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