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EXPLORING & DIVING IN

CENTRAL AMERICA Article by Claire Hardman STAPLES RODWAY AUCKLAND claire.hardman@staplesrodway.com

At the end of last year, Claire Hardman, a member of our admin team in Auckland, spent 2 months traveling and scuba diving around Mexico and Central America. These are not standard holiday destinations for most Kiwis, and Claire’s trip provides an interesting insight into what is on offer in that part of the world.

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LANDED IN CANCUN, MEXICO, AFTER a 30 hour flight, followed by another 3 hours of waiting time for my best friend Kylie to arrive after me. After her having lived abroad for the last 2 years, I knew it would be a good reunion. Oh the fun we were going to have! When she finally arrived, we decided that first things first, since we were in Mexico – time for a Corona! We ventured to our first destination – Cozumel Island off the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, a scuba diver's paradise. After a couple of days of soaking up the sunshine and enjoying cocktails, it was finally time to sample the diving, which was some of the best I have ever experienced. All diving in Cozumel is known as drift diving, where you jump off the boat and are gently carried by the current with no effort required. This is a real treat, as it just allows you to lie back and enjoy the scenery: beautiful coral formations teeming with fish life, great swim- throughs and even turtles, much to my delight! After enjoying our time sunning, relaxing, and eating our body weight in Mexican food we continued on to our next destination – Belize. We boarded what is affectionately known by the locals as a “chicken bus”. This one, however, had everything on board jammed into a small space like battery hens, but unfortunately no actual chickens, much to my disappointment. After a very long and very interesting 12-hour journey we finally arrived at what can only be described as paradise, Caye Caulker island: pristine white sand, aqua-blue waters and palm trees aplenty. We were soon living the local lifestyle of “no shirt, no shoes, no problems!” The Island was so small that we hired bikes to explore and knew it completely within 15 minutes. Again we decided to indulge in some ocean adventures with a day spent on a private yacht. We covered all the best places, including a wellknown area called “shark and ray alley” where we spent time swimming with more sharks and rays than we could count, as well as more turtles and amazing corals. Another beauty of a day on the water. We continued our journey from Belize into Guatemala where we spent some time enjoying the cultural and historical sights of this friendly and fascinating part of the world. We went to the ruins of Tikal located in the jungles of Guatemala. Dating as far back as 1,000 BC, Tikal is one of the oldest and the most important sites in Mayan history. It was fascinating to learn about, especially since the Mayan history is relatively unknown to many in New Zealand. Spending a day in the jungle with monkeys, tarantulas and macaws all around was a noisy and enjoyable experience.

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Honduras and Nicaragua were breathtakingly beautiful, both raw and untouched, and with the friendliest of the locals. In Nicaragua we hiked an active volcano, Telica in Leon where at the top we watched the sun setting over the mountains; then as it got dark, we were able to peer over the side of the crater’s edge to look down at the glowing magma, a magnificent sight to behold. We spent some time on the coast as well, dabbling in learning to surf with some locals during the day and releasing turtles into the ocean by dusk. Continuing on to Costa Rica we were met by a wonderfully rich and protected natural tourism dream. Costa Rica is much wealthier in comparison with other Central American countries that have all suffered civil wars and slower economic progress. The Costa Ricans are proud of their comparative high standard of living which is evident everywhere although, from the tourist’s point of view, it is the most expensive of all the Central American countries. The natural beauty, however, is overwhelming and they have taken important steps to protect their natural assets. Spending two weeks exploring this wonderful country was the best possible way to end our holiday. We spent time within the National Parks’ forests sighting sloths lazing about in the trees; at the cloud forests walking above the forest canopy on suspension bridges within the clouds; and at the coast surrounded by wildlife including howler monkeys making themselves heard each day. It was certainly a memorable trip and one that I would recommend to anyone if they wanted to visit somewhere out of the ordinary.

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