The opportunity of a lifetime

By: Kagan Cunningham, high school alumna High School Study Abroad, Wildlife Biology

This trip was the opportunity of a lifetime. We all met as strangers in the beginning, each with our own unique personalities and beliefs, but we leave as friends forever. Never forget the adventure that we went through together.

In the beginning, arriving in Belize was overwhelming because of the fast meetings when we first arrived and everyone was hectically trying to grab their bags to load the taxis. On our ride from the airport to the boat dock, everyone was talking nonstop trying to find their place in this wonderful group of people. By the time we reached the dock we transferred to our boat for Caye Caulker everyone had well established themselves.

The ride to Caye Caulker was beautiful beyond what words can describe. On the boat ride Elena had already found herself close enough to Basie within the first five hours of arrivals to ask him if she could braid his hair. Elena came across to most as an outgoing, fun person to be around and she made everyone laugh from the second we met her. It was the first time most of us had seen the Caribbean waters and we were more than excited about arriving at our first destination.

Once we arrived in Caye Caulker we got settled into our rooms that we would be living in for the next week. After getting settled in we all went out to dinner together in order to have more time to get to know the people we would soon be close friends with. Edie and Elena had already made a connection because they met in the Dallas airport before departing to Belize. They were laughing nonstop the whole first night, to the point that people thought they had been friends for years.

During our stay at Caye Caulker Edie, Kagan, Chandelle, Elena, Elora, and Lindsey got the chance to become scuba certified. It was amazing to get the chance to be diving on the world’s longest barrier reef. Alex was our scuba instructor and she saw us go from not knowing how to breathe through a regulator to diving down to 80+ feet in the end. Getting certified gave everyone a sense of accomplishment. Although Lindsey is a little buoyancy challenged she still made everyone smile underwater. This being because on one dive she sat in fire coral and found out that was not to much fun at all.

While at Caye Caulker we got the chance to go out and see how people live their everyday lives. We got the opportunity to go shopping for food and then cook it for the group. Edie shared with us her famous pasta salad from home, while Kagan made her favorite breakfast from home which is cinnamon toast. Everyone enjoyed getting to try out the new kinds of food, but when it came down to the clean up after each meal no one was excited about cleaning dishes the old fashioned way.

Spending time in town in Caye Caulker was also a neat experience. It showed us how the people there go about their everyday lives, and watching them play basketball and soccer was different to what we were used to at home. This island was beautiful and holds many memories we will never forget like Chandelle cooking pancakes and dropping the pan all over Alex and Pieter’s floor. Or diving and seeing sharks, which for most of us was the first time to overcome our fear of the known scary predators.

Once our week was over in Caye Caulker, it was time to move on to Blackbird Caye, where the Oceanic Society is located. This was a calm and relaxing place to be after being through an intense week of diving lessons. Once we arrived on our new island, we met our leaders Laura A.K.A. LaFonda (a nickname given by Edie and Elena) and Katheryn A.K.A. Geneva (also a nickname given by the famous Edie and Elena).

At the Oceanic Society we did everything from going out on dolphin surveys, when we did in fact see dolphins, to having a scavenger hunt created by Alex and Pieter. Kagan and Elora took the title of scavenger hunt winners. This is where we all seemed to really bond as a group. We started playing games before dinner like “birdie on the perch” which was hilarious. Kagan and Lindsey were partners, and when Lindsey ran to get on Kagan’s back to keep from getting out she accidentally leaped completely over Kagan and fell flat on her face. This was the first time we got the chance to see Lindsey laugh like that. This game created a lot of accidents because Chandelle and Elena were partners and when Elena ran to jump on Chandelle they both fell completely to the ground. It was hilarious.

Here we also went on a two tank dive down a coral wall which was amazing. This is where we reached our deepest depth of the trip and Edie reminded us how proud she was to go down to 83 feet. At Blackbird Caye we also began our major dolphin studies, which were stressful, but relaxing getting to learn more and more interesting facts each day about new marine mammals. LaFonda gave us a couple of lectures which we all found very exciting. She has been a researcher for many years and she taught us many new things.

Elora really seemed to enjoy reading books from cover to cover about all the new things we were learning about. Let me also add at the moment that Elora was our official picture taker of the trip.

We also played a game of volleyball which was entertaining beyond belief. It made everyone laugh harder than we had laughed the whole trip. Elena especially made everyone crack up when doing her victory dances after scoring a point. We also enjoyed snorkeling right off the beach from our cabanas at Blackbird Caye. We saw all kinds of neat fish, and Alex taught us their names with her handy little fish identification booklet. This is also what Alexis, Edie, and Elora fought over every snorkel. They all wanted to carry a booklet but there was only two. And trust me this caused a riot.

We also had the chance of a lifetime to go snorkel the Blue Hole. We woke up early one morning and LaFonda and Geneva took us out to the site where we would be snorkeling. IT WAS INCREDIBLE!!! Once we got our snorkel gear on everyone in the group except for Alexis and Kagan swam out into the middle of the hole where they saw around five reef sharks swimming below them. If you ask the reason for Kagan and Alexis staying by the reef it is because when we first jumped in the water Alexis spotted one of these sharks and screamed her head off. This is why Alex stayed by the reef and did not go out with the group. Kagan’s reason was because she secretly is still a little scared of sharks. And lets add this at the moment. Edie Granoff has humorous problems snorkeling; she has yet to complete a snorkel where she did not kick someone in the face. It is rather hilarious how out of control her kicking gets underwater.

Once we were through snorkeling the Blue Hole, we continued on to the island we would be camping on for the night. Half Moon Caye was gorgeous. It was the ideal island pictured in everyone mind. It was covered in palm trees, shimmering turquoise water, and white sandy beaches. This was a fun time to relax and take a day off from studying. Also while on this island we did some community service by picking up trash on the beach and clearing a walkway through a few trees to a new restroom.

After getting back to Oceanic Society and finishing our week there, we had pirate night where Basie, Kagan, Elena, Alexis, and Edie dressed up with their pirate bandanas. We also celebrated Chandelle’s sweet sixteen while at Blackbird Caye. And our wonderful cook Wanda made her a tasty cake which we all happily enjoyed. Oh and we can’t possibly forget our robot dance-off after dinner one night. Pieter whooped everyone, truth be told. But Elena made it to the final dance off against him, while Kagan, Lindsey, and Edie settled with the truth that their robot moves just weren’t good enough.

Also while on this island Basie taught Elena and Edie how to crack a coconut, this made them feel beyond special. If anyone left the Oceanic Society with anything, it was their admiration of their work when cracking coconuts. At the end of the second week, it was time to leave the LaFonda and Geneva at the Oceanic Society and travel on to Belize City for a night.

The night in Belize was an extremely neat experience because we got to see what the city life was like in a third world country. The streets were full of people all doing their own thing. When we got to the hotel and got settled in we met in the common room to play a game of charades. Let me remind you once again that Kagan, Elora, Edie, and Chandelle kicked butt in this game. Their acting skills happened to be a little fresher than the other teams. We also enjoyed watching How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days after supper. It was fun because all the girls went on and on about how attractive they think Matthew McConaughey is, while Elora and Basie argued that he wasn’t at all. After falling asleep during the movie it was time to bed because we were off to start our sailing trip the next day.

Edie was especially excited for the sailing because she has a sailboat and it made her feel like she was at home. It was relaxing to ride on the side of the sailboat while letting your feet drag in the water and listening to the waves splash at first. But this calming silence didn’t last for long. After about an hour of sailing, Edie had already come up with a game for everyone to play. It is called ghost and it is really complicated, but we were all dumb enough to play her game for entertainment. It was quite amusing to hear some of the answers that came about during this game. Elena was making up words so she could stay in the game which kept everyone confused.

Our first island we camped on was about 8 palms and took about twenty seconds to walk completely around. That night we also had barracuda for supper. It was kind of different since we had seen our Captain catch the fish earlier on in the day, but it was very tasty. Basie said it tasted just like chicken.

The next day we were off to our next island, Tobacco Caye. When we pulled up and saw that people lived there we were more than excited since then night before we had spent it on a deserted island in the middle of nowhere. This was also Kagan’s seventeenth birthday and on our way to Tobacco Caye a dolphin was riding the bow which made everyone’s day.

Once arriving on the island it was time for us to all show our amazing tent setting up skills and once we established a campsite it was time for a snorkel. It was amazing because we saw over fifty tarpons which Elena thought were sharks at a distance and started freaking out. We spent two nights on Tobacco Caye and it was a fun time because everyone hung out together on the dock and got to know each other more than we did before.

When our sailing trip was over it was time to head to Hugh Parkey’s for another two tank dive on the beautiful Belizean barrier reef. Everyone was trying to take in as much of the ocean as they could because these would be our last two dives. Our Divemaster Alexander also taught us how to make big bubbles underwater, and it was really funny watching everyone try. Especially Lindsey because she was far from making bubbles of any kind. While we all took in our last dive Basie stayed at the surface and snorkeled where he said he made fun of us scuba diving. He also said watching us try to blow bubbles was hilarious.

When the two dives were over it was time to head back in to Hugh Parkey to eat dinner and take our final exam for Pieter. The time to go home was getting near, but we still had one last activity to do which was our dolphin encounter. It was incredible getting to touch and play with the dolphins at Hugh Parkey. This was also the first time for many of us to touch a dolphin or to even be in the water close to them. It was better than we ever expected it to be.

After doing our encounter and helping the trainers pick up trash around the habitat, we began our way back to the hotel to get our bags to head out for Belize City. We were all extremely excited to go home, but devastated about spending our last night with the friends we have made for a lifetime. Once we got to the hotel in Belize City we went out and had our last dinner together. We were also treated to dessert because Pieter and Alex admitted we were the best group ever!

Once we walked back to the hotel we wrote all of our goodbye letters to each other. This made us realize we were leaving in less than twenty-four hours. It was a long night in the girl’s room because we all stayed up on last night together to have a last night of fun. While Basie was downstairs in his own room sound asleep. Lindsey also drew a picture of Kagan, Edie, and Elena which was next to a famous artist’s drawings. The night went by fast and it was time to leave to the airport.