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David "Rainmaker" Mauldin's
Scuba Trip Reports

  • Cozumel, Mexico - February 2009
  • Negril, Jamaica - November 2008
  • Playa del Coco, Costa Rica - July 2008
  • Lucaya, Bahamas - October 2007
  • Roatan, Honduras - June 2007
  • Cozumel, Mexico - January 2007
  • Cozumel, Mexico - October 2006
  • Morrison Spring, Florida - August 2006
  • Ambergris Caye, Belize - June 2006
  • Key Largo, FL - February 2006
  • Vortex Springs & Panama City Beach, FL - July 2005
  • Key West, FL - June 2005

  • Cozumel, Mexico (February 10 - 24, 2009) - I arrived in Cancun, Mexico via a direct US Airways flight on February 10. My plane was on-time, and none of my baggage was lost, damaged or destroyed. I cleared Customs & Immigration at the airport with no problems (as usual for Cancun), and then purchased my bus ticket on Ado Bus Lines to Playa del Carmen for $9. After the 1 hour bus ride to Playa, I purchased a $14 ticket for the ferry ride to Cozumel.

    After the ferry arrived, I walked several blocks with my 2 wheeled suitcases and small backpack from the pier to the Safari Inn (next to McDonald's), as usual underestimating the distance and the effort involved. I checked in at the small, friendly hotel about 6:00 p.m. and began unpacking. It had been a long day of travel that had started at 5:00 a.m. when I began driving from my home in northeast Georgia to the airport in Charlotte. However, everything had gone well, and it was great being back in Cozumel with 2 weeks of diving and warm weather to look forward to.

    The next morning, I transported all my dive gear 1.5 miles to the Blue Angel Dive Shop located next door to the Caribe Blu Hotel. However, the new Canadian owners are renaming the entire operation Blue Angel Resort. I completed my paperwork, paid my balance and was assigned a locker that I'd use for the next 2 weeks. Then I went diving, making 4 dives on the little reef that lies just south of the hotel. The water felt a little cooler than I expected. But it was great to be back in the relatively warm Caribbean, and to witness the continuing recovery that the reef is experiencing after it was severely damaged by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. During the next 2 weeks, I made over 40 dives. Ten were boat dives, and the others were a result of the free, unlimited shore diving I received from Blue Angel with the purchase of the boat diving package.

    After rinsing and stowing my gear, I did some food shopping on the walk back to my hotel. I brought a small percolator in my checked baggage and bought coffee, fruit, chips and breakfast bars that I'd use for snacks, breakfasts and lunches in my room. I planned to eat out only once per day (for supper).

    Additional information concerning lodging, meals, diving and overall expenses for this trip are shown below.

    My 7 minute "Scuba Diving In Cozumel" video at YouTube is located here:
    Scuba Diving In Cozumel
    My 9 minute "Shore Diving In Cozumel" video at YouTube is located here: Shore Diving In Cozumel Video
    The slideshow of my dive photos at Photobucket is located here: Dive Photos Slideshow
    My 5 minute "Carnival Parades In Cozumel" video at YouTube is located here: Carnival Parades In Cozumel Video


    This was my second stay at the Safari Inn. I'd been there for 2 weeks in January 2008 and had been impressed with the friendliness of the staff and the cleanliness of the room. The rooms are large and spacious, and provide basic accommodations. There is no TV or phone (and most likely the only view you'll have is a wall across a side-street), but there is cold air-conditioning, a private bathroom and plenty of hot water. The hotel also provides bottled water for guests and free, in-room broadband service, though if your PC has Windows Vista getting connected can be a challenge. They'll also provide guests with a plastic armchair, but you'll need to ask for it.

    As noted above, the hotel is a few blocks south of the ferry pier, next door to McDonald's (or look for the Aqua Safari pier out front). It is on the premises of the Aqua Safari Dive Shop and is run by an American man and his Mexican wife. With all fees and taxes, the room rate (for 1 or 2 people) is just under $45 per night. The website for the hotel is located here: Safari Inn - Cozumel .


    I bought a 10-boat dive package from Blue Angel Dive Shop at the special Internet rate of $300, and the package included free, unlimited shore diving on the reef directly in front of the shop. I was assigned a locker and given the use of a lock (or bring your own), and was also provided weights, all free of charge.

    This was the third time I've used Blue Angel, and as usual their service was excellent. They have boats leaving at 8:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., and occasionally at 10:00 a.m. Usually the first dive of the day is made at one of the walls on the southern end of the island and the depth is 75 - 110 feet. The second dive is usually made on one of the shallower reefs (30 to 70 feet). The length of the first dive is 35 - 45 minutes, and the second dive is 50 - 60 minutes. It is not necessary that all divers end their dive at the same time. Fruit, bread snacks and bottled water are served on the boat, but towels are not provided. Their website is located here: Blue Angel Dive Shop In Cozumel .


    This trip was done on a budget, and one of the best ways I've found to save money on dive trips is to get out of the "tourist mindset" concerning food, and eat like a local.
    I brought a small percolator in my checked bag and made fresh-brewed coffee each morning (and night) in my room. I thought about this each time I saw folks paying $1.25 at McDonald's or $3.50 or more at Starbucks for a cup of coffee.

    I also went to the supermarket each day and bought fruit (usually apples and bananas), breakfast bars and chips. I used these items for breakfasts, lunches and snacks. In addition, both the Chedruai and Mega Stores have excellent bakeries, and I'd usually purchase a pastry to have with my coffee each evening.

    I dined out only once per day, having supper each night at the little cafe at the back of the Chedruai store. On most days I'd have some combination of pasta, potatoes, gravy, vegetables, rice and beans. Before ordering at the cafe, I'd go over to the bakery and select a dinner roll and have my selection bagged and priced. Then, I'd select my evening meal and beverage, and pay for everything at the cafe. The price for supper each night varied from about $2 to $3.50 (one night I really got carried away with the pasta). The trick is to exchange dollars for pesos where the exchange rate is good (like Chedruai), then pay for the meal with pesos. At the cafe, no tipping is expected, but you are expected to bus your own table (like an American fast-food place).

    I estimate I spent $5 - $6 per day for food on this trip. Since I have to eat at home (and my food costs are probably higher there), I'm not even listing food as an expense on this trip.

    Overall Expenses:

    My round-trip ticket from Charlotte, NC was $479. My diving cost $300, and this included 10 boat dives and about 30 shore dives. The hotel cost a total of $627 for 14 nights of lodging. In addition, the bus and ferry rides amounted to about $40, and it cost $60 to leave my car at the Charlotte airport for 15 days. Except when transporting dive gear, I didn't use any taxis at all, preferring to walk everywhere I went.

    The total cost of the trip, which provided me with diving everyday for 14 days, was about $1,530. It was a lot of bang for the diving-buck, and includes $10 for a spiffy "Blue Angel Dive Resort" t-shirt that I just couldn't pass up.

    Negril, Jamaica (November 18 - 25, 2008) - My life-partner Carol and I arrived in Montego Bay, Jamaica on November 18, 2008 via a direct flight on US Airways from Charlotte, NC. After clearing Immigration & Customs at Sangster International Airport without incident, we proceeded to the desk of Tourwise Transportation to book passage for the 50-mile shuttle on the coast highway to Negril. The trip took almost 2 hours and it cost $20 for each of us. The driver kept us amused by pointing out landmarks and historical places along the way.

    Our driver dropped us off at Hidden Paradise Hotel (where we had a reservation) and we were pleasantly surprised by the beautifully landscaped grounds and our spacious, comfortable room. The hotel is small and family-run, and is on the highway that runs parallel to the beach. It is located about 1.5 miles north of the Negril River.

    The weather was not good. It was very warm, but conditions were rainy and windy and I knew that there probably wouldn't be any diving for a day or so. When I called and checked-in with Craig at Sundivers, he confirmed my fears. There was no diving on the 19th or 20th, and I didn't make my first dive until Nov. 21. The sun came out, but the windy weather continued. As a result, I made only 6 dives the entire week.

    On the days I didn't dive, I spent some time at the beach and at the hotel's pool. Also, Carol and I walked to nearby West End each day (just south of the Negril River) to eat supper and to shop. Most Jamaicans are warm, friendly and hospitable, however, the taxi drivers, hustlers and vendors can be a real pain. When we were walking along the beach or the beach road, we would be approached by strangers at least once every two minutes. This could get scary after dark (especially on the beach), and toward the end of the trip, my patience and tolerance began to wane. However, no one ever threatened us and there were no real problems.

    When we left on Nov. 25, we decided to use a taxi to return to the airport at Montego Bay and used a driver that was recommended by an employee at our hotel. The total cost of the taxi (for both of us) was $60. I don't quite know how to describe the taxi drivers in Jamaica. Somehow, transporting people in taxis seems to have become some kind of competitive event with points awarded for how fast the drivers can get from pickup point to destination. It is difficult to imagine a group of individuals with a greater disregard for the basic laws of physics (mainly, that two objects cannot occupy the same place at the same time). They seem to drive very fast and don't hesitate to pass when they shouldn't. I was trying to think of a slogan to describe the taxi drivers. I thought of "Live Fast, Die Young" until I saw a sign painted on the taxi in front of us. It said "Refuse to Die!". I decided that I couldn't do any better than that. Our driver drove fast, but was mostly focused on the road, until he passed two young Jamaican women in a car. At that point, it appeared that his testosterone level briefly got away from him. However, after a minute or so of waving, whistling, shouting and horn-blowing, things returned to "normal". The odometer in our taxi was conveniently disabled, however, I'd estimate that our top speed hit 80 mph on several occasions. A bit shaken, but uninjured, we arrived back at Sangster Airport to board our flight to Charlotte.

    We cleared Immigration and Customs without incident, though Carol did get patted-down by a female officer, and she was asked to open her carry-on bag. There is a departure tax from Jamaica ($27?), however, it was included with the price of our plane tickets.

    My still photos for this trip are located here:
    Slideshow of Rainmaker's Negril, Jamaica Photos

    A short (1 minute) video of the "Shallow Plane" dive site is located here: Negril Jamaica "Shallow Plane" Dive Site

    A longer (6 minutes) video showing underwater and above water photos and video clips is located here: Rainmaker's Negril, Jamaica Scuba Trip

    Additional information concerning the diving and dive operators, hotel, food, total costs and my overall feelings about Jamaica are shown below:

    The diving and dive operators:

    I was pleasantly surprised by the reefs in Jamaica. They are in great shape, and they are beautiful. They compare favorably with reefs I have dived on in Cozumel, Roatan, Belize and Bahamas, and I liked them better than the reefs in Costa Rica and the Florida Keys. However, the sad part is that the reefs in Jamaica are over-fished. This is not the place to come to see a lot of large marine animals. There were numerous lobster and fish traps on every reef I dived on, and only a few small tropicals were swimming on the reefs.

    Most dives in Negril are in the 50 - 60 ft. depth range, but there are a few deeper dives. My deepest dive was 88 ft., made at the Deep Plane site (however, I never did see the plane). Visibility ranged from 30 - 60 ft., and the water temperature was just over 80 degrees. I was toasty warm in my full-length 4/3mm wetsuit. Visibility would have been better except for the wind.

    I had planned to make all dives with Sundivers. However, they have a small, 6-pack boat and for safety reasons, they were reluctant to go out in the rough seas that resulted from the windy conditions. Also, I was very disappointed to learn that the maximum dive length allowed for a dive with a maximum depth of 60 ft. was only 40 minutes, and that included the ascent and 3-minute safety stop. In addition, they wanted all divers to have 1000 PSI in their tank when they ended their dive and began their ascent, and they wanted all divers to end their dive at the same time. Also, diving was canceled on Nov. 23 and no one from Sundivers called to tell me. As a result I needlessly got up early, rushed through breakfast and then waited outside with all my gear to be picked up for about a half-hour.

    The remainder of my dives were made with Negril Scuba Centre. I made a beautiful 56-minute shore-dive with them (called a cliff dive locally) on the 23rd. They have a larger boat, and can sometimes go out when operators with smaller boats can't. And when boat dives are not available, they can offer Dive Master-guided shore dives (maximum depth about 60 ft.) on a beautiful reef near Negril Escape Resort. I made two boat dives with them on my final day of diving, which was Nov. 24. They allow slightly longer dives, but for every dive I made in Jamaica, I hit the surface with between 1200 - 1800 PSI in my tank and lots of no-deco time showing on my dive computer.

    Neither dive op that I used offered water, snacks or towels on the boat.

    Our hotel:

    We really enjoyed our stay at Hidden Paradise. The owner Heinrich was always close by, asking us if everything was alright. Our large, spacious room had two double beds, a full dresser with large mirror, refrigerator, large closet, telephone, air conditioning, large private bath with shower and a ceiling fan. A small safe was available in the room. Its use was free, but there was a $50 deposit for the key. There was also a large pool. A security guard was on the premises each night. A full breakfast was also included, and we were free to order any breakfast on the menu. It was a 2-minute walk to the beach. We received an "Internet Special" rate, paid for 6 nights and got the 7th night free. As a result, we paid a total of $360 for 7 nights, including breakfast each morning and all taxes.

    I asked Heinrich if it was safe for us to drink tap water, and he recommended that we buy bottled water.


    Concerning suppers, we had a bad experience at a restaurant the first night we were there. Basically, my $9 chicken dinner was inedible, and they didn't want to do anything about it. Eventually, I got my money back, but we didn't go back. As a result, we had our remaining dinners at Burger King, except for one night when Carol prepared supper in our room from food we'd bought at the local supermarket. The prices at Burger King, and the quality of the food, was about what you'd expect in the US.

    Breakfast was included with our room, and my lunches and snacks consisted of chips, local bread products and fruit purchased at the supermarket. There are two supermarkets in nearby West End. We liked the one that was right across the street from Burger King. I probably spent $8 - $10 per day on lunch, supper and snacks.

    Overall costs:

    My round-trip plane ticket from Charlotte to Montego Bay cost $389, my portion of the hotel bill amounted to $180 and I spent a total of $225 for my 6 dives. In addition, my portion of the shuttle and taxi costs was $50 and I probably spent about $100 on food and souvenirs, for a total of about $950. In addition, it cost us a total of $34 to park Carol's car for 8 days at Charlotte International Airport.

    My feelings about Jamaica:

    Jamaica is a beautiful country, with lush jungles, beautiful waterfalls and beaches, and forested mountains that come nearly up to the Caribbean Sea. The reefs are beautiful, but severely over-fished.

    Most Jamaicans are very proud of their country and their culture, and will go out of their way to make visitors feel welcome. Most are friendly, warm and hospitable. However, as stated above, the hustlers and vendors (and to a lesser degree, the cab drivers), can be a real pain. I'd like to say that we never felt threatened or in fear of our safety, but truthfully I can't. Like most other tourists, we did some walking around at night and some of it was on the beach. I never got used to strangers walking up behind us and wanting a "fist-bump", especially on the beach at night. To me, it appeared that it could be a prelude to a mugging or robbery. Basically, I started asking them to move away from us, or to leave us alone. This resulted in a few shouting matches, but nothing got out of hand.

    Like most areas (including the US), there is an ongoing problem with escalating crime and violence. We read an article in a local paper written by a Jamaican who said that the government and the police had to get a handle on the surging crime and violence, or else Jamaica was going to turn into another Haiti.

    I have no plans at the present time to return to Jamaica, partly for the reasons stated above, and partly because of the "shorted" dives. However, it is a beautiful country and I'll always remember the friendly people we met, the adventures and experiences we had and the dives I made on the beautiful coral reefs in the warm Caribbean.

    Playa del Coco, Costa Rica (July 14 - 21, 2008) - I arrived in Liberia, Costa Rica on July 14, 2008 from Miami via American Airlines. Normally, the 20 mile taxi ride from Liberia to Playa del Coco costs $40, however, I was fortunate to meet someone on the plane who lives in Playa del Coco. He offered me a ride for $20, and I accepted.

    I'd heard horror stories concerning how difficult air travel had become (I had not been on a plane since my last dive trip to Cozumel in January 2008), but things didn't seem that bad. All flights were more or less on time (at least I didn't miss any connecting flights), no baggage was lost and American Airlines did only minimal damage to my new Samsonite suitcase. Since I had bought my ticket prior to June 15, I didn't have to pay the $15 baggage fee. I was even provided free beverage service.

    The exchange rate in Costa Rica takes a bit of getting used to. Or maybe I was just accustomed to the peso-to-dollar exchange rate of 10:1 in Mexico. Anyway, I was shocked to see a bill of "4,510" for my first meal (sandwich, chips, coffee and blueberry muffin) in Playa del Coco. However, with the exchange rate of 533 Costa Rica Colones to the dollar, it amounted to only $8.46.

    During my week in Costa Rica, there were thunderstorms every day, however, the electricity was out only once and the outage lasted only a few minutes.

    There are 2 large, modern supermarkets in Playa del Coco. The newer of the two is located in a shopping center, and both are located on the road to the airport (easy walking distance from the main tourist district or take a cab). Prices are comparable to prices in the US. The supermarket in the shopping center has a deli section for take-outs .

    I was treated very well by the locals, however, not many speak English. I did a lot of walking around alone at night, and I never felt uncomfortable or threatened.

    There are very few sections in the tourist district that have sidewalks. Pedestrians have to remain very alert for all kinds of traffic while trying to avoid potholes and mud puddles. Concerning potential road hazards, I felt far safer underwater than walking around Play del Coco after dark.

    I made 10 dives with Rich Coast Diving and these represented my first dives in the Pacific. Visibility was less than I am used to in the Caribbean, but there were more marine animals to look at and photograph. In the end, I decided that neither ocean is better than the other for diving, they are just different.

    To see my Costa Rica video at YouTube,
    click here .

    To see my Costa Rica photos at Photobucket, click here .

    Additional information concerning lodging, diving, and overall expenses are shown below:


    As stated above, all dives were made with Rich Coast Diving. I opted for 10 local dives. Diving was available in the nearby Bat and Catalina Islands, but because of the long boat rides and additional expenses, I declined. The maximum depths ranged from 31 to 86 feet, and the dive times varied from 35 to 63 minutes. Visibility was relatively good at 50 feet when I arrived, then gradually deceased to about 20 feet before rebounding to 30 - 40 feet just before I left. I saw several sharks (1 White Tip, 2 Nurse sharks). I also saw turtles, rays and morays on almost every dive.

    The water temperature was in the low 80's, except when thermoclines were encountered. Though my dive computer showed that the minimum temperature I encountered was 75 degrees, it felt a lot colder than that. When we'd hit a thermocline, it felt like going from a sauna to intense air conditioning in about 2 seconds.

    Except for the thermoclines, I was very comfortable in my full length 4/3. I didn't wear a hood, and wearing gloves was not allowed. Most folks chose to dive in either a shorty or a full length suit, and a few divers opted for hoods as well.

    My gear was rinsed and stowed at the dive shop each night, and transported back to the boat each day. Because of high fuel prices, Rich Coast obviously wanted to dive the sites that are close to shore, or perhaps they just wanted one easy site each day for students (students and advanced divers used the same boat, but had different dive guides). Even though I dived for only 5 days, I dived the Tortuga site 3 times. However, I really didn't mind, since there is a lot to see there. Also, I don't really enjoy being on boats, so the short boat rides each day were fine with me. It is only with high doses of Bonine that I can avoid seasickness.

    Rich Coast has a first-rate crew, and they run a very professional dive operation. Their boats and equipment are more than adequate for the diving that they are doing. I will dive with them again on my next trip to Playa del Coco.

    To see Rich Coast Diving's website, click click here .


    I stayed at Villa Del Sol B&B, which is about 1.25 miles from Rich Coast Diving. My air conditioned room with private bath, ceiling fan and hot water was very comfortable. High-speed wireless Internet was available in the room.

    My room was adequate for one person. However, it would have been a bit small for 2 people. A well maintained swimming pool was also available. My room (and all the facilities) were spotlessly clean. I drank tap water at the B & B all week with no ill effects.

    Breakfast each morning was usually 2 scrambled eggs, 2 or 3 different kinds of local fruit, toast, jam, coffee and juice. It was very good. Breakfast was served from 7:30 - 9:30 each day.

    There was a problem with the well pump when I was there that lasted for one night. However, the hotel provided free bottled water to guests, and water service was restored the next morning. I feel that the problem was dealt with as quickly as professionally as possible.

    I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at Villa Del Sol, and there's no way I'd stay anywhere else on my next visit to Playa del Coco.

    To see the website for Villa Del Sol B&B , click here .

    Overall Expenses:

    My round-trip ticket from Charlotte, NC to Liberia, Costa Rica (airport code is LIR) on American Airlines was a few cents short of $700.

    I opted for a 7 night / 10 dive package offered by Rich Coast Diving and Villa Del Sol B&B. The total cost (including all taxes and fees) was $615. This was a special Internet price available only during the rainy season (marketed as the "Green Season"). So, the total cost of the "Big 3" (airfare, diving and lodging) was $1,315.

    Concerning meals, breakfasts were included at the B&B. Lunches consisted of chips and fruit purchased locally. Concerning suppers, I had a few restaurant meals that ranged in price from $4 - $10 dollars. However, for most of my suppers, I bought sandwiches at the deli section of the large supermarket in town and had my evening meal in the dining area of the B&B. Food expenses probably averaged slightly less than $10 per day.

    For the taxi ride from the airport to town, the rate was $40. However, those needing a taxi for the ride from Playa del Coco back to the airport can probably negotiate a ride for about $30.

    Lucaya, Bahamas (October 7 - 14, 2007) - I arrived in Freeport, Bahamas via a direct flight on US Airways from Charlotte, NC on Sunday, October 7. The plane was on time (actually a bit ahead of schedule), and none of my luggage was lost or damaged. The cost of my round-trip ticket was $342.00.

    The airport is large, modern, spacious and air-conditioned. Clearing Customs & Immigration took only a few minutes, and after a 15-minute taxi ride in an air-conditioned van (that cost $19), I was at my hotel. I stayed at the Bell Channel Inn in Lucaya, having secured the special rate advertised on the Internet of $82 per night (this included all taxes and fees). The Redwood Hotel had advertised a less expensive rate, but they didn't respond to my emails. I walked past the Redwood each day on my walk to Lucaya Marketplace, and it appeared to be closed.

    My large, air-conditioned hotel room was very nice and clean. The staff was courteous and helpful, and I had no problems at all with my room (except for a brief problem involving the water heater, which was quickly remedied). Free broadband was available in the lobby, but I didn't bring my laptop because of luggage weight and space considerations. The hotel is not exactly in the middle of the business district. It was about a 30-minute walk (each way) to the tourist-oriented Port Lucaya Marketplace, and also about a 30-minute walk (in the opposite direction) to the City Marketplace (a large supermarket). I expect to stay at the Bell Channel Inn on my next trip to Lucaya. Their website is located at

    The weather was less than ideal for this trip. Melinda (of Grand Bahama Scuba) told me that Monday's diving had been canceled because of high winds that had created very rough seas. I wasn't feeling particularly well anyway, and not diving the first day gave me an opportunity to scope-out a grocery store, some inexpensive restaurants and an Internet cafe. My first day of diving was Tuesday, and seas were very rough. Visibility was only about 40 feet. I dived everyday until (and including) Saturday. The seas calmed considerably, and visibility started to get better by Thursday. The water temperature was 82 - 84 degrees, and I was very comfortable in my full-length 4/3 wetsuit. I made a total of 10 dives, and I'll always remember the Caribbean Reef sharks that were encountered, and diving on the Theo wreck. I went to Bahamas to see and photograph the sharks, and I was not disappointed. The maximum depths for most dives were in the 45 - 75 ft. range, except the Theo and Duncan wrecks (large freighters) were about 100 feet deep. The 10-dive package at Grand Bahama Scuba cost $275, and I feel that I really got my money's worth. My gear was rinsed and stored at their dive shop each night, and either Fred or Melinda picked me up at my hotel each morning and then took me back each day after diving. Fred and Melinda are walking encyclopedias of diving knowledge and Bahamas lore, and they are eager to share their expertise and information with their customers. To see Grand Bahama Scuba's website, click here .

    To see the photos for this trip, click here .

    To see information about the individual dives that I made on this trip, see dives 408 - 417 at my dive log page .

    Restaurants are very expensive at Port Lucaya. A bowl of soup can cost $5.50, and entrees start at about $14.95. Burger and fries start at about $8.95, and apparently just about every restaurant adds a 15% gratuity to the check. Because of this, I made coffee in my room each morning and also had breakfast and lunch in my room each day. My breakfasts consisted of fruit and breakfast bars, and my lunches were chips, instant soup and more fruit. I had supper each night at either the Subway sandwich shop, or at the Chinese restaurant at Port Lucaya Marketplace. Prices at Subway are about what they are in the US, and the Chinese restaurant had several vegetarian rice dishes that started at about $8.00.

    Internet access was also expensive. I paid $35.00 for unlimited broadband use for 1 week at the Cyber Cafe, which is located at Port Lucaya Marketplace.

    I did a lot of walking around alone (some of it after dark), and never felt uncomfortable or threatened. Almost everyone I encountered in Bahamas was helpful and friendly. English is the offical language, but Bahamas English is very different from southern Appalachian English, and I had some difficulty communicating with the locals.

    Airfare, hotel and diving cost about $1190 total, and I was able to eat for about $10 - $12 per day. Other expenses included $38 for the two taxi rides, and $24 parking for my vehicle at the airport in Charlotte. There was no departure tax when I left Bahamas.

    Roatan, Honduras (June 3 - 17, 2007) - After departing from Charlotte, NC, I arrived in Roatan, Honduras via a direct flight on Continental Airlines from Houston on June 3. During the next 13 days, I made a total of 26 dives, all with Coconut Tree Divers. Roatan diving is diverse, and when the trip was over, I felt that the dives that I'd made there represented the best and most enjoyable diving that I've done so far.

    Even though the diving was great, I can't really say that Honduras is my all-time favorite international destination. The scene at the airport (both arriving and departing) was hot, uncomfortable and chaotic. The airport is not air-conditioned and there was very little ventilation. When I left on June 17, the flight was delayed several hours, and many people were suffering from the heat. A few people looked like they were about to pass out (no one could go outside without "backtracking" through Security, and the glass doors at the boarding gate were locked). Also, the departure tax of $32.00 (or $33.19, depending on where passengers are going) didn't do anything to improve anyone's mood. Before I left for this trip, I noticed that an on-line newspaper (Bay Islands Voice) said that except for the way that visitors are treated at the airport, Roatan would probably be overrun with foreign tourists. I agree.

    Electricity was out numerous times and I was told by several locals that problems with the local electric company were ongoing, but that service was improving. Garbage collection also left a lot to be desired. In the tropical heat, the smell of rotting garbage left in bags alongside sandy "Main Street" in West End was, at times, very strong. I realize I was in the Third World, but other Caribbean countries where I've dived have done better than Honduras at providing basic services.

    On the plus side, most of the locals were friendly and helpful and almost everyone who works in the tourist industry speaks at least a little English. Even though I did a lot of walking around alone after dark, I never felt uncomfortable or threatened. Except for taxis, (about $20 for the 15 minute trip to West End) I found most prices to be reasonable. Basic lodging (no air conditioning) with private bath and warm water showers is available for about $25 - $30 per night, quality diving starts at $20 per tank (if you furnish your own gear), and meals can be purchased for $6 - $10 each. There are several ATM's, small grocery stores and Internet Cafes. Unlimited access to the Internet (for two weeks) is available for $10. There are also a lot of bars, but they didn't seem to be doing much business when I was there.

    This two-week trip was done on a budget. My 26 dives cost $520, the airfare was about $630 and my share of the lodging was $175 (total of $350 for two weeks was split between my brother and me), for a total of $1325. Also, I managed to eat for about $10 per day. I brought a small percolator in my checked baggage, and made coffee each morning in our room. Honduran coffee is delicious. My breakfasts usually consisted of fruit (apples or bananas) and breakfast bars and coffee. Lunch was more fruit and some kind of chips with a cold drink. Suppers were purchased at moderately priced local restaurants (Rudy's, Creole's Rotisserie Chicken and the Viet Namese/Thai place across from Reef Glider's Dive Shop) for $6 - $7 each.

    The exchange rate seemed to vary a bit while we were there. Generally, it was about 19 Lempira = $1 US. If you pay for something with US dollars, you'll most likely receive change in Lempiras. On my next trip, I'll always check on the establishment's exchange rate before I pay for something with dollars.

    I was glad that I brought a good supply of anti-diarrhea pills and 100% DEET. The bugs can get quite bothersome, and I was home about a week before my digestive system returned to normal.

    The see the photos for this trip,
    click here .

    To see my 2007 Honduras video (compilation of still-shots set to music) at YouTube, click here .

    Additional information concerning diving and lodging is shown below:


    All my dives were made with Coconut Tree Divers in West End. They are located right on Half Moon Bay. The cost of each dive was $20 ($25 for those who use rental gear) and this included taxes. My total bill was $520 (26 x $20 = $520); there were no surprises.

    Diving in Roatan is a wonderful experience, and there is much to see. There are deep wreck dives, wall dives, shark dives and "glide and relax" shallow coral reef dives. The coral is generally in good condition, however, with the exception of Goliath grouper, I didn't see any large marine wildlife. However, there are lots of turtles, lobsters, Moray eels, rays, and a few Nurse sharks. I also saw one octopus and a couple of large crabs. At West End Wall, where the Caribbean and Atlantic currents merge, we were practically swarmed by schools of colorful tropicals.

    I was very satisfied with Coconut Tree Divers. They are very safety conscious and their divemasters are great. I was expected to set up my own gear and to transfer it to a fresh tank between dives, but at $20 per dive, I didn't mind. Ice water was provided on the boat, but not snacks or towels.

    The first dive of the day was usually at a depth of 100 to 115 ft. and lasted 40 - 50 minutes. The second dive was usually 40 - 65 ft., and lasted 45 - 60 minutes. Advanced divers and newly certified divers use different boats. The less experienced divers go out on the afternoon boat, and the advanced divers use the morning boat. This generally worked well. However, even though I was on the boat with the advanced divers, usually I ended my dives with 1000 - 1200 psi. in my tank. All dives were led by a divemaster, and everyone was expected to end their dive at the same time. Except for several of the divemaster trainees getting a bit overzealous at "rule enforcement", I thoroughly enjoyed diving with Coconut Tree Divers. Their website is located at I will definitely use them again on my next trip to Roatan.

    To see information about the individual dives that I made on this trip, see dives 289 - 314 at my dive log page .


    I stayed at Hidden Garden Cabins and was generally satisfied with the accommodations. The place is a bit off the beaten path, and I found out the hard way that most of the taxi drivers at the airport don't know where it is. To get there, go to West End and then turn left (no right turn is available, unless you want to get wet) off the main beach road onto the side-street that runs between Pura Vida Restaurant and Pura Vida Dive Shop. Just past the Mariposa Lodge, take a sharp right. Follow the road about a hundred yards/meters until it goes sharply downhill. At the bottom of the hill, you'll see the locked gate and sign for Hidden Garden Cabins.

    The cabins are large, airy, spacious and clean. Hot water was plentiful and my bed was very comfortable. My cabin had a private bath with shower, a small dinette set, oven/range, kitchen sink and a refrigerator/freezer, along with basic kitchen utensils and pots and pans. Bottled water was also furnished at no extra charge. However, there were no curtains on the windows, which really affected privacy. Also, the neighborhood was very noisy with crying babies, barking dogs and loud TV's interfering with a good night's sleep on a regular basis. Walking back to my cabin in total darkness on a night when the power was out is not an experience that I want to repeat (I brought a small flashlight with me, but on this particular night the battery died). There was no air conditioning, but a ceiling fan and large windows kept temperatures somewhat bearable (but not what I'd call "comfortable") during the heat of the day.

    The place is very secure. Each cabin has security bars on the windows and a heavy security door. The security door has iron bars and 2 large padlocks and is in front of a regular wooden door that has a separate lock. In addition, there is a locked gate at the entrance to the grounds. It took a total of 4 keys to gain entrance to my cabin. There is also a night watchman. However, no maid service was provided. Two sets of towels and sheets were provided, and there is a washing machine and clothes line on the premises for guests to use (no charge to use the washing machine, but soap is not furnished).

    My cabin cost a total of $175 per week for my brother and me (same charge for one or two persons), and we stayed two weeks. However, I believe that the low-season price has been increased to $200 per week. I might stay at Hidden Garden Cabins again, however, next time I may look for a place that has a back-up generator, and is closer to the beach and business area. Hidden Garden Cabins website is located at

    Cozumel, Mexico (January 5 - 19, 2007) - This will be the trip that all future dive trips are measured against. Carol and I arrived in Cozumel via the bus and ferry shuttle from Cancun on Friday, Jan. 5. We stayed directly on the water at the Caribe Blu Hotel. There was nothing between our room’s balcony and the Caribbean except a swimming pool and a boat dock.

    The hotel (and the Blue Angel Dive Shop next door) advertised “free unlimited shore diving” on the reef just offshore, and I took them at their word. They furnished free air tanks and weights, and when all the diving was over, I’d made 39 free shore dives (and paid for 10 additional boat dives) during the next 13 days. I dived every day, and loved it.

    We reluctantly left for home on Jan. 19. When we boarded the plane in Cancun, one of the flight attendants got on the intercom and said, “Welcome to your flight back to reality”. I still smile when I think of that.

    To see the photos for this trip,
    click here . Additional information concerning transportation, lodging, diving and meals is shown below.


    As stated above, I made a total of 49 dives on 13 consecutive days. Thirty-nine of the dives were shore dives made on the little recovering reef (it sustained substantial damage from Hurricane Wilma in 2005) just offshore from the Caribe Blu Hotel. Fortunately, depths were only 20 – 25 feet, and I rotated my days of boat diving with shore diving. This helped balance and minimize my nitrogen loading and effectively kept me out of the hyperbaric chamber, despite the number of dives I was doing. On the days I was shore diving, I'd get 1 or 2 tanks per day, and I got 3 - 5 dives from each tank.

    The 10 boat dives were made with the Blue Angel Dive Shop. Maximum depths ranged from 82 – 103 feet for the first dive of the day, which was made on one of the beautiful walls on the southern end of the island. The second dive of the day was usually made at a maximum depth of 50 – 65 feet. Visability was not quite as good as it was when I was in Cozumel in October, but still it was pretty nice. Generally, it ranged from 60 – 75 feet, and the water temperature was in the low 80’s (usually 81 – 82 degrees). Dive times were 45 – 51 minutes, and I never got seriously close to running out of no-deco time. I was comfortable in my 4/3 wetsuit, and didn't wear gloves or a hood. I probably would have worn gloves, but they are not allowed in the Marine Park. Some folks dived in 3/2 wetsuits, and a few opted to dive wearing only swimsuits.

    Besides the beautiful walls and reefs, I’ll always remember the large moray eels and eagle rays that were encountered. However, an equally memorable event was getting out of the way of an oncoming submarine in about 60 feet of water near Chankanaab Reef. The submarine is operated for tourists and there appeared to be about 20 of them aboard during the encounter. I was fortunate to get several photos, with the sub’s captain motioning wildly for me to get out of the way. It was a strange experience looking inside the sub and seeing dry people. They seemed equally awed and surprised to see scuba divers. I got one photo of a woman inside the sub who was in the process of taking a photo of me.

    Blue Angel has some great divemasters, and I enjoyed diving with all of them. They run a safe, efficient, courteous and professional operation. However, they didn’t furnish towels, and snacks were served only on the larger “No Problem” dive boat. Snacks were not served on the smaller 6-pack boats or on the other large boat (apparently they have two of them). Bottled water was available between dives.

    I was given a free locker (with a lock) by Blue Angel, and I stored all my dive gear in the locker each night. They also furnished rinse tanks. Total cost of the 10 boat dives was about $300.00. They also furnished free tanks and weights for shore dives. For the 39 dives made on the reef just offshore, I didn’t have to pay anyone for anything. I expect to use Blue Angel on my next trip to Cozumel.

    To see additional information about the dives made on this trip, see dives 228 - 276 on my dive log page .


    We stayed at the Caribe Blu Hotel, located directly on the water about 1.5 miles south of the downtown ferry pier. The Blue Angel Dive Shop is located next door, and a small restaurant (breakfast, lunch, early supper and drinks at reasonable prices) is also on the premises.

    Our room was large, spacious and clean. I didn’t see one bug the entire week. We did have a small gecko (lizard) in the room that we saw occasionally, and it apparently did a great job helping to control insects. Even though we were on the third floor, water pressure was great and hot water was plentiful. The air conditioning worked flawlessly, and there was also a TV and telephone. Bottled water was also furnished. Our room also had a small safe / lock-box, and after reading the instructions on the safe door, we were able to select a new combination. It was a nice place to store passports, cameras, cash and credit cards. Small amounts of change were left out in the open, however, and none of it ever disappeared.

    Lighting in the room was minimal (electricity is very expensive in Cozumel), and I missed having a comfortable chair and a ceiling fan. The only chairs we had were two plastic ones that I “borrowed” from the pool area.

    The cost of the room for Carol and me was $65 per night, which is less than the advertised rate. This included all taxes, and was a special rate arranged with Jeanie Bruscher, who works as a reservationist. Basically, we cut out the credit card charges and the hotel passed the savings on to us. I sent the hotel a $100 deposit via PayPal, and we paid the balance when we arrived.

    The hotel’s website is located at .


    We brought a small percolator and made coffee in our room each morning. We also visited the local “mini-WalMart” Chedauri store a few blocks south of the ferry pier and bought some breakfast, snack and lunch items.

    However, we dined out each night, visiting either the No-Name Bar/Restaurant at the Barracuda Hotel, the Caribbean Rock ‘n Java Café a few blocks south of the ferry pier, or the Burger King at the Punta Langosta Mall. Entrees at the Barracuda Hotel start at about $7, and $5 at the Rock ‘n Java Café. Prices at Burger King are about what they are in the US. The food is good at all 3 places. In addition, the $2 double-scoop ice cream in a waffle cone at the little stand on the south end of The Square near the waterfront is a special treat.


    We used US Airways, and purchased round-trip tickets for the direct flight from Charlotte, NC to Cancun, Mexico for about $475 (for each of us).

    I liked the service we received from US Airways, and I will try to use them for future flights. In my opinion, they were better than either American or Northwest (which I used on my 2 previous dive trips).

    No one questioned me concerning whether or not there was dive gear in my checked luggage, and everyone was courteous. No luggage was lost, nothing was damaged and the flights were on-time. You can't expect much more from an airline than that.

    We took the bus from the Cancun airport to Playa Del Carmen. The ride took about an hour, and the buses depart at least once per hour. A one-way ticket cost about $8 for each of us.

    In Playa Del Carmen, we paid about $11 each for a one-way ferry ride to Cozumel. The boat ride takes about a half-hour, and it can be a bit rough during windy conditions.

    In Cozumel, we paid $4.00 for a cab ride from the ferry pier to our hotel.

    Cozumel, Mexico (October 4 - 11, 2006) - I arrived in Cozumel, Mexico on October 4, 2006 and began my week of diving the following day. I made a total of 12 dives during the next six days, and they represent some of the most beautiful and adventuresome diving I’ve done so far.

    Most of the people I met in Mexico were friendly and helpful. I know nothing about other parts of the country, but in the tourist-oriented areas of Cancun, Playa Del Carmen and Cozumel that I visited, I never felt unsafe or threatened. In Cozumel, I did a lot of walking around alone at night and at no time did I feel that I was in any danger. The place has a very friendly, almost festive atmosphere. In fact, it felt safer than most American cities.

    Car rentals are readily available, and taxis are all over the place. The taxis will take you to most places in and around the downtown tourist area for $4US or less.

    There are hundreds of shops in Cozumel, ranging from upscale malls to hole-in-the wall souvenir shops. There are lots of leather, Sterling silver and clothing items available. Bars also do a good business and many of them advertise cold beer for $1US. Best T-shirt seen in Cozumel said, “Take Me Drunk, I’m Home”.

    The official exchange rate when I was there varied from about 10.85 to 11.10 pesos = $1US. However, the unofficial exchange rate in stores, shops and restaurants was 10 pesos = $1US. In other words, if you buy something that costs 20 pesos, the merchant will want $2US if you choose to pay with US currency.

    Most (but not all) of the locals who work in the tourist areas speak at least some English.

    Unlike Belize, there was no departure tax when I left the country. However, Mexican Customs agents thoroughly checked every piece of carry-on luggage before passengers were allowed to board their flights. The agents appeared to readily recognize dive gear. I had my reg and dive computer console (with liquid filled compass) in my carry-on luggage, and had no problems at either US or Mexican airports.

    The new security procedures concerning liquids seemed not to slow down things at the security checkpoints on either the US or Mexican side of the border. When going through security checkpoints, the TSA people want all liquids in carry-on luggage to be in 4 oz. sizes (or less) in a clear, resealable, plastic, quart-size bag, and they want the bag taken out of the luggage and put in the tray that contains your shoes, wallet, purse, etc.

    To see the underwater and above water photos for this trip
    click here . Additional information concerning diving, transportation, lodging and meals is shown below.

    All my dives were made with Blue XT Sea Diving. Christi runs a very safe, efficient, dependable and professional dive operation. They use fast boats that carry no more than 6 divers. They get their customers to the dive sites (and back) very quickly. All my dives were drift dives, and were led by a divemaster (Jackie or Pedro).

    Blue XT’s boat picked me up each morning from what previously was called the Villablanca Pier (across the road from the Villablanca Hotel). However, after the pier was destroyed by Hurricane Wilma, it was rebuilt by the Dive Paradise dive operation, and it is now called the Dive Paradise Pier. Since the pier is no longer owned by the hotel, I had to pay a daily fee of $2 to Dive Paradise for the privilege of being picked up from their pier each day by Blue XT’s boat.

    The maximum depth of the first dive of the day usually was in the 80 – 100 ft. range. After a surface interval of about an hour, the second dive was made with a maximum depth of 50 – 60 feet. My Aeris Atmos2 dive computer was happy with this arrangement, and I never got seriously close to running out of no-deco time.

    Snacks and juice were served between dives, and the surface interval was usually spent at a local beach.

    My dive times ranged from 55 to 94 minutes, and the water temperature ranged from 76 to 85 degrees. Visibility often exceeded 100 feet. I was very comfortable in a 4/3 wetsuit. I wore boots, but no hood or gloves. A few of the other divers opted to dive without a wetsuit, however, I tend to get cold pretty easy and there were some jellyfish around. One of the divemasters (Jackie) was stung several times on one of our dives.

    There were a lot of colorful tropicals on the reefs, and I also saw a few nurse sharks, along with lobsters, morays, turtles and rays. The wildlife was varied and abundant.

    The deeper reefs on the southern end of the island appear to have escaped serious damage from Hurricane Wilma in 2005, but there is a lot of sand on the shallower reefs, and some noticeable damage to the coral. Even with the hurricane damage, the reefs of Cozumel contain more color than any other reefs that I’ve seen, and the walls are truly spectacular.

    The cost of my 12 dives, including all taxes and marine park fees, was $452.00. Blue XT Sea Diving’s website is located at:

    I used Northwest Airlines, and had no serious problems with them (no hassles about luggage containing dive gear) and they didn’t lose or damage any of my gear. My round-trip ticket from Charlotte, NC to Cancun, Mexico was $321, including all fees and taxes.

    In Cancun, I paid $15 for an express van shuttle to Playa Del Carmen. In Playa Del Carmen, I paid $10 for the ferry to Cozumel. In Cozumel, I paid $4 for a taxi ride to my hotel.

    The transportation on the return trip was pretty much the same, except I used an express bus for the ride from Playa Del Carmen to the airport in Cancun. The buses run every hour on the hour (approximately), and a ticket costs $9. The bus station in Playa Del Carmen is located only a few blocks from the ferry pier, within easy walking distance.

    I stayed at the Villablanca Hotel, which is located about 2.5 miles south of downtown. I paid for a standard room, but for some reason, the hotel gave me a free upgrade to a deluxe room when I arrived. My room was large and spacious, with TV, phone, ceiling fan, king-size bed and air conditioning. However, the location of the hotel is not really convenient unless you are diving with either Papa Hogs or Dive Paradise.

    I had no serious problems with the hotel; however, hot water was almost nonexistent the last few days that I was there. Also, the air conditioning was not adjustable. It was either on or off, the breaker in the closet serving as the switch. The room was very clean and had marble floors and a marble bathtub. The walls must be very thick, because I heard almost no noise from outside. The hotel has an outside hot-tub near the swimming pool, but it was not turned on at all the entire week that I was there. The cost of my room for 7 nights, including all taxes, was $337.

    I had my breakfasts at the Hogtown Café, which is located next door to the Villablanca Hotel. I had either banana hotcakes or the 2 egg, hash browns and toast breakfast. Both breakfasts were $4 each, and coffee (with free refills) was $1.

    I had most of my suppers at the Barracuda Hotel, which is about a 5 minute walk from downtown. It is located right on the water, and I’ll probably stay there during my next visit to Cozumel. My favorite meal was the chicken tacos, which cost $7. They are delicious!

    My lunches were usually snack items purchased either from the Internet café (see below), or the small convenience store next to the Villablanca Hotel.

    The Barracuda Hotel also has an Internet Café. Internet time costs $1US per hour, and the café is run by a colorful American expatriate named Grant. The café also has the largest English-language paperback book library in Cozumel, and drinks and snacks are available at reasonable prices. Meals can also be ordered from the restaurant menu.

    Morrison Spring, Florida (August 8 - 9, 2006) - I drove from my home in north Georgia to my brother’s house in Panama City, Florida on August 7. He and I made 6 dives each over a two day period beginning the next day. To see my photos for this trip, click here .

    The maximum depths ranged from 34 to 45 feet, and the dive lengths were 20 – 27 minutes each. The water temperature was a bit colder than advertised (supposed to be 72 degrees year round). My and my brother’s dive computers indicated a temperature range of 69 – 71 at the surface, and a minimum temperature of 69 degrees at 43 feet. I wore a 7/5 wetsuit along with hood, gloves and boots. I was a bit cold after each dive, and spent some time warming up between dives either on shore, or in shallow water. In the hot Florida sun, warming up didn't take long at all.

    Morrison Spring is located near I-10 in northern Florida. To get there, take Exit 104 and turn west on Hwy. 90. In the small community of Ponce De Leon, turn south on Hwy. 181-A, following the signs for Ponce De Leon Springs State Park (no scuba diving here, only swimming and snorkeling). Continue on 181-A about 4.5 miles past the state park, and take a left on Morrison Springs Road. Where the road forks with a dirt road, take the left fork (staying on the paved road). Shortly after the fork, the paved road ends. Continue on the dirt road until you enter the parking area for Morrison Spring.

    There are several motels and restaurants near I-10, and camping is available at Vortex Springs, which is just a few miles to the north on Hwy. 81. Vortex Springs also has a dive shop (and a $32.00 daily admission fee for divers), and air fills are available there.

    In August 2006, there was no admission fee at Morrison Spring. There is a gate that is open from dawn until dusk, and signs warning of the presence of alligators and snakes, and of the absence of lifeguards. It is my understanding that the spring has been acquired by the state and is being administered by the county as a county park. Plans for development are underway, and most likely there will be an admission fee at some point in the future.

    For now, though, the use of this incredibly beautiful spring (and the equally beautiful surrounding area) is free. There is a platform (probably used for scuba training) in about 10 feet of water. Past the platform, there's the opening for the cavern. The cavern entrance has a cypress tree completely across it. The depth at the cavern entrance is about 22 feet. Descending into the cavern, there is a side room that seems to beg for exploration. The entrance is about 6 feet wide, and then it narrows a bit. However, even with my dislike of overhead environments, I had no trouble going inside.

    Back in the main cavern, there is a sign at a depth of about 45 feet warning divers not to go any further. At that point, you get to feel what it is like having a first magnitude spring right in your face. I had to hold on to the rocks to keep from being blown out of the cavern by the force of the water.

    The visibility in the spring and the surrounding area (when I was there) was at least 100 feet, maybe more. However, during periods of high water, the river can dump murky water into the spring and the viz can go down to only a few feet.

    There wasn’t much to see other than the spring and cavern, except for a few fish and a turtle. However, this is quite a place, and a wonderful location to spend the day with your favorite dive buddy, a beach blanket, picnic lunch and cooler full of cold drinks.

    There is a pavilion that is available for picnics, shade and refuge from thunderstorms. There is also a porta-potty (the kind used on construction sites). Also on the premises is a dilapidated wooden building (now abandoned) that I’m told once contained a dive shop.

    Alligators and snakes aside, the biggest obstacle to safe diving that I noticed was the bass boats that regularly use the nearby boat ramp. Dive floats are required by state law, but I didn’t see any in use while we were there. I hope someone comes up with a plan to keep the powerboats away from the swimmers, snorklers and divers. While we were there, we saw several instances where speeding boats came dangerously close to snorkelers.

    San Pedro, Belize (June 4 - 11, 2006) - I arrived in the town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, Belize on June 4, 2006 and began my week of diving the following day.

    I made a total of 12 dives during the next five days, and they represent the most beautiful and adventuresome diving I’ve done so far. Most dives were made on the barrier reef just east of the Ambergris Caye coast. I also made 3 dives in the Turneffe Islands, which are a 4 hour (round-trip) boat ride from San Pedro.

    As far as I can tell, the local economy of San Pedro is based on catering to the eating, drinking, fishing and diving needs of visiting English and American tourists. Almost everyone on the island speaks at least some English, and American dollars are readily accepted. The official exchange rate is $1 US = $2 BZ. When you pay for something in US dollars, change is usually given in Belizean dollars. For instance, when something is paid for that costs $5 US and the clerk is given an American $20 bill, change of $30 BZ should be received.

    The standard dress for locals and tourists alike is a baseball-type cap, sunglasses, T-shirt and baggy shorts (favorite T-shirt seen in Belize said "Every Hour Is Happy Hour"). No one wore socks, and shoes were optional. Some folks went barefoot (beware of dog poop and broken glass on the beach) and others, including me, wore sandals.

    I was told by Protech Dive Center owner Peter Jones that the tap water was heavily chlorinated and wouldn’t hurt me, but that it was slightly brackish and that I wouldn’t like the taste of it. I took him at his word and opted for bottled water the entire week. Bottled water can be purchased at all grocery stores.

    To see the underwater and above water photos for this trip
    click here. Additional information concerning diving, transportation, lodging, meals and entertainment is shown below.


    I used American Airlines, and had no serious problems with them (no hassles about luggage containing dive gear) and they didn’t lose any of my bags or damage any of my gear. However, when I was leaving Belize City, they did make the decision to keep the plane on the ground because it was raining (they said there were no problems flying, they just didn’t want anyone to get wet walking on the tarmac to the plane). As a result, I missed my connecting flight in Miami, and got stranded in the airport terminal overnight. During the flight delay in Belize, a US Airways flight successfully boarded and took off while it was raining. I expect the passengers got a bit wet, but probably no one missed any connecting flights. My roundtrip ticket from Charlotte, NC to Belize City, Belize was $432.00.

    I used Tropic Air for the roundtrip shuttle from Belize City to San Pedro. Frankly, I enjoyed their service and flights more than American Airlines. The roundtrip ticket was about $100. The flight to Ambergris Caye from Belize's International Airport takes about 15 minutes. They use single engine "puddle jumpers" that seat 10 - 12 passengers. I noticed that if the plane is full, they have to use 2 planes for the trip; one for passengers and the other for luggage. The planes fly at an altitude of 1000 - 1500 ft. and on the trip to San Pedro, I could see large mantarays swimming in the shallow, emerald green water below. Tropic Air's website is located at

    It cost about $35 US to leave Belize. When I checked in at the airport, American Airlines wanted $2.50 US for "security fees", and Belizean Customs had their hand out to the tune of $31.50 US.

    The Diving:

    I made 12 dives with Protech, which is located about ½ mile down the beach from Ruby’s Hotel (where I stayed). Owner Peter Jones, Captain Brion, Divemaster Mynar and Office Manager Ana run a safe, efficient, courteous and professional dive operation. I look forward to diving with them on my next trip to Belize. Chilled bottled water and fruit were served between local dives. On the Turneffe Islands trip, breakfast and lunch were served on the boat.

    I made a night dive and a wall dive, reef dives and shark dives and it was all an incredible adventure. In addition to the dives made on the barrier reef, I also made dives at Hol Chan Reserve, Shark-Ray Alley and Turneffe Islands. The wall dive at Turneffe Islands and the reef dive at Cypress Gardens were 2 of the most memorable dives I’ve ever made.

    I saw many sharks (mostly nurse sharks), rays, turtles, moray eels, an octopus (glad it was only one, because I have no idea what the plural of octopus is), large lobsters, crabs, grouper and parrotfish and a multitude of brightly colored tropicals.

    Visibility was exceptional. Once when I was at a depth of 102 ft., I looked up and could easily see the surface. Some of the dives were made in the vicinity of large underwater canyons. I would be at a depth of 70 ft. with the bottom 5 ft. below me, then sail/float off a ridge. Suddenly the bottom was 100 ft. below me, with beautiful coral covered ridges behind me and in front of me, in water so clear that it could hardly be seen. It provided an incredible and indescribable feeling of effortless flying, or floating in space.

    All the dives were guided, and were led by a very professional and experienced Divemaster named Mynar. He always checked everyone’s air about half-way through each dive. We used hand signals for this; PSI was communicated with thousands indicated with fingers placed on the left wrist, and hundreds indicated with fingers held up vertically. For instance, 1400 PSI would be indicated by placing 1 finger on the left wrist, then holding up 4 fingers. This worked very well. We also made a safety stop of 3 minutes at a depth of 20 ft. on each dive.

    The lengths of the dives ranged from about 45 minutes to 61 minutes. The maximum depth was 102 ft., and the water temperature ranged from 77 to 84 degrees. I was quite comfortable in a 2 mm shorty wetsuit under a Lycra exposure suit. I also wore 3mm gloves and boots. I didn’t wear a hood, and no one else wore one, either.

    Total cost of the diving was $531 US. This included $145 US for the 3 tank Turneffe Island trip, and $55 US for the night dive (and dive light rental). Protech Dive Center's website is located at


    I stayed at Ruby’s Hotel (Oceanside) in San Pedro, which is on the beach and just a couple of blocks north of the airstrip. In my opinion, Ruby’s is minimally adequate, and only for the seriously budget-minded traveler. This is a no-frills kind of place that is only one step above a hostel. The price of rooms ranges from $20 to $50 (single) per night. The cheaper rooms face the street, which means they don’t get the ocean breeze, but they do abundantly capture the hot afternoon rays of the sun. There is also a lot of noise from the street (incredibly loud Reggae music, plus some Jimmy Buffet thrown in for good measure). Also, there are a few hard drinking, ex-patriot pensioners who call Ruby’s home. These folks tend to drink a lot and talk very loudly at all hours of the night. If they happen to congregate on the balcony/walkway outside your room, don’t expect to get much sleep. And, no, they don’t respond well to suggestions that they keep the noise down.

    However, on the plus side, the rooms are very clean (didn’t see one bug the entire week) and there was always an abundance of hot water. There’s also a nice little bakery/restaurant next door that is open for breakfast and lunch. Valuables can be stored in the hotel’s safe (no charge). There’s also a rooftop patio that provides great views of the ocean and the nearby barrier reef (which is about a half-mile offshore). None of the hotels I saw had a swimming pool.

    I might stay at Ruby’s again, but I’ll probably pay a little more and get one of the ocean-facing rooms. Their website is located at

    Meals & Entertainment:

    I had breakfasts and lunches at the little restaurant/bakery that is in the same building as Ruby’s. They have some tasty pastries such as banana bread and also fruit cups, waffles and juice. My standard breakfast was orange juice, banana bread and a large cup of coffee. This cost $4 US ($8 BZ). Lunch was usually whatever they had left over from breakfast, along with more orange juice. Snacks and bottled water were purchased at the mini-mart across the street.

    Most of my dinners were purchased at Celi’s Restaurant, just up the beach from Ruby’s. My favorite meal was Rotisserie chicken, steamed rice and dinner rolls, which cost about $8 US. The atmosphere, service and food were excellent, and the place was very clean.

    Several blocks up the street from Ruby’s is CoCoNet. They offer 15 minutes of free Internet for the price of a drink (alcohol, coffee or juice). I usually had a diet coke ($1.50 US) while checking my email.

    Next door to CoCoNet is a nice little ice cream place. A double-dip of ice cream in a plastic cup cost $2.50 US.

    There are many bar/restaurants on the beach. Saturday night is Karaoke night at The Pier Lounge. I entered the Karaoke contest and managed to win the 1st place prize of $40 BZ. It was a lot of fun, and a fitting end to my last day in Belize.

    Key Largo, FL (Feb. 19 - 24, 2006) - We drove from our home in north Georgia to Key Largo (a two-day drive) and arrived the evening of Feb. 19. I began my dives the following day. Gasoline was plentiful, and was priced from $1.97 at a few stations just south of Atlanta to $2.49 near Homestead, Florida. I noticed that gas was less expensive in the Keys than it was around Homestead.

    We were fortunate to have great weather the entire time. Each day seemed to be more beautiful and warm than the one before it. It was in the 80's each day, and went down to the high 60's each night. There was no rain at all.

    Most of the time the seas were very calm. I managed not to get seasick or sunburned on this trip, which I attribute mainly to high doses of the anti-motion sickness drug Bonine (which can be purchased over the counter at drug stores and Wal-Mart) and massive and frequent use of SPF 30 sunscreen.

    Additional information concerning the diving, the dive operators and our lodging is shown below. To see the dive photos for this trip,
    click here .

    The Diving:

    I made 10 dives in 5 days, and they were among the most beautiful dives that I've ever done. Seven were made on reefs (Banana Reef, Horseshoe Reef, Molasses Reef, S. South Ledges, N. Dry Rocks, Christ-In-The-Abyss and French Reef) and three were made on wrecks (Mike's Wreck, the Duane and the Benwood).

    Visability ranged from 30 ft. to about 60 ft., the water temperature was 74 - 75 degrees and the depths ranged from about 20 ft. on one of the reefs to just over 100 ft. on the Duane wreck. The lengths of the dives ranged from 17 minutes to 51 minutes.

    On the Benwood dive, I saw the most abundant marine life that I've seen to date. It was a beautiful and warm day and the seas were calm. Large schools of tropical fish were everywhere; it was like swimming in a large aquarium. There were thousands of them. It was my last dive on this trip, and I was very reluctant to leave. As I was preparing to exit the water, a large barracuda (about 6' ft. long) swam very close to me and didn't seem to be in a hurry to leave, either. I didn't think of it at the time, but he may have been attracted by the sunlight hitting the stainless steel D-rings on my BC. Perhaps it looked like wounded prey to him. Anyway, he stayed 10 - 12 ft. from me during my ascent, and hung around the back of the boat for a while after I'd left the water. It was exciting.

    The dive on the Duane wreck was also special. By far, it was the largest wreck that I've ever seen. However, the current was very strong. After arriving on the bow and leaving the mooring line, my partner and I swam toward the superstructure. It was a constant effort to make progress, and we used a lot of air. Soon after reaching the superstructure, I checked my and my partner's air. We'd reached our turn-around point. Reluctantly, we turned back toward the bow and swam back to the mooring line. I made a safety stop at 20 ft., but my partner didn't. He got back to the boat with about 500 psi, and I had about 400 psi.

    The reef dives were all in shallow water (20 - 35 ft.), and they were relaxing and fun. I spent a lot of time just slowly gliding over the reefs, observing the wildlife, admiring the indescribable beauty and taking photos. The reefs of Key Largo appear to contain more species and color than the reefs of Key West (where I dived last year). Tropical fish (including some large parrotfish) were everywhere, and I saw one shark. I also saw a large grouper or jewfish (there was a difference of opinion among the divers concerning the species) that weighed several hundred pounds.

    The Dive Operators:

    Eight of my dives were made with Silent World Dive Center in Key Largo. Owners Ric and Janet, Captains A.J. and Bob and Divemasters Pat (as in Patricia) and George run a safe, professional, efficient and courteous dive operation. In my opinion, the 10-dive / 5-trip package that Silent World offers for $200 is probably the best diving deal available in the Keys. In addition, they limit the number of divers on their boat to 14. I will definitely dive with Silent World again. Their phone number is 800.966.3483. Their dive shop is located in Central Plaza at mile-marker 103.2, and their dock is located on Garden Cove Drive (about 3 miles north of the dive shop).

    Two of my dives were made with Captain Slate's Atlantis Dive Center, also in Key Largo. I was supposed to make all 10 dives with Silent World, but because of a dive destination change, I was given the option of going with Atlantis (their dock and dive shop are located next door to Silent World's dock).

    The large Atlantis Dive Center boat was crowded and I remember thinking "cattle boat". The captain appeared to be either having a bad day or is approaching career burn-out. When I misunderstood one of his instructions after I'd exited the water on my first dive, he was very abrupt and unnecessarily rude. Also, I heard two divers complaining that they had leaks in their tanks. The captain told them that unless they were large leaks, not to worry about them. One of the divers who had a leaky tank was my dive partner. His tank on the second dive appeared to have a small leak around the valve.

    I might use Atlantis Dive Center again, but they wouldn't be my first choice. Also, at the present time I wouldn't feel comfortable doing a deep dive with them.

    Our Lodging:

    We stayed at the Bay Harbor Lodge, located at mile-marker 97.7. This is a small, quiet, "mom & pop" type place that is located directly on the water. They have a very nice pool, a beach area, and beautifully landscaped grounds.

    Our room was a bit small for 2 people. However, it had a queen-size bed, a coffee maker, small fridge, ceiling fan, air conditiong unit, phone, TV, and microwave. However, the phone was hard-wired to the wall, which made Internet use a bit difficult. With the manager's approval, we removed the phone from the wall and I was able to connect my laptop. The room was very tastefully decorated with "tropical island" decor. The cost for the two of us was $95 per day. With taxes added, the daily room rate was $105.

    On the day we arrived, I did some snorkeling off the lodge's beach. I found a few small shells, and managed to see a medium-size stingray. There were also small kayaks available for guests (no extra charge), and my life partner Carol enjoyed using them several times.

    We enjoyed our stay very much, and I would definitely visit the Bay Harbor Lodge again. Their phone number is 800.385.0986.

    Panama City Beach & Vortex Springs, FL (July 19 - 20, 2005) - I made these dives with my brother, Capt. Mark Mauldin, who lives in Panama City, FL. Mark is a Divemaster and previously operated the Shear Water (live-aboard dive boat) in the Bahamas for several years.

    We knew that the tide was wrong for diving, but since I'd driven all the way from northeast Georgia, we decided to make the dive at St. Andrews State Park, anyway. Also, the visability was bad (about 10 ft.), probably because of the recent hurricane (Emily). We made our way past the jetty and began our dive. At that point we found that the current in the channel was too strong for safe diving. After a few minutes, we found a gap in the rocks and made our way into the shallows inside the jetty. The line for the dive float that we were required to use had became entangled in Mark's gear and we had to surface. Somehow, while I was untangling the line from his hoses and regulator, I dropped my mask. I didn't realize that it was missing until we were preparing to resume our dive. My heart sank as I realized that my $90 mask (with $30 corrective lens) and $20 snorkel was gone. Mark looked for it underwater for a few minutes, but to no avail.

    Not one to easily give up, I asked to borrow his mask and then resumed the search. I reasoned that since the tide was moving out, the mask would move along the bottom (I knew it wouldn't float) toward the jetty. There, it should hang-up in the rocks. I started searching along the edge of the jetty, at first feeling that it was an exercise in futility. After 20 minutes, I was almost ready to give up but decided to search for a while longer. Suddenly, I saw it. It was hung up in the rocks just like I thought it would be. After retrieving it, we finished our dive in the shallows. There was a surprising amount of marine wildlife in the area (grouper, tropical fish, hermit crabs, rays, etc.). The total length of the series of short dives (I'm counting them as 1 dive) was about 40 minutes.

    The next day we drove to Vortex Springs which is about 75 miles north of Panama City. This place is a mecca for scuba divers! After paying $25 each for the day's diving, having our cert cards checked and signing a release form, we found a parking spot and began assembling our gear on a picnic table about 50 ft. from the edge of the spring. When we got into the water, I was surprised at how cold (and how clear) the water was. Visability was about 50 ft. and the water temperature was 68 degrees. We descended about 30 ft. to the bottom, then swam over to the cavern. We descended another 25 ft., then swam under an overhang (that extended about 40 ft.) to a wall. Along the bottom of the wall, there is a cave entrance. There is also a sign that warns divers not to enter the cave. There is an image of the grim reaper on the sign. For me, the warning was not needed; I had no intention of entering the cave, anyway. However, diving in the cavern represented the first time I'd been in an overhead environment and I was okay with it. After a few minutes of exploring the cavern (NOT the cave), we made our ascent. After a surface interval of about 45 minutes, we made an additional dive. We visited the cavern again, and I also got some photos of the cavern and the beautiful fish (Koi) that had gathered in the shallows.

    After our second dive, storms clouds gathered and lightning started. Everyone was ordered out of the water and we decided to call it a day. Before we left, I filled both my tanks ($4 each). This was a great day of diving! To see the photos, select the "Panama City Beach & Vortex Springs" album in the "My Dive Photos" section.

    Vortex Springs is family oriented. In addition to the diving, a separate area has been set aside for swimming. There are clean restrooms and changing rooms available and there is also a campground and dive shop, in addition to lodging. To get there, take Exit 96 (at mile marker 96) from I-10 and follow Highway 81 north 4.8 miles. Their website is located at The phone number is 1-800-342-0640.

    Key West, FL (June 6 - 9, 2005) - We drove to Key West from northeast Georgia (a 2 day drive) and arrived on the evening of June 6. We checked into our room at the Days Inn. We were impressed with the large, comfortable, nicely decorated and air-conditioned room. We booked our stay at Days Inn through Dive Key West. The cost of the room (including taxes) was $87 per day for the two of us. There was a $30 deposit to get our room phone activated, which I paid. There is a very nice pool on the premises, along with a 24-hour Waffle House. The motel also has coffee available in the lobby all the time, and they have breakfast bars, granola bars and Pop-Tarts available each morning. We had no problems or surprises concerning the motel. We enjoyed our stay there very much and plan to return to the Days Inn on our next trip to Key West.

    The next morning, I drove about 6 blocks to Dive Key West. Only one other diver had signed up for the trip, and he hadn't dived in over 4 years. He was told that he couldn't dive until he'd taken a refresher course, and the morning trip was canceled. Megan (one of the Divemasters) tried to schedule me with one of the other dive operators on the island, but couldn't. In the end, they agreed to refund my payment for the morning's 2 dives and I returned to the motel room for some much needed rest.

    I made two dives that afternoon, and returned the next day for four additional dives. This was my first time diving in salt water, and I was truly awed by what I saw and experienced. Megan, boat captain Eric and Divemaster John really made the trips enjoyable. Bottled water, pretzels and fruit snacks were served on the boat. The dive boat (the Easy Diver) has a roof, in addition to a bathroom and shower. The cost of my dives was $241.00 (before the refund mentioned above). This included $177.00 for a 2-day "Dive Pass" which was good for 8 dives. I also paid $64.00 for 8 tank rentals, air fills and weights. To see additional information concerning my actual dives, see "Dives 19 - 24" in the "Dive Log" portion above.

    My life-partner Carol doesn't dive. She spent part of the first day at one of the local beaches, and then walked back to our room. She was bothered a great deal by the heat and humidity, which neither of us was accustomed to. The next day, she purchased an all day pass on the (air conditioned) Bone Island Shuttle for $8, and she regretted that she had not purchased a pass on the previous day as well. The shuttle goes all around the island, including the Duvall Street area where there are many shops, art galleries, restaurants and bars.

    On our last night on the island, we went souvenir shopping and we also stopped by the Two Friends Bar, where there is nightly Karaoke. I had an O'Douls and Carol had a Margarita. We each sang a couple of songs before heading back to our car. Finding a parking space (and driving) in the downtown area can be a challenge, and frankly I wasn't totally at ease with the parking spot we found on a poorly lit side street. However, the car was still there and undamaged when we returned.

    We recluctantly checked out of our room the next morning. After having breakfast at the Waffle House, we began the long drive home.

    Prices are high in Key West, especially at restaurants and motels, and we found the service in most of the restaurants to be poor. We had most of our meals at McDonald's (it faces the water, and is a great place to watch the sunsets) and Waffle House. In our opinion, the $1 ice cream cone at McDonald's is one of the best values around. Next time, we plan to go to the Albertson's store, buy some fruit and other healthy snacks and have them available in our motel room.

    Prices for regular unleaded gas ranged from $2.04 per gallon in the Upper Keys to $2.39 in the Lower Keys.