Published: April 9th 2012February 26th 2012
A heavily tanned and leathery humans back is what you look for. Looking at him you’d think he couldn’t be that old? But at 73 years of age Juni provides one of the most unique snorkelling trips you’ll ever do. You come here to Belize’s Caye Caulker to dive the Blue Hole, leaving, knowing full well that you won’t be whispering about how good the Blue Hole was. Instead telling everyone who’s heading this way to go and see the “fish whisperer” (A name Juni hates)
Part of the English colonies, Belize still has Queen Elizabeth on every note. With that connection it makes Belize the only relief for non-Spanish speakers in Central America. Even with the ease of the English language we only visited two places. The first was Belize City.
The former capital city is one of those cities you’d prefer not to visit but I wanted Eleni and David to have the experience of walking around for half a day at a real dump of a place than go out at night to see how the other world do nightlife. We went to our guesthouse and the owner said there is a
curfew at 1030pm.
You know a place is not real safe when the hotel staff tell you don’t be out later than normal bedtime. The guesthouse had rested on its laurels for 35 years until the start of 2012 where the owner painted the front doors. A proud moment for her since she had done nothing much to the place before then. I had to compliment it after she asked a question, which left me no choice other than to say “Yeah it looks great!”
It’s a bit unfair to slam this city completely because it hasn’t recovered from constant hurricanes that continually do damage. I remember USA complaining about New Orleans taking a long time to recover. Well Belize City is still recovering from the 1961 Hurricane Hattie, which killed 262 people.
It is as if the country gave up on the city or they’re waiting for another hurricane to come along and demolish it completely so they can start all over again. The Hattie Hurricane was so severe that it forced a relocation of the countries capital city with Belmopan 67 kms inland. Not a tourist stop
since it’s expensive to stay and there is not much to see. The move here was to move to higher ground and encourage development inland instead of just the coast. The result is the smallest capital city in the world.
There is not much to do in the old capital but walk on the street instead of the footpath. The roads are narrow with cars constant on a few main streets but still a relaxed vibe. The streets are also better to walk on than the footpath because you have a bunch of people yelling out “Taxi!” or “Hey man! Wat chu lookin’ 4?” all the time.
It was the weekend and that might be the explanation as to why I managed to speak to so many local men drunk as a skunk. They’d eventually ask you for a bit of small change after about 2 minutes. A food festival in the early evening made them chatty even more.
The place is full of dilapidated wooden buildings that look like a hurricane hit. That is interesting for a while but to break it up there is the Swing Bridge, which is
one of only a few manually operated bridges left in the world (it opens twice a day.) It’s not that spectacular actually.
Photogenic with the blue skyline is the red and white Fort George lighthouse with the tomb of Baron Bliss. His story is interesting, in 1926 he came to the waters hearing of the great game fishing on offer but died before he could arrive on land. He spent his last days aboard his yacht and was so impressed by the Belizean hospitality that he left a considerable amount of his English estate to the colony. In gratitude the country of Belize mark the date of his death as a public holiday, March 9 Baron Bliss Day
Further walking gave an opportunity to hear the term “White Lady”. What a refreshing walk this was. I’m so fed up of being asked the typical words for drugs. Some creativity almost sold me but it would have been thrown down the toilet so no real point.
Some of the embassies still exist in Belize City whilst some have moved to the capital. The old USA embassy is close to the Museum of
Belize. It’s worn down and looks more a haunted house than a former embassy.
The Museum of Belize is a quality museum. It use to be a prison where cells meant for one person had up to 6-8 people in it. Executions only stopped in 1985. It now houses most of Belize’s significant history.
It has two levels with the bottom concentrating on the 16 hurricanes that have either hit or came close to land and made damage to Belize. The most devastating of these is Hurricane Hattie. A category 6 hurricane it clocked up to 260km/hr before hitting Belize City as a category 4. So bad was this hurricane that the name Hattie has been retired and replaced by the name Holly in 1965.
Nowadays there are alarms and modern technology helping predict when a hurricane is coming better than in 1961. A flag system informing at which stage the hurricane is at but a small blurb does state that with more people moving to the coast the more likely more people will die from hurricanes no matter what the precautions.
This is why the moving of
the capital is such an important move. At this stage only around 20 000 people have moved inland to the capital whilst 75 000 still live in Belize City.
The top level of the museum has a more native aspect with the culture of the Mayans. Examples of the Sling bag called Kaxtal the only hand woven item in all of Belize. Some finely designed ceramics and an example of the jade collection including the massive jade head from Atun Ha. To the influence of western culture on the region and the native people.
Logwood was the British interest from 1680-1700 with the coast having an abundance but inland mahogany was scouted and the 1st
recorded movement inland was in 1766. It explains how the many natives died from simple diseases their bodies weren’t immune to.
If somehow you find yourself stuck in Belize City than the museum is definitely worth a look for $4. Had I come to here at the beginning of the Central America trip I may have made more of an effort with the Mayan Culture.
The next day we tried to find WIFI
and it was nigh on impossible. Only a handful of places had it and eventually we got one, which played Whitney Houston classic hits. It was really the month for Whitney hitting the eardrums after here death.
The beer in Belize is okay but on the higher end of enjoyment for Central American beer. It has been a pretty ordinary region for el cerveja (Spanish for beer). Chicken and rice has been a staple in the region together with a side of corn fucking tortillas. (excuse the language)
We caught the ferry to Caye Caulker a tiny crushed up coral island, a gateway to the worlds 2nd
largest barrier reef. Snorkelling the reef and trips to the Blue hole are the main deals here. We were thinking of sailing for 3 days to private islands but at $150/ per night we thought not to.
The first few days were windy with cloudy periods, not the best for any of the planned activities. There is a point at the north of the main part of Caye Caulker called The Split. It is actually the half waypoint of the Caye but during one
of the hurricanes that was so powerful it ripped through and cut the Caye in half leaving a channel for small boats to sail through. I swam there and spotted a stingray hovering around the bottom.
Diving is an interesting one. Which company should you go with? There are 3 companies that can take you diving in the Blue hole and each has its faults as well as positives. If you are open water and want to go 40m than chose Frenchies or Big Fish. The other won’t take you to the 40m mark because you are not certified.
For the advanced you want to go with the company you trust and afford so I went with Frenchies, which had some of the worst equipment I’ve dived with. Please note that to do the Blue hole diving there is almost no point unless you get to around the 40m mark. Here’s why.
It costs is around $250 to dive so you want to get your monies worth. It’s a 2 hour ride out where after a while the boat starts hitting the waves with force forcing your brain to think of
some of the great seasick days of your travels. An English guy didn’t make it, heading to the back of the boat. For some unknown reason this triggers others to start talking about it. I hate this because they don’t realise that there is always a second person, that second person was not me but a lady later in the day.
The Blue hole is a giant collapsed sinkhole 300m diameter and 135m deep and from the air it looks amazing judging on the photos. Yet at sea level it looks like a normal blue piece of water… that’s it. There are two entry points for the boat to dock. From there you dive in and descend to 40m. I’ve heard some horror stories of people going down too low and coming up too quickly and blood coming out of their eyes and ears. Physically deep diving is draining and the day involved 3 dives.
As we descended early on it would see me reach over 24 hours under water. There is a sand bar before the drop to 40m, we cross over and a look right sees nothing but a dark blue with
no reference point whatsoever. Looking that direction could freak out anyone but to the left is the wall, which is your reference point to judge your descent.
There are possibilities of seeing sharks but on this day there was one, which I didn’t see. Visibility was around 5m. But sharks you can see anywhere what you really come here to see is stalactites and stalagmites. You know those pointy things you see in caves that protrude down from the roof or up from the ground. Well in the Blue Hole they present themselves on a massive scale as you hit beyond 30m.
We are not talking about stalactites with a circumference that you could hug. We are talking about on a scale or bigger than the width of an aeroplane it seemed. When you get to this depth the dives are short, generally less than half an hour and the brain can feel hallucinated. I’m not sure if I got anything I was weaving in and around the stalactites. A dive master mentioned how one time on a deep dive a diver got so high she tried to feed the fish her oxygen and
took her mouthpiece out as a fish passed by. I definitely didn’t get that high.
The safety stop is a bit longer than normal and I was left to contemplate whether it was worth it. I’m left confused a little because I will always have the memory of my first sight of the stalactites but the rest was not much. I think for an advanced diver you could appreciate the dive more because it is unique in what it offers.
Whilst thinking that thought a massive grouper approached me and we eyed each other out for at least two minutes. It came closer and closer and closer to eventually freak-out and swim away. The fish I noticed even at this point were very innocent and liked close contact.
The second dive was at Half Moon Caye. It is the eastern most landmark in Belize and was the best dive of the three. A spotted eagle ray gliding gracefully just off the reef, to the biggest reef shark I have ever seen. The dive had most of what you would ask for. The Caribbean Reef Shark came around the corner and freaked
out as it tried to escape the 3 groups around each corner. I always wonder what these aquatic animals think when they see these goofy kitted humans. Poor guy.
The dive mater was average at best. One guy couldn’t get his buoyancy right and was resurfacing numerous times on the dive but didn’t help him out. He was good at pointing out some things like massive lobster inside the barrel sponge coral. There were more groupers to entertain and a hawksbill turtle. My highlight apart from the shark was when a fish decided to go behind the dive master and in front of me. We were entering a small cave. The fish thought it was sweet but was soon aware of the possible danger and had nowhere to move. I was my own cameraman as I was so close I could touch it. I didn’t until the threat was over and gave it a go but the fish moved on.
After lunch the boat docks at Half Moon so you can go to a bird watching platform and see frigate birds doing their mating call by inflating their bright red gular sac. They live
in virtual harmony with the pink footed booby bird. The walk is nice too with some signage to give a little info about the place like the Gumbo Limbo tree which is said to be the tourist tree because its sheds its skin like the white man when he gets sunburnt. Half Moon is Belize’s first protected area.
Most of this area has had a fishing ban for decades now so the wildlife is really curious. Lighthouse Reef, which was the third and last dive, has the highest concentration of sharks in Belize. But it was others of seas creatures that caught my eye like the massive green moray eel, the channel clinging crab. Schools of snapper and lionfish. If you feel you have to dive in Belize than think of reef diving as your priority. If you are short of time or money than go on a snorkelling trip instead or do both. For snorkelling there is only one option.
A few weeks prior I heard from two people “Oh you have to do the snorkelling trip with Juni.” They didn’t tell me too much just that the fish follow him as soon
as he enters the water. I informed Eleni and David about this guy and they spotted an old guy with a super tanned and leather looking back.
He is the cheapest snorkelling trip; he has no booking agent or office. His office is his blue and white home located in front of the basketball courts. Bookings can be done after 730pm each day. He kits you up with some fins (he likes having a guess) and a mask and for $32.50 you are booked in for a mesmerising experience.
A 930am start is after everyone else but it means you get the fish to yourself. It’s a slow relaxing ride out… Except for me who had water splashing on me for most of the 45 minutes. Juni goes through a pep talk before you enter.
Basically you know this guy don’t take no shit. He’s the kind of character where no matter what you do you are doing it wrong… But he means well. I asked about the reference of the fish whispering and how I heard he talks to fish.
I had to be really careful of
what questions I asked so I didn’t piss him off. He often could be quoted as “I don’t want no shit…” I felt more intimidated after missing the rope during docking, “Oh fuck he’s going to miss the rope!” He quipped as he walked passed me to save the moment.
He described how he use to swim out to the reef when he was young and started doing these tours for 50 years. I also asked about the changing conditions on Caye Caulker and the effects on the reef over the years.
He said that over the past 2-3 years there has been a considerable change for the worse with the coral. He didn’t want to put down to global warming; he doesn’t quite know what the deal with it is. He also mentioned that how the island has changed its shape. He bitched about the golf carts that are now pressing down and compacting the island. It sounded like tourism for him has gone a bit too far now and regulations need to be put in.
He actually is a fascinating character and it’s this character that I heard about
on top of his snorkelling trip. This is why I felt intimidated I didn’t want him to say, “No! I don’t like you. You are banned from my tours.” - Like the soup Nazi of snorkelling tours - I knew it was going to be unique.
So we are about to jump in as the other boats leave from their trip. He pointed out how they throw food around and it is why sharks hover around the boats when we arrived. He mentioned how his trips are different, it is a spiritual experience and he doesn’t talk once he is in and “doesn’t want to hear no shit when…” he is in there.
He said that he doesn’t talk to them just connects with them and respects their environment. “If they want to join us in our snorkel, they’ll join us. Never follow them.” We are close to jumping in but first some sunscreen to put on.
There was a 50-year-old lady on the tour and she points out that she can put some sunscreen on my back if I want. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. To my right
I have this good looking 20 year old and instead this 50 year old is trying to spoil that option.
I try to ignore her and conclude in my head to not offend her I will just forget about my back and burn. Not because she was 50 but because of the situation. I sure hope that when I reach 50 that I will know my place on the putting sunscreen on back rule. Eventually I got sunscreen on my back but after the 50 year old went in the water.
We are all in now and we wait for Juni. He’s not even half way in and the fish are there. From then on he takes you on a ride through the reef. What is amazing is that fish come and go as they please and are having a ball. I swear they had smiles on their faces. One came up to me and was singing like “la-la-lala-lala-la-la” Totally incredible.
Another fish was swimming beside me all smiles and all teeth when David went smack as he took his freestyle stroke. There were so many highlights from this trip its
hard to narrow them down for the blog and actually remember them all.
But the clear standout was when he did something that attracted the stingrays. He had them on a string. A magician at the top of his game as he somehow got them to glide through the water in fast forward and jump into his arms. He’d then ask one of us to come over and throw it on your face as you lean back. Eleni got the first go and it was the best of the lot. She got kissed as it engulfed at least a third of her body. I got three goes at it and the third go was my best and it is almost as if you have been blessed by the sea. It’s an experience you never felt possible.
This is why I wrap this guy so much, he made me so glad I am still travelling. Things have started to seem a bit stale at times and along comes Juni. A simple lunch is eaten on the boat and he takes you to an old feeding station that is in use to this day. The turtles
and rays and other creatures know the spot and know that guts from the mornings catch is on its way from the fisherman.
We jump in to a swarm of rays. These guys are huge and as they brush past you a surprisingly rough feel. Whilst that is happening up close are turtles chewing down on some soft goo that mashes up in the water.
He has a technique with his hands that I won’t delve into but I was trying it with some success but that was when Juni was in. I asked him where he learned it, if it has been passed down or will he be passing it down. Here is where he revealed his spiritual meaning . I won’t go into that either since I didn’t ask permission but for him it has given him meaning to his life. He said that he brought some local people out years ago which discovered how he did it. Soon after they killed the fish Juni was close to. From then on he vowed not to explain in detail how he does it. He also vowed to never take a local on his
tours. He is quite happy to state that human beings cannot be trusted.
Our last trip in the afternoon and I jumped in after David. Once he splashes in Juni says, “That is the perfect fucking way to not dive into the water. You scare all the fish away!” So with that noted and ready to impress Juni with my diving in technique. I sit on the Juni built boat called Trinity and dip into the water… Hardly a splash. I was trying to avoid going deep and kick repeatedly so I don’t disturb the fish below but I do completely the opposite. I am told as I kicked my points of my flins kick this massive grouper in the head and on the body. I find this out later and it made sense because the grouper look at me like “W.T.F!”
This grouper has a special relationship with Juni and its his “go to fish” for cuddles. That’s right he has built such a trust with these animals he can pick it up, cuddle it and stroke its gills. Later that trip he was like an ‘eel charmer’ as he mesmerised this eel
from its home to 2m to his hand.
Central America from nowhere started presenting some amazing highlights and Juni created the best experience I had in Central America, by far. I’ve typed this on my flight out of Central America so I can officially say it is. Juni finishes it off once we docked with a hug and a thank you like you have done him the favour in sharing his spiritual world. But it is he who has done me the favour and anyone who does the tour. Its taken snorkelling to another dimension
If you want to organise a tour with Juni and pre book he only takes a max of 6 so peak season he could sell out. Please don’t call him the fish whisperer. I’ve only done it because it provides a better chance of grabbing your attention.
His Phone number is: (501) 628 3962
There are more photos below