31.03.2006 - 09.04.2006 -17 °C
Sunday was a nice lazy start having had a much cooler & more comfortable night. We discovered daylight saving had changed so it was actually just after 9 we dragged ourselves out of bed. After breakfast we went & sat in chairs on the beach for the rest of the morning. I finally painted a picture & then a pelican came along & sat on a post in front of me posing so I had to draw him & then paint him too. He flew away before I was ready to paint his colours so I just waited for another one to land there – imagine the luxury of having nothing better to do than wait for a pelican to land to see what colour his feathers are. I discovered pelicans are all very different & have very distinctive colourings & started to be able to identify individuals. We had a snack lunch on the beach & after exhausting the possibilities for pelican watching headed into town. We planned to rent kayaks from 3-6 & explore the backs of the islands but the woman we planned to rent from was pretty unhelpful. We found another (cheaper & friendlier) place but they only had one single available so we went for a swim at the split again & snorkelled some more. We found a wee road & walked part way up the north island too, which felt like intrepid exploring except that there were quite a few houses & we turned around at the first sign of biting insects. Snorkelling across the split we could even see the foundations of houses that had been there before the hurricane & the gorge that it gauged was pretty deep & also stretches quite a way out either side of the island. The other single kayak was back in so we decided to go for a wee paddle up the back of the north island & to watch the sunset. The back side is all pretty dense mangroves & we went into one wee channel & nearly got eaten alive by mosquitoes so beat a hasty retreat. However it was an interesting paddle & then we paddled about the split for a while waiting for the sunset. It was worth waiting for because it was a vibrant orange fireball sinking into the blue ocean. I love the bit where it finally sinks & we listen for it going “sizzle” as it disappears in the water. We took the kayaks back, went home & got dried & went to go out for dinner. The restaurant we wanted to go to, Syd’s, still wasn’t open so we ended up with takeaways on our balcony, but it was good to eat something other than tortillas & beans.
Monday was a reasonably early start & we went up & got the kayaks again & went around the back of the south island. We paddled for an hour & got nearly to the bottom then did a bit of snorkelling from the kayaks in some lovely clear water near some dead mangroves. There were lots of pretty little fish. We did a bit of sightseeing on the way back but it was a fairly steady paddle into the wind & current. Just as we were getting back we found a “parking spot” where tours go to see seahorses & that’s what had been recommended to us to do from the kayaks. We thought that was pretty silly because it was basically right in town. So we returned the kayaks & went swimming & snorkelling. We didn’t see any seahorses unfortunately but did see lots of really pretty little fish & the really stunning habitat of the mangroves underwater. It was simply gorgeous although very tiny. It was hard work too because the water was very shallow & we had to try not to disturb the bottom & stir up silt. And our cheap mask seemed to stop working& just leaked all the time. By the time we got out from swimming & walked back home at 12:00 we’d been exercising (although not vigorous it was certainly steady work) for 4 1/2 hours. So we’d earned our lunch and after getting changed, walked back to the top of the island again for lunch of grilled snapper, rice, beans & fried plantain (green banana kind of vegetable). It was delicious & the setting was great. We were up on a deck on the beach with a great view up & down the island – a great spot to watch the world go by. Then we spent a while in town doing chores – email, posting, bank etc, before walking home again. This time we went for a walk in the mini-reserve, which shows the ‘caye littoral’ forest & was very pretty & very dense. Then it was time to walk back to the top again for our briefing for the sailing trip tomorrow. All the people going seem really nice & it sounds like a great trip. We got takeaways for dinner again & packed our bags ready for the trip.
Tuesday morning was an early start. We watched the sunrise, which was really pretty, then packed up and walked back to the top of the island to surrender our packs into the stowage of Ragga gal at 7:00. Then we had breakfast on the dock & watched the world go by & finally got under way about 8:30-9:00.
There was not enough wind to sail all the time & we had to motor for quite a bit of the day. However, when we were sailing it was divine. We also fished a bit & the guys got a tuna, which we ate immediately as sashimi. That was definitely the best tuna I’ve ever tasted. Most of the day was spent just relaxing & chatting. All the folks on the boat are really nice & a big range of age/experience/culture. We saw several big schools of tuna when we were outside the reef and three turtles, lots of flying fish. We stopped for snorkelling at Gallows Point, which was the best snorkelling most people had done in Belize, so we were happy we made the right decision not to pay a lot for a snorkelling trip as well as this. There were amazing purple fan corals, orange & yellow elks horn corals & fish in every colour imaginable. For a while I watched a big fish with fluorescent blue fins & at one point it went into a hole & chased a bright green & bright yellow fish beside a really pretty pale blue one. So much colour in one small space was amazing. There were also little neon ones, black & yellow stripy, blue & yellow stripy & a big red one with orange fins. We had lunch on the boat after snorkelling – fish, rice & potato salad, then sailed along the marine highway – a big wide stretch of sand in the middle of the coral. We caught a couple of Spanish mackerel for dinner & stopped at English Caye for a wee walk around & swim. It was the lighthouse & pilot station, & really just big enough for the few necessary buildings. We also collected an anchor there, because ours had vanished overnight! Then we went on past Goffs Caye – which is a tiny sand bank, a few trees, & a bar for the cruise line guests – to Rendezvous Caye, which was our home for the night. It is about 20m wide & 50m long, & has 8 coconut trees & 3 mangroves, & is pure white sand with gorgeous turquoise water all around. We beached the boat & tied it to a coconut tree, set up our tents, then watched the sunset. It was another of those divine globes sinking into the water, but even more amazing to watch from a deserted island. We had our dinner – mackerel, rice & potato, & ceviche with fresh tuna to start. I can’t imagine a more idyllic setting or day. We got up for a while in the middle of the night & just watched the stars & the coconut palms waving & the water lapping. I’ve never seen so many stars in my life & it was simply awesome.
Wednesday morning was a truly idyllic start. We got up & watched another gorgeous sunrise. Did yoga on the beach with pelicans fishing a few feet from us, crabs scuttling about their morning business, & pure peace & quiet. We watched an osprey just 50 feet away for a while, then dropped our tent & just chilled on our beautiful island. The pelicans had pretty easy fishing & were great to watch. We had breakfast on the boat, which was interesting because we were beached, & every time someone moved we tipped precariously. Once the boat was packed up we pushed off & headed out for the day. There was no wind at all so we had to motor all day, although the sail was up for shade. The plus point of the weather was that the sea was so flat and a truly gorgeous colour. It was exactly the mental image I had of the Caribbean, but in the mental image you could sail as well as have flat sea! We could also see the bottom a lot of the time, & saw lots of starfish, rays, pretty coral, barracuda & one nurse shark just by our snorkel stop. The snorkelling off Coleman Caye was just amazing. The coral was stunning again & there were big clumps that came quite close to the surface in very clear water so you could be really close to stuff just from the surface. I saw some amazing fish, including a stick fish that’s related to a seahorse, a couple of barracuda, some big angel fish and some beautiful rainbow fans, like anemones, and I swam with a big school of fish. Steve had also been snorkelling in the morning at Rendezvous Caye & had seen a huge eagle ray & some other cool fish. I was having a lot of trouble snorkelling so just went in for short spells, then got out again for a while. We had lunch on the boat, which was just sandwiches. We got to Tobacco Caye about 3:00 & got organised & the boat unpacked. There was a dock & it’s a pretty populated island, although very small & still very beautiful. Although its stunning, it took a few of us a wee while to do the mental shift from what we had last night to an island with lots of buildings & people. Steve went snorkelling again with a bunch of the others & saw some nice stuff, but not as good as earlier. I needed to stay out of the heat a bit, so painted a picture & chatted with folk. In the end I didn’t go in snorkelling. There was another gorgeous sunset – this time behind the Maya Mountains in the distance, but reflecting in the sea. We watched it from the beach & the dock with a rum punch or seven. Dinner was great again – this time shrimp, because our fishing had been very unsuccessful. We spent the evening just all sitting on the dock together chatting & telling stories & drinking rum punch.
We woke in time for the sunrise on Thursday, which was pretty stunning – the reverse of the glowing globe sinking into the ocean – but also with the reef in the foreground. We watched pelicans fishing & the world going about its business from deck chairs on the beach. The business being fishing – these little boats with 8 or 9 guys living on them, & 8 canoes, & they go off for the day, anchor the boat & fish from canoes up to 3 miles all around the boat. After packing up we had breakfast of fried tortillas, scrambled eggs, beans and plantain, with everyone on the dock, then left them to catch our taxi. It was pretty sad saying goodbye because they were some great people.
Ethan – an ecoforestry grad who’s very ecologically minded, & Paul from Portland, his uncle, who’s quite opposite in many ways, travelling Central America for 6 weeks.
Bryan, a physician assistant from Boston, who’s taken 18 months off to travel around the world.
Mike from St Louis, who got fired as a bartender & is on his first trip outside the US.
Heather & John & their 8 year old twins, Elizabeth & Carl from Michigan, who lived in Mexico for 3 years, & struggling to settle again.
And a Swiss couple, Chantel & Beat, who are travelling Central America for 4 months.
The taxi was quick (40 mins) & we walked through downtown Dangriga to the bus station. It was a very dusty but friendly town, & our timing for the bus was very good. They told us they go up the Coastal Highway & would drop us at the junction to Gales Point, so we were surprised when it only cost us a dollar. We’d been told to get a taxi into the village of Gales Point & it would be about BZ$5. A taxi pulled up & he said it would cost us $25. Unfortunately he was Mexican (Aztec actually) & didn’t speak much English. He took us around the corner to his friend & we discovered that we were at the start of the coastal highway & more than 4 km from Gales Point. She thought it was about 6 miles & we agreed to pay the taxi $30, which she thought was fair. Our alternative was to wait 5 hours for a bus that would go up the highway. After the taxi went back for gas we set off. This taxi would never have been aloud on the road anywhere else – even Orkney – never mind being a taxi. There were 4 huge cracks down the windscreen & it was a pretty beat up old vehicle that rattled & clanked a lot. The driver was Franco, & was in Belize to learn English, but didn’t seem to like Belize much & thought the roads were terrible. He was certainly right about that & the Coastal Highway is unpaved & full of ruts & holes. It was also about 26 miles to Gales Point, & Franco didn’t know the way, & couldn’t read the signs, so we had to help him. He was pretty cool, & treated it like an adventure, but was a bit worried about the fact he was going to run out of gas. At one stage he stopped the car & went to turn it off but the key had fallen out. We got there eventually, gave him $40 & helped try to find him some gas. We think he got some from the lodge up the road & then parked beside the campground where he’d dropped us & had a siesta – for 6 hours! We, & the people who live there were wondering if he was dead but he eventually left. The camp is lovely & run by Jill (American) & Emmett, who makes drums and teaches drumming. We got set up & then went down the road in search of lunch, which ended up being cookies because that was all the shop had that didn’t need cooking. We booked dinner for 5pm at Gentle’s Cool Spot & they agreed to make us Seray (which was why we needed to book). Then we spent the afternoon just relaxing watching the view from the tent, which was stunning. We looked over the lagoon to the mountains, which are really undulating jagged shapes & we could see 7 layers of hills. The village is very “off the beaten track” & is a dirt road & shacks, but very, very friendly. Some folks gave us some cashew fruit to try (& in return I treated their daughter, who had had a horrific injury to her hand & been given no advice or exercise, but told it would be crippled. I doubt it should be & hopefully made a difference). I never knew cashews had fruit & they were quite tasty. The nut is encased in a pod that hangs down under the fruit & contains toxins until it’s roasted. They char them over iron on a fire then scrape off the charcoal to get one nut.
Our dinner was fabulous – Seray is a coconut milk, plantain & fish stew & we tried some local fruit wines with it. We had a cashew wine which was very sweet & a bit like sherry, & a serosie wine, an herb that is supposed to be a good blood tonic, and almost like a beer. Both were very good, & we chatted with some folk who were working at the manatee research station at Tiger Point, which was only accessible by boat. We got back just in time to catch the end of the sunset over our lovely view & just sat & enjoyed the dusk for a while. Emmett lit the fire & we joined him for a drumming lesson. We learned a couple of rhythms of traditional local music & how to do basic base tone & slap sounds on the drum. We did a pah pah ta-ta-ta & a pah ta ta doom bah doom bah doom bah – called bruckdown rhythm. It was pretty cool sitting around a fire looking up at the stars & playing traditional rhythms with an amazing drummer. He showed us a few other drums & explained how a group & the rhythms are structural. Then we had a wee glass of his cashew wine, which was much drier than Gentle’s, & we liked it better. Jill joined us & we just sat around the fire gossiping till everyone was tired (about 9pm!).
The tent was fairly hot overnight despite a good breeze & we woke with the light at 5.30 on Friday. The sunrise wasn’t much because it was overcast& we struggled up & had showers. It’s interesting that our idea of luxury has changed because this shower was fantastic. It was a pipe coming out directly above you in a concrete tub & was only cold water, but it didn’t smell awful & was lovely soft water. I managed to comb my hair easily afterwards for the first time in weeks. We had got us & everything covered in a thick layer of dust in the taxi yesterday & it was good to get rid of it for a few minutes – until our clothes went on. We had breakfast of snack bars (from Doug & Barb at Caye Caulker) at the table by the lagoon & then went up to Manatee Lodge for a manatee tour. We had to drop off the manageress of the lodge at Tiger Point first so got a little bit extra tour. Then we tied up at the warm freshwater spring where the manatees like to play. We saw lots & lots of them but not very close & they mainly only surface their noses for a couple of seconds, although a few floated on their backs for a few seconds. It was pretty cool to see them, but rather expensive – cost us $55 US. Then we chilled out at the camp for a bit & went to Gentle’s for lunch. We had fried fish with rice & a noodle soup stuff with coconut milk. We finished lunch about 2pm & walked down to the store & back for water – an hour walking in the hot sun – so we needed a rest. We sat at the table by the lagoon in the shade & breeze, then found a shady spot & played tent petanque for a while. I painted another picture & then we watched the sunset. It was not quite as pretty as yesterdays & the hills were a bit hazy so had less layers, but still pretty stunning. We put long pants & sleeves on to protect us from the sandflys – too late for Steve, already had 90!!! Bites just on his back as well as numerous on his legs. We were too late for dinner but the fabulous Alita made us something anyway. She apologised that we had to wait while she made flyjacks & fried fish, which was great. The atmosphere here is just so great. Everyone is really friendly & happily go out of their way for you. The culture is quite different as it’s a kriol village & everyone normally speaks kriol. It’s the kind of experience I would have loved to have had in the Louisiana bayous, but here it’s much safer. It’s cool that you go to the restaurant & eat whatever they’re making, rather than choosing from a menu.
We decided the tent was breeze proof because we took the fly off & faced the door towards the breeze & still none seemed to come in, so we were cooked again when we woke at 5am to go & catch the bus. The bus ride was an experience. Jill calls them chicken buses, which is a good description. Lots of folk got on from the village & there was a wee bit of a party atmosphere with everyone chattering excitedly in kriol, & we were the only white people on the whole journey. The scenery was stunning as the coastal highway is largely in the jungle with wee rickety wooden bridges only just wide enough for the bus, & no railings. It’s also the main route used by trucks from Belize City & they kick up a huge dust storm. The taxi the other day had to stop because we couldn’t even see where the road went. The hills are really rugged but all rounded, steep & sudden & covered in jungle. The plain in the middle is mostly jungle but opens up occasionally into orange groves. We got off the bus at the junction with the main road & a bus to Cayo (San Ignacio) was waiting so we ended up there by 9am, which was about the time we’d been expecting to be in Belize City bus station. We found David’s Adventure Tours & waited for David to sort us out for the jungle camp. We did a bit of shopping in the meantime & managed to replace my worn out shorts and longs pretty cheaply. We looked around the market, which had lots of fresh fruit and veg & some spices, but unfortunately not really any “value added” food or products. We got sorted and up to the jungle camp by 12.30 & were cooling off in the river. The camp is on an unexcavated Mayan site & is very basic. We crossed the river on foot because it was really too low for the canoe, & hiked up a really steep hill. Our room was in a thatched cabana with slat windows & a concrete floor & 2 stable doors, but reasonably breezy & they told us we might need a blanket at night, which would be lovely. It was a really hot day today – somewhere in the 90’s but a low is expected tomorrow, which would be good as it was too hot for me by 9.30! The river is very cool though, & we cooled off quickly. There are little fish that seemed to like to nibble our legs (not piranha!) The river rose by about 6 inches while we were sitting there, which was quite disturbing because we were at least a hundred miles upstream. David told us it’s because there’s a dam upstream. We had some corn chips and beans for lunch, then a wee siesta, had another swim & did a bit of laundry in the river. Then we sat on a Mayan mound and watched the birds – lots of pretty colours, and pretty colourful butterflies too. Unfortunately the sunset was a flop. We watched and then helped Julia make tortillas. She makes a mixture of flour, salt, baking soda, a stuff like lard, and water, then forms little round balls & leaves them to rise a bit. Then they get put on a greased board & pushed out by hand into perfect rounds. Julia makes it look really easy & mine had holes in & weren’t an even thickness & not quite round, although I did improve over the course of doing half a dozen. Then they get lifted off the board & plopped onto a hot griddle for a few minutes on each side. There’s no electricity here so she cooks over a wood fire in very traditional ways, which was neat to see, but it was wilting hot in there. So I had my wee spell as a good Mayan wife & made tortillas for my husband & he appreciated them. I had fried fish for my tea & Steve had pork, which were both good & accompanied by macaroni cheese & mashed potato. We went to be not long after dinner & I asked about scorpions & got told there were none. A couple of minutes later I had to go ask again because there was one in my bed when I lifted the sheet. David sprayed the magic spray that gets rid of scorpions. It probably has marijuana in it like his (very effective) mosquito repellent & itch treatment. It was a pretty hot night again despite there being a bit of a breeze and a thunder & lightening storm & some torrential rain. I didn’t sleep well between the heat, being bitten by bugs (which I assume was a flea because we had the mosquito net up) & fear of the scorpion still being under the bed.