We were up really early – the sun was barely over the horizon when we were loaded into shallow boats to tour the lagoon. Leonard drove our boat which would periodically bog down in the shallow muck. He was extremely knowledgeable about the wildlife in the lagoon, but especially about the birds. The people in our group are also very knowledgeable and plied him with really good questions. I should have boned up on the birdlife of Belize before coming here. I’m afraid a lot of it went over my head.
Most of the Canadians in the group had an early flight so we wolfed down our breakfasts and headed for the airport where we ended up sitting as our flights were delayed by at least an hour. Luckily our connecting flight in Houston was also delayed so we managed to make it home without incident.
Our last day on the island and my last yoga session on the beach. I really do have to work on my balance. The tree pose is killing me.
After breakfast we cleaned up the tents and started packing up. We still had the morning so I joined Julia and Rick, Sandy and Brett, Anne and Connie and Luke for a kayak expedition. We headed first for the rusty hulk of a forty-year old wreck stuck on the reef less than a kilometre from the island. It had been carrying fertilizer and I don’t think it was ever salvaged. So I wonder what happened to the cargo? We paddled from the wreck around the tip of the island towards the old tumble-down lighthouse and then back again. We cleaned up the kayaks and made them ready for the next batch of vacationers then headed up to the tents to finish packing.
Our last lunch was followed with heartfelt goodbyes to the staff. What a wonderful group of people!
The boat was packed and we headed back to Belize City where we were loaded into vans which took us north to the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary on a shallow lagoon less than an hour from the city. It is a beautiful place filled with birds and flowers. Some of the birds sighted: hummingbirds, jabiru storks, snail kites, limpkins, heron, ibis, egrets, roseate spoonbills.
The lodge was lovely with bathrooms for each room and comfortable beds but the food didn’t hold a candle to the meals we had on Half-Moon Caye.
I skipped yoga this morning to go fishing with Marilyn and Brett guided by Dayton and James. We powerboated out along the eastern side of the breakwater reef towards the Blue Hole. As soon as I laid my line I got a strike and hauled in a barracuda. After that I had to give over to Marilyn and Brett who trawled for a long time before finally catching anything. But they certainly caught some nice barracuda. Marilyn pulled in one and Brett two – each bigger than the last. There were a lot of oohs and aahs when we got back with the catch.
Breakfast was French toast made with thick home-made bread. Wonderful!
After breakfast Andrea took Marcia and I for a paddleboard lesson. I am definitely balance-challenged. Before long I defected and headed for shore but Marcia mastered the art and paddled around with Andrea for quite a while. At least I tried.
I relaxed until lunch which was stupendous yet again.
In the afternoon a group of us went snorkeling from the old lighthouse to just before the line of tents. It was my first time snorkeling on that side of the island and I actually saw a swimming turtle! The snorkeling pace was a bit slower than other days and I quite enjoyed meandering after the beautiful fish. I even saw a lobster. Tzak was with us and he saw a reef shark (which I missed) and killed another lionfish (which I didn’t miss).
Before supper I joined a group for a night snorkel. We all carried underwater flashlights. We were partnered up but my partner tended to do her own thing so I lost track of her early on. It is a bit scarey when you can’t see the others’ flashlights. I did see a moray eel as well as the same three-footed turtle the others saw last night. At the end of the snorkel we all stood in a sandy spot, turned out our flashlights and shuffled our feet. The bio-luminescence from small creatures in the sand made it seem that the starry sky was repeated at our feet.
Back for a supper of the barracuda we had caught that morning. So now we are feeding the gang!
After supper Amelia gave a talk on her culture (Sarawak and African and ??). She talked about the creole language and its history. The night ended with drumming and dancing all around.
I started the day with yoga on the beach with Andrea. It really is a good way to loosen things up for the day.
After yet another great breakfast we got ready for the snorkeling trip to the Blue Hole of Cousteau fame. It is about eight miles north of the island. It seems that Cousteau, back in the fifties, couldn’t get his dive boat into the hole so he dynamited a section of the coral. Nowadays that’s a definite no-no but back then nobody saw the irony. Or at least they didn’t point it out. The hole is extremely deep and very popular for divers. Ninety-five feet below the surface is a cave-like ring full of stalagmites and stalactites. The surface ring has a diameter of thirty to forty feet and it is around the rim that we spent the day snorkeling. It is an incredible place to dive and has been designated a World Heritage site. So I guess that will protect it from any further dynamiting. I found this great picture of the hole on the web.
It took about an hour to circle the hole. We saw many of the fish that we had seen closer to the island but in greater numbers. There were a number of groups of small squid and feathery cone-shaped Christmas tree worms. There were a few fishing boats outside the rim (not allowed inside) indicating it is a popular spot to fish though some appeared to be within the “not allowed” range. By the end of the circuit I was feeling cold and was glad to climb back into the boat.
Back on the island we had a fish salad and chicken salad for lunch to satisfy the cravings.
Later that afternoon we went for a kayak and snorkel with Tzak. This time I took a single kayak and headed out towards the western end of the island. I saw a barracuda, lovely school of little squid, many varieties of coral and lionfish (that Tzak hunts down and kills because they are non-native predators). We got back from our snorkel around the same time as the afternoon Blue Holers.
After a quick wash-down in the outside beach shower we settled into happy hour with gin and tonics.
Supper tonight was curried chicken with rice and zucchini. Dessert was a delicious home-made cheesecake.
Spent the evening chatting with the Oregon ladies and skipped the night snorkel. I was sorry I did when I heard they saw a turtle (with a missing foot).
After a wonderfully sound sleep I got up in time to photograph the sun rising up over the tumbled-down lighthouse. I love the early-morning light and the long shadows it throws.
Yoga on the beach with Andrea followed by another great breakfast. This time we had poached eggs with biscuits and gravy – delicious. And I am really into the fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice.
Today we went fishing with James and Jasmine. We used just line with a three-inch metal rod knotted on it as sinker. Standing up in the boat and tossing the line after a careful swing worked best. I just kept pulling in the fish – a number of grunts, a porgie, a snapper and I don’t know what else. Glenn, Susan and Rick pulled in some beautiful trigger fish but we threw them back. We kept the rest for supper. Rick caught a shark sucker that was following an eagle manta ray. It’s a very strange looking fish with suckers on its back. When Glenn dropped it on the floor of the boat it landed sucker side down and he had a heck of a time pulling it off. I really enjoyed the fishing.
After yet another great lunch we went snorkeling off the West Beach with Tzak. We saw a stingray and a lot of coral and fish. It is so beautiful underwater.
Happy hour with beer and pina colodas followed by a trek down to the beach to watch the cleaning of the day’s catch. The afternoon fishing group caught two barracuda and a big grouper. Seven nurse sharks arrived for the spoils. They crowded in so close they were nearly ashore. You could hear the sucking as they vacuumed up the droppings. One even sucked Marilyn’s flipflop off her foot. Their skin was a combination of rough and smooth to the touch – strange but kind of exciting to reach out and touch the back of a shark.
Supper was our fish cooked in a coconut sauce that was out of this world.
After supper Luke gave a talk on coral (with lots of help from Adam).
Another wonderful day.
After a very windy night with the window flaps crashing against the side of the tent all night we learned to roll them up before lights out.
I love yoga on the beach. And every morning we arrive at our spot to find it has been raked into a meditative circle. Who does this? We are here by 6:30 and yet it has already been raked.
Breakfast was another glorious meal – homemade tacos with eggs, sausage beans and fruit. Usually we get papaya and watermelon with fresh squeezed orange or grapefruit juice.
We piled into kayaks, this time with a sail to go across to Long Caye – an island visible in the distance off to the west. Double kayaks with the sail were each paired with a single kayak (called the barnacle). The front person (in our case Nayla) and the single kayaker (Sandy) hang onto the two kayaks while the stern of the double (me) manages the sail and the rudder. It took a bit of finagling to get the hang of it, but once we did we took off and sailed across the water like pros. It took about an hour to make the crossing and quite a bit of stamina, but we managed to beat the pack and were lounging on the beach before the others even landed.
Once everyone was on shore, we piled onto a motorboat and headed for the”wall” – a coral reef ledge that was packed with fish and coral of all kinds and dropped off steeply on one side. We snorkeled the wall for at least an hour then headed back to shore for lunch.
Tzak caught some conch and marinated it with lime, cumin and some hot sauce. It was really delicious and a great appetizer to start off lunch.
Half the group decided to return by kayak and the other half (of which I was one) lazed around in hammocks or checked out the surroundings while the boat took the other half of the kayaks back to Blue Moon Caye. There was a lodge on the island (much bigger than our island) down the beach from where we had landed. I only checked out the washrooms and was quite content to wait out the boat’s return in a hammock.
Back on our lovely paradise island we enjoyed gin and tonics and a late game of coconut bocce by flashlight followed by yet another wonderful meal.
The activity board quickly filled up with names for the next day and then we all headed off to our tents.
We started early with yoga on the beach near the docks. Waves lapping, wind in the palms and birds calling overhead. Could it get any better? Andrea is a great yoga teacher – gently encouraging. And as we lay in the final corpse pose she comes round to give our necks a gentle straighten and our feet a tender massage. The tree pose will always be my nemesis I think.
After a wonderful breakfast of local fruits and eggs we organized ourselves into two groups for a day of snorkelling. Before we were sent off one group to the west side and the other to the north-east, we were given a run-down on snorkelling techniques and safety. They really are very thorough.
The snorkelling was incredible. It was overwhelming seeing all the varieties of fish and coral. I tried hard to recognize and remember the fish from my guidebook but it was fish overload! We did see a moray eel hiding in the coral and that one I remember very clearly. There were so many beautiful parrot fish – I think they are my favourite – but until I looked at my book afterwards I wasn’t sure what all I was seeing. I found I had a bit of trouble keeping up with our guides and the information they were feeding us. But the sights were incredible.
After more than an hour of snorkelling we went back to basecamp to relax and gorge ourselves on a wonderful lunch.
Glenn and Marilyn had checked out the bird sanctuary in the morning while I was doing yoga so I asked them to show me after lunch. We trekked down the path to the west end of the island avoiding iguanas basking in the sun. The trail led to a rickety looking platform atop a steep set of stairs. Once up there you can look out at the treetops and a sea of frigates and red-footed boobies at every age from fluffy white baby boobies to full-grown adults. It was an incredible sight. There must have been hundreds of noisy birds in those trees. It was quite the party with male frigates puffing up their red breasts to impress the females and intimidate the other males. The boobies didn’t seemed bothered by the frigates at all.
In the afternoon it was another round of snorkelling but the two groups switched around. We had started in the west so this time headed for the north-east section to snorkel. Again the number of fish and coral varieties was amazing. I am starting to recognize angel fish as well as the parrot fish.
After a rinse down in the outdoor shower by our tents, we gathered for happy hour gin and tonics and a game of coconut bocce. Marilyn turned out to have a knack for tossing a coconut. The gin and tonic in one hand and the coconut in the other hand seemed to work as a powerful combination.
After another wonderful meal, we were given a talk by the Audobon Society rep who works on the island and is custodian of the World Heritage Site bird sanctuary – home of the Red-Footed Booby. He also talked about the nearby Blue Hole of Jacques Cousteau fame which has also been designated a World Heritage site. We will be visiting that to snorkel in a couple of days.
The kerosene lamp beckoned in tent number 10 as I made my weary way to bed.
After an early breakfast at the hotel, we loaded up three vans with all our gear and headed just down the road to the big Brodie supermarket where we stocked up on beer and snacks that wouldn’t be available on Half-Moon Caye.
Next stop was the jetty where our gear was loaded onto a 30 foot motorboat. In short order the 21 adventurers and Luke were off on a two hour journey covering the 60 miles out to the Lighthouse Reef. We passed a few island paradises with luxurious-looking buildings scattered among a couple of strings of islands along the way. But most islands were uninhabited or just contained a fisherman’s shack. The weather was glorious – not too hot, nor was the crossing cold. We passed an empty container ship called the Phoenix which, we were informed, was heading in to Belize to load up on sugar cane. The water was the beautiful Caribbean blue/green – so clear you could see forever.
On deck to greet us was Amelia – with a wonderful infectious laugh. She led us towards the communal eating/meeting/and general gathering spot where she gave us a rundown on what to expect. Water stations for cleaning up dotted the compound. They have been running this program successfully for twenty-five years so they have come up with quite an effective system. We were then assigned our tents (Susan and I got number 10) so we grabbed our gear and headed off to our new homes. There were two wooden lounge chairs at the door of the tent, two hammocks swinging in the palm trees beside the front deck and two quite comfortable cots inside.
Lunch was incredible and turned out to be the first of many amazing meals.
After lunch Dayton introduced us to the staff and gave us a quick rundown on the day’s agenda. There seems to be a lot of camaraderie amongst the staff which seeps into us all. Right off the bat, people are joking and teasing each other, as well as helping each other to get their lifejackets tightened and kayaks set up.
That afternoon was set aside for kayak orientation. We all had to practice a wet exit (dumping the kayak and getting out of the cockpit without drowning), followed by a scramble back into the boat. It wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. Once we had proven we could all do it, we headed out for a tour around the island.
Most of the kayaks are doubles – so you have to keep in synch with your partner – not that easy. Our kayak gave Dianna a bit of grief until she realized the rudder was actually broken so we switched kayaks as well as positions. I had to quickly learn to rudder while we did the island tour.
At the far west end we passed the bird sanctuary where the red-footed boobies (sula sula) were hanging out with their buddies the frigates. The boobies like to nest in trees with a beautiful orange flower – laying only one egg at a time in nests of sticks. The baby booby looks like a fluffy white Big Bird.
We pulled into the west beach where some of us cooled off with a swim.
Back at the camp Bulligan described the wonderful supper, pointing out the gluten-free breads, and we all dug in.
Susan lit our kerosene lamp and we settled in for an early night, lulled to sleep by the waves breaking on that beautiful atoll.
Got up at 4:00 am to a chilly winter morning. The backyard gate was frozen shut and I panicked thinking I wouldn’t be able to get out of my yard. But with an amazing shot of adrenalin-laden muscle power I yanked that gate open, got the car out of the garage, and was able to pick up Glenn and Marilyn in decent time for the trip to the airport.
The most arduous part of the trip to Belize was getting through American customs. The rest was a breeze. The plane to Houston was tiny – with one seat along the left side and two seats on the right – but despite the size the flight was smooth and right on time. We had a leisurely hour and a half at the airport in Houston where we picked up some Thai-style lunch and then loaded onto a much larger plane to Belize. I was lucky enough to end up with three seats to myself so I could stretch out my normally cramped legs.
Belize’s international airport is small by Canadian standards but had a good duty free where we picked up some gin and wine for refreshments on the atoll. Because we had something to declare now, Glenn, Marilyn and I ended up in the short customs line and were through in no time. We met the Island Expeditions driver outside the baggage pickup and took a short ride to the hotel. I felt at home in the tropical setting passing cement block buildings and storefronts similar to those you would find in Ghana. Here, though, the dirt roads tend to be white while in Ghana they were red – the difference in soil I guess.
The Biltmore hotel was quite nice with a swimming pool and poolside bar stocked with beer. We settled right in for the afternoon “happy hour”, observing the others lounging around the pool and speculating whether they were with our group. My roommate Susan from Oregon joined us and one by one we started meeting some of the others from the Island Expeditions tour.
At supper we met Andy who gave us a run-down on what we would be doing the next day and who would not be going with us, and Luke who was new to Island Expeditions but had lots of Outward Bound experience and would be going with us. Supper was noisy due to the cement walls and the excited chatter. We are a group of 21 – all very interesting people, overwhelmingly female. There are only 5 men – and four of them were with their spouses.
The dogs suspect something is up. I’m surrounded by papers, clothes and stuff. They pretend they are asleep but they each have an eye on me. They’ll be going to Cobi’s soon and that will make them happy. Now I’d best check on the laundry.