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Published: October 6th 2017
Chapter One: Anticipation
and I have both wanted to vacation at one of those luxury hotels consisting of solitary bungalows perched atop low stilts hovering over crystal clear waters where tropical fish school below as you lounge above, tropical drink in hand, watching the green flash that bursts when the setting sun plunges into a watery horizon.
Most of those places are very, very, very, far away. To perch as they do over the water, they must be protected from waves by either a “caye” or an “atoll.” “Caye,“ pronounced “key,” is defined as a small, low-elevation, sandy island on the surface of a coral reef and an “atoll” is a ring-shaped reef, island or chain of islands formed from coral. Mostly, these places exist either in the middle of the Pacific Ocean at Bora Bora or Moorea or in the middle of the Indian Ocean at the Maldives or even in Asia near Cambodia or Malaysia.
Those locations are unavailable to B4
; she has a company to run and, therefore is, unlike me, time tethered. Fortunately, there are a couple of these stilted getaways that don’t require enduring a full
day’s travel and multi-time-zone jet lag and one is off the coast of the 37-year-old Central American country of Belize (formerly British Honduras). Belize, just slightly larger than the state of New Jersey, sits on the Gulf of Mexico tucked between Guatemala (which still claims Belize was stolen from it by the British) and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
Our destination, Cayo Espanto sits on a 4-acre private island which is nestled just west of the 25-mile long and one-mile wide barrier island of Ambergris Caye. East of Ambergris Caye is the second largest barrier reef in the world—a mecca for SCUBA divers. West of Ambergris Caye are the bungalows of Cayo Espanto—separated from the normally placid but sometimes wildly violent waters of the Gulf of Mexico. From high tide to low tide, the water depth here varies only about four inches. Normal wave height east of Ambergris Caye is three feet; west of Ambergris Caye where Cayo Espanto sits, there are virtually no waves in calm weather.
It takes but a bit over two hours gate-to-gate on a Southwest Airlines 737-700 to fly from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Belize City, Belize ($199 US round trip
per person). Our flight is Southwest 629, FLL-BZE, 11:45am to 12:05pm, changing time zones from Eastern to the equivalent of Mountain. Maya Island Air then takes over and flies mostly twelve-passenger Cessnas but also some other small aircraft ($143 US round trip per person) on the fifteen-minute, 35-mile, over-water, up-and-down flight from Belize City to San Pedro Town Airport on Ambergris Caye. We are on flight 2120 at 12:40 arriving at 12:55. At San Pedro Town Airport, research shows the lone runway serves double duty as the lone taxiway to the tiny terminal building and is the final touchdown point for guests en route to Cayo Espanto. From there, after a two-minute ride in a Cayo Espanto van to a pier, the Cayo Espanto boat collects you for the seven-minute ride to paradise.
The tiny island rises a mere two feet above sea level and hosts only seven bungalows. Each ridiculously expensive “room” (or casita) is, they say, booked far in advance most every night of the year because the Belizean climate ranges only from an average of 73 degrees in winter to an 84 average in summer. The December to April “High Season” is also the tourist-crowded dry season. “Low Season” is May until November when it rains for a couple of hours on a normal day and a tropical storm or hurricane can wipe out an entire week, or as we have recently witnessed with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, much more.
For various reasons, our choice is early October. We buy our trip on a Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card because it offers, in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey-Irma-Maria, free travel insurance in case another hurricane or tropic depression claims our vacation before it can even begin. Faith in what I alone refer to as “The Russell Luck” assures me that our journey will be unmarred. A bit of research shows that, since 1930, sixteen hurricanes have hit Belize—eight of them “major.” Another seventeen tropical storms have made landfall in Belize. That’s 87 years and 33 storms—a 38 per cent chance per year but a miniscule statistical risk for us since we are only going for three nights. That said, climate change seems to be playing havoc with these statistics of late.
Hurricane Richard did make landfall here in late October 2010, bringing 8 hours of 90-mile-per-hour winds and torrential rains that knocked out power to “most of the nation” and took three lives. One account of Hurricane Richard describes the fatalities thusly: “Arturo Gilharry and Barrington Gomez died as their boat capsized and Brian Cullerton was mauled to death by a jaguar which escaped when his cage was struck by a fallen tree.” Curious, I checked the Spanish-English dictionary for the translation of the word “Espanto.” It is “terror” or “fright.” I must ask about that when we arrive.
Hurricanes and Jaguars be damned, B4
and I, like others before us, decide to take the risk. The UK newspaper, The Daily Mail, reports that Cayo Espanto is a “celeb favorite” having hosted Tiger Woods, Robert De Niro, Leonardo Di Caprio, Penelope Cruz, Brad Pitt, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner and, soon now, B4
and yours truly. I cannot confirm published reports that all 2011 nominees for the Academy Award received a stay on the island in their goodie bags because we were not nominated that year.
The outrageously expensive “hotel” bills itself as being supremely high-touch when it comes to service. Once our reservation is made and confirmed, an email survey promptly arrives. It isn’t short. They ask about favorite foods and beverages that we might enjoy and that they should, therefore, know about. One request they make is for us to “Please describe your ideal dinner.” They inquire about the degree of privacy we desire. They want to know if we are early risers or late sleepers and how we like our morning coffee. My favorite survey question, however, is this one: “In addition to the above, please tell us anything you think will help us to satisfy and excite your palate. Would you like to try anything in particular?”
Erika Saldivar, representing Guest Services at Cayo Espanto Resort, made email contact with us after she received our submitted survey with this message: “I would like to confirm that we have received your Preference Survey and have shared your information with the chefs and personal houseman to make your stay with us unforgettable.”
Interestingly enough, the thing that drew us to Cayo Espanto—that bungalow on stilts—is an option for which we ultimately did not opt. They do have one stilted accommodation but, after a bit of in-depth analysis, I chose instead a bungalow called “Casa Brisa,” (brisa=breeze) a 1,200-square foot one-bedroom bungalow with a private plunge pool, private dock and private mini-beach below the “Santa Rosa verandah.” Research reveals that Santa Rosa, or Saint Rose, of Lima was the first person born in the Americas to be canonized a saint by the Catholic Church; I do not know if she had a verandah. I did discover that she is the patroness of embroiderers and those who suffer ridicule for their piety and for people who suffer family problems. B4
and I are certainly not the former but can lay smattering claim to the latter. But I digress.
On-line photos show two lounge chairs residing at dock’s end during the day only to be replaced with a dining table and two chairs for breakfast and dinner. I am told that the sunset view from Casa Brisa is unmatched on this tiny speck of land. I trade stilts for Brisa.
We are booked. We are ready. We are full of anticipation.
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