While we were happy to “Go Slow” most days, there were a couple of notable exceptions to our super chilled Caye Caulker routine. One of which, we were actually quite disappointed by!
The first weekend in July brought Lobster Fest to the island, an annual celebration at the beginning of the fishing season. From Friday to Sunday the main street was lined with food stalls, grills and lobsters as far as the eye could see.
We spent the Saturday afternoon wandering with our friends Rafael & Traveena, and trying out a few of the (slightly questionable) gambling stalls that had popped up!
Martin even bought some lobster ceviche to get in the spirit of things.
By the time we made it up to our favourite bars however everywhere was packed wall-to-wall. Our beloved Sip n Dip looked ready to fall into the ocean it was so full! All happy-hours had been cancelled, drink prices were marked up, and even the restaurants were charging way more than usual.
Sadly, as we were warned by the Caye Caulker locals, the festival also brings a lot of trouble to the island due to the huge numbers of visitors from Belize City. Rivals from different gangs end up fighting after they get drunk and the night time parties often end up being pretty dangerous places to be. Most locals avoid the busy areas of the festival at all costs, and even though we took their advice we still witnessed a big fight breaking out while trying to walk to a restaurant on the Sunday evening.
Overall Lobester Fest just made us miss everything we’d come to love about chilled, happy Caye Caulker!
The second exception to our leisurely island lifestyle was a half day snorkel trip which we booked with a few of our friends. Martin had been excited to get out to the ocean snorkelling or diving for weeks, I however was a little less enthused… I have a phobia of fish which is so bad that I hadn’t swam in natural water (sea, lakes, rivers, etc.) in over 6 years until we arrived in Belize! So you see that booking onto a snorkelling trip was a pretty HUGE step for me in overcoming a lifelong fear.
(Trying not to look as nervous as I felt!)
Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world (obviously after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia) and therefore some amazing marine wildlife. The tour we booked promised nurse sharks, sting rays and colourful coral reefs teeming with fish. We would make three different stops to snorkel, but first the guides took our little boat to the mangroves to show us an area filled with giant (terrifying) tarpon fish. Everyone, apart from me, picked up a sardine and dangled it over the edge of the boat to see these meter-long beasts jump out of the water to grab it out of their hands. It was an awful start to the trip for me.
As I sat in the middle of the boat trying not to look / freak-out, a huge pelican landed on the engine looking at us expectingly.
Her name is Lucy and apparently she visits the boat every day since the guys keep aside a few extra sardines for her! She was absolutely beautiful close up, and so gentle. She would even let one of the guides, Alwyn, stroke her feathers while she was sitting with us. I couldn’t have been happier for the distraction, and will now always have a special appreciation for pelicans!
The next fish we saw was thankfully one I could handle. As we left the hideous tarpons behind, one of our guides jumped into the shallows and came back with a tiny little seahorse for us to view.
Once the seahorse was safely placed back where he was found, we settled in for a bumpy ride out towards the coral reef and our first proper snorkel. I pulled on my giant yellow flippers, tightened my mask and against all better judgement jumped into the ocean alongside the rest of the group. I clung to Martin as we swam away and I put my face below the surface for the first time – to my delight we were a few meters above the coral and the tiny colourful fish below paid us no interest.
Over the next 15 minutes I became more and more confident in the water, enjoying being a “safe” distance away from the fish but still with an amazing view of the reef below. When the guides called us back to the boat I was actually disappointed it was over, but luckily that wasn’t the reason they had shouted on us. They had spotted a manatee in the distance and gathered us together to swim towards it.
What happened next was beyond amazing. I was somehow managing to keep up with Martin at the front of the pack, and in the blue ahead of us we suddenly spotted a tail swimming away. Within seconds we caught up with a solo male manatee, slowly making his way along the bottom of the sea. We floated silently above him in awe, occasionally glancing at each other to make sure this was really happening. He turned in the water and came up to the surface for a breath right along side Martin, before sinking back to the depths.
Manatees are an endangered species in the Caribbean and spend most of their life alone. We had heard that there was a small chance of seeing one on the tour, but given our lack of good luck with nature recently we were reluctant to get our hopes up! Our group returned to the boat absolutely ecstatic and pretty certain that nothing else we saw could top that.
(Of course, I stupidly hadn’t taken the GoPro into the water for the first snorkel because I was too nervous, so I have zero photos of the manatee! Oh well, maybe some moments are best just kept as memories.)
The second snorkel was a guided tour through one of the busier sections of the reef. After a couple of minutes in the sea, realising how shallow the water was going to become and how close to the coral (and fish) we were going to be, I chickened out and swam back to the boat. Instead I was much happier helping Alwyn prepare the snacks and acting as his official photographer!
When the group returned I knew I made the right decision. Not only had they seen some pretty large parrot fish up close, but also an evil-looking moray eel which followed the guide around! I would have freaked out far too much had I been in the water at that point. Martin was pretty happy with the whole experience though.
Our final stop on the reef was the famous “shark and ray alley”, an area of water exactly as it sounds! Nurse sharks were surrounding the boat before we’d even come to a stop, and the sting rays weren’t far behind.
The guides threw in a few small sardines to keep the sharks in one area while everyone jumped into the water. The snorkel was limited to 10 minutes in this area, but that was still enough for Martin to get a sting ray selfie (after many attempts)!
And like that it was over, we sped back to shore still high on the adrenaline of our manatee sighting. Plus I was more than a little proud of myself for spending so long in the water and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. That’s what travelling is all about, right?
Thanks so much to Ronnie, Daniel and Alwyn from Caveman Tours for looking after us and making my first time snorkelling such a memorable experience! It ended up being one of my favourite days of our trip so far!