Day four we headed to the beach! Woke up early and got our stuff together, checked out with the staff and after a quick breakfast jumped in the truck with Carlos to head back to Belize City and the Municipal Airstrip where we’d catch our flight to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. The drive was nice, the weather was gorgeous.
We finally arrived and the tiny airport was the most chill thing ever. One room, some people at the counter. You give your names and flight time, they hand you a laminated piece of paper that says BOARDING PASS. No IDs, no baggage searches, awesome. We finally get called to board and it’s the smallest plane I’ve ever been on. It was pretty much a van with wings. We took off and sailed over the Carribean sea toward the cayes (pronounced keys), the small islands off Belize’s coast.
We spotted Ambergris Caye off to our right and started circling down. After a shaky landing, we jumped out and grabbed our bags, then caught a taxi to take us to our hotel. Taxis look like any other vehicle down here, we happened to jump into an early 90s minivan. He took us for a short drive and minutes later we were in front of Changes In Latitudes, the bed & breakfast where we’d be staying for the rest of our trip.
The place is incredibly charming. Painted bright blue, a gorgeous courtyard with white sand floors and walkways and beautiful tropical plants everywhere. Bikes to rent, a pergola with flowers growing all above, and hammocks and seating below. A dining area under a palm leaf roof where breakfast is served. A shower shack where you can rinse off before going inside.
We headed inside to the kitchen area and met Renita, one of the owners. She showed us around, gave us tips on some fun things going on that day, and took us down to the beach and the pool at the yacht club next door, which we were allowed to use. She mentioned that there was a snorkeling trip at 2:00 that day, which was in about an hour and a half, so we decided to go. We got settled into the room and grabbed some delicious lunch at a little place called Monkey Bites.
It was time to meet our guide down at the dock so we headed that way. We saw a green and white boat approaching and went down to meet Alfonse, our guide. I immediately liked him. He was all smiles the whole time, charismatic and talkative. He told us he’d been doing this since he was twelve years old, and that he was born on vacation and would stay on vacation his whole life. We headed to two other docks and picked up another couple and a family of five. Then we started the ten minute ride out to Hol Chan Marine Reserve, our first snorkeling spot.
When we got there, Alfonse explained how to clear a mask, how we should work our fins and not use our hands to swim, how we should stay to his left and right if we wanted to see the best stuff and not get kicked in the face or see only bubbles. All great tips especially for the people who had never snorkeled before. He put everyone at ease and told them not to worry, if you just listen to him and be tough, you can snorkel all day if you want to. One by one we jumped in the warm, clear water. It was about chest high and the bottom was white sand and green grass. We snorkeled around close to the boat and saw tons of horse eye jacks and ballyhoo swimming around us. A few conchs lay on the sea floor. When everyone was in, we followed Alfonse further out into the reserve.
Each time he’d want us to see something, he’d smack his fist against his other palm twice to make a sharp sound, then he’d point in the direction of the fish or coral. We saw an amazing amount of sea life while we were down there. Two sea turtles, southern rays, triggerfish, parrotfish, three types of tangs (gosh the blue tangs were gorgeous), a particularly mean looking green moray eel, three types of butterfly fish, a gorgeous and huge french angelfish, fairy basslets, grouper, barracuda, squirrelfish, and on and on. There were huge staghorn and brain corals, christmas tree worms, tons of soft corals and sea fans. We took some photos with a disposable camera. If any came out, I’ll add them to this entry later.
After having a reef aquarium a few years back I grew to know the names of these fish and some of their characteristics, but seeing them in their own environment was exciting for me. We ended up back near the boat and saw an octopus down in its hole, as well as six huge spiny lobsters underneath a large coral formation. Two absolutely huge parrotfish finished up the wildlife we saw at Hol Chan.
We climbed back in the boat and hit the three minute ride to Shark & Ray Alley. As soon as the boat pulled up, Alfonse started revving the engine and the sharks immediately “came to daddy” as he put it. We could see their huge bodies under the water on all sides of the boat. We jumped in one by one and being near these creatures was very exciting. Alfonse found his buddy shark and grabbed him around his powerful body. We all came and felt his skin, it was much rougher than the small sharks I’ve touched before that were caught while my dad was fishing. This nurse shark felt like a very heavy, nubby canvas, what I imagine dinosaurs must have felt like. He asked if anyone wanted to hold the shark, and I was one of the first to volunteer. It was so crazy! I could barely get my arm across the top of him, but held him in place for a few seconds and pet him on the head before I handed him back to Alfonse. He talked Jimmy into doing it and when he grabbed the shark, you could tell he was really into it. It’s an amazing feeling, being that close to such a powerful animal.
Alfonse kept feeding the sharks and before long, a few large southern rays showed up. He brought one up to the surface to let us feel its body. Smooth on the bottom and slimy on top. He swam around with the ray resting on his head, on his arms, it seemed to be willing to do whatever he asked. More sharks came, the largest around 9 feet long. I free dove down a couple times and touched them, I also caught up with some rays and touched them as well. Jimmy was doing the same. It was really exhilirating.
We finally got back in the boat and Alfonse told us how he was able to train them just like you would train a dog, with food treats and hand signals. The sharks will come to him and roll over just like a dog, the rays will sit on his head or on his outstretched arms. It sounds unbelievable but I saw it happen. It’s amazing. Of course the American in me is thinking he should be on the Discovery Channel or something, but you can tell he’d never want to do something like that. He told us how much he loves what he does, and that he hates having a day off because it’s so boring. “This is my world,” he said as he gestured around at the open sea all around us, and for those hours we were out with him, it sure was. If you ever get a chance to go to Belize and snorkel Hol Chan or Shark Ray Alley, seek out Alfonse, he is the best guide we had our entire trip and made the whole experience completely awesome.
We headed back to Changes, totally exhausted and salty and grabbed a shower. I blow dried my hair and put on a little makeup for the first time in days. In the jungle I NEVER dried out, it was not comfortable. It felt nice to be clean, dry and somewhat presentable. We headed out in search of dinner and ended up at a little place called El Patio, which was open air with white sand floors. We were right next door to a live reggae band and the breeze blew the smell of the sea right in to us. Jimmy ordered the special, a coconut curry with snapper, conch and shrimp and I got veggie kabobs, coconut rice and fresh fruit. I love Belize for no other reason than Jimmy ate curry dishes there no less than three times (he is an avid hater of “curry”, turns out he wouldn’t know curry if he was gobbling it up, HA! Will be making more at home!). We walked back to Changes down the beach, the wind blowing and the smell of nearby restaurants and the salt air filling our lungs. Truly awesome.