to what to do when your air runs out (something that rarely ever happens). I was still a bit nervous.. and well, distracted by this gorgeous island. The entire time I kept thinking that if I lived in Placencia, I could come to Laughingbird Caye on a Sunday getaway, with friends and good food and music. Yep, I could definitely live here. Every now and then Warren’s voice would overpower my daydreaming.

We finally got in the water… that wasn’t hard to do, I’d been dying to get in since seeing that turquoise all around me. He helped me put my gear on and then, I’m not even sure how, but within minutes I knew what all that equipment was for, how to use it, how to breathe and I did well on all the initial skills (like knowing how to clear your mask underwater when it gets flooded).

We started swimming off shore, I deflated my BCD and down we went… and down. I squeezed my nose every once in a while, blowing while doing so, to “equalize” my air spaces. It wasn’t too hard, and the whole time I couldn’t believe that for so many years I thought scuba diving was so scary or difficult. Every couple of few minutes Warren would ask if I was okay with the okay sign underwater.

He was right next to me all along, sometimes holding my hand. I felt safe. When he pointed to my depth gauge, I looked at it and it said “30 ft.” Whoa! On my first day!

I decided not to look up to see if I could find the surface. I just kept looking ahead, breathing, and going, breathing and going. We saw some lovely fish on the way, permits, little fish, and then the water was murkier than we liked because of some kind of algae bloom in Southern Belize in the past few months.

When we went back up, I was proud of myself. I’d just overcome another one of my biggest fears.

Maybe practicing off a beautiful island had something to do with it? (So smart to bring newbies here!)

So now I’ve decided to get PADI certified. The next three days I’ll be under water, practicing skills and learning theory. The good thing is, my Discover Scuba class applies to my certification.

“I like to see where I’m going,” I told my dive instructor yesterday, when he wanted me to back roll into the water from the boat to start our dive.

I realized, right after saying that, that it was true of how I led my life for many years, as an attorney. I’d always liked to plan, to know where I’m headed and I liked to see where I put my next foot. If I couldn’t see, it would freak me out.

But as I learned in my past three years of redesigning my life and even more in my three months in Belize – whether rappelling, caving, and now diving – all I have to do is trust, and not just my guide but most of all, trust myself and trust in my instincts. With that, I can truly do anything.

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Lebawit Lily Girma

Lebawit Lily Girma is an award-winning, Ethiopian-American travel writer, photographer and author of several Caribbean guidebooks for Moon Travel Guides, including Moon Belize, Moon Belize Cayes, and Moon Dominican Republic (October 2016). Her work focuses on Caribbean culture and adventure, and has been published in AFAR, CNN Travel, BBC, Delta Sky, The Guardian, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, and Every Day With Rachael Ray, among many others. Lily is also the 2016 recipient of the Marcia Vickery Wallace Award for Excellence in Travel Journalism for her Caribbean coverage, from the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

Lily calls herself a “culture-holic”–she speaks four languages fluently and has lived in Cote d’Ivoire, England, Jamaica, Belize, the Dominican Republic and traveled to some 30+ countries around the world. Last but not least, she is a former corporate attorney who ditched her Washington DC office for the road in 2009 to pursue her dream of becoming a storyteller.
Lily holds a Bachelor of Arts in French and Spanish (summa cum laude) from the University of Maryland at College Park, and a Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law.

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4 Comments

  1. Hal Amen 29 September, 2011 at 11:37 PM #

    Really nice shots, Lily. And so sweet that you’re getting certified.

  2. lorraine 30 September, 2011 at 3:15 AM #

    What a nice read! So proud of you for overcoming your fears! Great pictures of that island. Could one be stranded on Laughingbird Caye? 😉 I think so.

  3. Lorenzo @belizepost 30 September, 2011 at 12:57 PM #

    Beautiful pics!

  4. Lebawit Lily Girma 30 September, 2011 at 5:18 PM #

    Thanks everyone!!
    @Hal, yes it’s a great opportunity to do it one on one!
    @Lolly, definitely! I’m thinking one could live there once in a while too, just like that park ranger!! 🙂

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] exercises. It made diving look even less attractive to me. Learning off a beautiful island – like Laughingbird Caye in Belize – was definitely a big motivator! I had no objections of being in the water practicing, it […]

  2. By Visiting Placencia, Belize on 12 October, 2011 at 11:23 PM

    […] you, reconsider! Splash has an amazing team of instructors, starting with the owner Patty Ramirez. You can take the “Discover Scuba” class to see if it’s for you and practice in shallow […]

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