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Saturday, 05 July 2008

Belize: Paradise in Placencia - Page 4

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.

The Silk Cayes lie twenty-five nautical miles off Belize’s southern coast, in the midst of the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere. The three islands that make up the Silk Cayes are cleverly named North, South and Middle. Diving, snorkeling and kayaking tours set out from the village of Placencia on a regular basis, weather permitting.


The underwater world surrounding the Cayes is breathtaking. I threw on my snorkel and fins and jumped into the water with my camera. A rainbow-colored squid, a foot long, darted away from me, leaving an inkblot in the crystal-clear water as I snapped away. A myriad of spectacular creatures swam in and out of the coral reef. Giant brain coral seemed to mock my simple mind and begged to be touched. But the delicate ecosystem was hands off to humans. While I watched a brightly colored parrot fish devour some kind of midge, I promised myself that I would complete my dive certification, knowing there was so much more beyond my snorkel’s reach. Finally I surfaced from the maritime matinee. I sat on a stump, munching on potatoes and beans and peering out to the other Silk Cayes. “Life is good Aaron,” I found myself saying. I shot another couple of rolls of film, went for another cruise around the island, and then we were back in the skiff, gliding gracefully over the reef feeling on top of the world.

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 left Middle Silk Caye behind and soon reentered deeper waters, noticing that the wind had picked up and swells had grown from five to fifteen feet. Our skiff launched through the massive waves, soaking all of us aboard. I was in such high spirits that I had no fear of the turbulent sea and shouted exuberantly while Shawn reassured the Mainers that there was “‘Nuting to worry ‘bout mon.” The more airborne we got the louder I cheered, knowing damn well that there were no life preservers onboard.

After a while we were back at Gladden Spit to have a last look around for the whale sharks. There were a few other boats nearby, rising and disappearing between the waves. As the Mainers were worrying about the rising swells, we suddenly heard a panicked cry for help. We scanned the sea and finally saw the flailing arms of a lone snorkeler far away from any guide boat. Noticing the danger, Shawn sped to his rescue and we pulled the snorkeler aboard. The man was exhausted and had nearly given up hope of being found in the swells. He told us that his boat had left him behind in the mad scramble to chase down the sharks. We tracked down the man’s boat and just before he stepped onboard, he turned, held up his camera and snapped a photo. “My saviors,” he said, and climbed onto his boat.

We then rejoined the mad search for the whale sharks, but there hadn’t been any new sightings. The Mainers were hemming and hawing about whether they would go back in the water when a whale shark appeared right in front of our skiff. I rolled overboard and swam above the beautiful twenty-foot shark. I had the urge to dive down and touch him but couldn’t muster up the balls to do it. It was hard work swimming in the surging waves and I struggled just to make it back to the skiff.

Another cry rang out and this time it was close. “He’s coming under the boat!” Shawn shouted. The two Mainers jumped off the right side and I jumped off the left. I didn’t even have a chance to breathe before I realized I was face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball with a whale shark. This forty-foot male was the largest we had seen all day. His massive head was inches away from mine and dwarfed my six-foot frame. I peered into his eye as my heart pounded in my chest. He was looking right at me, checking me out. I was struck in his fierce gaze until a burning pain in my chest finally reminded me that I had to breathe. I gasped for air as I swam above him. He soon disappeared into the depths and I looked for the skiff.

I was shaking, fatigued and had a long swim back. My arms grew heavy and I was having trouble treading in the huge swells. I hollered out to Shawn, who luckily heard my cries. I was almost ready to give in to the sea, and thought of the snorkeler we rescued as I just tried to stay afloat. They motored over and hauled me aboard. My “holy shits” were weak, my “oh-my-gods“ were little gasps. The Mainers, who had jumped off the wrong side, asked me if I had seen him. The look on my face must have spoken more clearly than words. They watched in awe as I tried to explain that I had just come face-to-face with the largest fish in the sea, and the most elusive of the shark family. I felt blessed, shocked, amazed, dizzy, and nauseous; I felt truly alive. My mind was so full it was spilling over to my heart. I quietly thanked the beautiful giants for their time and sat in silence as we headed back to Placencia, guided by a spectacular setting sun. Somehow I felt different, like I was no longer a virgin of the sea. I had looked into the eye of one of nature’s best kept secrets and I was damned if I was going to let the experience go to waste. Belize was beginning to have an effect on me, and with three weeks left of my adventure, I could only imagine what else she had in store.

© Aaron Ober

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

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