“You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat”
Martin Brody to Captain Quint in JAWS
Thursday was snorkel day for our group and I am not ashamed to admit I opened my eyes that morning with a knot of dread in my gut. We made our way to breakfast and enjoyed more great coffee, some fruit and a little bit of protein. We had no idea how many people would be joining us for our day trip out to the barrier reef for a few hours of snorkeling and lunch. We also had no idea how big a boat we would use to accomplish this. I swallowed a couple of Dramamine and we headed over to the Dive Shop to pick up fins and a mask. We were greeted by Zane and Nick, the pros that would be in charge of this aquatic adventure. I made quick work of trying my gear on knowing it would be the last time any of it touched my skin, other than when I carried the stuff on and off the boat (did I mention I’m not a water guy?).
This discomfort with all things H2O concerned is a mystery to me. I was born on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, lived near water (lakes, rivers, coastal areas) all my life. I also have vivid memories of childhood road trips, headed to all points North, West, East and South. My brothers and I piled into the car’s back seat for hours until dad decided it was okay to stop. Our only ask was that any overnight stop, be it a Ritz Carlton, Holiday Inn Holidome or rickety highway side motel, had to have a pool. Later in life my father spent at least part of every single day in the ocean during the more than three decades he and my mom lived on Maui. Maybe I’m right to blame it on Peter Benchley and Steven Spielberg and that initial viewing of JAWS.
We boarded the boat; a vessel stretching all of 25 feet in length, powered by twin Yamaha 150 engines. Our hosts, Zane and Nick welcomed us and then informed the group that it would be a 45 minute trip to the island around which the snorkel tour would commence. We were joined by our friends from Toronto (who had also made the trip from Blancaneaux to the beach), a trio of southerners from South Carolina, and a pair of European gentleman. Of course somebody made the obligatory “Gilligan’s Island 3 hour tour reference”. It wasn’t me and I did not laugh.
It was yet another bumpy Belizean ride. But these jolts were different from the rough mountain excursions we experienced. Those were consistent to virtually every traveler, the ones that came before us and the ones that followed. We all hit the same holes, rode over the same humps. By contrast, these varying hues of blue bounces were uniquely ours. Caused not by dirt, rocks, and rubber but instead by nothing more than trillions of gallons of salt water and the Belizean breeze.
So off we went, with Zane at the helm, first through the mangrove lagoon and then out to the open water. We passed several islands and atolls along the way, me hopeful each was our ultimate destination. Without fail, none were. What was normally my very reliable internal clock seemed to be on the fritz so I couldn’t, with any sense of satisfaction, know how long 45 minutes was. In fact, as we passed yet another body of land that I figured must be perfectly suitable for underwater wildlife viewing, I started to think we were just going straight out into the Caribbean Sea until we ran out of fuel. I surmised that Nick and Zane, like Virgil a few days before, were direct descendants of the ancient Mayans and maybe human sacrifice was still in play for them. A third member of their crew, introduced only as “chef” (later I found out his name was Santiago) was there not to cook for us but instead to cook us for them. I must have appeared mortified because Sarah patted my hand and asked how I was doing, snapping me out of my hydrophobic reverie. I smiled and said, “fine.”
Moments (or was it hours or days) later Zane pointed the boat on a direct course for what appeared to be a speck with palm trees. It got only marginally bigger as we slowed, dropped anchor, and then he backed the boat onto a mound of sand no more than 200 feet long and 80 feet wide. We had arrived.
Nick took half the group in one direction around the “island” while Zane shepherded the other (including the people I love) in the opposite direction. I remained a landlubber and wrote this. They emerged from the water about 45 minutes later with tales of spiny lobster, blue tang, eel, jelly fish, barracuda and squid sightings. I happily reported that I saw several species of the pervasive North American Snorkeler.
It turned out that “Chef Santiago” was actually there to prepare lunch for us and he did a masterful job. Bar-b-que chicken, rice, beans and salad filled our bellies as we soaked up the sun. This tiny piece of land in the middle of a body of water that bordered the Caribbean served as the host site for several other groups of tourists. All enjoying the adventure. As we finished up our lunch Zane advised our group that we would next get back on the boat (named Something’s Fishy) and head deeper into the barrier reef toward the sea for 30 to 45 minutes more of snorkeling, this time with the hope of seeing turtles, remoras and nurse sharks. We were definitely going to need a bigger boat!
Most of the group did just that and did see remoras, turtles, grouper and conch. There were no sharks in sight, nurse or other version of elongated Elasmobranchii. Nick informed those of us remaining in Something’s Fishy that the annual visit by hundreds of whale sharks wouldn’t happen until March. So if you want to swim with the Rhincodon typus (ranging in size from 30 to 60 feet by the way) head to Belize any time between the first of March and the end of May.
The trip back seemed quicker and less intense. Mostly because trips back almost always do, but partly because I had left the lion’s share of my fear, anxiety and dread of the unknown back at Silt Caye with the chicken bones from our lunch. I am fairly certain that if I ever have the extreme misfortune of being shipwrecked or on an airliner that goes down at sea I will immediately volunteer as the first to be killed and eaten. I have zero interest in finding out what other fate might await me.
Back at The Turtle Inn we decided to hop on the bikes and head into Placencia to try out the acclaimed gelato about which we had heard so much. So in we rode. Sadly this day happened to be the only day of the week the gelato shop was closed (we did go back the next day and it was delicious!) so we explored a little, found a coffee shop that served excellent Guatemalan espresso, and picked up some bars of Belizean chocolate at one of the many Chinese owned and run supermarkets.
We (mostly me) were thrilled to find that the gelato stand at the Turtle Inn was open for business when we returned so that craving was pacified for at least a day. The Starfish Cottage welcomed us back and we enjoyed what remained of the afternoon and then the evening dining at Auntie Luba’s, the restaurant at the resort that specializes in Belizean Creole cuisine. It was another wonderful day in an amazing place and the best news of all was that we still had another full day ahead of us.