One of our companions was Tony, a software engineer from Portland, which proved that it is a small world after all. Not only were Elayne and I from Portland, but I'm a software engineer too. Gary was a minister from Wisconsin and his wife worked as an administrator in a children's hospital (I could extend the small world theory here by pointing out that I am originally from Wisconsin, but why labor the point). Elayne and I could not have asked for better traveling companions: Tony, Gary and Linda were polite, interested in other people's stories, and quite interesting themselves. Later we would hear horror stories from the guides of other, less desirable guests who had spent time on the island and made life unpleasant for all, which made us appreciate our new found friends all the more.
Phil was our primary guide for Slickrock and he would see to our day to day needs and activities. Phil is originally from England and now lives on an island off the coast of Maine when he's not down in Belize. Teaming up with Phil for our trip was Michael, a guide in training who is also a well known fashion photographer. Both Phil and Michael proved to be excellent guides with lots of useful and entertaining tips and stories.
|The cast and crew (from left to right).
Standing: Phil, Philip, Applo, Lord Jim, Elmo, Michael
Sitting: Linda, Gary, Tony, Leonard, Elayne
Elayne and I went to bed still thinking that all of this was just too good to be true. It was. Late that first night, while still in Belize City, giardia struck deep in my intestines. I would be miserable for the first few days of our island adventure and spend much of it sleeping in our cabana. The good folks at Slickrock gave me an herbal tea made in the jungle of Belize just for my symptoms, which actually worked and made life tolerable those first two days. Our only other set back was when Elayne tore open her heel while practicing emergency escapes in the kayak (you can see her foot bandaged up in the photo on the left).
The morning dawned clear and after breakfast we loaded into the boat and set off on our two hour trip to the island. The wind was up and the sea a bit choppy (Glover's Reef is an atoll just outside of the barrier reef). Long Caye is on the southeastern edge of Glover's Reef and there in our cabana Elayne and I would find a home away from home. Long Caye is an idyllic setting, and all of the structures there are made from native wood poles and palm leaves (except for the catchment roofs which provided our drinking water). Coconut trees line the walkways and beaches as mangroves cling to the southern part of the island.
Elayne and I selected a cabana up on stilts that provided great views of the sea, the neighboring caye to the north, and the rest of our own little island. In the mornings the sun would fill the cabana with a warm amber light that would slowly turn to a blazing yellow as the day progressed. The constant trade winds blew off the sea and through our cabana, keeping it comfortable during the day and the mosquitos away at night.
On the island Elmo was our native guide, who also caught fish for lunch or dinner, while Philip and Applo were our creative cooks. Lord Jim, the island manager rounded out the staff, which was more than enough for the five of us.
A daily routine was quickly established that saw us wake early in the morning to greet the sunrise, take breakfast in the open dining room, then head out to sea in the kayaks. Typically Phil or Michael would lead us to a patch reef in the atoll, and we would put on our snorkel gear and jump from the kayaks. We would then snorkel around for an hour or so and then climb back into our kayaks and head back to the island for lunch. After lunch we'd lounge around for a bit, some of us reading while in hammocks, others napping, and still others practicing kayak skills with our guides. In the afternoon we would head back out in the kayaks for more snorkeling, or a trip to a nearby island. Dinner would await us when we returned, and perhaps a shower (the island has a brackish water table which was pumped into a black tank and heated by the tropical sun).
Volleyball rapidly became our favorite pre dinner pastime, with both guests and guides making up the teams, and a stiff sea breeze to keep things interesting. During the days the skies were mostly blue, with cloud formation threatening around the horizon, but seldom braving the trip overhead to jeopardize our tranquility, and the seas were a crystal clear azure. After dinner we would look at the reference books to identify what we had seen that day, and then play cards or talk up a storm on just about any topic imaginable. Yeah, it was rough.
Long Caye is about a 1/4 of a mile long by a hundred yards wide, and stretches out from southwest to northeast in a crescent shape, with the concave side forming an open cove to the west. We shared our island abode with a number of terns, a couple of green backed herons, some shore birds, a myriad of hermit crabs, and a trio of osprey (a mated pair and one of their young from last year's hatching). The pair of osprey had been nesting on the island for years, but Mitch blew down the coconut tree which held their nest. Lord Jim and crew took the nest and placed it on a platform at the top of a braced pole, which appears to at least interest the osprey, who can be frequently spotted sitting there.
For Elayne and I the highlight of the trip was snorkeling in the patch reefs. Although the coral had taken a pounding, the underwater views were still breathtaking. The transparency of the water hovered between 25 and 40 meters while we were there, while the water temperature averaged in the mid 20s C (mid to upper 70s F). One of the most interesting trips we took was to swim off the east side of Long Caye through a break in the reef and then out to the wall. The coral gradually gave way to a sandy floor which sloped down below us to about 15 meters until it suddenly plunged down the wall nearly a thousand meters to the sea floor. The wall itself was defined by a sharp edge of deep blue against the pale blue sandy shallows.
|Check out some of the scenes we captured while snorkeling.|
The nights on Glover's Reef were quite amazing. Using our binoculars and spotting scopes we would gaze into the pitch black heavens until the moon rose and spoiled the darkness. All five of us were from northern latitudes greater than 45 degrees, so many of the constellations in the far south were new to us. The photo on the left is of Orion (note the nebula in his sword), and the other is of Taurus and Gemini (note the Pleadies to the center left and Hyadies in the upper right).
All in all this was a fantastic trip, and we were sad when our last day on the island had come and we had to board the boat and head back to Belize City. Phil accompanied us for one last dinner together on the mainland and a breakfast in the morning, but our vacation was obviously winding down and it was almost time to go home.