Pidvodniy Kozaks Of the Hetman Bohdan Khmelnyckyj branch in Parma/Cleveland
Visit Belize, Central America
During spring break 2002, eleven members of the "Pidvodniy Kozaks" CYM Scuba Club in Parma Ohio went on a seven day excursion to Ambergris Caye, Belize in Central America. With the guidance and assistance of three older members, the youth worked for a year raising funds to pay for this exciting trip.
On March 31 the flight left Cleveland for the sun and fun of Belize. Seven hours later (and almost a missed connection) the hardy band of travelers landed on the narrow island of Ambergris Caye, known as "La Isla Bonita" to the natives, who incidentally speak English as their first language. After a quick change everyone went for a cool relaxing swim, some braving the ocean others the pool. Sunday evening was the time to do some initial exploration. On foot and golf cart the group split up and went to discover the quaint town of San Pedro and of course sample the local cuisine. With no fast food or chain restaurants the group ate local dishes such as stewed chicken, conch, shrimp, grouper and of course the island staple rice and beans.
In keeping with island traditions all dishes were accompanied with pickled onion,japaleno and habanero peppers as well as liberal doses of habanero hot sauce!
After as stroll through the unpaved streets, the group retired to the hotel to rest up for the next days' dives. Belize having 164 miles of uninterrupted reefs, the largest reef system in the Western Hemisphere, is a diver's paradise. A quick boat ride and we were in the warm tropical waters swimming with sharks, manta rays, groupers, angel fish, barracuda and other species too numerous to list.
Belize and its residents are predominantly Roman Catholic and Easter Monday was a holiday. Schools, banks and all government buildings were closed. The locals took the day to celebrate and play on the beach. Young girls did traditional dances in a competition and the youngsters held an Easter egg hunt. The mood was very jovial, energetic and much fun was had by all. Ambergris Caye is very laid back and casual and the island motto is "No shirt, no shoes, no problem", which of course became our motto as well.
Our mornings were taken up with two dives. With the reef being only one quarter to one half of a mile from shore the boat rides were short and calm on the interior side of the reef. Our dives with the exception of the first were all done on the outside or leading edge of the reef. Waves were running four to five feet on days two and three and several of our members succumbed to the motion of the ocean and found themselves leaving breakfast over the side. Well if that was the worst thing to happen in our little corner of paradise…
Asides from diving our hardy band of travelers also took the opportunity to test their mettle by parasailing. Everyone can attest that the view from 270' to 300' in the air was stunning. With temperatures in the high 80's to mid 90's the captain dipped everyone into the ocean to cool off. Our group being adventurous and daring also tried their hand at jet skiing. The boys of course tried to get as much "air time" as possible. After a quick orientation, a not uncommon sight was a Jet Ski being launched off of waves and achieving terrifying heights. (At least for the chaperones on the dock)
On our final two dives we hired an underwater videographer to record our underwater adventures. Drift diving at 60' to 70' the colors and beauty of the coral, fish and plants was forever captured for us to replay and remind us of our good fortune to be able to participate in this trip. The last afternoon on the island we rented bicycles and rode to the far northern end of the island. Crossing a channel on the "ferry" was quite the adventure. A square, steel barge with steel and wooden handrails was pulled by two young men who were also the fare collectors. The north side of the island was lush and sparsely populated and had many beautiful homes located right on the water. We pedaled back through town and to the south end of the island passing the crocodile lagoon and the two medical colleges located on the island. After our return we took a quick swim and set off to enjoy our last meal on the island. Friday morning we bade farewell to the island and journeyed to Belize City. Our guide Roland met us at the airport and after checking in to the hotel; we proceeded north out of the city to the Sibun River area and the rainforest. After a quick orientation and picking up inner tubes and headlamps, we walked through the rainforest to embark on our next adventure-cavetubing. The Sibun River flows gently and at times is only inches deep and at other times has a depth of 60 feet. A large part of the trip was through the cave systems, where the ancient Mayans performed various religious rites and sacrifices. We saw an absolutely incredible natural rock formation phenomenon named " Mother and baby". By flickering our headlamps across the rock formation an apparition came to view-a woman wearing a shawl carrying a baby on her shoulder. Everyone had to do a double take to make sure they weren't hallucinating. As we made our way down the river the males in the group noticed a tingling sensation on their legs. Tiny fish had surrounded us and were nibbling on the hair on their legs. A quick trip further down stream upon exiting the caves and we found ourselves back at the fording area we crossed to get to our starting point. Our river guide Luis was a true Maya and described in great detail the history and culture of the Maya people. A very tasty lunch awaited us under a thatched roof and for the most part everyone slept on the trip back to town.
Saturday morning we assembled for the last of our two excursions. The first being a visit to the Community Baboon Sanctuary. The rainforests of Belize are populated with many fascinating types of flora and fauna. We had the great fortune of visiting howler monkeys in their natural environment. Our guide explained the importance of the preserve as an ecological site and then proceeded to take us into the rainforest to view the monkeys. Our guide could mimic their cries and growls and coaxed them out of the trees with fruit. Several of our group took advantage of the opportunity to feed the monkeys. The cries of the alpha male were very noisy and although they appeared to be tame the guide assured us that they were wild and could do severe damage if provoked. We went through the museum and wildlife center and left a donation for the foundation. After a short ride and a stop for lunch we found ourselves at the site of the Mayan ruins named Altun Ha. Central America is dotted with several ancient Mayan ruins, Altun Ha being one of the finest. Discovered in the mid-1950's the site is still being excavated and we had the opportunity to meet with one of the archeologists working on the site. That morning they had unearthed many samples of pottery and obsidian, which is not indigenous to the area, proving the theory that the ancient Mayas traded with other cultures and civilizations in Central America and Mexico. Our guide Roland was extremely well versed in the history and culture of the ancient civilizations and showed us many of the ruins explaining the religious significance of the temples and the surrounding ruins. We had an opportunity to climb to the top of the main temple and although only 54' high it seemed to be as tall as a ten story building. The magnificence of Altun Ha was awe-inspiring and we all came away with a profound appreciation for the ancients who inhabited the area. On the return trip we took in a tour of the city and had an opportunity to do some shopping in the market area of the city. T-shirts, woodcarvings, Mayan masks and other souvenirs crammed our bags. Saturday we enjoyed our last meal in Belize. Sitting seaside with the warm Caribbean breeze blowing through the restaurant we reminisced of our exciting time in Belize and started planning our next adventure to ……??????????
The CYM Scuba Club would like to thank and acknowledge the following that made this trip memorable: Mark Augustine of Dolphin Destiny for arranging the diving and interior tours.
Ralph and Donovan from Aqua Dives for being the finest captain and dive guide one could ask for. Jacob the Rasta, Jasmine, Coconut milk, Monchak's, Abraham, Rosie's Café, Joe's Bikes, Fido's, the Sunbreeze and Belikin for looking after our needs.
Roland from Belitur for providing us with his knowledge and insight of the history and culture of Belize.
The Hetman Bohdan Kmelnyckyj branch in Parma, Ohio for their support and assistance.
The Ukrainian Center "Verchovyna" in Parma, Ohio for their support and assistance.
The parents of the participants who deemed this a worthwhile and educational experience. And last but not least the three old fools who gave up their Friday night's to help raise funds and make a dream a reality.
If you would like to joins us on our next adventure contact our oseredok via e-mail at CYMscuba@hotmail.com or write us at: