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|| News Item: Posted 2009-06-25

Cool Gig: Traveling To Belize
By Erich Schlegel

Photo by

Erich Schlegel
I was "recruited" by an old friend to paddle in a four-day canoe race in Belize, the Ruta Maya Challenge.

Before I left for the race this past March, National Geographic Adventure somehow got word of my upcoming trip and sent me a list of things to shoot on spec for an upcoming article on Belize.

Well, the race came and went. We paddled hard and placed fourth in our division, but the race left no time for shooting. However, being a pretty creative and ambitious guy, I felt I had a great opportunity to return and get most of the images the magazine needed.

Belize, formerly British Honduras in Central America, is known for it's wonderful climate and great waters for boating, scuba diving and snorkeling so tourism is one of the country's major industries.

During the race I had met James Scott, fellow paddler and manager of the Radisson Hotel in Belize City. James is also a pretty driven guy. Hell, his team beat our ass in the race. He understood my situation and provided introductions to folks on the Belize Tourism Board.

My goal was to fly down using my airline miles and have the Belize Tourism Board pay for the rest: Accommodations, rental car, dives, tours, etc. In exchange, they would receive a CD of my best images for use in promoting their country. A fair trade to both parties.

Now I am not used to approaching stories like this. The Dallas Morning News or any news publication for that matter would not go for local support like this.

However, I am my own boss now, the economy is what it is, and I've got to make a buck. There is no way that I could have paid for this trip and made a profit. No way that National Geographic Adventure would pay day rates and expenses for a small story. It just isn't happening at magazines like this these days. It is an opportunity for me to get my name out, make some great images, and hopefully get more work like this in the future that really pays …seems like a good idea.

The Belize Tourism Board and I worked out the itinerary. Aerials from a small plane of the Blue Hole and nearby caves, two whale shark dives, guided trip into Mayan caye, 300-foot rappel at a jungle adventure lodge, time in between for Mayan ruins and hooking up with a fishing guide.

Photo by Erich Schlegel

Photo by Erich Schlegel

A group of divers and snorklers from Seahorse divers (Placencia) leave Ranguana Caye, Belize Tuesday April 14, 2009.
Twenty-knot winds greeted my arrival to Belize City, too windy to fly a small plane for pictures. Put that off. Rented car and headed south to Placencia, whale shark central. Seahorse Dive Shop provided the diving. I brought along my Aquatech Sport Housing, figuring I would stick near the surface, because I was told the whale sharks normally come to the surface.

Day One … no shark.

Day two … no shark.

Some background on the sharks: They come to a particular spot every full moon to feed on sperm of a particular spawning snapper. Of course, nature is not always predictable. Nothing was happening. Matter of fact, no whale shark had been spotted yet this year.

Day three … divers down at 80-feet spotted whale sharks. I didn't see squat because I was up at 15-feet with housing problems. I call the Belize Tourism Board and change my itinerary pushing everything back a few days.

End of day three, dive boats come in. Everyone has HUGE smiles on their face. Of course, the day I don't go diving, a baby whale shark came swimming up through the divers, even bumping into them. Of course, they showed me their digital pictures and video to rub it in.

Day Four … I see some friends from the canoe race going diving that day. I had chosen to go on a snorkeling trip at a nearby caye for a change of pace and to get SOME pictures of SOMETHING.

A call to the Belize Tourism Board one more time to change my itinerary once again. They are thinking I'm a kid in a candy store AND a bull in a china shop. Stay up all night figuring out my housing problem.

A new 16-35mm lens was 1mm larger than the original and the manual shutter release did not line up. I took everything apart, melted the little plastic thingy at the end of the release so that it did line up. Presto, no sleep, ready to go.

Photo by Erich Schlegel

Photo by Erich Schlegel

Whale shark in Gladden Spit Marine Reserve off Placencia, Belize Tuesday April 14, 2009.Whale shark and divers in Gladden Spit Marine Reserve off the coast of Placencia, Belize Tuesday April 14, 2009.
Seahorse had a full dive boat. Seems that every diver in the area heard of the whale shark sighting and wanted to go the next day. I ran over to another dive shop. They had room, paid with my own dinero, whew! Five minutes into the dive number one, BINGO! Whale shark appeared and swam right over the divers. Dive number two, the shark surfaced by the snorkelers, but there was so much snapper sperm in the water, it was hard to see it. Sounds gross, and it was. Warm and sticky too, but I had my money show!

Since the trip, National Geographic Adventure used the whale shark picture small in the contents page. Pretty disappointing for what I shot, but I have broken even on the trip expenses and have a renewed interest in shooting more underwater images. I've renewed my scuba certificate and will be shooting local stories that require underwater work. I have an assignment from Texas Highways magazine (they pay day rates and expenses!) on Texas springs.

My fist camera was an old Nikonos II that my father gave me. It just seems fitting that I am going back to the direction in which I started this business: My love for photography and water.

(Erich Schlegel is a freelance photographer based in Austin, Texas. You can view his work at his member page:

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