Saturday, July 14, 2012

#723 Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Shark Ray Alley and Caye Caulker

The one excursion that we took from Ambergris Caye was a day sail that included snorkeling at Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Shark Ray Alley and finished with lunch at the tiny island of Caye Caulker. Terry at Pelican Reef Villas arranged the trip for us, and the outfit running the tour, Searious Adventures, came and picked us up right on our pier.

We had about a five minute motor boat ride back to the dock in San Pedro. It was a soggy five minutes. It began to rain as we headed north into town. We put on our rain jackets and dealt with it, but T was seemed a little disgusted. That was partly due to the rain and probably mostly due to the fact that we had an early start - I think it was 8:00 AM and the kid doesn't get up until around 10 or 11.

Here we are at the Searious Adventures office, waiting for the other people who would be on our tour. It has stopped raining, and MT is standing on the dock. T is hunched over on the bench.

There weren't too many people on the catamaran with us. There was a family of five from Minnesota that included three older kids, a family of four with two little kids and two newlywed couples. All the other people headed out to sit on the trampoline part of the boat, but the three of us stayed under the canopy where we sat on beanbags. First time we saw beanbags on a catamaran. It was a good idea! T loved it and promptly crashed out on one.

We headed south and east toward the reef. The sky looked ominous, but it didn't rain again.

Hol Chan Marine Reserve is a cool national park on the water that is only for diving and snorkeling. There is no fishing allowed there. There's a little break in the reef there and there are lots and lots of fish to be seen right from the boat. The water is very clear. The day we were there, it was very overcast, but there was still a lot of boats around. Our guides told us that in the busy season - November through March - that there would be three or four boats per buoy. That equals a lot of people snorkeling and diving out there! You can see that we are pretty close to the reef here.

T and I and the dad from Minnesota stayed on the boat while the other people went out in two groups. MT was in the first group. The second group included the family with the two little kids. The groups hadn't been out very long when I thought I heard someone cry out, and it sounded like a little kid. I turned to watch the patrol boat pick one of the little kids from out boat out of the water and brought him back to our boat. I helped the kid in and asked what happened. He had been stung by a jelly-fish!

One of the patrol boat people came aboard to administer aid to the kid. The man went down into the galley and came back up with some dark yellow liquid in a plastic cup. As everyone knows, urine is the best thing to pour on a jelly-fish sting, but I was still a little repulsed. Had the guy just peed into the cup? Ew. Our food was down there! But it seemed to help the kid and must have stopped the stinging because he quit whimpering. A few minutes later his parents and brother came back along with the guide and the newlywed couple that was in that group. The lady from the newlywed couple had also been stung on the leg and the guide had been stung on the lip. The guide grabbed the cup from the patrol guy and poured the liquid on his lip. I nearly gagged. Carlos, the guide, must have seen my expression because he quickly told me that there was rum in the cup. Rum. The alcohol would stop the sting. Then we both giggled because he knew that I thought he had just poured pee on his mouth.

The lady had rum on her leg, and the kid got more rum on his leg too. The kid was seven years old and it was the second time he had been stung by a jelly-fish. Maybe snorkeling isn't the best thing for him.

MT's group came back and they were all fine. No jelly-fish stings in that group. MT loved the snorkeling. He said he saw some giant fish out there and he wished it had been a clear day because the reef would have been spectacular.

From there, we sailed about ten minutes south to Shark Ray Alley, which is part of Hol Chan. The area is called Shark Ray Alley because there are many nurse sharks and sting rays in this area. Once we dropped anchor, Carlos and Junior, our guides, began chumming the water, throwing chunks of watermelon rinds and fish into the water. The horse eye jacks started swarming. There were some big fish, at least one to one and a half feet long. And there were lots of them. Then the nurse sharks started coming. They were good sized, probably four to six feet. Nurse sharks are bottom feeders, so they don't bite, but they'll suck on you, I guess. I wasn't in the water, so I didn't care.

There were a couple of sting rays that came around. This big boy acted like he was Junior's pet.

You can see that the water was very clear and it was probably really warm, too. MT was out there snorkeling around and checking things out. He really enjoys it. T and I just watched all the action from the boat. It's all good.

After all the snorkeling, it was time for snacks and the sail to Caye Caulker. (Caye is pronounced key.) We had these really delicious coconut tarts first. We actually had those in between the first stop at Hol Chan and the stop at Shark Ray Alley. I was hoping that T wouldn't like it and give his to me, but he gobbled it right up. It was quite tasty. We also had watermelon. After Shark Ray Alley, the bar was open so I had a beer and some really good chips and salsa. The salsa had corn and black beans and just the tiniest hint of heat. It was great. And the beer was excellent, too.

On our way to Caye Caulker, one of the little kids said, "Look! There are some sharks." Not sharks, but dolphins! There were about six of them and Carlos brought the boat around so we were sailing right alongside them for a few minutes. I couldn't get a good clear photo of them because I was all comfy with my beer and chips, but we all saw them and it was really cool!!

Caye Caulker is a tiny little island, much smaller than Ambergris Caye. There is a little town there and some lodging and a few restaurants. We went to the big restaurant at the pier that was recommended by our guides. I already had a little buzz going. There's just not many things that are better than sailing on a warm day, sipping beer on a beautiful catamaran!

We ordered our lunch. T and I both had shrimp quesadillas. It came with beans and rice (one of my new favorite things!) and of course, cole slaw. I liberally sprinkled some Marie Sharp's hot sauce on my quesadilla and you know what? It was the best shrimp quesadilla I ever had.

I'm pretty sure I could devote an entire post to Belikin beer and Marie Sharp's hot sauce. Both are products of Belize and they do their country proud.

After lunch we wandered down the street of Caye Caulker.

We went into a gift shop and bought some t-shirts, then we found a cute little ice cream shop that made their ice cream there each day. It was quite good. I don't remember the exact flavor I had because it wasn't typical. It was called something like Belizean caramel or something. It was yummy and a great way to finish off the meal.

When we got back on our catamaran, we all settled in for a quiet sail back to Ambergris Caye. I was out on the trampoline with MT. I think T was back on his beanbag. I took a little nap, as I think a lot of the people did.

When we got back to PRV, Terry asked us how we liked our outing. I told her about the jelly-fish incident and she said she had heard about it (?) and called Searious Adventures to find out if it was T that had been stung. Really? Wow.

It was actually a bad day at Hol Chan because of the jelly-fish and the authorities decided to close the park just after we left. A man staying at PRV got stung so badly that day that he had to go to the doctor in San Pedro. He was stung on his left shoulder, not far from his heart. He told us that he could feel the poison going into his organs and his muscles were starting to seize up. He said that the care he received on his boat wasn't very good. They poured fresh water on the sting which only made the poison in the minute tentacles that were still on him hold on harder. Then, the company dropped him off directly at PRV instead of taking him back to town to their office and getting him to the doctor. I think it worked out ok, though, because when he told Terry about it, she sprayed him down with Windex (ammonia) that stopped the stinging.

When he told me about the Windex, all I could think about was "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." Have you seen that movie? The dad thinks that Windex will cure anything. In one scene, the girl has a cold sore on her lip and it's the day before her wedding, so she sprays Windex on it and it's gone by her wedding day.

Because the jelly-fish victim, Scott, was ok, I commented about the use of Windex being just like in the movie. He and his wife had both seen the movie, and we all laughed. Thank God he was ok. It was their first day in Belize! What a downer that could have been!

Later that afternoon as I was walking on the pier, I saw some little creatures close to the shore that I hadn't seen before. Jelly fish. I'm not even kidding. They were tiny and looked like little condoms in the water. At first MT didn't think they were jellies, but we watched them, and saw they were propelling themselves against the current. We told Terry and Ruth about them, and they made sure to tell the other guests to be aware of the jellies. There were some little kids staying at the resort that liked to wade in the shallows by the pier.

Anyway, that's my story about sailing in Belize. We had a really fun day. I was thankful that the weather was great. It might have been about the best weather day we had :)

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