Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Stars Align in Belize

Talk about crazy, the stars somehow aligned perfectly for us on this vacation. As I've mentioned, we've been in Belize for the past week, on the island of Ambergris Cay, to be specific. Now I didn't know this until this trip, but Belize is home to one of the largest coral reefs in the world. You can see it when you fly in, and it's pretty impressive. In fact, I've been told it's the second largest in the western hemisphere, whatever that means, and the fourth largest in the world. The Great Barrier Reef in Australia gets top honors on all fronts.

The one in Belize is the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, also known as the Great Mayan Reef, and it stretches 700 miles from Mexico all the way to Honduras, and 80% of it lies in Belize. It's pretty spectacular, and to their credit, the people of Belize have recognized what a natural treasure they have and have gone to great lengths to protect it, and there are all sorts of restoration projects going on along the shore, including the revitalization of the mangroves, which are key to coastal habitat protection. Belize also sees the tourist potential in what they have, and that's why we are here.

Another thing I didn't realize is that you can't really snorkel in poor weather conditions. I figured it wasn't such a big deal, you just put on a mask and go out there, but it is the ocean, and if there's one thing I've learned after years of surfing is that you never, ever take the force of the ocean for granted. If you don't show her the respect she deserves, she will crush you, and I've felt her wrath. When the conditions are not favorable, the currents are so strong that they'll pull you right out to sea. In fact, during our time here, one swimmer was lost while snorkeling. Apparently they weren't taking the proper safety precautions and tragedy struck.

You simply don't want to take chances and be careless, especially with kids. Since we arrived here, the conditions have been beautiful, but windy. The winds have been strong, too, so much so that the water is choppy and turbid, with all the sand that gets kicked up. This not only makes for bad viewing of ocean life, but it's dangerous, as well.

Needless to say, we were bummed but figured we had some time and were willing to wait it out until conditions improved, which they did not for the first 80% of our stay. R was especially disappointed, and I can't say I blame her. She really wanted us to see what good snorkeling was all about, because she's been there, done that. Plus, there's not a huge amount for kids to do here. I've noticed in my short time here that there are two groups of people who come to vacation here: retirees from the US, and young couples on their honeymoons. Not too many families, though this is the slow season.

Each day we waited patiently to see how the weather would be, and each day we were disappointed. We woke up to strong winds Monday through Thursday, and at some point we started to think that this just wasn't going to happen. It was disappointing, but we've been relaxing and having fun, nonetheless. By Thursday afternoon, R was ready to take drastic measures. The weather forecast called for calmer conditions by the weekend, but are leaving on Saturday. Her thinking was that we could do an AM snorkel trip on Saturday morning, get back to the cottage, get dressed and catch our flight back to the mainland. It was cutting it close, and there was still no guarantee about the weather.

We still had Friday, as well, but by Thursday evening, the winds were still gusting, and on Friday we were supposed to get thunderstorms, just to rub salt in the wound. I hate to admit this, but I had pretty resigned myself to no snorkeling, and on Friday morning, we woke up to torrential rains and lightning. I figured we'd hang out around the house and if the rain let up, ride the bikes into town. One thing I did notice, however, was that the winds were calm. We were told that they snorkel in the rain, though I wasn't too sure how keen I was on that.

By about 7:00AM (I've been getting up at 4:00AM every day, I'm still on New England time), the rains stopped, but the clouds were dark and angry it didn't look like they were going anywhere. By 8:00AM, however, there were signs of sunlight, and R seized the moment and decided it was now or never. The problem was, you're supposed to arrange for snorkeling excursions the day before. We frantically tried to contact our diving company of choice, Ecologic Divers, but we don't have phone service (no landline and our cells don't work), so we emailed them hoping we'd hear something. We got nothing.

This was unfortunate because by 8:30, the day was looking beautiful. The sun was beaming and the wind had stopped. How could we not make the most of this? The inn that we're staying at also arranges diving tours through Coral Divers, so we went to them and they said they could have us in the water by 1:30. Being the neurotic messes that we are, our first thought was, "What if the wind picks up by then?" I tell you, the Belize locals must trip out on how stressed and neurotic we Americans are. The concierge assured us the weather would hold, and sure enough, it did, though we were sitting in our room keeping an eagle eye on the conditions outside.

We ate lunch and gathered up our stuff for snorkeling, and the day ended up being perfect. It literally could not have been better, all the more so because it started out so horribly, and today, Saturday, we once again have pouring rain and lightning. Talk about good fortune, you just can't take that sort of thing for granted.

The snorkeling was amazing, we saw and experienced things that most of us only read about or watch on TV, but that's a story for another time. For now, we're just grateful that things took a turn for the better. I love when that happens.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Terje Grimsgaard for the pic.

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