It was so easy to make connections here, the language of Belize is English, with a charming Caribbean lilt. The taxi from the airport in Belize City took me to the marine terminal just in time to hop on the water taxi to Caye Caulker, my destination. The captain of the water taxi wore 13 rings. On board, I struck up a conversation with an American couple heading out for the day. There are no cars on the caye (pronounced key), just golf carts and lots of bicycles. I located my little hotel, but the office door was locked. As I descended the stairs, the American couple walked by and called out that they were going to rent a cart for an hour and tour the island, would I like to come along? Of course!
There is a long barrier reef along the Caribbean coast of Belize that shelters the cayes, creating calm, quiet beaches and incredibly beautiful places to snorkel and dive. I scouted out several snorkel tour groups, and decided on an outing with Hicaco (Cajun slang for Caye Caulker) when Junior, a big 19 year old with gentle eyes, told me "If you can't swim or are afraid, we will stay with you and help you in the water. We love the tourist, so they love us." I knew I would be in good hands.
The small motor boat held our little group: two young Italians, couples from Norway and Canada, our two boatmen and me. It was a windy day so the sea was choppy, we bounced along getting sprayed almost in a regular rhythm on our way to Hol Chan (little channel) Marine Reserve. Carlos, our guide, was well educated and knowledgeable about the marine life and coral structures. He used his pointer adeptly to nudge colorful fish out of their hiding places along the coral sculptures, picked up specimens to show us - a lobster here, a sand dollar or conch there, stroked a sting ray. The large flat rays effortlessly slid around us like ribbons flowing in a breeze, so strange looking yet so graceful in motion. At one point we swam along the edge of the reef with a deep drop to our right, while two sting rays winged their way along the bottom like dark birds in flight - it looked like there were four of them with their shadows racing after them.
A stop for lunch in the town of San Pedro at the southern tip of Ambergris Caye, then we puttered on to our next snorkeling location, Shark Ray Alley. In the shallow waters, we could see the inhabitants circling - small brown nurse sharks. Carlos encouraged us to jump in. After being assured the sharks were not interested in fingers and toes, we joined him on the last excursion. Carlos swam like a merman ballet, he obviously came alive in the deep. He pointed out schools of fish peeking out of an underwater cave, then disappeared into the dark hole himself. I watched for him to come out, but suddenly he appeared alongside us motioning us to swim back towards the boat.
Home of lobster fishermen, the seafood dinners were excellent - I had to try the Rasta Pasta Rainforest Cafe because it had such a wonderful name. In the morning, I swapped stories over breakfast with an older English couple that worked for many years in Sri Lanka. It took me a while to peel myself out of a hammock after reading for a while, but I managed to take the water taxi back to Belize City with some time to spare so I could get some lunch and do a little walking around the city's waterfront streets.
Always trying to stay active, I've just walked the Terry Fox 10k run (yes, there's one in Guatemala too) and stomped through a month's worth of Flamenco dancing lessons, purchased at a silent auction fundraiser for the school last December. Although I enjoy dancing and can usually pick up new dances pretty easily, the body needs to move in different ways for Flamenco and mine didn't respond all that well. It's a dramatic, choreographed performance dance rather than a social expression, and I can safely say that you will never see me do this one in public.