Friday, May 30, 2008

Trip To Belize: Day 7

May 19, 2008

At 6:30 AM Jobina, Jay, CeCe, Laura (one of the owner's sister) and I gathered in the main lodge for an early breakfast. Today one of the owners of Cotton Tree (Chris) is taking us on a snorkeling/fishing excursion to West Snake Caye (island) in the Port Honduras Marine Reserve. Neither Jobina or I have ever gone scuba diving before so we are pretty excited. We will leave at 7 AM and take Chris's boat 10 miles up the Moho to the ocean, swing past Punta Gorda and head out into the reserve. It's supposed to take about an hour and 45 minutes to get there.

Zooming down the Moho river to the coast was awesome. Jobina and I stayed near the front of the boat and it was quite a rush as we careened through the twists and turns on water as smooth as glass. Here's what it looks like from the front of the boat, early in the morning:

I checked our speed on my GPS - we were doing just under 50 km/h. If as a mountain biker you like fast, tight, and twisting singletrack, well, this was the river-boating equivalent. Here's me enjoying the bliss of the wind and the speed:

Our friends CeCe and Jay in the back with Chris at the wheel:

We zipped along pretty fast, occasionally almost hitting native fishermen in their dugout canoes. There is almost no other habitation on the river so it's quite pristine. Chris showed us some large mangrove trees with their huge roots hanging into the water and said that they were over 400 years old. Also we saw a settlement/village that was started by some Baptist missionaries. Chris said that the missionaries came in, build a church, organized the village, trained indigenous leaders, and then left a nicely functioning and Belizean led church/village behind. That's how to do missions! Chris said every time he misses home (the U.S.) he goes to Church there.

Eventually we made it to the mouth of the Moho and entered the Caribbean where it got much rougher. A little north up the coast we passed Punta Gorda, picked up a friend of Chris's named Wayne, and then headed out into the reserve:

Unlike the Moho river, the ocean was quite choppy and since Jobina and I were near the front of the boat we were soon being thrown around in our seats pretty good. Suddenly we'd be zipping along and we'd be ejected a couple inches off our seats! Very exciting. The Mexican style boat (I forget what it was called) has a fairly flat bottom and the seats are slats of wood. Needless to say, in waves if you are in the front the ride gets quite bumpy. We put life jackets under our butts to cushion our landings.

Finally after passing many islands, most of them choked by mangroves, we reached West Snake Caye. What a beautiful island! Beaches, coral reefs off shore, little white crabs on the shoreline; it was everything paradise is supposed to look like:

We went for a refreshing swim in the ocean. Here's my beautiful wife toweling off back a the beach:

Here's the two of us on the beach (yes, I'm squinting, it was a hot blinding sun, so sue me):

After our swim we hung out on the beach and talked to one of the rangers who was building a new station on the island to keep a look out for Guatemalans who fish illegally in the protected waters. After this it was time for some snorkeling! Jay had crept off to do some fishing on the other side of the island, so the rest of us got into the boat and tied up the boat to a buoy about 100 yards away from him and got ready to snorkel. Neither Jobina nor I had ever done this before so were both excited and a bit nervous. Chris told us to make sure we spat into our masks as a first step. "Um, how much spit?" I asked incredulously. "About this much," he said and promptly hocked a huge lougie into his mask. Riiiiight. Anyway after a few minutes we got out masks and "fins" on. Here's Jobina about to take the plunge:

Here she is again in the water:

Later I too jumped in:

Snorkeling is an amazing experience. After you figure out how to breathe (and not panic) you relax into it and begin to notice what's all around you. Such beauty! The coral, plants, and starfish are fascinating enough, but the fish were mind-boggling. So many fish! It was like Finding Nemo in real life. Even without my glasses I saw three huge fish that were almost as long as I was. Gliding quietly in the water I saw scores of multi-colored fish chasing each other around and soon I was chasing them. So much fun! I'm not sure how long we stayed out there but it was magical and over way too soon. I can see moving to the Caribbean just to be able to snorkel like that. All I can say is "Wow."

Eventually we pulled ourselves away from the fish and returned to the boat. I was surprised to find Jobina there with a case of seasickness. She seemed to feel better though when we took off for a nearby Ranger station/interpretative center on another tiny island nearby. The island was small but cute with a three story tower in the middle. Here is the welcome sign after we were given permission by the rangers to dock at the island:

This island had the most unusual urinal I have ever seen. It hangs right over the water. Here it is:

When you go inside and pop up the toilet seat lid, here is what you see: tropical water with little golden fish swimming below you. Peeing down onto the fish was quite the unique experience (and they didn't seem to mind)!

After a nice lunch underneath the Ranger Station where it was nice and cool, we took a tour of the station. Here is the view from one of the windows:

And here is a map showing the reserve with all the little islands that the rangers patrol. With precious little resources (money or supplies) these rangers do an admirable job to protect the fragile eco-system that they have been entrusted with:

Warning: Frank discussion of my bodily functions ahead, proceed at your own risk.

Soon we left the station, did some fishing from the boat, went snorkeling again, and then headed for home. As were doing our last snorkel I realized that I had to go pee. Can you pee in the ocean I thought? You can pee in lakes - but maybe not the ocean, maybe the salt in the water would hurt delicate parts of the body? Indecision ruled me. Although this makes no sense to me as I look back, I decided to hold it. The problem was when we got back into the boat my bladder starting giving me more urgent messages. Soon we were jumping across the water and Jobina and I in the front were being slammed down again and again as the boat hit the waves. Not good! I told Chris I had to go the bathroom so he actually went faster - which was even worse because the bumps were harsher. I thought my bladder was going to burst. Images of me peeing off the boat or being poisoned by my ruptured bladder tormented me. I prayed fervently. Finally (after what seemed an eternity) we neared PG where I was told that we could stop off at a dock near Wayne's apartment and I could use his facilities there. As we approached this place, suddenly Chris changed his mind and said the tide was too far out to risk going at this dock. Arghhh! So we headed for a Texaco station near the main town dock. A few minutes later as we neared the dock suddenly Wayne's hat flew off his head and into the water, a victim of the intense wind. "Noooooooooo!" I screamed internally as I felt I was near the edge of having an accident. We slowly turned around and went back for the hat but we missed it the first time, necessitating another run at it. Finally we scooped it up, wasting several minutes in the process and I began to lose all hope. Chris eventually got us to the main PG dock and I hobbled onto it and very slowly goose stepped my way to the Texaco station. "Where is the bathroom please?" I croaked to a disinterested Belizean behind the till. She motioned with her head outside. I practically crawled around the building only to find the door was locked. I grimaced and crept back to the lady? "It's locked," I whispered to her and then she pointed to the key on the counter. With my last bit of self control I grabbed it, and got outside to the bathroom and relieved myself. "That was the most beautiful moment of my life," I said honestly to the laughing boat as I returned. I love that gas station! Here's a picture of me in front of it a few days later. I'm quite fond of it actually. It will always have a special place in my heart.


Anonymous said...

THAT is a funny story! Perhaps you should send that in'd probably get money for it!

Great pics Mark!

Love, Michele

Anonymous said...

THAT is a funny story! Perhaps you should send that in'd probably get money for it!

Great pics Mark!

Love, Michele

Jay Boaz said...

I'm looks to me like the toilet hangs right over the water. Is that basically just a privacy box to do your business in?

If so, what's the difference between going to the bathroom there than while snorkeling? And if you had to go so bad, why not just stop the boat, hop over the side, then hop back in?

Regardless, I laughed at your pain. :)


Mark said...

Jay: Yes, the toilet hangs out over the water. Think of it as a minimalist outhouse. And yet it's private except that the fish get quite a view of you.

The difference (again it's hard to recall my exact line of thinking) was that going to the bathroom while in the water might be, um, not wise as certain parts of oneself come in direct contact with the ocean. As for hopping over the side, trust me the thought occurred to me. I actually had visions of it, dreams really. But the thought of me treading water in the water while everyone watched me, knowing that I was peeing just seemed too weird (and embarrassing). Again, I'm not saying it makes sense, it's just what I was thinking at the time.

Glad you enjoyed my pain!

Dayna said...

the toilet picture brought me abck to my africa days.... not beacause i ever used an over-the-ocean toilet, but because i also took pictures of the facilities sometimes!