Hol Chan Marine Reserve

In Belize: Close encounters of the aquamarine kind

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Mexico Rocks boasts the most precocious turtle in the world.
Mexico Rocks boasts the most precocious turtle in the world.

Do not adjust your set. The ridiculously fluorescent blue water you see in these pictures is correct. The water on the reef just off Ambergris Caye is that blue below the surface.

Up above is a different story. There, as you look out from shore to reef, the color can change numerous times, shimmering between emerald and azure.

The other day I joined friends for a trip around the island, with a little snorkeling at Mexico Rocks thrown in at the end.  Read the rest of this entry »

In Belize, the crustacean sensation is sweeping the nation

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Bicycling long the beach in San Pedro Town today, a warm and clear day after a huge drenching during the night.
Hot, hot, hot: Bicycling  along the beach in San Pedro Town, Belize,  around noon. It has been a warm and clear day after a huge drenching during the night.

This week in San Pedro, Belize, our culinary gods are arthropods.

There is nothing more satisfying than a heaping plate of tender, buttery meat-laden exoskeleton. It is such a thrill to much on these giant krill.

The crustacean sensation is sweeping the entire Belize nation.

Yes, you rock, lobster.

Heck yes, it is LobsterFest. Read the rest of this entry »

Among a slew of perfect days in Belize, the most perfect of all

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Could there be a better way to spend a birthday?
Could there be a better way to spend a birthday than snorkeling the Belize barrier reef? That’s Rose, above. Ask her!

On Thursday everything in the universe was was aligned. It was a calendar palindrome 4-10-2014 (4102014). And apparently the sun, mars, the moon and the earth were all perfectly aligned on the same axis.

Powerful, inexplicable, mystical forces at work.

A good day to celebrate a birthday.

Oh, yeah: Mine! Read the rest of this entry »

We’ve got a lot of talking to do

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Here's a last glimpse of part of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye as we took the air taxi back to the mainland of Belize for our flight home.
Here’s a last glimpse of part of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye as we took the air taxi back to the mainland of Belize for our flight home.

It is Sunday morning and I hear the sound of splashing water outside as I slowly grope toward consciousness. It is a sound I’ve heard a lot these past few weeks, the warm night rains falling on broad leafed palms and tropical growth, trickling off tin and reed-covered palapa roofs all over Belize.

But, wait. It’s Sunday morning.

And this isn’t Belize.

It’s … it’s California. We got home at 1 a.m. this morning.

I remember now.

Oh, damn.

It’s a broken sprinkler head, outside our bedroom window.

After dinner on Thursday evening, as we walked home along the beach, we encountered a fairly large crowd outside a bar. They were waiting for the beginning of the Thursday night weekly chicken drop. Yes, you know the rules, the holder of the first number on which a chicken poops wins a cash prize. They say that during high season, the crowd is so thick you can't get close to this "drop" site." Can you spot Rose in the crowd?
After dinner on Thursday evening, as we walked home along the beach, we encountered a fairly large crowd outside a bar. They were waiting for the beginning of the Thursday night weekly chicken drop. Yes, you know the rules, the holder of the first number on which a chicken poops wins a cash prize. They say that during high season, the crowd is so thick you can’t get close to this “drop” site.” Can you spot Rose in the crowd?

I fall back on my pillow and close my eyes and try as hard as I might to wish my body back to a nice tropical storm in San Ignacio, or Placencia or San Pedro and for an extra 10 minutes or so, as the lawn sprinklers finish their cycle, I am walking the white sand beach with my face up to the rain, a steady wind blowing on shore,  and the distant crash of waves against the  barrier reef fills me up with joy.

You said it, Madonna:

Last night I dreamt of San Pedro
Just like I’d never gone, I knew the song
A young girl with eyes like the desert
It all seems like yesterday, not far away

But right now, there’s a broken sprinkler head that is calling louder than “La Isla Bonita.”

Rose and I sat down at Peete’s Coffee with a couple of tall black ones and a legal pad this morning and began to draw up a list of everything we must do in order to move by February to Isla Bonita — or maybe inland to San Ignacio; no doors are closed just yet.

It is a long and slightly daunting list.  (Wanna buy some Glasshof sculptures? A piano? A house? Some furniture?  A Mercedes?)

But it will get done, item by item, day by day. It will get done.

This is Caye Caulker, just south of Ambergris Caye. It is about a 20 minute water taxi ride between the two islands. The whole population is nestled at the back end of the "C" portion of the island. A very small and very laid-back bunch of people.
This is Caye Caulker, just south of Ambergris Caye. It is about a 20 minute water taxi ride between the two islands. The whole population is nestled at the back end of the “C” portion of the island. A very small and very laid-back bunch of people.

The last few days in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye are a too fast-forward blur. We went snorkeling in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley. Rose went off to yoga and a massage while I took the water taxi over to Caye Caulker for a few hours. Our friends John and Rose East picked us up in their golf cart and gave us a tour of the gorgeous house they are building north of San Pedro.

Then there was a dinner out, at Fido’s on the beach in downtown San Pedro. A waiter called Squeaky greeted us as we walked in, “Bob and Rose! Chargers and 49ers, right?”

Yeah, I was stunned. Squeaky had waited on us for a late lunch a few days earlier and we’d had a brief, casual, banter about California and our respective football teams but for him to remember us several days later?

This is one of the water taxis on a regular route between San Pedro, Caye Caulker and Belize City.
This is one of the water taxis on a regular route between San Pedro, Caye Caulker and Belize City.

Pretty wild, but honestly, we’ve come to appreciate the uncommon friendliness of the people we’ve met. A day or two after we went snorkeling the head of maintenance and a maid at the Exotic Caye Beach Resort, where we were staying, came up to me to ask about our adventure. Was the water choppy? Were the currents strong? What were you able to see? Did you have a good time?

They really wanted to know and dropped everything to talk abut the snorkeling.

When we first came here, I kept telling myself I’m not buying the tourism line about how caring and friendly the Belizeans are. But you know what? It is true. Not everybody you meet has  a smile and warm greeting but enough do to call it the norm.

Caye Caulker from the water taxi dock.
Caye Caulker from the water taxi dock.

Walking home from dinner along the beach late one evening,so many people who passed us said simply, “Good night.” Like the whole village was seeing us off to bed.

Contrast that with the table of guys my age who sat near us in Peet’s this morning and sounded like a bunch of Facebook flamethrowers — abrupt, insulting, aggressive, nasty, condescending, rude — and I think they were friends.

Well, for better or worse, we’re home. And we really are glad to be back. We missed friends, family and one funeral of a dear friend.

Have we found a place to live in Belize? Yes and no. Rose and I have narrowed it down to San Ignacio, near the western border with Guatemala and San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. Both hold very different attractions to us.

Like I said, we’ve got a lot of talking to do.

Some more photos from Caye Caulker:

The view long the main street of Caye Caulker. It seemed busier than these pictures show. The modes of transportation along the packed-sand boulevard are bicycle , golf cart and walking -- mostly walking.
The view along the main street of Caye Caulker. It seemed busier than these pictures show. The modes of transportation along the packed-sand boulevard are bicycle , golf cart and walking — mostly walking.

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More scenes from the main street, Caye Caulker.
More scenes from the main street, Caye Caulker.

 

This is Andy. He sits in an alley next to La Cubana restaurant and slowly turns the pig on the spit. He says it takes 4-5 hours of slow turning to cook the pig just right.
This is Andy. He sits in an alley next to La Cubana restaurant and slowly turns the pig on the spit. He says it takes 4-5 hours of slow turning to cook the pig just right.

At La Cubana, where Andy's roasting pig will end up, here is the evening buffet menu. Notice the all-you-can-eat price is $25BZ, or $12.50 in U.S. dollars. The same meal for lunch is $10US. Yum.
At La Cubana, where Andy’s roasting pig will end up, here is the evening buffet menu. Notice the all-you-can-eat price is $25BZ, or $12.50 in U.S. dollars. The same meal for lunch is $10US. Yum.

 
 

Nick, The Belize Fish Whisperer, leads the way

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Hol Chan Marine Reserve from the air ... taken as we left Ambergris Cay this morning for Belize International Airport on the mainland. You can just see the channel through the surf that gives the reserve its name.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve from the air … taken as we left Ambergris Cay this morning for Belize International Airport on the mainland. You can just see the channel through the surf that gives the reserve its name.

It is uncanny. Hol Chan Marine Reserve is vast and, well, under the sea. But Nick moved through it like it was his personal playground.

He knew in which crevices the Moray eels hung out — he’d swim down and clap and they would come out like cobras to a flute. He knew where to find conch and sea cucumber. He spotted sea turtles and sting rays and sharks long before any of us.

Nick even caught a three-foot-long shark with his hands and held it so Rose could pet it. “It felt coarse, super coarse, said Rose, “Like starched jeans. I thought it would feel like a portobella mushrooms.”

Nick was our guide on an overcast, windy and choppy day off the lower tip of Ambergris Caye.

I started calling him “the fish whisperer.”

He’s been at this for five years now, taking tourists like us into the national preserve and the nearby Shark-Ray Alley to take in the vast and varied life below the sea.

Nick delivers a lecture on respecting the reserve’s environment and cautions about touching the coral or picking up shells. He points out one sandy area and says “this is the only place in the reserve where you can stand on the bottom. OK? No where else.”

You get the feeling Nick and the other snorkeling and scuba guides are pretty protective of this, Belize’s greatest natural resource. Hol Chan Marine Reserve runs right up against the Barrier Reef and is marked by one of the few deep water channels, through which come fish, turtles and more.

I went a little crazy with the iPhone camera with its waterproof cover but for what it is worth here are many of the photos that I took.  They are in chronological order, from the moment I dropped into the water until I reluctantly, got out.

The aquamarine coloring is exactly right. This is what the water looks like off of most of Belize.

I hope you enjoy them.

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Playing a tune in the caye of Cauker …..

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One of the guys we were swimming with in Shark-Ray Alley off Ambergris Caye. Props to Rose for jumping right in with the big fish!
One of the guys we were swimming with in Shark-Ray Alley off Ambergris Caye. Props to Rose for jumping right in with the big fish!

Two things I would feel remiss in not doing after all this time on Ambergris Caye: snorkeling and visiting Caye Caulker.

Spotted this sea turtle in the Hoy Chen Marine Reserve, our first stop on our snorkeling tour.
Spotted this sea turtle in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, our first stop on our snorkeling tour. He’s missing most of his front fin on the other side.

Rose and I finally went snorkeling yesterday afternoon and today I am writing this message from Caye Caulker. I took the watertaxi over this morning – it is just south of Amberguis Caye — and so far I have gotten as far as the Laughing Lobster where I was served breakfast and a healthy WiFi signal.

Rose is off to her daily yoga class and later plans on a well-deserved massage over in San Pedro. This is our first time apart during this whole trip and, oh my god, I miss her!

Main Street in Caye Cauker. A nice little village on a nice little island just south of Ambergris Caye.
Main Street in Caye Cauker. A nice little village on a nice little island just south of Ambergris Caye.

Then again, we are on separate islands at the moment.

Caye Caulker is indeed a step back in time. The main street is hard packed sand and tourists walk around in bare feet and hotel towels wrapped around bathing suits.

Shop girl on the main street in Caye Cauker, waiting for business to pick up.
Shop girl on the main street in Caye Cauker, waiting for business to pick up.

A gentle old fellow with a single tooth jutting from his mouth stumbled up the steps and walked over to my table to talk. My fault. I made eye contact and smiled. He had an open bottle of rum in one hand and a bottle of water in the other. I couldn’t make out a word he was saying and despite the morning hour he was half-past midnight drunk.

The waiter was very kind with him and eased him off the porch and back on to the road. “Yes, my friend,” he told the guy, “you ARE cool.”

Later the waiter said he’s a fixture in the village. And you’ll see him around all day like that. His capacity for rum is legend.

Well, I’m off to explore more of the village and island. It isn’t very large and I’m sure I will have exhausted most of it in an hour or two. Nice vibe though. I’ll post more pictures from our dive trip later and a few more from Caye Caulker.

Here’s a couple more shark photos from Shark Ray Alley:

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