Tuesday, April 14, 2009

One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish

As the tourist brochures proudly proclaim, the second largest coral reef in the world (and growing) lies off the coast of Belize. So watch out Australia. It was now within a stone’s throw from our cabin porch tempting us from the moment we arrived on Tobacco Caye.

After our communal breakfast, we all headed out with Blinkie to explore it. Joining us on the tour were two more Canadians (this was getting ridiculous) from Vancouver Island. Adrian stared hesitantly at the boat, remembering yesterday’s rough ride. But the seats today actually had backs and cushions and the sea was calm. So he was convinced to get in. Well, that and the snorkeling.

Our first stop was the manatee reserve to look for these large so-ugly-they’re-cute water mammals affectionately known as sea cows. It was mating and birthing season so we were told we couldn’t snorkel but we had a 90% chance of seeing one from the boat. However, seeing was a misnomer. Manatees only pop up for air for a moment or two before going back underwater. Plus they hate boats. Propellers are the number one killer of manatees – I’d hate them too. In an hour we spotted two lumps and trusted they were manatees. Hopefully our sea life spotting odds would improve while snorkeling.

On the way to the reef, we passed by Man o’ War Caye known locally as Bird Island. It was roughly the same size as Tobacco Caye but covered in thousands of birds instead of Canadians, making me feel like I was Tippi Hedren in a Hitchcock movie. But we didn’t have to worry about bird attacks as they were too busy mating and babysitting. We did have to worry about one thing.

“This is the only place in Belize that it snows,” Blinkie said with a smile. Immediately we all pulled our arms in under the boat’s awning.

Unscathed we headed to a spot on the reef, geared up and jumped in the water. Adrian was a little unnerved about jumping into deep water so far from shore so Blinkie lead him to a shallow in the reef. I followed him. Good thing because my snorkel did not fit well so every third breath I was getting a mouth full of sea water which kinda defeats the purpose of a snorkel. Adrian and I switched. That fixed the problem and soon we were both feeling comfortable enough to join the rest of the group.

It was great floating around the sea, looking down on schools of fish in a rainbow of colours. Blinkie pointed out three different types of rays hiding amongst the coral and under the sand. He even swam down and coaxed them out. They swam, erm flapped, um glided away. Even when the fishes thinned out the coral was spectacular, big round brain corals, purple stuff like trees and the rocky main reef. I was so entranced that I didn’t notice a wave pushing me over the coral cutting my thigh. Good thing we hadn’t spotted any sharks nearby.

We spent an hour and a half floating around before heading back to the boat. Getting in everyone grimaced at the blood coming out of my cut – it looked worse than it was. So I pressed my hat up against the cut to stop the bleeding while we headed back to the Caye only 2 minutes away, just in time for the lunch bell.

At $25 US the tour was a bit pricey but well worth it. We signed out the gear until the next day and spent the afternoon exploring the reef around the Caye. The fishes and coral weren’t as spectacular but there was enough to make it worthwhile. It was about this time that I realized that I’d missed putting sun screen on the back of my thighs – there’s always one spot I miss. So I went to hide under some shade and left Adrian. While I caught up on my journal (the blog would have to wait until we had internet access again), Adrian attempted to swim around the entire Caye. He had to give up when it got to shallow on the east side.

Over dinner we compared our list of underwater spottings. Apparently, I’d missed puffer fish, barracudas and starfish. But since we had barracuda for dinner, I’d say I only missed two out of the three.

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