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Saturday, 05 July 2008

Belize: Paradise in Placencia - Page 2

Written by Aaron Ober
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I wandered back along Placencia’s crumbled main street, and found the Pickled Parrot, a palm-thatched bar and grill where Christina’s boyfriend Greg worked as a bartender. I pulled up a stool at the bar and glanced around at the liquor selection; needless to say, their rum options were numerous. Greg must have been in his early fifties, with long, flowing gray hair, a neatly trimmed beard and crystal-blue eyes. He reminded me of a deadhead scientist, equipped with wire-rimmed spectacles that clung to the abrupt angle of his long nose. With a grunt and a nod he acknowledged me as he finished mixing a pink cocktail for another patron.

Belize, Paradise in Placencia, Pickled Parrot, swimming with whale sharks, Belize Barrier Reef, Silk Cayes,  snorkeling Belize, travel Belize, travel Central America, Middle Silk CayeAs I nursed my coffee and prepped my plans for the day, which would require a fishing rod and shorts, I overheard a couple at the next table talking about their whale shark trip. It seemed that I had come at the perfect time. Every year in April and May, just after the full moon, whale sharks arrive about thirty-five miles off Belize’s southern coast and congregate in a deep-water trench known as Gladden Spit. The whale sharks make the long voyage from distant seas to feed on clouds of spawned mutton snapper eggs, which make an easy meal for the docile giants. I decided that I had to witness these mammoth fish for myself. I paid my check, then left the diner, stepping onto the main street behind another team of travelers. The morning sun was fiery hot, with not one cloud visible in the sky. I looked out at the shimmering sea; frigate birds cruised sullenly overhead, trailing after the schools of sardines the commanding jack mackerels liked to corral. I strolled back to my campsite, intent on catching lunch and a much-needed tan.

I walked along the beach toward the Turtle Inn, a resort being built by famed film director Francis Ford Coppola. Two large pelicans joined me along the way, scanning the water for a morning snack. I waded into the warm sea and cast my lure as shiny needlefish bumped me and brushed past my legs. Quickly, I became lost in the tranquil scene, as I gazed across the turquoise plane. A nearby splashing noise snapped me out of my trance, and I turned just in time to see a six-foot-long tarpon coming my way. I stood there frozen as the massive fish swam by inches from my belly button. I was glad that I had relieved myself at Omar’s, for scared shitless would be an understatement of my reaction. I jumped out of the water, shaking off the close encounter. I soon realized that a tarpon was virtually harmless, but anything as large as me in the ocean deserved my deepest respect.

I continued my way around a cove, tempting passing fish with my shiny lure. Tiny tugs and strikes reeled in nothing more than clumps of sea grass. But my excitement never wavered, as I knew the next cast could be the one. The variety of fish that patrolled the shore in search of food was a fisherman’s dreamscape; I had no clue what I might catch. After a few hours of baking in the sun, I decided to call it quits and head back to my camp, thinking a siesta would fit in nicely right about now. I threw my line out for one final cast and was hit hard by a strike. My line shot off my reel as the fish ran with the lure. I played with the drag and after a short fight; I had landed my first Caribbean catch. It was a flaming red mutton snapper, and must have been at least two pounds. A local man who was passing by with his family called it “a good fish, good eatin’ mon.” I glowed with a primal, fisherman triumph; I had caught my dinner.

Back at my camp, a local village woman offered to clean and prepare my catch. Though I had cleaned more than my share of fish, I did not object. I marveled at how she skillfully scaled and gutted the fish with amazing speed and precision. In Placencia it’s the local women who fish off the docks at night; while the men spend long hours out to sea catching fish by hand lines for commercial sale. This round, jovial woman even took the fish to her house to season it with lime and garlic for me. I was shocked by her generosity to a complete stranger. It was a breath of fresh air for my congested American lungs. I started to glimpse a different and new outlook on life.

I put the snapper on ice and headed to the Pickled Parrot for the rum punch happy hour. I was looking forward to meeting other travelers who congregated at this favorite local watering hole. The night proved entertaining and I indeed met some interesting travelers. I invited three of them back to my campsite to share some of my catch. On the way, I picked up a six-pack and a loaf of bread, and before too long we were standing around the campfire wolfing down makeshift snapper sandwiches and sharing traveling stories. I mentioned the tours offering swims with whale sharks, which the others agreed would be an incredible opportunity.

As the night wore on, the beer ran dry, the cool night air crept in from the sea, and my new friends said their good-byes. I crawled into my cozy tent and dreamed about coatis running through my camp…coatis running through my camp! Shit! I tore from my tent and chased the ring-tailed relative of a raccoon into the brush. Apparently, I had not secured my fish-scented garbage properly, and so I scrambled to pick up the tattered and torn array of napkins and paper plates. I locked the garbage into a shed, and since I was now wide awake, I decided to stroll about for a bit, to see what kinds of creepy crawlies came out in the after-hours of Belize. Under a streetlight, I observed hairy tarantulas stalking and capturing crickets that lay hidden in the sand. I was also intrigued by a passing scorpion that was poised to sting. When I finally tired of my bug quest, I settled back into the sand and just before I drifted off to sleep, I came to the conclusion that tomorrow I would swim with whale sharks.

(Page 2 of 4)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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