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Before boarding The Aggressor live-aboard, the ship’s travel office got me 3 tours around Belize. I paid 3-4 times the normal price to go on these tours since I was not with a designated group. There are no chain stores in Belize, so don’t expect seeing a Starbuck’s anywhere. Belizeans cannot brew a good cup of coffee to save their hides! The only shopping was along a narrow city street with immigrant merchants hawking at all the passerbys to come in. The stores offered only cheaply made trinkets that had nothing to do with fine Belize crafts. The one nice marketplace was guarded and walled off from everyone except the large cruise ship passengers, which I found very odd.

As for the Lamani tour: The ruins were interesting, though the Mask Temple has a plastered-facade which looked cheezy. The Howler monkeys were bellowing away which gave everyone the sense of being in a truly wild outpost. The sideways rain was brutal on this tour. Especially the 2 hour boat ride in crocodile infested waters. The term Bucket Seats takes on a new meaning when on a river tour in a torrential downpour. I sat for two hours in no less than 3 inches of rain that accumulated in my seat. I kept swiping the water out, but it kept re-accumulating. The guide offered Hefty bags which most everyone donned. I should have worn my wetsuit on the tour. It rained so hard for so long that I was worried we would sink! I used my life preserver to protect my face from the force of the wind and rain. The force of the pelting rain was like needles on my skin. FYI-no raingear has been invented yet to protect from this type of deluge. As for bugs…..I never saw one. I developed welts later in the day that grew once I was back at the hotel. I was bitten on 2 unsprayed parts of my outer palms which hurt like hell for a week. I also noticed a few welts on my legs and a painful neck bite. I’m waiting to see what hatches out in 2 weeks time. I was appalled that the Radisson wanted to charge $12 American dollars for a can of “OFF”bug spray. That’s not reasonable, it is clearly trying to rip-“OFF” the customer.

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Mask Temple at Lamanai (Submerged Crocodile)

The Xunantunich ruins would have been nicer if the rain had not been pouring down in buckets. I had my camera in the underwater housing in hopes of getting some photos, but the rain was so heavy that it skewed the visibility of the pyramids even when standing as close as 10 feet away. The visibility was better underwater on this trip. I booked this trip at the supposed end of the rain season. I can’t imagine what the rainy season is like.The cave tours and zip line tours were cancelled due to rain and flooding. The car ferry across the river was interesting. The Belizean ferry was working well with the steel cables and pulley system. We were greeted on the other side by 4 very young military guards all armed with automatic weapons. Apparently, they do not like their photos taken, so I did not make myself obvious. As in every country I travel to, I smile at the nice men with the guns!

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Rainforest Downpour at Xunantunich Ruins

The Belize zoo was actually pretty nice. You can get up close and personal with many of the Belize jungle animals. This owl was trying to offer me his prey.

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Spectacled owl, Pulsatrix perspicillata, with prey.

Crooked Tree Wildlife River tour is great if you have a 400mm zoom lens or greater. The highlight of this tour was seeing my first wild crocodile swimming in front of our boat. They are very shy and getting a photo is near impossible. I would advise forgoing this tour unless it is sunny. Rain keeps the birds in hiding, and overcast skies keep the crocs from getting out onto the banks where they might be spotted on a sunny day.

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Morelet’s crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii)

 

Now on to the Aggressor dive yacht. The Aggressor dive fleet boasts itself as being “The Ultimate in Liveaboards”. I am disappointed to report that The Belize Aggressor was not the ultimate in live-aboard yachts as advertised. The ship is old and tired and should really be retired.

Boat

Aggressor from my hotel window

It has a very small inside lounge that really does not accommodate 18 divers. The dining area is split into separate areas, with a tiny kitchen area separating the two seating rooms. Some of he crew seemed a bit standoff-ish and even a bit grumpy at times. When diving, all food tastes great since you are so darned hungry from multiple dives throughout the day. Strangely, the food was just OK. It was all made from scratch though, I’ll give them that accolade. I noticed all the passengers with Scopolamine behind their ears. Maybe that made the food taste good to them? The seas were not all that rough this week for me to use that drug.

No Swimming

No Diving here

As you climb the ladder down to the old bunkbed staterooms, a strong smell of latrine hits your olfactory senses like a crashing dung wave. They scent is unsuccessfully covered up by a strong stench of some scented chemical that will make your eyes bleed. (Well, actually your eyes will sting & get watery) The dive platform was a good size and had two ladders so divers did not have to wait a long time to get out of the water. The dive platform had 2 warm water showers, which were a nice benefit on this boat. Even with 16 divers we all got in and out of the water without much waiting. The hot tub was out of order which was a major disappointment. The visibility was good all week underwater. The weather was rainy, but not too rough.

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Hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate), munches coral.

The underwater life was a bit sparse, and extremely skittish. An over-abundance of Lionfish were seen. The coral reefs were not as robust as I would have hoped and the lack of Pelagic fish was noticeable. During the week a stray reef shark or Barracuda was seen on occasion, about 3 hawk-billed turtles, a distant eagle ray, a few Parrotfish, small yellow-tailed Jacks and some smaller reef fish were found. We did find one sea-horse. A few large Tarpon and some Horse-eyed Jacks hovered under the boat on a couple of our night moorings. I feel like this area is way overfished at this point.

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Yellow-tail Snapper (Ocyurus chrysurus)

By 2015, 45 percent of the fished waters in Belize were to be under the Managed Access system and No-Take zones put into place to protect the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage Site. It may take a few decades before we see repopulation of this area though.

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Orange long nose seahorse (Hippocampus reidi)

I did manage to snap a few decent shots with my new Oly E-M5, however the Caribbean seems like a desert compared to other seas I have dived.

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Grey reef shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos), and ?Pilot fish (Naucrates ductor) cruise along the reef.

Finally, the last nightmare of the trip was cramming two boatloads of tired, wet, moldy divers and their belongings onto a large bus. The Dancer had 20 people, the Aggressor had 16. It was a cluster-mess. Some people almost missed their flight. We swarmed the luggage compartment under the bus upon arrival at the airport so we could get to our gates. The Belize airport was absolutely packed like sardines.

In summation of my trip: It was way overpriced, heavily and erroneously advertised as “luxurious”, mediocre to poor cuisine, and a below average diving destination. I hope we do better next time!

Karen Diving Belize

A swim through in Belize

 

 

Visibility in Crystal River was about 12 inches due to rain run-off, so I did not get good Manatee photos. I got one clear photo of the baby Manatee as he surfaced.
The mom was a 1,000 lb behemoth, but I could not see her even though she almost ran me over!
Three Sister’s Spring was super clear and I did a few split shots of the vegetation above water with the root systems below the waterline.  Crystal River, Florida OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                                                                 Ancient, sacred, natural springs are phenomenal to swim in & photograph!

Fossil Shark Tooth Diving in Venice, Florida was challenging with 1-2 feet of visibility.  We had 4+ foot swells, windy white caps, lightning & thunder showers which made for rough day for some divers.
I found 7 small fossilized shark tooth specimens. The Megalodon fossil I sought eluded me this time around.  Next time I will find one.
I did two 90 minute dives in the surge and low vis.Karen OK

Fossil diving at Venice Beach, Florida

Fossil diving at Venice Beach, Florida

Fossil diving at Venice Beach, Florida

Fossil diving at Venice Beach, Florida

Fossil diving at Venice Beach, Florida

Fossil diving at Venice Beach, Florida

July 7th:

I took a red-eye out of LAX for Florida. All the lights were out for passengers to sleep. About 2 hours into the flight, all the TV screens illuminated with the message, “Physician needed in the forward most area of aircraft”.
Then, the announcement for physician needed came over the intercom. To my dismay, I saw no one go up to help. I sighed an”Awe crap” under my breath & went to see if a mere RN would be sufficient for the emergency. They seemed eager for my assistance as I entered the scene and introduced myself to crew & patient.
The bad news: An elderly woman from 1st class had collapsed just outside the cockpit.
The good news: It was NOT the pilot.😉
The flight attendants were supporting her with cool compresses & attempting to place oxygen on her via mask.  She was refusing 02, refusing assistance, & repeating, “I’m alright, I’m alright.
I introduced myself, and sat on the floor with her. After my initial scene observation & ABC’s (CAB),
I began my triage questions & observations.
Getting her to cooperate & offer up the necessary info I needed to rule out stroke, heart attack, diabetes, seizure disorder, dysrhythmia, hypertension, & other things was difficult at 1st.
She kept brushing everyone off saying “I’m fine”. The family of 8, all in 1st class were being overbearing. I politely asked everyone to take their seat & to not hover as the patient was extremely embarrassed & becoming agitated with everyone closing in on her.
She had given me permission to assess & help, but each question about history, medication, & current symptoms were met with a dismissive, authoritative, “I’m fine!”
Finally I told her to open her eyes & to look into mine. I said kindly, but directly, “You need to be here with me now, cooperate with me and answer my questions so I can clear you to finish this flight.”
If “I” am not satisfied that you are fine, then the pilot will need to land this plane right now, because at this moment, I am not convinced that you are alright.
At that point she let us place oxygen, take a blood pressure, and she answered all my questions appropriately, so that I could rule out any urgent need to land.
My final analysis? Nothing life threatening. Most likely a
vasovagal syncope event.
Basically, an elderly woman with gastric reflux disease, who took blood pressure med prior to flight, became nauseated, hot, & claustrophobic. She was tired, & dehydrated, but thought a shot of liqueur in 1st class would be a good idea. Then when she felt sick to her stomach, she got up too fast, & passed out even faster.
I helped her up and advised her to avoid alcohol & caffeine the rest of the trip to avoid a recurrence of reflux & nausea.
The family & crew was very pleased that I did not tell the pilot to abort the flight plan. So pleased that they all wanted to buy me cocktails for the duration of the long flight to the east coast.
I had to smile and politely decline as I just celebrated 22 years of clean & sober time.😉
That was day 1 of my Florida vacation.

ImageImage

Padre Trails Camera Club awarded me with this Recognition of Outstanding Achievement!  I won 2nd place for 
“IMAGE OF THE YEAR for 2012-2013”
The winning image was from my 2013 January scuba trip to St. Kitts & Saba aboard the CEX II. It is a macro shot of a tiny Arrow-crab atop a Spiny Sea Urchin which I spotted on one of the wrecks off the island of Saba. 

http://www.diverindeep.com/Photography/Monterey/Monterey-Bay-Area-California/17801486_DkvvG4#!i=2501080766&k=6MBm3GN

On May 4th, 2013 I dove with 4 other underwater enthusiasts off “The Sanctuary” dive boat.

Split shot of "The Sanctuary"

Split shot of “The Sanctuary”

sanctuarycharters.com

The sea was flat enough to waterski on, so I tried some over/under photography.  The air was chilly, and the water temp was 48 degrees! I wore a 7 mm wetsuit with a hooded 5 mm vest, and a heated vest under all the neoprene.  If not for a heated cabin, a cup of noodles & a hot water hose to flush the cold from my suit, I would have missed a second dive.

My dive buddy did not get his PADI dive certification replacement card in time, so he could not come aboard this time.  I had to hang with another couple for safety. We were at a 90′ depth at The Pinnacles dive site which is why I got so chilled on the 1st dive.  Some surge was noticed, but not like the usual washing machine spin-cycle effect that I have become accustomed to diving in Monterey.

The water was a dark green with about 50′ visibility.   The rocky pinnacles were covered in life & color.  There were many starfish in all shapes, colors, & variety. Crabs, Nudibranchs, Turban & Jeweled Top Snails, & various Rockfish were abundant.

The second dive was at “Fire Rock”.  Again, flat & good Viz.  I worked on more split shots of the kelp under the surface & the boat above. There was a light current which carried me past the boat at one point so I dove down to 40′ depth to photograph the hearty, young kelp towers while the sunlight at the surface came shining through.  I got a few shots of a Giant Kelpfish as well.

I did not feel as cold on the second dive, but I was finning around quite a bit more to find good shots & to position myself for optimal lighting.  I had 2 fun dives, and had a smooth ride all the way out of the Monterey Bay past Pescadero Point.  No one chummed the water with their breakfast this time which is unusual (in my experience) on a Monterey dive boat.

I snapped off a few decent shots in spite of my testy Sea & Sea DX D200 UW housing which won’t allow me to change shutter speeds underwater. I have had the thing adjusted numerous times in the past without a permanent fix to the problem.  Perhaps a larger hammer?  :)

I used the Nikon D200, Sea & Sea housing, Tokina 10-17 mm WA lens, Dual Inon D2000 strobes on 12′ arms, and a Sola 600 focus lamp.

Transparent ShrimpNew photos posted in Monterey gallery today. We did a dive at Wharf 2 in Monterey.  The visibility was about 8 feet, the water temperature was around 52 degrees.  This was a macro photography day.

http://www.diverindeep.com/Photography/Monterey/Monterey-Bay-Area-California/17801486_DkvvG4#!i=2483006661&k=HLfWZ5z

CEX II engineer dives in to help frame a few shots & do a quick hull inspection.

CEX II engineer dives in to help frame a few shots & do a quick hull inspection.

St. Kitts & Saba Islands Diving

I just left the Explorer II this afternoon to fly back to SFO. I needed a last minute dive trip STAT, and landed onto the Explorer II quite by chance. We had some serious underwater photographers on board, and some seriously funny divers! A very interesting mix indeed.
There was never a dull moment above or below the surface.
The crew worked tirelessly to insure our dive safety, and skillfully handled our gear & cameras.
Captain Ian runs a tight ship, and keeps things on schedule. It’s fun to try to get him to crack a smile.
The DM’s were knowledgable of the area & helped us find some critters. Not a Batfish in sight, though Claire went out of her way to seek them out. When I would ask Stephen what he could help me find on a dive, he responded, “The boat!” Always a good answer! Kate was also an excellent DM to dive with.
All the crew members were great to us. One crew member in particular went out of his way to help the divers. Any issues with scuba gear, cabin maintenance problems, or camera gear challenges were skillfully handled with a smile by Robert Wolfe. He was courteous, professional, and went above & beyond to meet the needs of everyone on board.
Robert was always on the dive deck to give guidance on which camera to take on a particular dive depending on the site. He kindly accompanied me on a few dives so I could get the shot I was looking for. He even got the guests together at various points on the trip for photo opportunities that we would have otherwise overlooked.
Many thanks to the Explorer II crew. A special thank you goes out to Mr. Wolfe who exceeded all expectations & made St Kitts & Saba a trip to remember.

Moss Landing Photo Shoot

The morning sunlight shines through the clouds onto a ship in the harbor.

Moonrise over Monterey

Shooting the moon through cloudy skies.