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Saturday, 05 July 2008

Belize: Paradise in Placencia - Page 3

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 my tour began, we started off through a channel and opened the throttle toward the sea. There were seven of us aboard the boat: five tourists and two local guides. The other tourists were from Maine, and we quickly got sucked into ‘no kidding, small world,,,’ as we skipped from wave to wave. The breeze felt good mixed with the intermittent sea spray flying off the bow of the skiff. Excitement pooled inside of me as the land grew smaller and smaller behind us. These behemoth fish, the largest of the shark family and some of the most elusive, were gathering for a feast and I was going crash their party. There were also top scientists here to study and tag them, along with National Geographic and Discovery Channel documentary film crews.

About an hour passed before we started seeing the first signs of the Belize Barrier Reef. We passed by patches of vibrant aquamarine signifying shallow sand deposits, while flying fish darted through the air beside us, as if on cue. White-capped waves soon appeared in the distance, a sign of the reef’s outer edge. We sliced through alleyways of sea between the coral, getting closer to our destination. After awhile the water turned deep blue and we slowed to a crawl and dipped up and down with the swells.

“Dis is Gladden Spit, keep yer eyes peeled,” our guide Shawn shouted.

“What are we looking for?” was our group’s communal response.

“Something big,” Shawn replied with a broad smile.

Around us, dozens of local fisherman were hard at work catching red snapper on their hand lines, the way they have done for centuries. Our guides shouted to them in Creole, asking if they’d seen any sharks. It turned out that one man spotted them an hour ago; this was enough to quicken my pulse. Many travelers I had spoken to in the village had told me tales of defeat, with not a whale shark in sight. I crossed my fingers as we circled the trench; I hoped that my luck would be different. Nearby boats with divers had a clear advantage of spotting the whale sharks, so we hung close by, our senses tuned for any sign of commotion. Our skiff was filled with snorkels and fins--no tanks and suits here. A lack of diving certification kept my blowhole in the breeze.

We continued our slow path, our gazes fixed on the rolling waves. Who would be the first to spot them? For forty-five minutes we passed by boat after boat, and I snapped some photos of the local fisherman hauling in their catch. We crept upon another tour of both divers and snorkelers when all of a sudden they waved at us frantically. “I think they’ve got one over there!” Kevin yelled. We accelerated to the area and Shawn told us to get ready to jump in. The five of us white-bred New Englanders scrambled to get our snorkel gear on, and after a few cussing strains; I was set to go in.

I plunged into the warm water, sealing my mask and testing my breathing tube. I was breathing so hard; I was convinced I was going to suck in a lungful of seawater. I swam over to a diver who was filming below me and peered into the depths. Something was rising…there it was! My first glimpse of a whale shark! The beast swam slowly about twenty feet below me. It was dark brown, speckled with white, and huge! The excitement shot through my body like electricity as I hovered above the creature. After a short while it moved out of sight, and I popped my head out of the water just in time to hear someone shout, “There’s another one right beside the boat.” I quickly swam over and nearly got smacked in the face by its tail fin. About five feet from the shark, I realized that I was quickly becoming fatigued treading water and hurried to the skiff. I flopped onboard and exchanged weak “holy shits” and “o-my-gods” with the others, thoroughly high off the encounter. We decided to head to the nearby Silk Cayes for a relaxing lunch. I reflected on the once-in-a-lifetime experience of swimming with whale sharks, then suddenly the skiff dropped off a fifteen-foot wave, smashing into the sea and I was briefly snapped back to reality.



Belize, Paradise in Placencia, Pickled Parrot, swimming with whale sharks, Belize Barrier Reef, Silk Cayes,  snorkeling Belize, travel Belize, travel Central America, Middle Silk CayeWe docked just off the Middle Silk Caye and waded ashore. I stopped to embrace the solitude and listen. A faint chorus of wind and waves hummed gently across the lonely island. This is the quintessential, tropical, deserted island. In the shade of a coconut tree, I sat and wondered: How many messages in a bottle have been sent adrift from this powder-white beach? How many pirates have buried their booty-filled chests in the sand for safekeeping? These ideas are all parts of great fiction, I know. But staring out into the tantalizing rippled turquoise space—I truly believed it all. Feeling enlightened, I strolled dreamily along the circumference of the island in a mere minute. Tiny isn’t the word for it. Cast Away’s Tom Hanks had it good by comparison. His island was large and fruitful, lush and somewhat diverse. Here on the Middle Silk Caye, there is sand, ten palm trees, colorful crabs, sparse grass, a variety of shells--and did I mention sand? It is a castaway’s nightmare and a traveler’s dream: simple, soul-stirring, serendipitous bliss.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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