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  • All-out Diving
    off Belize's Ambergris Caye

    Ramon's Village Is a Tranquil Oasis
    After a Day of Diving

    by Rick Frehsee, Jun. 1997

    The boat hovers over a white sand bottom just inside the reefline. Before anyone can get in the water, the black, diamond shapes of stingrays and the sinewy motion of sharks become apparent below. Snorkelers and scuba divers prepare to enter the water, moving almost in slow motion. Although we have been thoroughly briefed on procedures, no one is too sure of what to expect. In an attempt to crack the tension, one of the divers hums the theme from Jaws.

    You spend most of your life with mother, mentors and media telling you sharks are dangerous and will eat you. Then one day you take a scuba course and learn you can swim with them. And now, here you are in the Caribbean, watching sharks, accompanied by stingrays swimming circles around you! You just can't change gears that fast; a little voice inside tells you they will attack. You search the bottom for a rock big enough to hide under.

    But seeing is believing. Five minutes of watching sharks and stingrays behaving like puppy dogs, bumping into you and feeding from the hands of a divemaster, has you convinced. You are the king of the reef and master of the oceans once again. Granted, these are only Nurse Sharks, flat-headed bottom dwellers known to the initiated as fairly docile critters. And, the biggest ones are only five or six feet long. But they are still sharks and you have swum with them, danced with them and held one on your lap. Suddenly one does become a little aggressive, snapping up a morsel of bait in front of your facemask with the speed of a bullet! The pendulum swings the other way; perhaps you are not the king of the reef, much less master of the oceans.

    One-half hour later and you have it pretty well in perspective. You can swim with sharks, even play with them. That is, sharks trained and monitored by experts and under the right conditions. Without this kind of planned spectacle, you would hardly ever see a shark, let alone have a detailed encounter.

    Shark-Ray Alley, as this particular site is called, is only one of many Belize diving adventures available aboard the Miss Gina, the beautiful and practical 42 foot flagship dive boat of lovely Ramon's Village on Ambergris Caye. Ramon's also has one-half dozen 24 to 26 foot custom dive boats. If you opt for everything available during a typical week's stay, in addition to sharks and rays, you will see an array of undersea attractions. Earlier in the week, we visited many sites along the 20 mile section of the famed Belize Barrier Reef that parallels long, narrow Ambergris Caye.

    There are shallow reef gardens punctuated with seawhips and schools of fishes in the Hol Chan Marine Sanctuary, just 15 minutes south of the resort dock. Other sites, mostly 5 to 20 minutes to the north, are deep reef formations along the barrier reef wall. The deep sites are a maze of heavy corals pierced by caverns, fissures and swim-throughs leading to the outer reef wall. All of these dives were led by one or more of the experienced and professional divemasters from Ramon's friendly staff.

    By midweek we were ready for a real adventure. Experienced divers in particular should not miss the optional all day excursion aboard Miss Gina to Lighthouse Reef and the Great Blue Hole. Lighthouse Reef Atoll features numerous spectacular drop-off sites around Long Caye and Half Moon Caye that are beautifully decorated with colorful sponges and corals. Visibility often exceeds 150 feet.

    A dive in the Great Blue Hole is every bit as spectacular as colorful drop-offs or swimming with sharks and stingrays but for entirely different reasons. Here it is geology rather than biology that provides the thrill. The Great Blue Hole is a circular depression in the middle of Lighthouse Reef, nearly 1,000 feet in diameter and more than 400 feet deep. It was once a dry cavern formed during the last ice age, 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. Ground water dripping from the cavern ceiling over many centuries formed huge stalactites that hang down like the teeth of a giant dragon. Today, at between 110 to 130 feet, divers can swim among this stony maze dwarfed by ancient dripstones, some as long as 30 feet. It's like swimming in another world, completely different from the coral reef. Bottom time is limited but those precious minutes will be remembered forever. Between dives, there is lunch and an island adventure on lovely Half Moon Caye, visiting the Booby and Frigate Bird Sanctuary.

    The undersea adventures are complemented by the artistic mood and absolute tranquility of the resort. Lovely Ramon's Village is both an escapist's beach retreat and a dedicated dive resort. This handsome thatch roofed village is surrounded by greenery and framed by beach, sea and sky. Sixty bungalows are interspersed among sand and palms, some right on the beach, others grouped around attractive courtyards.

    About half of the bungalows are air-conditioned, those facing the sea are cooled by ceiling fans and slatted windows. Some are two bedroom suites that include a kitchen. The interiors are all tropically inspired, dressed in warm woods and appointed in wicker furnishings. Cathedral ceilings and peaked thatch roofs are a visual signature of the entire village.

    The social and geographic center of the resort is a handsome freshwater pool and an indoor and outdoor restaurant. There is a bar, a boutique and gift shop adjacent to the pool area. The restaurant serves three meals a day, including a complete breakfast menu and lunch and dinners featuring seafood, island and continental cuisine, all excellently prepared. On the beach is a wooden dock that leads to the dive shop and boat fleet.

    Shop manager Rick Sutherland, a 10 year veteran, oversees a complete staff of captains, instructors and divemasters. Ramon's offers resort courses, open water referrals and a wide range of advanced courses, including a certification in underwater photography. Rental gear is available and gear rinse, wet storage and freshwater showers are all dockside.

    Also right on the dock is the Joe Miller Photo Pro Center, offering slide film processing, video and still camera rental, instruction, emergency camera repair and custom photo and video shoots. A video pro accompanies the Shark-Ray Alley and Lighthouse Reef dives, offering a professionally produced video souvenir at the end of the day.

    San Pedro Town, where shops, bars and restaurants abound, is only a few minutes' walk from the resort. Or, bicycles and golf carts can be rented for an island sojourn. Glassbottom outrigger canoes and other watertoys are available at the dock. A special outing via boat and then van to the Maya ruins of Altun-ha is one of the mainland excursions offered from the resort. Flights from Belize City, your international arrival point, are available from several local carriers every one-half hour during the day.

    For more information, contact Ramon's Village at (800) 624-4215, (601) 649-1900 or fax (601) 649-1996.