Originally when I planned this trip, I had intended to dive the Blue Hole in Belize on my 30th birthday. However, I’d heard that it was a really short dive due to the depth so chose to dive in Cozumel instead. Having now dived the Blue Hole, I have a tiny pang of regret at this change of plan.
The Blue Hole dive is just an amazingly different experience, even if I had to wake up at 5am (for two consecutive days even, since the dive was cancelled on the first day due to high winds!). The Blue Hole itself was formerly a dome-shaped cave tens of thousands of years ago when the sea level was much lower. Now, the roof of the cave has collapsed and the sea level has risen. After rapidly descending to around 40 metres, I swam amongst hanging stalactites that were as thick and broad as old oak trees! It made my mind boggle just thinking about how long these stalactites had been hanging for them to become so huge. The hole is also protected from adverse weather conditions, so we had amazing visibility of around 40 metres, and we saw two large Caribbean reef sharks.
After a relatively short stay in Belize, I headed to Flores in Guatemala on the beautiful shores of Lake Petén. I volunteered for a week at the ARCAS animal rescue centre with a United Nations cast of fellow volunteers from Germany, the UK, the US, Denmark, and Ireland. It was quite an interesting experience, doing work that was completely different to my usual day job in an office! I was cleaning animal cages, feeding lots of loud squawking parrots, raking sheep poo, carrying supplies up steep hills, but the most rewarding and fun task was bottlefeeding the baby howler monkeys, Tale and Carito. They were just so incredibly cute that ARCAS were in danger of missing a baby howler when it was time for me to leave (fortunately for them, my backpack was already full!).
I am now in Quetzaltenango, or Xela, in the cold Guatemalan highlands, which is surrounded by many active and dormant volcanoes. I will be here for the next 4 weeks intensively learning Spanish – 5 one-on-one hours a day, 5 days a week! Thankfully, I have weekends off where I will be able to do weekend trips to some of the local Mayan towns and sights, and maybe even hiking up a volcano or two!