Snorkelling stops, rum at midday, a deserted island (Goffs Caye), an army sleepover...and that's just the first day. We had booked ourselves onto a $300pp sailing boat tour from Caye Caulker to Placencia with a local boating company called Liberty. Another company called Raggamuffins were much better known (and more expensive) but we couldn't get a space on their party boat, which as things turned out, was a brilliant thing! Not only were we keeping things local but we were about to experience a once in a life time trip with a wonderful captain and his first mate who brought the seas alive for us.
The winds were strong today and so both sails were up and we cruised along at a good place. The sun was shining and the rum flowing, so all 8 of us quickly relaxed and got to know each other. Papa Jo was our all knowing, gentle and seriously amazing 72 year old captain and Raul was our quirky, rum drinking and hilarious first mate. Papa Jo is prepping Raul to take over as captain one day so he can finally hang up his sailing shoes and retire, but we reckon he'll stay on the seas until it is time to go...
We had a couple stops over the day for snorkelling (pretty average to be honest when compared to other places we have snorkelled and dived, although Rich did manage to see a little sting ray and a big turtle), but still cool to be in the Caribbean, diving off an old wooden sailing boat within just us and the ocean! Rum continued to flow, fresh fruit was cut up and our tans are coming along beautifully! As it turns out, we both managed to get some some lip burn, CP more so than Rich, not so cool, but a price worth paying for 3 days splashing about on the ocean.
In the distance, Papa Jo points out a tiny deserted island in the distance and advised that this is where we will be staying for the night. Our own island, with just us on it, how epic is that?! We arrive on our own little islands and are having to pinch ourselves just to make sure we are not dreaming, this has to be heaven!!! So we watch the sunset, set up our tents (which was a bit of fun in the wind that had decided to come up) and got ready to cook the snapper and jackfish that Raul had caught today on the boat for dinner.
The trip has been so so so good so far that even if Papa Jo had told us that we'd be having breakfast in the morning and then heading for home, it would still be money well spent and a 5-star experience.
CPs favourite pic, the moon rising over Goffs Caye:
Then, our tranquillity was slightly interrupted as two boat loads full of military personnel pull up, disembark and proceed to set up their hammocks, tents and gear in the remaining space on the island! Seriously, there are thousands of little islands in the water and they had to do their training exercises and patrols of the coast based from our desert island?! As they worked in shifts, they were up talking and laughing all night so our peaceful haven of an island was anything but! I'm pretty sure none of them slept, just stayed up all night like 13 year olds having a sleepover.
By the time they left in the morning, we had the island to ourselves for about 15 minutes before we were off by 8am for another day of sailing. Still, it was an awesome evening and we did feel nice and safe with 30 odd military men protecting our little island. NOTE, apparently, there had been some hijackings recently along the coast, so the Belize Defence Force presence was required, Raul assured us though that it was nothing to be concerned about...!
The second day is spent sailing/motoring along, with the occasional snorkel and fishing stop. We get to fish for own lunch and dinner today and CP is particularly excited! By now, Rich is slightly over the snorkelling because the holiday beard (going well by the way) prohibits the mask from making any kind of seal with my face. So when the strap snaps as I try to get the mask over my face at the days first stop, I'm not that bothered. "Luckily" Raul has a spare for me, and although it's better I still have to suffer the mask gradually filling with water which I then inhale... yay! CP on the other hand is loving it... first one in and happy to splash around taking pictures of anything and everything and giggling the whole time.
While others were diving down grabbing conch shells which we will later open up (or rather, Papa Jo will open up with a machete which is one errant swipe away from removing his left hand) to use the conch as bait to fish for dinner, or so we thought at the time (in fact some was bait but the good stuff was used to make us an epic conch salad for lunch which Raul whipped up without any ado), I was splashing around unable to find a single one... whatevs, I caught lots of fish later... ok, this is CP now having to interject... I found the biggest ever conch shell, others almost found one's as big but this one was monster! Almost drowned trying to get it back to the boat to Papa Jo, so perhaps Rich's technique was better..!
We also got to fish off the side of the boat for a couple of hours and caught lots of fish...rich even managed to catch two at once! The fish were loving our conch bait and couldn't wait to be reeled in!
We also managed to catch some crab and lobsters which CP helped Raul catch by using a spear underwater! Tasted amazing!!
We arrive at Tobacco Caye (population <30), and are soon greeted by the Mayor (!) who, after a bit of bantz with Papa Jo, sets about cleaning and gutting the fish that we've caught. We're not sure what the electoral process is on Tobacco Caye, but the mayor is sporting a "vote Charles Leslie" T-shirt, presumably leftover from a hard fought election campaign. There is an epic conch graveyard surrounding the island which serves a dual purpose of looking errie and keeping the sand at bay around the island. It looks pretty epic when we snorkelled around, and this was probably some of the best snorkelling of our trip so far, with clear waters, mountains of fish and coral and human sized rays swimming casually past.
We set up the tents with a lot more ease than yesterday as there is no wind at all (for now...) and settle in for a feast of the fish we had caught earlier today, some rice, veggies, and of course - rum. We stay up for a while, mostly making use of the rum supplies and talking shit, until tiredness gets the better of us and we retire to the tents - which by now are suffering a little and the wind is picking up. And up some more.
Before long the winds are hitting hard, and we're soon woken by the noise of heavy rain hitting the tent, and then heavy rain pouring into the tent... anything decent is returned to the boat to keep it safe, but meanwhile our sleeping area is underwater. We attempt to move the tent to the more sheltered bar area but in the wind it's near impossible and as the rain is relenting we decide to stay where we are, adding a couple of guy ropes for support. What follows is an uncomfortable night of sleep trying to ignore the fact that we're lying in water, although I do reach the decision that if it starts raining again we'll be opening up the bar to keep dry until the morning, probably sinking a few rums with the mayor in the process.
Alas that didn't happen but the weather this morning has not eased, and it is no exaggeration to describe it as "robust". Raul looks concerned for the first time this trip, and taking down each tent is at least a 3 man process as we battle to pack them away without allowing them to launch into orbit. CP was not impressed by having to head out in those winds, but as the saying goes, the show must go on, so we loaded up the boat, the others took some sea sickness tablets and set off into the storm.
Had I been I charge, we would have been shipwrecked us instantly in 3 feet of water, another casualty to add to the conch graveyard. Papa Jo meanwhile, with Rauls assistance, is simultaneously steering with one foot whole attempting to unfurl and hoist the main sail. It's amazing how they navigate using only their experience, the land and the position of the Sun, no maps, no compass, no anything... Papa Jo is a real captain stalwart, having been on the waters since he was 16 (so now at age 72), that's a damn long time and we were more than grateful for his experience today!!
I don't know much about sailing, and there are no fancy weather / navigation instruments on board to tell me specifics about the conditions, but I know that if this was a Sunday morning back home in Guernsey, we'd look out the window and immediately abandon any plans to go out on the bike. That might not be saying much, so we'll clarify by adding that we'd also have to think long and hard about venturing out in the car.
Papa Jo & Raul are in charge tho, and they are thriving - bantering back and firth in indecipherable Creole, and occasionally a squeal of laughter. It's clearly hard work though, just holding the rudder steady is a much more strenuous effort than the previous days where a loose hold on the attached rope was enough to keep us cruising in the right direction. Live coverage from on board would have looked a bit like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4P9KmDXIdP8. Alright, not that bad, but there was definitely a fair bit of chop. There is some light entertainment when one of the guys on the trip, who has opted to lie down inside (dry, but hot and with much more rolling) is launched as we hit a particularly bouncy wave and ends up crashing to the floor with a bump and a pineapple.
After 2 hours of some pretty decent chop, it's like we have crossed a border into far nicer lands - the wind has calmed, the boat is flying along guided by the waves, and it's time to celebrate with a beer (10:45am). We kill the motor, hoist the jib, and rocket along the coast as nature intended.
A couple of hours later and we stop so people can have a swim - no snorkelling as the water is too cloudy and too deep. After the obligatory "jumping in" photos we spot a dolphin swimming close by to the boat - he does circles around the boat for a while and occasionally appears above the surface for air, but he won't go near any of the swimmers and the best view is from the boat, sipping on a rum and coke.
The perfect end to our trip (even if a couple of guys got jellyfish stings while attempting to swim with flipper), as we cruise into Placencia at 3pm.
We opted not to stay that night in Placencia as originally planned as the weather was not greatness jumped on a local boat to cross Mango Creek to Independence, a taxi to the bus station in the pouring rain, and then finally onto a chicken bus (Rich spent most of the 2 hour journey sat on the floor wedged between seats - sadly this won't be the least comfortable travel experience we have over the coming months) to Punta Gorda where we would crash for the night before jumping on another boat the next day to Puerto Barrios, which included paying combination of exit fees and conservation fees to leave Belize and then completing the token immigration effort as we cross back into Guatemala, before yet another boat to take us to Livingston.
We forgot to mention the epic lunches that Raul cooked up for us on board the ship, the beautiful fresh and juicy fruit and the never ending supply of rum.. wait, we mentioned the rum didn't we?! All in all, an absolute must do trip and despite our two desert island layovers were not an deserted or relaxing as we had hoped, it was an amazing experience and one we will look back on with great memories.