I mean, who gets a whole private island for their birthday? (Hint: You’re looking at him)

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Walking around Blackadore Caye on my birthday, enjoying the splendor of a deserted island -- with 20 of my best friends!
Walking around Blackadore Caye on my birthday, enjoying the splendor of a deserted island — with 20 of my best friends!

Your first thought when you step off the boat and on to Blackadore Caye is “This can not be real.”

It is like a Hollywood movie set for a tropical island adventure film.

The coconut trees seem too perfectly spaced to be real. The ground beneath them too perfectly swept clean. The sand too white. The water on either side of this long, narrow caye shimmers in variants of teal, turquoise and aquamarine. The dry, cool wind sweeps so sweetly upon the skin, not a drop of perspiration survives. The cloud-dappled sky is a dreamy blue — azure color #007FFF, if you are into replicating sky colors from an RGB color wheel.

Palm fronds mark the path through part of Blackadore Caye, leading toward the high grass fields where the salt water has frequently overrun the island.
Palm fronds mark the path through part of Blackadore Caye, leading toward the high grass fields where the salt water has frequently overrun the island.

I walk south along a gently etched trail, marveling in the stillness broken only by the rustle of palm fronds in the breeze and the lapping of water against a rough limestone retaining wall.

The palm tree oasis yields abruptly to a wall of dense, razor-sharp grasses, with a wide fresh path carved down the middle, beckoning me to walk on. But in the tall grass the wind dies. The dense air suffocates and boils. It feels almost malevolent how quickly the island’s personality changes.  Not many steps in I opt to retreat to the palm trees and the gentle breeze.

Oh, this island is real all right.

Light and shadows craft mosaics over the grounds beneath the palm trees on Blackadore Caye.
Light and shadows craft mosaic designs over the grounds beneath the palm trees on Blackadore Caye.

Here and there, too, are signs of the island’s precarious place in the Belize constellation of cayes. You can see where ocean water has occasionally over-run the land. And where rain water has ponded small stretches into mosquito breeding grounds. And where insatiable waves have carved away the shoreline, toppling palm trees into the sea.

As I walk around in solitude, I try to imagine the island’s owner in these footfalls before me. I try to imagine what he must have felt, and yeah, I can picture Leonardo DiCaprio thinking, “I must save this fragile island. I must rescue it from nature’s corrosive bent.”

The actor’s idea of saving an island has been derided by some, myself included. Who saves an unoccupied island by building a high-end resort on it?

Well, maybe DiCaprio can and will.

The landscape on Blackadore Caye.
The landscape on Blackadore Caye.

Give him some credit. He is trying to design what could be the most ecologically sensitive and harmonious resort in the history of the world and at the same time ensure that the largely undeveloped sections of the island remain strong and flourish with island-appropriate flora and fauna. If a plan to plant thousands of mangroves takes hold the island might even grow back to its 1600s-1700s fighting weight.

The island’s development/regeneration design is on at least its third iteration in the past 10 years. We should be seeing the new proposal in a month or so. Most notably, gone is the huge boomerang pier with housing, hotel and shopping facilities that was positioned just offshore. people hated that. Just as in the previous design submission they hated the airstrip. That is long gone, too.

I don’t know what shape the new proposal will take. There is a whole new design team at work on it.

Dry-stacked limestone walls are being built around parts of Blackadore Caye to slow the erosion. After mangroves are planted and take hold, the walls can easily be removed.
Dry-stacked limestone walls are being built around parts of Blackadore Caye to slow the erosion. After mangroves are planted and take hold, the walls can easily be removed.

Another thought arises as I walk about this island. It is about another Belize island far to the south.

Harvest Caye is being carved up into a personal playground for the passengers of Norwegian Cruise Line ships. I use carved up in the same sense that Joan Rivers, Barry Manilow and Melanie Griffith got face lifts. Harvest Caye will be pretty darn unrecognizable once the Disneyesque design lads get done with it.

Not that you or I will get to see it, unless you work at one of the bars, restaurants, zipline and watersport rentals or simulated Belize lifestyle experience designed for the reality-challenged.

Some of the old jettys are being removed and the rock is being placed horizontal to the shore, capturing sand and opening up habitat for small fish.
Some of the old jettys are being removed and the rock is being placed horizontal to the shore, capturing sand and opening up habitat for small fish.

Where was the umbrage when Norwegian began slicing and dicing Belize’s dream of eco-friendly tourism? There was some. I assume envelopes changed hands and *cough* *cough* you could hear a pin drop, or a coral reef get crushed.

I don’t know why it is so hard for the Blackadore project to get wings. It is far more high-minded and beneficial to the Belize economy than the insular cruise ship bubble island. Blackadore will employ lots of Belizeans — probably San Pedranos, as this is the home base for their crews.

A well carved path runs through the dense sea grasses in the mid-section of Blackadore Caye.
A well carved path runs through the dense sea grasses in the mid-section of Blackadore Caye.

I still don’t understand Belize well enough to know why some things glide through so smoothly and others must struggle at every turn.

My thoughts are interrupted by the sound of laughter. Lots and lots of laughter.

Oh yeah.

I am here on  Leonardo DiCaprio’s private Belize island with around 20 of my friends from Ambergris Caye for my birthday. No, Leo could not make it, but his ad hoc hospitality did not go unappreciated.

Wow! Imagine the shock to look out the window on Sunday and see a boat loaded up with friends ready to help celebrate my birthday on a deserted island!
Wow! Imagine the shock to look out the window on Sunday and see the C-Monkey loaded up with friends ready to help celebrate my birthday on a deserted island! They had party horns, food and drinks aboard, too.

This excursion was put together by my wife, Rose Alcantara.

Secretly.

On an island where there are no secrets.

It is both heartwarming … and disturbing … to think that 20 people you know so well can keep a secret from you for days and days. Especial since the night before many of us sat at the same table at Jackie and Adam’s Casa Picasso for the annual and fabulous wine-pairing dinner with Wine de Vine. The same table! Where alcohol did not loosen lips the way it is supposed to!

And me, the island sleuther of secrets!

And so, when I glanced out the window at 10 a.m. Sunday, in a state of shock, there they were standing on our dock, waving and blowing party horns as Marcos and Karen’s boat the C-Monkey pulled beside them.

The gang gathers for food and conviviality around the picnic tables on Blackadore Caye.
The gang gathers for food and conviviality around the picnic tables on Blackadore Caye.

That lump in the throat thing is very real.

I think I was in a daze for most of the day, like my head was just beneath the pool water. I kept looking at all of these people with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. Not just that they went to all the trouble of helping me celebrate my birthday but gratitude that for so many different reasons we all ended up living here on Ambergris Caye  and found our way to friendships that will last forever.

Throw in a deserted island on a brilliant Caribbean day with insanely delicious food and bottomless mugs of rum punch — and a rum cake that should only be legal under adult supervision — and you have a day for the ages.

Thank you, Rose.

Scott and Ruthie strategize over the remaining squares of a delicious rum cake, baked by Sue Blair.
Scott and Ruthie strategize over the remaining squares of a delicious rum cake, baked by Sue Blair.

What do you do all day on a deserted island?

One of the most notable things is you sit and talk, you chat, you eat, you gossip, you laugh, you speculate on the future, you tease, you share hopes and dreams. Now for a while, you do this sitting in chairs encircling two picnic tables. After a while you do this while walking about the island.

This picture is by our friend Ruthie. Notice the heart formed by our chins and shoulders. That kind of expresses how I felt about Rose and this day.
This picture is by our friend Ruthie. Notice the heart formed by our chins and shoulders. That kind of expresses how I felt about Rose and this whole day.

Eventually you find yourself in a circle in the warm, lapping Caribbean waters, just off a tiny beach. Here, you talk and laugh some more while trying to keep your balance as little waves roll in and the circle of friends expands and contracts with the tug of the currents, but never drops a soul.

One small event of historic note during the day: I stretched out in a hammock. Historic, because it is the first hammock I have stretched out in in more than two years living on a tropical island.

I know. Crazy, huh?

You think “tropical island” and the next thing you think is “hammock.”

Now that I’ve tasted this forbidden fruit I think I could become a hammock person.

Yeah, with a cup holder on it.

 

Approaching Blackadore Caye by boat -- it is very long and narrow, only 104 acres of very low profile earth, sand and vegetation.
Approaching Blackadore Caye by boat — it is very long and narrow, only 104 acres of very low profile earth, sand and vegetation.

 

Only the night before cruising over to Blackadore Caye we were indulging in amazing food and wine at Casa Picasso on Ambergris Caye.
Only the night before cruising over to Blackadore Caye we were indulging in amazing food and wine at Casa Picasso on Ambergris Caye.
Our table at Casa Picasso on Saturday night. Surrounded by good friends.
Our table at Casa Picasso on Saturday night. Surrounded by good friends.
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21 thoughts on “I mean, who gets a whole private island for their birthday? (Hint: You’re looking at him)

    Rose Alcantara said:
    April 13, 2016 at 10:42 am

    You are welcome

    Rose

    >

    Like

    lifeagain said:
    April 13, 2016 at 10:42 am

    Happy birthday Robert…question?….Why such a late start? 10:am for that wonderful birthday celebration should have started at 6 or 7 AM. I have now decided to duplicate this event as a must do when i make my transition.
    To you and your friends…..thanks and thanks again for a nice peak into your birthday event/day of a life time.

    Donald

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      April 13, 2016 at 1:30 pm

      I think 10 a.m. on a Sunday is a most civilized time for any endeavor. By then you have had coffee and breakfast, read the news and showered and dressed. Oh, and recovered from the previous night’s activities, which for many of us included huge amounts of wine accompanying a six course meal at Casa Picasso, the island’s finest restaurant.
      Some trips, like a circumnavigation of the entire island of Ambergris Caye or an all-day snorkeling trip with a visit to Caye Caulker, call for an earlier start.

      Like

    Susan said:
    April 13, 2016 at 10:59 am

    Happy Birthday!! Wow 20 friends!!! LOL…seriously Happy Birthday and so sorry we couldn’t be there to help you celebrate and make it 22! Looks like it was a beautiful day, but how did you get tables and chairs there? And is anyone allowed to use the Island? Pretty cool present I must say!

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      April 13, 2016 at 1:22 pm

      A caretaker actually lives on the island and there is a dining area set up for the researchers and day workers who are prepping the island. The Blackadore project manager said people are welcome to visit the island with prior confirmation. They really want people to see what is there and the effects of erosion and flooding on the island. They are very open about their project and welcome the public.

      Like

    Carolyn Friesz said:
    April 13, 2016 at 11:32 am

    Thanks for sharing; I can live vicariously through your colorful writings of living in Belize! Belated Happy Birthday from me here in Idaho. Maybe one day I’ll have the privilege of meeting you; I was recently in San Pedro sitting at the Runway Bar when I spotted my FB friend and blogger – John East. I went to him like a long time friend and got a big hug! Keep the stories coming!

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      April 13, 2016 at 1:18 pm

      Yes, John East is a great friend to so many through his blog. He certainly inspired me!

      Like

    Michael McFarlin said:
    April 13, 2016 at 4:58 pm

    Happy Birthday Robert! Good seeing Chunky and Ruthie on the pier in one of the pictures. Your boat driver wasn’t Eddi V. by chance? He’s a friend of ours that drives for the Blackadore project (or Cayo Negro as some locals called the island). Coming down in a week. Staying up at Tranquility Bay Resort, so won’t see Chunky and Ruthie this time. Take care.

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      April 13, 2016 at 7:55 pm

      Thanks, Michael. Yes, that is Eddi. Great guy. We’ve gone out with him few times before he got so busy. I’ll tell Chunky and Ruthie you said hello. Enjoy Tranquility, the weather has been superb.

      Bob

      Like

    tacogirl said:
    April 13, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    Happy Birthday Robert, what a great present.

    Like

    woof4treats said:
    April 13, 2016 at 9:25 pm

    Happy Island Birthday! You must have felt like Gilligan or the Professor with your Mary Ann. Hope the weather is ausome for our arrival Sunday afternoon. Yes, tomorrow we are officially “Retired”. Only days away from becoming a Expat.

    Like

    robertjhawkins1 responded:
    April 14, 2016 at 4:54 am

    Ha! Yes! Gilligan! Weather has been pretty spectacular. And, wow, congratulations. What a huge step!

    Like

    Anton said:
    April 14, 2016 at 5:57 am

    HAPPY B DAY FROM A FAN IN TORONTO CHEEERRS !!!!

    Like

    robertjhawkins1 responded:
    April 14, 2016 at 8:24 am

    Thanks, Anton!

    Like

    JOE DOUGHERTY said:
    April 15, 2016 at 6:15 am

    Happy Birthday from a stranger and thanks for a great blog with a tantalizing description of one of Mother Earth’s still least known treasures. I’m mentally determined to visit Ambergris Caye next year!

    Joe (Port Charlotte, FL)

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      April 15, 2016 at 6:31 am

      Thanks, Joe. When you put these things out there, they have a way of happening. I expect to see you on Ambergris Caye next year!

      Like

    Kathy W said:
    April 15, 2016 at 6:53 am

    Happy Belated Birthday to you, Robert! I have been “living the dream” here on AC for nearly six months but unfortunately am returning to the US in a few weeks. I’m working on my return plan but in the meantime will live vicariously via your awesome blog. A highlight of my time here has been Pilates classes with Rose at Zen Arcade. She is absolutely amazing! And yes, I’m determined to get my Dad (Joe from Port Charlotte FL) here next year! Kathy W / Clifton, VA and Manteo NC

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      April 15, 2016 at 7:42 am

      So, Joe is your Dad! Yes, I see it all falling in place! At least you’ll be back home during a most beautiful time of year. And thank you so much for the kind words about Rose and her classes. I will be returning to them soon, myself. She puts so much effort into preparing for each class.I get to see that first hand. Enjoy the balance of your time here!

      Like

    Leonardo Dicaprio Fan said:
    August 10, 2016 at 4:06 am

    I would like to visit Belize once in my life. I am Indian and would love to spend my vacation in Belize. Thanks for sharing nice experience.

    Like

    […] have been so blessed to visit the island on several occasions, including a surprise birthday party for me, organized by Rose Alcantara in April. Thanks for the use of the island, Leo. You’ve got […]

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