First there was one tug though, then two, then half the boat had pulled in a fish. We moved to a different spot that turned out to be even better. Despite throwing a fair number of small ones back, we ended up filling up half the cooler with yellow snapper, permit, and French grunt. Apparently they think squid are mighty tasty.
Kayaking the Waters of Belize
The next day the wind had died down enough to go kayaking nearby. We spent most of the day paddling between different reefs for snorkeling and getting used to getting in and out of the kayaks. There are an estimated 700 patch reefs scattered around this atoll, so it's not hard to find coral encircled by a wealth of sea life.
Within a few seconds of us ducking our heads under the water, we were in a world of waving fan coral and brightly colored fish. There are hundreds of fish swimming around vibrant coral formations in this area and occasionally we'd spot a huge grouper gliding by or a nurse shark. At a second patch reef, the coral was more tubular or rounded, sometimes brightly colored as well. The pillar coral here can stretch a meter or more up from the sea floor, creating a whole undersea landscape to explore. As we lazily drift around watching the kaleidoscope, I spotted a sea turtle and a moray eel.
In the afternoon we did the kinds of things people used to do on vacation before computers and smartphones came along. Fishing in waders, reading books, playing cards, and just chatting while watching the sea change colors. Then cocktail hour, a leisurely dinner, a wind-down, and an early bedtime.
© Island Expeditions
Island to Island on Kayaks
The next morning after breakfast we gathered up paddles, sized up our kayak seats, and then the guides stowed something different under the straps: small sails. We found out the plan was to paddle out to a distant ranger station island that was a tiny speck in the distance, then we'd ride the wind back to return faster and will less energy.
The paddle out there was gorgeous, with the occasional eagle ray swimming near enough to be seen from the kayak seat. After crossing the long but shallow expanse with a rest on the way, we passed a grove of mangroves and paddled up to a dock where tarpon fish swam around us. After exploring the small island and climbing up the observation tower, we explored another patch reef just offshore for a different collection of coral and fish.
© Island Expeditions
For the trip back, we paddled to a shallow sandbar then pulled out the sails. For my single kayak, it was a round hand-held spinnaker sail that was tricky to master at first. Once I got the hang of it, the circle captured enough wind to pull me across the water far more quickly than I could possibly paddle, leaving a wake behind me.
The double kayaks had actual sails on masts. These are not easy to master either when the winds shift and two of the kayaks flipped at one point. In these shallow waters though, it was easy to mount again and take off. By the time we all reached our original starting point, we were getting skilled at the steering and everyone managed to zero in on the launch beach without needing a rescue.
Swimming Toward the Glowing Eyes
The day's adventures were not over though. After dinner that night we donned our masks and snorkels again and grabbed flashlights for a night swim. This was a first for me and I was a little uneasy about going. There's something about being underwater in the dark that feels inherently dangerous to the oldest parts of our brain. "We're not supposed to be here," mine was shouting at me.
Going as a group felt less threatening, however, with a dozen flashlights and headlamps cutting beams through the sea grass as we kicked our fins and headed toward a reef. Along the way we saw a live conch moving its protrusion along the sea floor and a spiny lobster that was the same color as the sand. As we got out to a patch reef, there were flashes of color in a headlamp as confused fish swam by and a stingray glided across the sand under us. We passed a school of translucent squid.
I followed a sea turtle for a while with my light trained on him until I realized getting away from the group was a bad idea out here in the dark. Eventually the lights bobbed back toward the pier together and we dried off in the Caribbean night breeze, all the constellations in full view overhead.
An Island Beach to Ourselves
Island Expeditions celebrated its 30th birthday in 2017, which means they've been operating almost as long as Belize has been a country. Few tourists came here back when the company was hiring local fishermen as guides and their tours still provide a way to get away from the vacationers that pack into Ambergris Caye now for a quick getaway. Their kayaking tours used to just paddle from remote island to remote island in the old days, with tents and sleep sacks strapped on for camping. With far more private ownership in place now, that's tough to do, so the company has some bungalow collections plus semi-permanent camps like ours that they can take down and remove during the potential hurricane season.
We spent our last night on the private beach of a now closed resort. On the same island as our camp was located sits one of the prettiest beaches in Belize. We kick back with Belikin beers and snacks the crew brought along while they hand some of our camp cook Freddy's best work to the caretaker for letting us stay a while. He's the only occupant of a sprawling piece of land dotted with vacation bungalows that now sit empty. "The owner had some kind of money problems after a storm," says Michael with a shrug. "Maybe it'll open back up someday, who knows."
It wasn't his problem to worry about and it wasn't ours either. The only problems we were worried about were the ones coming when we got back to our hundreds of waiting e-mail messages in "civilization." After watching the sun go down and then seeing a full sky of stars that night, however, we only wanted to live in the moment, in a quiet place with no distractions.
The problems of the modern world could wait until the trip was over. Tonight we'd fall asleep to the sound of the sea breeze moving the tent flaps and the leaves of the coconut palms. Sometimes that feels like the best kind of luxury imaginable.
If you go:
Island Expeditions runs multiple adventure tours in Belize, but this five-day Glovers Getaway trip is a popular way to unplug and explore the underwater nature of the Caribbean. Combine it with a trip to Bocawina Rainforest Resort (owned by the same company) to make it a proper "surf and turf" vacation or take one of their longer island-to-island paddle boarding or kayaking trips.
Story by Timothy Scott photos by the writer except where indicated.