July 25


TACA Airlines

By Leslie ONeill

July 25, 2009

Belize, dive trips, Houston, Kansas Cty, KS, MO, Overland Park, Scuba Vacation, TACA Airlines

En route for a scuba vacation, and during take off from Houston just seconds before lift off, our pilot on “TACA Airlines” slams on the brakes and we skid half way down the runway.

Despite the seatbelt constraints, passengers and luggage were thrust forward nearly off our seats; as a result of the burning rubbber and sudden stop all the tires on the airplane blew out, we were given free drink tickets and asked to wait in the terminal during the four hour tire change.  It was then that I met an interesting couple and would continue on to share this adventure to remember on TACA Airlines!

They were an older couple.  He was close to 70 years of age, she was in her mid to late 60’s.  Both sharply dressed; he wore dress slacks, a sports jacket; she wore a business suit, nice shoes and a big floppy hat.  They had decided to pop down to Belize for the weekend retreat for jaguars sitings in the jungle just outside the City.  He teased her the majority of time as she blushed & giggled like a school girl.  They were an added bonus for the duration of this journey!

Finally back on board we anxiously anticipate arriving to our final destination. Right about the time the Captain would announce the landing he says, “Ladies & Gentlemen the skies in Belize are black, the runways lights are inoperable, we are diverting course to touch down in El Salvador, we will be landing in approximately 30 minutes.  Please sit back, relax & enjoy the remainder of your flight.”

We are then escorted through rows of unfriendly rifle bearing soldiers.  Trying to make light of the situation, I jokingly said to the soldires with a smile, “May I take you picture?” With a scowls on their faces they growled…. “NO!”  I didn’t notice at the time, but the older gentleman friend was not helping our situation as he had consumed copious amounts of alcohol.  He was making fun of the soldiers serious behavior’, he was mocking them!  At first I thought they’re trying to act stearn & maybe they’ll  break down and  crack a smile, but after the second request I realize – they are not!

Now I wonder if we are passengers or prisoners.  Suddenly the “free drink buzz” is gone!

We are taken by bus 1,837 feet above sea level to the capitol city, San Salvador, located in the valley near the Quezaltepec volcano.

We arrive to the hotel; have a nice meal, more cocktails & many more.  At one point I remember him wearing a napkin on his head…it’s all a bit fuzzy, however, I have several photos w/memoirs.

Retiring to our rooms for what we’d hoped for, a good night’s sleep.  We decide a little shower might be relaxing…when I turn the shower nozzle, water drizzles from the sinks faucet.  I turned television on to the local news; only to see fuzz & hear the sound of static on every channel.

We were awakened by the sound of gunfire and low flying fighter jets in the distance, early the next morning. A little unnerving after all, this should be a safe zone; the airline brought us here!

We later discovered; El Salvador had been through 12 years of civil war, a cease fire had been signed one year prior.  The US had just given the Salvadoran government, six billion dollars to stimulate growth.  We are still not certain what all that commotion was about?

After our long ride back to the airport we hopped on a flight to Belize City. From there we say farewell, to our new friends and fly away in a high-wing, twin engine, 16 passenger puddle jumper to “Ambergris Cede,” next we hail a cab to the beach where we catch a water taxi to our hotel.

The hotel is tucked behind luscious green palm trees on this beautiful sandy white beach, there are layers of thatched roof huts and the sign above the hotel reads, “Journey’s End”,  how appropriate?

After several days of diving in the gorgeous blue waters we go for an incredible night dive in the protected  marine sanctuary, better known as Hold Chan Marine Reserve (Mayan for “little cut”).

This reserve is one of Belize’s most popular snorkeling & dive site. It encompasses 5 square miles of protected area of coral formations; the cut in the reef is 30’ deep and filled with sea grass, mangroves, and many species of fish such as:  black grouper, eels, spadefish, spiny lobster, giant parrotfish, sea rays and more.

The following day we take a six hour boat ride and take a vacation from our vacation to Lighthouse Reef.  We are given the choice of sleeping on the boat, in hammocks, or in sleeping bags on the beach; we choose the latter.

The next morning we boat to the feature attraction, The Blue Hole.  This is for divers with an appreciation of geographical phenomena.  It is one of the most astounding dive sites anywhere on earth.  It’s a perfectly circular hole approximately ¼ of a mile across and 480’ deep.

The coral actually breaks the surface in many sections at low tide. The hole itself is the opening to a system of caves and passageways that penetrate this undersea mountain. In various places, massive limestone stalactites hang from what was once the ceiling of air-filled caves – before the end of the last Ice Age.  When the ice melted – the sea level rose, flooding the caves. The ceiling of the cave is 140’ below the surface.  I only take advanced divers on this as we have only 7 minutes from beginning of decent until beginning of ascent, also referred to as a blow & go dive, a rapid decent while equalizing quickly.  This is not recommended for divers who must take it slow to equalize their ears.

You can’t help but feel humbled by the knowledge that the massive formations once stood high and dry above the surface of the sea eons ago.

In the deeper waters you might see a curious black-tip, a tiger or hammerhead shark, but on most dives you won’t see anything except your dive buddy and the entrance of the caves.

As we venture up to the bright, clear shallows that rims the Hole, we are at the perfect depth (15-20’) we use the remaining air in our tanks, still under pressure breathing off any excess nitrogen while enjoying brightly colored coral & sea life!

Life some will see:  cleaning shrimp, neon gobies, ringed & knobby anemones, angel fish, butterfly fish, hamlets and small grouper. Elkhorn coral grows to the surface and purple sea fans with their rich hues sweep the surface waters.

Once back on Ambergris we decide to take a break from diving and literally catch our lunch.  From a small motorized boat we caught red snapper and free dove to catch lobster bare handed to 30’deep.

With catch in hand we walked out of the crystal turquoise waters onto the awesome white sand, the surrounding area was thick with palm trees and not one cloud in the blue sky.

We dug sandpit, lit the dried palm fronds, cut fish & lobster into bite size chunks, added butter, garlic, onions & stuff into aluminum pouches.  We buried them under the sand, they’re ready when they begin to steam & simmer.  Yum, what an exquisite lunch & scenery to die for!

After a week of this fantastic diving, we returned to the airport.  The same airline we arrived on earlier in the week, directs us to our aircraft homeward bound to Kansas City!  The doors close, we begin to taxi and the Captain announces, “Ladies & Gentlemen we’d like to welcome you aboard TACA Airline; we should encounter smooth air, please sit back and enjoy your safe return to New Orleans”.

No wonder many people have nicknamed this TACA Airline, Take A Chance Airline.

I since have had many trips to these beautiful waters of Belize and continue to encounter wonderful experiences!!!  Even on this airline!

By the way, although I partake in cocktails throughout these adventures, we do not drink prior to diving or flying…especially if I’m flying the airplane!

Until next time…..

The Scuba Lady

Leslie ONeill

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