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Published: November 15th 2009
My life is definitely ruled by the seas these days...each choose your own adventure ends with me, the reefs, the fish, and the beach. As the Pohlman’s and I settled into our life and apartment in Placencia, the walls were slowly filled with maps and lists. There were maps of the world, the Caribbean, and of course our new home country, Belize. And there were lists of the World Capitals, important sayings and numbers in multiple languages, and the always referenced List of Cool Stuff We Want to do in this Amazing Country! The next destination calling to us from that adventure checklist was Tobacco Caye! Our good friends Anne and Steve had just spent ten days there, observing spotted eagle rays from their hammocks and snorkeling the days away. Their matching grins and great tans were all we needed to pull the trigger and get a trip together! We invited our new friend Shay to join us for the 3 night adventure; she was in Placencia for a few months to find the solitude needed to fulfill her lifelong dream to write a novel. What she found was definitely not solitude, but an entire cast of characters with unlimited distractions!
The first Tropical Medical Mystery
A flesh eating wound caused by ... lime juice and the sun?!
Soon after we met, Shay asked if she could model one of her characters after me, so I was lucky to spend many hours discussing the relationships between goals, conditioning, traveling, human philosophy, and much other wonderment I never thought about. It was so refreshing to meet a new person whose thoughts and ideas were entirely foreign yet agreeably intriguing to me!
The day before we were to leave for Tobacco, Shay was on the beach all day getting more tan and exchanging stories with who is to be a great new friend, Tyler. Tyler looked familiar, and I realized that he is the guy I met a few weeks before, as he climbed aboard Mac’s boat for Honduras! The village had since heard that Mac crashed into the Barrier Reef, slipped away from the Coast Guard, and that two guys had jumped ship with their rum and swum for Hunting Caye, the southernmost outpost of Belize! Turned out the true story was that, plus more, and yes it was him, and Shay had just invited him to join us on the island tomorrow! Awesome!
We were able to arrange a boat ride across the lagoon with our friend Doyle’s
family, and they gave us a ride to Dangriga first thing that morning. When we stopped to pick up Shay, she had the most unfortunate sunburn I’ve ever seen, and her face was started to swell and blister like an alien disease! Oh no! So very sad for all of us, Shay had to stay home and contemplate life without sunscreen, and we were one woman down on the adventure! There would always be the next time, and we had a boat to catch! We got to Dangriga about 9am and after walking two short blocks, a friendly car pulled over and asked us, were we looking for Captain Buck? Actually, we are! They directed us to the Riverside Café in the center of town, and said he was expecting us and would be a few minutes getting the last supplies. Captain Buck later revealed to Aly and I his frustration at the never ending list of requests from the staff and inhabitants of the deserted island! Every day, there is something more asked and required!
The small but not quite deserted island has an amazing location, as it is on the great Barrier Reef of Belize, right near a
cut in the reef where boats can safely steer to open sea, and the coral walls grow tall and abundant. We had the most perfect location on the entire island, two over-the-water cabins on the northern tip of the small caye, with a connected porch, hammocks, and an active protected tide pool at our toes! I just couldn’t believe our luck at the absolute beauty and serenity of this place! All of meals were included with the price, and the old dinner bell was really looked forward to at each mealtime! We had some of the best food in all of Belize in that small dining room of the Paradise Lodge! I am still dreaming of this crazy meat pie pizza thing covered in a sheet of toasted mozzarella that was so filling and satisfying!
Tyler had know us for about 30 seconds before agreeing to the trip, so we were all thrilled to find out that he was super cool, interesting, and had a wealth of new stories! As Aly pointed out, the 3 of us had known each other for 8 years, so we had nothing new to say … could he offer us any entertainment? That’s an
understatement! After reliving his survivor tales with Mac, Tyler told us of his impressive path to Belize - via the managing chef duties of the Seattle Supersonics, and then the Beijing Summer Olympics! He was here to complete his DiveMaster courses, then study the Dive Instruction Courses in Honduras, and finally end up in Southeast Asia to work as a chef and DM on a private yacht. I was like, Oh yeah, this guy actually has a cooler plan than me! I’m inspired!
We immediately set out on the island to find the divemaster, so that we could arrange our 3 short days and get maximum underwater time! But to our astonishment, all of the supposed dive shop employees were on the mainland for various reasons, and there would be no diving anytime soon. But the next day, Blinky could arrange to take us on a tour to see Bird Island, 3 amazing snorkel spots, and a 96% chance of manatees. Since this would be something for all four of us, and Aly and I had been dying to see these elusive manatees, we said for sure, let’s do it! (The lagoon behind Placencia supposedly is home to many
manantees, seen by everyone in the village except me and Aly! We call them the LochNess Manatees.) I have to say, Blinky definitely delivered 2 out of 3 - don’t be surprised that it’s the manatees that missed the program that day!
The next day, Blinky insisted that he could take us out diving, so Tyler and I went into the dive shop to get our gear together. We are both rather giant, and had a most difficult time finding wetsuits that fit! I looked like I was wearing an old carpet rug inside out, and Tyler couldn’t find one that even zipped up around one thigh! Oh well! We got out to the dive site, went under, and within five minutes Blinky was signaling that his pressure gauge was broken and he would be following us from the surface for the rest of the dive! It was mostly uneventful until the very end of the dive when the current started sweeping us out to sea….the coral reef was getting further and further away (lucky Tyler was still next to me the entire time!) but we were staying at a 50 foot depth! Whoa! As soon as we realized, we
signaled to each other to go up, and found Blinky and the boat there above us, thank goodness! (The next day they spent about an hour trying to fix the air compressor to fill the tanks and we were finally like, I don’t think it’s such a great idea to dive out here this weekend!!!)
That evening at dusk, the four of us decided to go for a sunset snorkel - one of my favorite activities! Fish are most active at sunrise and sunset, times that we are not usually jumping off dive boats! The southern edge of Tobacco Caye is a 25 foot reef wall that has so many beautiful fish, large and small, and many spotted eagle rays gliding through the channel. About 15 minutes into the snorkel I saw the weirdest shaped fish, about 3 feet long, swimming about 6 feet below the surface. Instead of a dorsal fin, it had a large seer-sucker pad on the top of its head, and there were four fins splayed on its sides, making it look sleek and ominous. It was absolutely checking us out, as it would swim from Aly, to Zack, to me, to Tyler, than turn around
and repeat the path in the opposite direction….over and over and over. I would try and get close to one of the guys in order to look big and tough - not realizing this is a remora - a “shark sucker” and the bigger we looked, the more apt it would be to try and suck onto us!! AAAAHHH! This fish was mega-interested in us for at least 15 minutes, its eyes clearly following us through the water, trying to make sense or our odd swimming and splashing motions! I had my hands balled up in a fist, ready to punch it in the nose if it tried anything funny! Zach later admitted he wasn’t afraid of the remora, but of the 15-20 foot shark it had probably been traveling with! WHAT!?!?! I didn’t get a picture, but many videos - be sure to watch it on this travelblog site!
Believe it or not, the next day we got right back in the water, and Aly and I had one of the best snorkel adventures I’ve ever been lucky enough to photograph! We saw a HUGE, ancient barracuda, an aggregate of French grunts under the pier that numbered in the
thousands, and a massive green moray living in the shallows in front of our cabin! The waters of Belize are ever surprising and always fascinating! Even though I’m lucky enough to visit with these fishes and eels every week, they are always doing something new, captivating, and intriguing! It makes me realize once again that another universe is here on Earth for me to explore….I thought there was a lot to see on this planet, and now I’ve got twice as much to discover!
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