It had been raining overnight so we wondered if our snorkeling (or “snurkeling” as James, our guide with Searious Adventures preferred) excursion was going to go. I actually hoped it would (and it did, despite the clouds) since I’d worked up the nerve to say yes to this adventure, with probably even odds that I’d change my mind given the chance.
A catamaran is apparently the way to go for me. I took the Dramamine all day but don’t think I even needed it. It was a very comfortable sail even in a light chop – unlike many other boating experiences I have had. Or maybe I was just in a Zen frame of mind. I actually did not panic, the day before or even during, except for an occasional twinge that I didn’t really have time to indulge. Ray was pretty surprised and so was I.
On the way out, we were passed by the Mexican Coast Guard who patrol these waters occasionally.
There were ten of us on the cruise – five couples, all Americans. Frank was our boat captain and James the entertaining tour guide and snorkel master. Along the way he provided ongoing commentary about Belize, Ambergris Caye and the reef, while eyeballing everyone’s feet for fin sizes and handing out gear.
The reef wasn’t far, and we pulled into the Hol Chan Marine Sanctuary in an area with about a dozen buoys, many of them already tethered to other boats full of snorkelers. James gave some final instructions, including one that made me hesitate – that we were going to start in about 6 feet of water (okay) and follow him over a stretch of the cut in the reef that would be 30 feet (um, not so much, but it was kind of late now) before coming back to the boat.
He also asked if anyone felt they were a weak swimmer and wanted a life vest. My hand went up – yes, I’m a wuss, I’ll admit it – but then I was secretly relieved when a few of the other women wanted one too. There was also one guy in particular who seemed as if was still working on a bender from the night before – he was funny but clearly not all there – that I’m pretty sure James would have liked to put a vest on (in fact that guy was the most problematic out there, as he kept joining other groups of snorkelers which meant James had to go and collect him before we could move on).
At the edge of the boat, Ray was ready to go and jumped in, then waited to grab my arm when I came in. There was still a bit of chop, but I felt pretty safe with the vest on, and the water was clear enough to see the bottom, so I was good. It helped that we’d gone into the water near shore the day before so I could get used to the mask too – which now (because of sleeping with a CPAP mask?) didn’t bother me the way it used to.
First thing I saw was a turtle feeding on the bottom. That was pretty cool. Note: these underwater pics are taken from the TripAdvisor page for Searious Tours; we didn’t have an underwater camera, but this is exactly what stuff looked like.
James would make a signal underwater whenever he saw something interesting: Small reef fish like tangs, a moray eel he coaxed out of its lair, and the occasional ray or shark going by below us. I could tell Ray was watching me for a freak out (with good reason – I left some pretty deep fingernail indents in his arm when we’d tried snorkeling together in Guam), and I thought some or all of that – especially the first shark – would bother me, but it was just fun. The only problem I had initially was making my fins work the way I wanted them to; with the vest on, they kept surfacing and weren’t much use. For awhile Ray pushed or pulled me along so I could keep up with the group but eventually I figured it out and then there was no stopping me.
I could also tell that James was keeping an eye on me because he usually gave me the life ring he had with him whenever he wanted to do a free dive, though after a while I think he decided I was doing better than expected. Once at the surface he told me to put my mask in the water, he needed me to hold something, which I expected to again be the life ring rope. When I put my mask in the water, here’s what I saw instead:
Surprising myself, I took it from him and held on for a few minutes before I handed it back. Very rough skin, pretty gentle temperament though. Ray was looking at me like who stole my wife, and who the hell are you?! I’m sure for him (certified diver) this little reef run was boring, but I could tell he was getting a kick out of watching me.
The only other slight misgiving I had was when we shifted into that 30-foot cut – I grabbed Ray’s belt loop and hung on for a while but even that was okay once I got used to it. In fact, I wasn’t ready to get back into the boat when we got back.
Because of the weather, we were going to do both snorkel stops at once, so as we cruised to the next area – Shark Ray Alley, not far away – James provided pineapple and watermelon slices, which were so good after that bit of exertion.
He also informed us he would not be getting in the water with us this time, as he would be feeding the fish; and that once the food was gone, the sharks and rays would be too, so take pictures first if we wanted to, then get in before they were gone if we wanted to see them underwater.
When we stopped again, at first there were just one or two sharks circling the boat, as well as a lot of horse eye jacks. Very quickly, though, the sharks came over en masse and did something James called “huddling” – pretty much climbing on top of each other and using their bodies like suction to keep the jacks away from the food.
By this time, folks had taken pictures and James kept saying get in if you wanna get in, and I guess I just took him literally, as I was the third one off the boat, pretty much right alongside the mass of sharks, in fact I sort of fell into a few of them, then paddled away toward the other two guys in our group that were in the water – at which time I looked up and realized 1) Ray was still on the boat (he didn’t even have his fins on yet) and 2) I didn’t have a life vest. Again, surprisingly, neither of those facts really bothered me; in fact, it was easier to maneuver without the vest and I was pretty much enjoying that.
It was way too short a stop – again, I didn’t want to get back in the boat. Except that James was offering beer for the next leg – the ride to Caye Caulker for lunch.
Everyone had said Caye Caulker was cool, and it was, but I think we were wore out from our previous golf cart trips around San Pedro (with those roads, more of a contact sport than you might imagine) plus the day of snorkeling against a pretty good current so we didn’t explore as much of it as we could have in our two hour stop there. We did walk north from the dock to “the split” (Hurricane Hattie in 1961 created a channel through the island) and back, then went to the Rainbow Grill where we’d docked to grab lunch before we headed back.
Time to go back to Ambergris Caye. More drinking and talking all the way, as well as a yummy treat of homemade coconut tarts doused in rum. The weather stayed overcast and even seemed menacing at times, but it didn’t rain.