Thursday, May 1, 2008

Belize trip: day 5

Today we are up early to pack to leave Water Caye. Breakfast is eggs and fried beans with fry jack, a delicious deep-fried bread. Our trip today includes kayak sailing and snorkelling in a mangrove swamp. I am not really looking forward to snorkelling in a swamp!

Before leaving, Omar gave us a talk on mangroves. There are four kinds, red, white, black and buttonwood.

The red mangrove is the one that grows on the shore, it is characterized by its prop roots giving it a tangled appearance at the base.

The buttonwood has the largest trunk and is cut for lumber. The white and the black are smaller trees with white and black wood respectively. Only the red mangrove grows directly in the water, the others are a little further back from the shoreline. All of them but the red mangrove in particular are able to shed salt through their leaves.

We had a good wind, the kayak sailing worked well. Essentially, we just sat back and sailed to a mangrove island. Sam did the sailing. I let him do the sailing because he has never sailed before and I have.

Sailing a kayak is different from sailing a sailboat, there is no keel so you cannot sail close to the wind and you have to compensate for drift, the wind pushes the kayak as well as the sail. But still a most enjoyable experience!

We sailed into a channel in the mangrove island to a spot where Omar anchored and we tied up to his kayak. We got into our snorkelling gear and out of our kayaks into the waist-deep water. Sam lost his mask! At first I thought he was joking, but no, he really had dropped it and lost it. So we all started looking for it. A tough job in all the eel grass and muddy water, we searched and searched and could not find it. Omar then jumps into the water and picks it up off the bottom immediately. I dunno, eyes of a condor I guess.

We swam to the edge of the swamp and essentially drifted along at the edge, examining the roots of the mangroves. Underwater they are covered in sponges of many different varieties, no bare roots at all. Small worms and fishes. On the bottom, upside-down jellyfishes. They look like the underside of jellyfishes, as if their backsides are permanently attached to the muddy bottom. Very odd. Once we saw them they were everywhere, I could hardly believe we had been walking over them only a few minutes before. I don't think any of us put our feet down on the bottom again after seeing them. It was an eerie world in the mangrove roots but we didn't see anything particularly spectacular there.

We returned to our kayaks and again sailed on, out of the island swamp and into the open sea. Omar had the only single-seat kayak which was not outfitted with a sail, but he of course had no trouble staying ahead of us. At a certain point in the middle of the ocean, he stopped and got out of his kayak, appearing from a distance to be walking on the water! It was a sandbar, only inches below the surface. Here we all stopped and Omar got out burritos for lunch. As we all stood ankle-deep in the water we ate delicious burritos. He pulled out some apples too, but they were soft and tasteless, none of us ate them. Some things, the tropics are just not good for!

After lunch we snorkelled again, our last snorkel of the trip. We saw many fish, including skates and french angelfish (--->).

We saw one amazing sting ray, about three feet in diameter with a tail over six feet long. It was lying on the bottom and at first was hardly visible, being the same colour as the sand. We watched as it appeared to be digging a hole beneath itself by simply flapping its "wings". In short order there was a hole about a foot deep under the ray. I have seen these mysterious holes in the sand bottom before, now I know how they are made!

We took down our sails and continued on by paddle, as we now had to change direction into the wind. We were headed back to our starting point, Cocoa Plum Caye. Omar, Matt and Daisy were in the lead while Josh, Carol, Sam and myself dawdled behind. We were talking back and forth between kayaks when suddenly Josh and Carol's rudder just fell off into the ocean. Unfortunately Carol did not have the paddling skills to steer without a rudder. They careened wildly, paddling in great zigzags as Carol attempted to compensate for the lack of a rudder. Omar, Matt and Daisy continued on obliviously, while Sam and I watched helplessly.

We decided to paddle back to see if we could find the rudder in the relatively shallow water, in hopes that we could re-attach it and they could steer again. Amazingly, we did find it and were able to retrieve it, but clearly the metal had snapped and it was not re-attachable. In the meantime the others finally noticed that we were not with them, so Omar paddled back to see what had happened. Sam and I continued on to meet Daisy and Matt while Omar led Josh and Carol. Daisy and Matt were waiting under a wharf out of the sun, so we paddled in beside them and waited too, like a pair of moray eels watching for prey to swim by.

The final leg of the trip was through a fairly heavy sea and high wind, so Omar switched places with Carol, giving her the single-seat kayak with a rudder and Omar taking over steering the rudderless kayak. Needless to say this was no problem for him! Josh and Omar just took off like bats out of hell, they were at Cocoa Plum a good ten minutes before the rest of us.

Much later at the bar, we commented on Omar's paddling strength, but Omar said it had nothing to do with him, Josh had had enough of paddling troubles and was totally focused on getting back to land. Omar steered, Josh paddled like a driven man with a single dream: solid land under foot! Well, as solid as sand might be.

We were met at the beach by the manager of the Thatch Lodge, a yet more luxurious lodge than the previous one. We settled quickly into marvelous thatched cabanas on stilts over the water, each with its own deck, two hammocks, and a delightful shower. On the door a mysterious sign asking us to ensure that the inner door is firmly closed otherwise Rocky will get in. We each wondered who Rocky was and what he might do if he got in. Our host informed us that Rocky was the resident raccoon, formerly allowed the run of the island but after too many forays into guest cabins was this year confined to a cage.

Thatch Lodge is a work in progress, marvelous cabanas and casitas, a great bar and dining room, and a jungle complete with wild animals, coati mundis and agoutis, rabbits and of course the formerly-free Rocky.


After showers and unpacking, we convened at the bar for pina coladas and chat. Later in the evening a great dinner of chicken and rice and salad and wine. There was also a party of Guatemalans who arrived by motorboat staying in the air-conditioned casitas. An internet connection allowed those of us who wanted to catch up on email, but I didn't. Why go back to the "real world" any sooner than I have to?

After dinner we would have stayed on in the bar but all the good seats were taken by the Guatemalans, so we retired to Matt and Daisy's deck for more chat under the stars on our last night. We have had such a good time and gotten so close, we all regretted that our time was up.

Tomorrow morning a boat will pick us up to take us back to Dangriga, the end of the trip. Carol and Sam and I will stay on for a couple of extra days, Matt and Daisy will fly home to Atlanta very shortly after arriving in Dangriga.

Back to trip summary
Back to Day 4
On to Day 6...

2 comments:

Ernestine said...

I just finished reading about your wonderful adventure.
Thank you for sharing
I will be checking back.
I have recently relocated to be closer to my children and grandchilden.

Anne said...

Hi Ernestine

I am glad you're enjoying this! I am working my way through my notes and photos but I think I'm going to take a bit of a break since I have some things I have to take care of, but I promise I'll get the rest of the trip done as soon as I can.

You're on elderwomanspace, aren't you? So am I...

Anne