As you go through life there are many times when you look ahead and think that right around the corner is where it’s all going to happen, with the pot of gold and the promise in the brochure kept and your wildest dreams all coming true, We had been telling ourselves that about Belize. The possibilities were lining up. Most of the sailing is done behind a reef, so it knocks out the ocean swell. Everyone speaks English so it’s easy to get around. 2nd largest barrier reef in the world so the snorkeling would be excellent.
Anchored out off the west side of Ranguana Cay. Palm trees, check. White sandy beach, got it. Incredible snorkeling right off the back of the boat. Of course. Water as clear as gin. A 2-3 hour sail from a really fun town. No other islands in sight. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but then tomorrow we hope to sail for another couple of hours to it’s cuter sister. Seems we have made it.
It’s all so good when it’s good. Lot’s of sailing can feel a lot like “ahem” work. When you have to cover 200 miles in 3 days, wind blowing the wrong way, swells coming from 3 directions at once, squalls popping up when they weren’t expected to, ground appearing where there should be water, pulling into places that are not fully as advertised, it can make you a little crazy. So when it happens the way it’s supposed to it’s glorious.
Maybe be the best part is what’s happening under the surface. Snorkeling these reefs is a magical experience. Purple fans, elk horn reaching to the surface with monstrous green and yellow brain coral, orange sponges, long tentacles all swaying gently with the current. In and out float the Grouper, Angelfish, Parrotfish, Jacks and Snappers. Mr. Lobster scrunched into his little hole in the rock dares me to try and grab him. Orange starfish and a slowly moving Conch with Nurse Sharks,Turtles and a Barracuda lazing by all keeping an eye on us, and seemingly comfortable with our monstrous sized human forms peering into their world. From the deck of Orion we see flying fish soaring 30-40 feet, drifting on their “wings” before dropping back to their world. And then there are the porpoises. Elia calls out, Dolphina, Dolphina and they come closer to check us out as we do the same.
The natives along the coast have a long relationship with the sea. There are the local fisherman in their funky homemade sailboats, one big sail and long boom, piled high with dugout canoes. 7 guys on one boat, all sleeping under a slapping blue tarp to get up early and go out to fish in their little cayukos, and then back to the mother ship which gets covered with hanging laundry at night. A Rasta looking fellow who built his own catamaran out of old paddle boards, chunks of foam, and a scrounged sail from a windsurfer, proudly sails standing through the harbor. Dugout canoes, reinforced with fiberglass are everywhere. One old scrawny guy fills his with sand to just below sinking, and shuttles it over to an ever-growing pile on a far away beach. Then back to do it again in the scorching midday sun. Long fiberglass skiffs with large fast motors blast through the anchorage taking divers out to the reef, ferrying people back and forth, the pickup trucks of the Belizean sea.
Along many of the beaches facing east sargasso sea weed blows in and piles up giving off a strong distinctive stink. Wind always out of the east so blows anything in the water eventually up onto the beach. We dinghied in to South Long Cocoa Cay and took a walk around. The South side was all ready for a conference with lots of little bungalows on stilts. Beautiful view. Large harbor. Talked to the caretaker who said Yanni was going to be the next guest. Peaceful hideaway indeed. And then the walk to the north side. Along the breakwater were phenomenal piles of plastic and washed up trash. Somehow some shoe manufacturer or recycler dumped their load because there were over a few hundred random pairs of new and worn and crocs, sneakers, sandles. Random garbage weirdness. And always the plastic. Broken down bottles, caps, a toys r us trike. All wedged in between the built up coral breakwater. Would be incredibly hard to cleanup if someone even gave it a go. But the damn plastic does last and does float, and does end up on these shores, and if it’s not a place where people are paying money for it to be shiny it accumulates. Sad and disturbing.
Cay Caulker in the north is an island accessed by a 1 hour water taxi ride from Belize City with a funky laid back vibe, and a focus on keeping the tourist entertained, with diving trips to the reefs, swimming with the sharks, snorkeling off the boat, and trips to see the ruins, Lots of 20 somethings hanging out, checking each other out in their bathing suits and puffy red skin, listening to the thump thump of the island rhythm at night. All dirt streets with an anchorage off the west side far enough out to only slightly hear the diesel engines generating power for the island 24/7. A few good restaurants, some nice sandy floored bars, a safe anchorage for sailboats, swaying palms, friendly locals. Many little stands selling local crafts, with sweet Mayan ladies offering beadwork and fabrics from Guatamala, and small grills setup along the street offering chicken, sausages, and local delicacies.
Down south the main cruiser hub is Placencia. Great protected anchorage with a friendly scene. Yoli’s bar is where you bring in your dinghy, chat with the other sailors and play poker during the afternoon to escape the heat of the midday sun, and compare tales of places been. Cruisers wander throughout the town as well as a decent number of international tourists hanging for a week or a winter. Some money is coming in leading to nicer restaurants, crowded beach bars, cleaner hotels, and nice shops, all with a very small town feel. Our favorite daily stop was Tuttit Frutti’s, owned by an Italian couple who whip out homemade gelato that almost brought us to tears. The main walking path through town is a slightly elevated cement sidewalk that was reportedly 30 years in the making. We were there in the dry season but word is that it rains over 120 inches a year and so getting off the ground is probably a great idea.
The biggest draw in this part of the country is the hundreds of islands, or Cay’s all along the coast. The reef is 10-40 miles off the mainland with little islands throughout. Some are just little Mangrove bursts, others have resorts with white sand, palm trees, a small boat harbor all surrounded by stunning turquoise waters. Lots of places to just drop the hook and dive off the back of the boat to explore the coral and be alone in paradise. We have spent a month here and feel like we have only scratched the surface.
Slowly we are working on putting Orion away again for the hurricane filled summer. For us there is cleaning up to do, and the thinking of life back in Colorado enters more into the mind and the conversations. The plan is to head up the Rio Dulce in Guatemala and leave her in trusted hands. There is a cruising oasis there with excellent marinas that offer a safe and cheap place to leave her that is out of the hurricane zone. And the awesome thing is that it is only a 2 day sail back into the heart of paradise for next years adventures to begin. Unbeliezable!