The following morning we struck camp; laughing at the slow, stiff movements and pained, hungover looks that plagued our group. The tents proved every bit as difficult to break down as they had been to put up leading to small frustrated mutterings and no small shortage of lighthearted teasing.
We paused briefly for breakfast, then began transferring bags, sheets, tents and bodies back onto the cramped confines of the Ragga Queen before saying goodbye to the Island and its surprising wealth of local wild life.
As the boat gently drifted away from the Island I was once again taken by its small size, pristine beauty and the unique flavor of the adventure. As you might imagine, a plethora of movie references and great cinematic moments filtered through my mind – always an entertaining narrative and realization: that epiphany that you’re living the adventure often delivered as fairytale across the world’s silver screens.
The day was beautiful with hardly a cloud in the sky. The sun kept us warm and left us relishing each opportunity that arise to pause and dive into the water to fish, snorkel, hunt for conch, or just generally relax and cool off.
As we neared our first snorkeling stop I was relieved. The weather was fantastic, the group with the exception of one bratty girl, was an absolute delight and the adventure was unfolding nicely. I’m always wary of any sort of extended duration tour. While something like the Raggamuffin tour tends to only attracting the more laid back, younger and heartier traveler – all it takes is one or two people to really turn what should be a 3-9 day adventure with new found friends into an absolute nightmare. As you can tell from the photo above things were rather tight and personal space was at a premium. That said, everyone took it in stride and worked to chip in.
Our first stop was along a steep wall along the reef. As I first jumped in and looked down, I felt my stomach surge towards my throat. The water below me was some 20-30 feet deep on a steep incline, drifting quickly into a dark blue abyss. The seafloor was covered in coral, fans and schools of fish and I couldn’t help but think I stood a good chance of seeing an open water shark.
Allowing my nerves to settle, I began to explore the area. The sea wall offered a great opportunity to see a different type of reef life. Some of the fish were different, the corals were slightly different and the general feel of the place had its own unique flavor. As we snorkeled around the area I made my way along the wall watching rays and schools of fish go about their daily business. Eventually, I made a wide loop that took me into the shallow water – that which was 4-10 feet deep – and towards the areas where the reef broke free from the sea. There, in the shallower water I was greeted by large spiny sea urchins, vibrantly colored, albeit smaller, coral dwelling species of fish and even a lazy sea turtle enjoying the open sea grass. The video I’ve included above is shown in near chronological order, and while you may recognize it from my previous post – it covers all 3 days.
Tired and hungry I made my way back to the boat for lunch. After a quick meal, it was time to set off again. Sail up, bodies sprawled across the decks, the subtle sight of soft white lines decorating our bodies where we’d missed a spot of sunscreen.
Our next stop was similar. This time, however, it was a series of small sea mounts that rose from the ocean floor (about 30-40 feet) to a depth of some 10 feet below the surface. The mounts were small but packed with coral and sea life.
Once again we struggled into our fins, held our breaths and jumped over the side before fanning out in all directions to explore. Some were armed with spear guns, others with cameras. As we slowly explored, we found ourselves pointing off into the blue, motioning, and trying to speak through snorkel filled mouths. All the while sharing little discoveries – a large school of 5 or 6 barracuda, a lazy sea turtle taking a nap on the ocean floor or a particularly beautiful fish.
It was during a foray in towards one of the larger mounts – one with significantly shallower water – that I came across the largest barracuda I’ve ever seen. You’ll notice him in the video I posted above, though the size doesn’t really come across. Easily four feet in length the monster oozed predatory confidence as it slowly, ever so slowly drifted through the shallow water.
Eager to get video and see it up close, I followed. All the while wondering….was it truly a good idea? After all, the plastic housing for my camera reflected the glint of sunlight and was lined in bright dive orange rubber, looking more like a giant fishing lure than anything else. Luckily, neither I nor the Barracuda listened to the nagging voice in the back of my head – leaving us both to watch each other warily, enjoying the moment.
From there it was back onto the boat for more fishing, sunbathing and drifting. Pausing periodically to hunt for Conch, Lobster and to give the captain an opportunity to put his spear-gun to work. We feasted on fresh lobster, conch and fish ceviche, fresh fruit and cup after cup of fruit punch before eventually arriving at our second destination: Tobacco Caye.
The small (albeit significantly larger than our last) island was home to a series of docks, a small forest of large coconut trees, small restaurant, series of cabanas and small circular beach bar.
We quickly set to setting up our tents in a small clear space in the middle of the island, before grabbing a Belkin – Belize’s delicious local beer – and setting off to explore the island. Some 5 minutes later we found ourselves back at the dock eager to snorkel off the dock.
The area surrounding the island itself was sheltered by the reef behind it and offered a large expanse of smooth shallow water sea grass which stretched out and away from the island on the remaining 3 sides. The grass itself attracted large schools of fish and a large number of rays and the incredible looking eagle rays which are black with white spots, a long streaming tail and in many ways look like a manta ray. The eagle rays are an absolute delight to watch – not only are they graceful and beautiful, but they periodically leap free of the water, throwing themselves several feet into the air.
As with the day before, the sunset on Tobacco Caye was every bit as incredible. This time framed by sailboats, a small panga, and picturesque palm trees. We ate a delicious meal with fish and shrimp before settling in for another night of stories, drinks and jokes before crawling into bed. Stiff and exhausted from a long day swimming and relaxing in the sun.
The following morning greeted us with more blue skies and warm weather. After breaking down our tents and re-packing the boat we set off once more. This time on the final leg of our trip to Placencia.
The trip itself was fairly lazy. We paused several more times for seafood and caught a few fish by line. With each stop the number of us that jumped overboard to explore diminished until there were only 3 or 4 of us left that dove in at every opportunity. We swam, laughed and relaxed for the remainder of the day before arriving in Placencia about 3 or 4PM. We disembarked and set to the task of finding accommodation.
It was Christmas eve and the town was quiet, although not completely shuttered. Before long I found a small budget hotel with a room for $40 BZD ($20USD) a night. To my delight the room had 3 beds, and a private bathroom. The shower didn’t offer warm water (not unusual in Belize), and consisted of a PVC pipe with a small turn nozzle. It was more than I needed.
I settled in, read my book, grabbed an evening meal and then dozed contentedly. Life was good.