Come Sail Away with Me

As I drift off to sleep under the million stars on Rendezvous Caye, I realize no one who knows me in the world knows where I am right now.

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Twenty-two passengers and four crew set sail from Caye Caulker, Belize for a three day adventure with Raggamuffin Tours that would take us about 300 km down the Belizean coastline to Placencia. Our boat – the Raggamuffin Empress – an elegant white catamaran with plenty of space on board to lay out and a net over the water on which to chill, cut through turquoise waters on all sides so clear the bottom was almost always visible.

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For three days our motley crew unplugged from the outside world, our only companions the others on board. We didn’t wear shoes…a major concern for the oldest passenger and a source of ongoing amusement for the rest of us… basked in the sun, snorkeled up to four times a day on deserted reefs, and let our stomachs guide us as to the time of day, all to a background reggae beat. If heaven exists, I hope it looks a lot like this (if I’m invited, of course…).

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Captain Ish, crew members Shawn (a budding reggae artist and all around good time guy), Marvin (filet master of all catches of the day), and Linton (chef and on-board medic who tended to the giant blister on my foot by pouring hydrogen peroxide on it and, when I winced, telling me not to be such a baby…he was right of course) took us on an adventure that ranks among the top highlights of my travelling life.

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Day One
Flip flops confiscated, we boarded the Raggamuffin Empress with only our day packs containing everything we might need for the next three days. Turns out, it isn’t much. Since there won’t even be showers until we reach our second night accommodation, all pretense is immediately thrown out to sea and we find ourselves content with the most basic of necessities.

We sailed for a few hours, absorbing the warmth of the sun and for me, setting the stage for the deepest tan of my life…healthy, not likely…amazing, totally…until we came to the first of four snorkeling stops. The crew dove into the water with spear guns in hand, divided us into three groups and lead us on an underwater guided tour with stops for spearfishing for our dinner.

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After stop one, barracuda was definitely on the menu for the evening. As we pulled up anchor, Marvin got out a giant knife and a hammer to fillet our dinner as we all watched (barracuda has a thick spine that can’t be severed without the force of a hammer on the knife). Brutal but very satisfying…and ultimately tasty…work.

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Midway through the first afternoon, one of the passengers we nicknamed “The General” felt a strong tug on his fishing line and Captain Ish relinquished the wheel to help reel it in. Much to everyone’s surprise, including the crew’s, The General snagged a mah-mahi! A round of cheering took over the boat…Ish said in the 9 years he’s been doing the tour it was the first mahi-mahi ever caught.

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The rum punch flowed freely, but only after the day’s activities were through. This was the kind of adventure that could easily turn into a dreaded booze cruise, but the vibe was chill and relaxed and even after we landed on Rendezvous Caye for the evening, no one overindulged.

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Rendezvous Caye…what can I say…a beautiful white sand, totally deserted (except for one caretaker) beach. We erected our tents on the soft, white sand, pausing to watch the sun go down, and tucked into the most fantastically fresh and satisfying meal of my life. The sea air, the fresh fish, the miracles that came out of Linton’s tiny onboard kitchen…unbelievable.

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Day Two
We set sail early to avoid a cruise ship excursion that would soon take over our tiny private island. Three hundred people were expected to descend on our paradise…I can’t even begin to imagine what the might look like…

Much as the previous day, we lazed on deck, snorkeled often, watched the crew spearfish, ate pringles and cookies at ridiculous hours of the morning and afternoon and let the digital detox truly set in.

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On the second night we set up camp on Tobacco Caye, a much more populated island with an island bar and a couple of tiny “resorts”. Not nearly as pristine as Rendezvous Caye and occupied by others, it didn’t have the same magical appeal as the previous Caye, but sleeping on a beach under the stars really never gets old.

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Day Three
I was keen to leave Tobacco Caye the next morning (it was sort of run down and had kind of a lot of ocean and island trash laying around) but sad to know it was our last day and that our group, who despite our varied ages, nationalities and backgrounds, got along so easily and with the kind of familiarity that comes with being slightly grimy and very laid back, would be soon torn apart.

Just as I was beginning to feel slightly maudlin, a cheer once again rose, this time from the front of the boat…a dolphin had come to play in our wake! For the next 20 minutes, we were transfixed, watching it breech and dive, totally putting on a show for us. I don’t think I will ever get tired of seeing that.

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We arrived in Placencia at about 5 pm and Pandora from the Anda di Hows hostel (say it out loud…it’s patois) was at the dock to meet me. She had several available beds in her lovely 10 bed hostel, so three of us made our way there. Having two of my travelling companions with me made the transition from the laid back vibe of Caye Caulker and the Raggamuffin to the hustle of Placencia less abrupt.

Belize was never high on my travel list. I came to Belize because I wanted to get my scuba and I could get a decently priced flight from Toronto. It’s also one of the more expensive countries in Central America, but as I boarded the Tropic Air flight home, there’s one thing I know for sure…the people I met, the adventures I had…Belize will forever hold a special place in my travel heart.

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The only person on the flight!
The only person on the flight!

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You’d Better Belize It

Taking a tiny plane…one where I can literally reach out and touch the pilot…across a body of water teeming with sharks (okay, nurse sharks, but still…SHARKS) and manatees and rays and who knows what else, wasn’t actually as terrifying as I’d imagined.

When the Tropic Air gate attendant asked me to follow him on to the tarmac, I realized I was the only passenger boarding the Cessna in Belize City. Wow, I thought…they sent an airplane just for me! The fantasy of being the only passenger on a plane was totally destroyed when I realized there were already other passengers onboard from various other destinations. Ah well….

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I’ve never been on a 10 seater plane before. I’ve never before been on a flight where I could reach out and touch the pilot…I mean, not that I did…it’s probably against the law….I’ve never flown so low over a body of water that I could see the sea life below. I was totally transfixed for the entire 5 minute flight…after which I was the only passenger to get off in Caye Caulker, an 8 km long island that is to be my home for the next week.

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Caye Caulker is a small island off the coast of Belize. There are 3 main roads and a few side streets. Population about 1,000 full time residents. The only motorized transportation is via golf cart, otherwise residents get from place to place on foot or by bike.DSCN0002

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This is DEFINITELY a place where everybody knows everybody’s business.

The main attraction of this small…ok, tiny… island is the Belize Barrier Reef. The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest in the world, after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and is one of the healthiest reef systems in the world. The Great Blue Hole is part of this system, a site made famous by Jacques Cousteau who called it one of the top ten scuba diving sites in the world.

While I won’t be exploring the Great Blue Hole as it’s only for experienced divers, the plan for my Belize adventure is to get my open water scuba certification. I signed up with Frenchie’s, one of the oldest diving establishments in Caye Caulker and, much to my delight, was my dive master Dominick’s only student. Patient and very calm, Dominick took me through 3 days of scuba lessons in 2 days.

By the end of the first day it was all I could do to get myself back to my hostel room and pass out on my super soft, back-destroying bed. I had no idea breathing could take so much out of me. I consider myself fit, so I’m not sure how anyone who is out of shape can do this.

Hot and humid the first day, so much so the short wet suit was a burden to wear in the sun, the second day was the complete opposite…I needed a long sleeved wet suit and huddled in the boat as soon as I surfaced from my lesson.

But what an incredible experience! We saw rays and sharks, stone fish, groupers and fish I can’t even describe, lobsters and crabs, eels and sea urchins. No pictures…I’m not good enough yet to both breathe under water and take photographs. That’s totally next level….

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Best of all…now I can dive anywhere in the world!

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