Stories Behind the Photos
As an avid collector of photographs, it’s easy to edit them, make them look pretty and post them with a caption that fits the dream you’re trying to portray. Consistently enough, that “dream” actually happened but it’s impossible to articulate the entirety of that experience into words in an Instagram or Facebook post. A special element of that moment is missed.
“Stories Behind The Photos” is where I chronicle these experiences. The good, the bad, the bizarre and the incredible – here are my personal travel stories.
An Island Paradise After the Great Blue Hole – Lighthouse Reef Atoll, Belize
I’ve always loved the ocean and have long dreamed of scuba diving the most beautiful reefs on the planet. I received my Open Water certification in 2012 and gained most of my experience in the waters of California, among the picturesque kelp forests.
One of the places on the top of my list? The Great Blue Hole in Belize. A quick Google Image search will draw hundreds of stunning photos of this sinkhole located 43 miles east of the Belize’s mainland. The Great Blue Hole is part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, almost 1,000 feet wide and over 400 feet deep. It’s been an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996.
We made our way to Belize, excited to check this off our bucket lists. The dive shop we were booked with called and asked if we were willing to do the dive a couple days earlier because a storm was expected on the day we planned to go. Not wanting to miss our chance, we accepted.
A small boat picked us up at 5:45am on the dock outside of our hotel in Ambergris Caye. It brought us to the larger boat that was going to take a group of about 40 people for the dive. The ride to the Great Blue Hole was 2 hours long, with choppy waters the entire time. A few people got seasick and had to sit at the back of the boat.
When we got there the sky was overcast, making the water appear a darker, duller blue than what we’d hoped for. This also meant we wouldn’t have the best visibility underwater. Upon entering the rough water, I could immediately tell it wasn’t going to be an easy dive.
The divemasters had a large group, so they kind of rushed us all down our descent. It’s always taken me a little longer to equalize the pressure in my ears as I dive down, so I couldn’t drop down as quickly as everyone else. Not wanting to damage my ears, I waited until my ears equalized before I descended any deeper (which is what you’re supposed to do).
I kept an eye on the group as they swam in between limestone stalagmites in a cave that formed alongside one of the walls of the hole. As I looked around, there were divers everywhere above me, the curved wall of the hole that circled around us, and there was nothing but dark blue ocean below. Oren (my dive buddy and real-life partner) stayed with me.
Eventually the group started heading out of the cave, but we couldn’t find our original divemaster. There were groups of divers from other companies there too – it was honestly a chaos of divers. I’d never experienced a dive like that before. It seemed a bit too unorganized.
A little while later, I felt a yank on my arm as our divemaster found us. He led us back to the boat, along with another girl who had lost the group because they descended too fast. He was annoyed with us for not keeping up, but we were actually pretty annoyed with him and his crew as well. The group was far too large for only two divemasters to be accountable for, which could lead to dangerous situations in the future.
The next stop was a small island within the reef for lunch. Still a little bummed that the dive experience didn’t end up being what I had expected, the sun came out and I looked ahead to see where we were going. I saw this island in the distance and it immediately lifted my spirits. We had a lively lunch on the beach on our own tropical island in the middle of the Caribbean. It truly felt like paradise.
We dove a second location in the Lighthouse Reef after lunch and that was a much better dive, more along the lines of what I expected. There were tons of fish, sharks, rays, and even turtles swimming around the reefs. The divemasters didn’t appear to be in as much of a hurry this time and we were all able to enjoy the dive.
Despite the chaos of diving the Great Blue Hole, which was probably attributed to there being way too many dive companies bringing in too many divers at the same time, the rest of the day ended up being very enjoyable. I’m glad to say I did it and would happily dive Belize again 🙂
Chasing the Sunrise – Brooklyn Bridge, New York
Oh, New York. I was born here and have tons of childhood memories within this giant metropolis. A trip to New York City last November was the first time I had been back since I was 10 years old and I was excited to get reacquainted.
The first couple days of the trip were rocky. After going through a series of dramas, I was fortunate to have my best partner in crime with me, Michelle. We were determined to finish some of the things we set out to do before coming to New York and make the most out of our trip.
For our last day, we thought it would be awesome to catch the sunrise on the Brooklyn Bridge. We needed to counterbalance the negative events that transpired a few days earlier, something to revitalize our spirits. Despite being pretty exhausted already from exploring several parts of the city, we set our alarms for 4:30am the next morning.
We groggily hit “snooze” around 3 times and asked each other if we really wanted to get up. I’m not a morning person at all, so it was especially hard for me. Michelle eventually said, “Let’s just do it,” and fortunately that was enough to convince me.
We hopped on the subway around 5:15am, hoping to make it to the bridge by 5:45am (when the sun supposed to rise). The first hints of daylight crept up on the city as we made our way towards the bridge. The sky lit up with soft shades of yellow and pink; we knew we made it just in time.
We took a few photos on the bridge and patiently waited for the sun to appear over the eastern horizon. There were a bunch of stratocumulus clouds hovering above us (the fluffy, layered kinds), perfect for catching light. Moments later, piercing sun rays beamed overhead and illuminated the world around us.
With Brooklyn on one side, Manhattan on the other, with the shimmering water of the East River between them and the soft whooshing of cars from early morning rush hour underneath us, standing on top of this iconic 19th century bridge culminated into a perfect morning.
I was gracious that we were able to transform what could have been a negative experience into a positive one. I was thankful for the things and people I cared about in my life at that moment, having a newfound appreciation for them. There’s really no time in life for bullsh*t, so you can’t afford to tolerate any.
As we left to catch a few last minute sights, I turned around and snapped the first photo above of one of the famous bridge’s towers. It was almost as if the universe was validating my thoughts, reminding me that life is what you make of it. You can either see the colors of the sunrise or you can dwell on the bitter cold. You can take a negative situation and rise above it, or you can sulk and remain upset about it, never moving forward.
I choose the sunrise, always.
Stairway to the Clouds – Huayna Picchu, Peru
It was 7am and the ruins of Machu Picchu were still. Quiet. We were part of the first group of a limited number of people allowed daily to climb Huayna Picchu mountain. This steep path would lead us to a peak with spectacular views of Machu Picchu and the surrounding Andes mountains.
Since it was so early, fog blanketed the ruins below and enveloped everything around us. The only thing I could see was the arduous stepped path before me, which was continuously getting steeper and steeper. We were unaware of how high we were and I started to worry that the dense fog would prevent us from experiencing the best views of the famous site.
We climbed onward, trusting this narrow path that seemingly led to only the clouds (photo of Oren above). After a while, sunlight started burning off the fog and the visual space around me widened. We reached the peak and looked down – Machu Picchu was still invisible under a layer of white mist.
Oren and I found a rock to rest on and admired what we could see. The clouds danced on the along the tops of the mountains around us; we were sitting 8,924 ft in elevation. Suddenly, the white haze underneath us opened up and the world below appeared.
I finally had some context of how high we’d climbed – Machu Picchu looked so small. Small compared to the photos you normally see of it, but no less majestic. Feeling like we were at the top of the world, looking down at one of the most magnificent sites ever created by man, was absolutely phenomenal.
Until next time, fellow travelers!