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Home away from home

Story by Blue Ventures October 19th, 2015

DISCOVERING new friends

Homemade, perfectly round tortillas are sizzling in the griddle. Daily caught lobster, which just came into season, is being marinated by our homestay mum. The kids are cheerfully doing some colouring on the kitchen floor whilst babbling along in Spanish, and I am setting the large wooden kitchen table for my homestay family and neighbours.

“Experiencing first-hand the warmth, sincerity, generosity, and hospitality of our homestay hosts will forever remain one of the most special gifts of my unforgettable Blue Ventures adventure.”

A culinary feast lies ahead, accompanied by enriching discussions on cultural differences with the sounds of the Caribbean Sea in the background. How could you possibly not feel at home away from home in such a welcoming and homely atmosphere?

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1 FISH, 2 FISH, 3 FISH… MORE!

During our first week of homestay in the perfectly quaint fishing village of Sarteneja, we eagerly attend science training held by Blue Ventures’ field scientists Anouk and Dani. We’re all budding amateur marine conservationists or keen Scuba divers, and we soak up the knowledge on Caribbean underwater life. We can’t wait to identify our first Stoplight parrotfish, spot a colourful Flamingo tongue feasting on a Sea fan’s tiny polyps, navigate our way between corals (…so many of them but I’ve started to be able to tell the Diploria labyrinthiformis, Meandrina meandrites, and all the other hard corals apart) during research dives in the UNESCO World Heritage listed Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve - the second largest barrier reef in the world.
In addition to this, we’re excited to go out and hunt down a lionfish, though remarkably beautiful this species is invasive in the Caribbean and constitutes a major threat to reef health. The data collected by volunteers will feed Blue Ventures’ research and marine conservation practice, so we hope to accomplish as much work as we can!

“The fact that worthwhile science is being done is certainly an added bonus and I defy anyone to go and not come away with extensive knowledge about how these marine ecosystems work and to be able to name many different creatures that reside within them.”
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#bcdc

SPLASH! The salty water of the most turquoise waters we have ever seen refreshingly splashes into our sunbathed faces while the boat crosses from Sarteneja to Bacalar Chico Dive Camp, known to all as BCDC, on Ambergris Caye, where Blue Ventures’ expedition base is located.
Once we get closer to shore five eco cabañas appear on the white sandy beach. Surrounded by nothing but palm trees, some of them connected with colourful hammocks, we have arrived bright-eyed in our new home!

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“BCDC is a magic place where you live according to the rhythm of nature. Once the sun has disappeared behind the palm trees, stars become more and more visible… and most of us are naturally attracted outside to sit and contemplate their majestic beauty.”
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DIVE’S UP

Conditions are perfect for our first research dive. Already qualified divers have completed their Scuba tune ups and beginners have been trained up to Advanced Open Water level. We are ready to dive the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean Sea and put our newly acquired fish and coral identification skills into practice.

“3, 2, 1, go!”

Desi, the boat captain, yells and everyone jumps off Azul, Blue Ventures’ dive boat, all geared up to explore the new territory. We descend into the deep blue ocean facing an apparently endless coral reef teeming with life. I look up to see the sunshine breaking up on the surface of the water and a hawksbill turtle seemingly flies into the picture, silhouetted against the bright blue. I am immersed in peaceful silence with nothing to hear except for my own breathing, which evokes an unusual high sense of self-consciousness. I’m feeling weightless, immersed in a world which I am not naturally built to be part of. Pure bliss!

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“For diving masters and novices alike there will be something at Bacalar Chico that you have not seen or experienced before. To be able to access dive sites that no one else can is a privilege and a pleasure. The extent of the wildlife both in and out of the water is mind-blowing and will leave you clutching at your bird and fish guides just to try and keep up with the numerous species you see.”
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change your perspective

While everyone appreciates being under water nearly every day, life on expedition is about so much more than that. Sitting and singing around bonfires; hunting, dissecting and tasting invasive lionfish; snorkelling in mangroves; conducting bird and manatee surveys; beachfront cinema and fancy dress parties round up the expedition and camp life just perfectly.

“Time spent at the dive camp within Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve provides experiences that assault your senses in the most positive way imaginable. Swimming with sea turtles, sleeping under the stars, spotting manatees, pure isolation with a group of people from around the world and different backgrounds in paradise to name but a few.”
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Pack your bags

At the end of the day you will only regret the chances you didn’t take. So pack your bags, pull yourself out of your comfort zone and experience what’s beyond it, create memories and travel to make a difference on our next marine conservation expedition in Belize.

Footnote: Images and text by Blue Ventures' volunteers and staff, 2015
Bacalar Chico, Belize
Volunteer in Belize