Monday morning came round and it was time to head to Ambergris Caye, an island known for its beautiful waters and the second biggest coral reef in the world. So the brochure tells me. The alarm went off at 845 ready for us to grab a taxi (kindly arranged through online chat with ocean ferry Belize the night before) to the ferry port.
We had arrived early but that wasn’t a problem as we didn’t know what we were doing. We had to swap out tickets for boarding passes, check our luggage in and then wait to board the boat. It was only about a 45 minute wait by the time we boarded and the ferry port had a little shop to buy any last minute items one might have forgot.
At last we boarded. The boat can hold 82 people and it was a bit of a squeeze. We caught the 1030am boat and it took about two hours in total after we dropped some people off at Caye Caulker. The weather seemed to be holding out for us which was great as we’d had nothing but rain the last few days.The sea looked crystal clear with dashes of seaweed. Most people actually slept the whole journey.I have no idea how as there was a very loud guy preaching from the evil getting all uppity about something in a foreign language. I think the guy he was talking to ended up pretending to fall asleep just so he’d shut up. As we pulled into dock it was a mad scramble off and we had no idea where to get our luggage from etc. So we just waited by the side of the boat and grabbed it as it came off. They gave you numbers for your luggage that had to correspond to your tickets when collecting so that people can take the wrong bags. Pretty secure process really! After we got our bags we just walked. We had zero clue of where to go other than the fact our hotel was 0.9 miles somewhere to our right. It was so hot. Lugging four bags. Not fun! We had our walking boots on too in the insane heat so they weren’t adding weight to our bags. Good idea. Bad execution. We walked forward to the road when a cab driver asked where we were going. “Hotel del Rio” I replied. “10 bucks.”
Luggage on board and in we got. Being that the journey was just less than a mile it didn’t take long. But. We were in a jeep and drove along the beach. Everyone else was in golf carts. Yes. Golf carts. The best way to get around the island. We did look at renting one but at $39 for an hour it was a tad outside our budget. Plus we had spent a lot of time on our asses in the USA that a bit of walking wouldn’t do us any harm.
We arrived at our hotel and our room was already ready despite it being an hour before check in.We were right on the beach with a jetty we could walk out on and cool off in the sea. I say cool off but the sea was about the same temperature as on land. Or so it felt. Once we dumped our stuff in our tiny tiny room, we headed to find some grub. There were bars and food places all along the beach. In the end we decided to eat at one out on a jetty called the Palapa Bar.Run by an American couple who relocated ten years ago the bar is delightful. They have sharpies for you to leave your mark, the food is divine and the drinks are cheap! Service is awesome too as they actually remember you by name! We thoroughly enjoyed our visit. You can even lounge around on rubber rings in the sea drinking beer by the bucket load! We wandered into the town….about two paces infront of the jetty to buy some water and biscuits for our room before heading back to chill in the sun for a bit, as knowing our luck, it would be very short lived!Mangoes in the trees above usOur own beach with warm waters
Now, as we were lying there, soaking up some summer sun, David from the Caribbean Adventures came and spoke to us about snorkelling. We wanted to do a half day trip on Tuesday morning which would involve us going to Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley. We booked through them at $123 so it wasn’t cheap but we hoped it would be worth it. Next thing I know Nathan had spotted paddle boards and kayaks. He’s got a paddle board at home so knows what to do etc, me? Never gone paddle boarding before, probably one of the most uncoordinated and clumsy people I know, but what the heck right? Since booking snorkelling we found out they add a 12.5% fee when paying by card so we wandered back into town to find an ATM, withdrew some cash and went back to our hotel. About ten minutes later, we’d filled out a disclaimer and picked up our boards.
All I got told was “just sit on it and paddle.” As easy as that right? Wrong! I then knelt and started paddling. Few issues here. I had no idea which way the paddle was meant to go in the water. Nor did I realise I was basically padding the air and not the water hence why I wasn’t moving! We were also in shallow water yet the seaweed pierced the top of the sea. Anyone who knows me, knows I hate seaweed. It just freaks me out, so the idea of falling off into this bed of seaweed was truly uninviting. Therefore I was adamant I would not fall off. That made me rigid and in the end I just wasn’t moving. Two people floating and drinking in the sea just said “try little strokes” so I did and it worked. Much more helpful than Nathan was! I then found the ankle thingy (no idea on technical terms here) on his board so I figured I would just sit on my board and be pulled along. I blame my poor training for lack of coordination and just general poor ability. In the end I retreated to the jetty to hold on whilst Nathan actually stood up and paddled.
I can do that!! So I pushed off, paddled a bit and up I went. First time. Nailed it! I was so proud of myself that I almost forgot all about the wretched seaweed beneath me. Still…I hadn’t fallen off! We found a sand bank where we stopped to get off. Getting back on however must have been like watching a sea lion mount a rock. Incredibly un ladylike. Nevertheless back on it I was and paddling like a very unprofessional paddleboarder. Guess this won’t be my next profession?
We had rented them for an hour and that hour went so quick! By this time it was nearly 630pm and the sun was setting. Time for a shower and exploration of this island at night. Hammocks outside our roomThe bars along the beachCrabPalapa Bar at night The clock
We were also on the hunt for souvenir shops. The island is small enough that walking everywhere is easy enough! Whilst the golf carts would stop you getting so hot and sweaty, we walked everywhere and ended up walking five miles before we even knew it. We located a souvenir shop towards the bottom end of the island and headed back via the main road. It was still very humid and much safer than Belize City.
This morning consisted of the alarm waking us up again at 8 so we could get to the end of the jetty for the boat to pick us up to go snorkelling. It arrived promptly and took us to the dive shop to get our fins and masks. About half an hour later we were getting in another boat to take us to Hol Chan. We were on board with a Guatemalan family, a Spanish couple, a mum and daughter (we think) and another American who was going diving.
Hol Chan is Mayan for “little channel” and it is home to about 18 square kilometres of coral reef and about 160 species of fish. It started to rain on our way out and I felt sorry for Captain Carlos getting soaked whilst we were all under cover. We pulled up where all the other boats were, about fifteen minutes later, put on our gear and slid into the warm water.Remember the time I told you all I thought I saw a shipwreck on he bottom of the sea when I was a kid snorkelling in Cyprus? Well every time I go snorkelling it starts off the same, a reluctance to put my head in the water, people I’m with not allowed to swim off without me, feet unable to touch the floor despite it only being 2 feet deep. Today was no different. And why should it be? I mean there were only huge Jacks swimming around us so insanely close! They looked evil too. Our guide, Canton was in the water with us hunting for species. Sadly he had the task of dragging a woman in the round ring with him because she was too tired to swim or couldn’t swim. One or the other. I’m a strong swimmer just with a small fear of the sea until I’ve been in it about two minutes then I’m like a dolphin, or whale, either or. She had a life vest on and held onto the ring and got pulled round by our guide. I’ll leave you to form your own opinions…
We saw so much! It was utterly amazing. The Jacks never left us alone from the minute we hit the water. They were a shiny silver with yellow on their fins. We saw barracudas, groupers, snappers, grunts, parrotfish, fire coral, mustard coral, moray eels, huge rays as well as nurse sharks. It truly was incredible one minute you’re swimming in about 8ft deep water then it drops off to about 30ft so clear where you can see divers combing the sea bed. It was amazing. I really disliked the eels though.
We had plenty of time in the water swimming in the channel before we went back to the boat to move about 10 minutes down to Shark Ray Alley. The local fishermen used to clean their boats here and the sharks, who are normally nocturnal feeders, realised they could get free dinner. Sharks turn up now as soon as they hear boats and this was evident today as as soon as we stopped, nurse sharks were swarming round the boat. There must have been twenty or more. Eager to get in the water with them, we all chucked our masks on and in we got. The water was so warm and clear and the bloody Jacks were right by us again. The guide chucked some chum into the sea and the sharks eagerly fought for a piece or two.
There was something incredibly calm and peaceful about them. Don’t get me wrong their very docile and I’m sure if they felt threatened they’d still attack, but I felt more at ease with the sharks than I did with the fish! They swam right by us, underneath us, heading wherever there was food, which was in no shortage as there were a lot of boats. Then the rays came. Big and small. Whilst these also just minded their own business sniffing out food, they weren’t as nice as the sharks. For some reason this trip has made me want to learn to scuba dive to see what other incredible species we can find at the bottom of the ocean. It was utterly incredible. If anyone is going to Belize, I would urge them to do this! Our guides, Carlos (driver), Fernando (diver guide), and Canton (snkorlellers guide) were fantastic. Canton would be diving down to the bed trying to rustle out whatever was in there (whilst still pulling that woman along whilst stopping every time he saw something different to point it out to us.
An amazing experience…