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Ambergris Caye, Belize

Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Shark Ray Alley & Caye Caulker - It's Easy to be SEAduced by Belize

I am petrified of sharks. I come from the land down under where the Great Whites plunder (rap not intended). I rarely swim in the sea and if I do it’s more like a wade where a quick exit is available. I knew I should never have watched Jaws, period. But I did and after the numerous media scares Perth plays every summer on shark attacks it left me valuing my life and leaving them to their home.

 

And now here I sit. On the edge of a boat gazing at a crystal clear ocean filled with sharks. I breathe deeply, throw caution to the wind and plunge into the cool depths of the Caribbean awaiting my destiny.

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Think of a perfect day. Where are you? Is it a beach? Is it a mountain? Is it with loved ones? My perfect day this month was on a catamaran filled with strangers, out in the middle of the Caribbean.

After several days of rough winds and over a week of no snorkelling the weather report finally revealed that Wednesday’s wind would be much less than previous days so we made preparations. SEAduced by Belize in the very centre of San Pedro (a nice big purple building opposite the school) confirmed with us on Tuesday afternoon they had room and we were booked in for their full day Caye Caulker tour on Wednesday.

How the day began

We arrived at SEAduced’s office at 8:30am, paid for our tour (US$75 each, kids free) and got fitted in flippers, masks and snorkels. Then we walked to the end of the road and out to the pier for our 9am pickup.

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The sun was already hot and we lathered on our sunscreen. At about 9:15am I called the office to see what was happening cause we were all starting to wilt. While I was on the phone a speedboat showed up.

The staff did not let on any information, but simply asked us to get on-board. It was slightly confusing since we were expecting a catamaran, but he drove us a few piers down to Ramón’s’ Village where a catamaran full of people were waiting for us.

I am not sure where the confusion was, but it was slightly annoying waiting for over half an hour to then be let on the boat last. However this hiccup was the only one we experienced and as we got on board the boat our wait was already being left on the shore while we drifted away on the calm blue waves.

SEAduced catamaran

Shoes in a big bucket, bags inside the cabin, and at the back a shaded seated area. Inside was located a table and chairs, kitchen and toilets (where you can see out the window under the water, so cool), soft drinks & beer in the cooler. Out the front beanbags were available for soaking up the sun in comfort, and on the trampoline a giant mattress. Oh, it was going to be a good day.

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On our way out to sea our captain introduced himself and the staff and how the day would proceed. We then started getting to know all the people on our boat and despite lathering up sunscreen up 5 times that day I could still feel my skin pinking under that bright hot sun.

Hol Chan Marine Reserve

Divided into several zones, the most popular zone A mostly consists of the Hol Chan Cut, a natural break in the reef. The cut can be as shallow 1.5m (5ft). Do you know how strange it is to swim out in the middle of the ocean and be able to stand?

When we arrived there were plenty of other tour companies there as well. So we were divided into two groups and everyone proceeded to get their flippers and snorkels on.

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The snorkel time was around 45 minutes and I forgot my underwater camera, so sorry! I did not think my kids would be able to do it, but you can go back to the boat at any stage so we thought we’d give it a little try.

As soon as we were in my brave 4-year-old daughter had a freak-out because there was a giant groper (fish). Every since the black toe-nibbling-fish at the Mexican cenotes she has not been a fan of fish. Eventually she calmed down with the promise of a Fanta back on the boat. She refused to wear her goggles and look under the water, but was happy to swim around with us in her little life vest.

Caius was the complete opposite. We had brought his pink Dora floating ring and he had jumped in the water before we were even ready. He was swimming around and loving it.

Not as colourful as the largest barrier reef in Australia, but certainly as fascinating we saw lots of different marine life – dolphins, eagle rays, sting rays, gropers, snapper, turtles and more.

Before we knew it the whole 45 minutes had passed and we were back at the boat. As we clambered onto the boat a delightful older couple that had stayed on board approached Josh and I. The little old lady crinkled her eyes and said to us, “I think you guys deserve an award. What you are doing for those kids is amazing. This is such a great opportunity and you are just the best parents. Good on you.”

After a little blush and some chiming in of a few other passengers milling around, I stuttered a thank you.

Having been sad that Miss 4-year-old’s friends were all starting school this year, this was exactly what I wanted to hear. Mia’s friends are in school. Mia is snorkeling in the Caribbean, seeing sea turtles, sailing on catamarans, making new friends all the time. She has a pretty good life, no need for me to worry about what she’s missing when I can see how much she is gaining.

Shark Ray Alley

Back on board the staff had cut up fresh pineapple, rockmelon (they call it cantaloupe!), and watermelon. My kids dive in. I manage one piece of pineapple before we reach my nemesis – Shark Ray Alley.  It’s a shallow sandy-bottomed area inside the reef, unremarkable except that it is a gathering place for sharks and stingrays.

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So you heard about my fear of sharks and the staff tell me there is no problems swimming with these guys – they are Nurse sharks.

Yeah well even a breastfeeding baby is known to bite a nipple now and then!

Having been previously warned on the great SanPedroScoop blog (must read when visiting) I knew I had to act fast. The sharks come for the food (our staff brought sardines) and depart very quickly for the next boat with food. I pulled on my snorkel gear and plunged into the water without another thought.

They barely noticed me. They were too busy eating their sardines and you barely had time for a glimpse before they started to scatter. I followed one as far as I could and then got spooked by how far I had swum from the boat and returned.

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The real winners were the stingrays - giant stingrays nibbling the food that hit the sea floor. The big one on the bottom must have surfaced at some stage cause he had a smiley face drawn in the algae on his back. Funny sight to see.

My kids were not keen to get in so I swam around for a while. One of the staff brought a stingray up for a pat. Slimy thing. All I could think about was our beloved Australian icon, Steve Erwin, and I made sure to stay well clear of that tail. I hear they aren’t the barbed variety, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

Another staff member from another boat also found one of the sharks and brought him up for a pet. Now a shark on it’s back apparently goes into a hypnotic state, a kind of tonic immobility where they are completely unresponsive. This is how the native brought up the shark, on it’s back and it was still as a doornail – who would have thought? Now to figure out how to get a Great White on it’s back next time I go swimming in Oz.

Back on board the ship the staff have a hose with fresh water to wash you down. It’s refreshing and a welcome relief.

Caye Caulker

The boat started making the move to Caye Caulker (pronounced “Key Cawker”). The quaint sister island to Ambergris Caye, it’s only about 5 miles north to south and less than 1 mile east to west, but has over 30 tiny hotels on it!

On the way there the staff brought out some chips and salsa and conch ceviche. I devour nearly an entire plate, ravenous after all that swimming. The salsa was refreshing and tasty, but I don’t eat ceviche.

The staff let us off the boat when we docked and give us two hours to explore the island. Ample time. We ate lunch at the rainbow restaurant right on the beach at the end of the pier and Mia made new friends with some ladies from the boat, giggling and laughing.

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The food was great and reasonably priced.

After lunch we walk around town for a little while. Mia and I spotted some jewelry with cow horn and jade. She picked out a pink bracelet and I got a anklet. Not very often we buy something for the fun of it these days. We were happy ladies.

On our way to the ice-cream store Caius has a meltdown. This resulted in no ice cream for him - the hardest thing to follow through on. I was constantly watching what I said as a threat because I know I have to follow through. When he couldn’t get that ice cream I wanted to capitulate so bad, but I stayed strong.

Back on the boat sailing home

On the way home the sail was opened up and the hot skin-burning front part of the boat turned into a shaded oasis. We lounged around drinking rum punch, beer, water and soda (all included in the price) laughing and enjoying the view. Both Mia and Caius had a turn driving the boat, thanks to the lovely captain who I’m sure was happy to relinquish the wheel to such able-bodied sailors. You may remember from Penang how much my daughter loves driving boats. Boats, golf carts, anything really! I mean she is 4 and she’s driving a speedboat, catamaran, golf cart, what’s next?!

The kids had a wrestling, tickle game with one of the coolest ladies I have ever met and promptly fell asleep on the mattress afterwards, leaving Josh and I a moment to just sit back and enjoy the seamless glide the boat made through the endless aqua water.

The 2 hour ride home glided by like a dream and it was too soon we were back at Ramon’s and being shuffled off our boat. The day was a complete success. What a perfect day! Thank you SEAduced so much for the tour, I would highly recommend this type of tour. Nothing beats a catamaran ride on the Caribbean with a boat full of strangers, a beanbag and a free coke. 

Later that night

The ladies we befriended on the boat organised a meet-up for dinner later that night. My kids had crashed and hubby opted to stay home while I hit the town with the ladies.

We ate at DJ’s, best burgers in San Pedro, and it finished off my day with a real warm, girly, glow.

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Here's what you have to say...

"I respond to every comment by private email. So please leave me comments, I love chatting to you" -
Posted by Kevin Alguire on
Idiots scrawling a happy face into the protective layer of algae on a ray isn't a funny sight to see, just ask a reputable guide ....one that cares about the ecology and future well being of a place like Hol Chan. Your post needs an edit.
Posted by Erin on
Kevin, I did not know that about the sting-rays algae, thanks for letting me & all our reader's know. The guide did clearly say not to touch anything in the water, which of course we did not do. I would not encourage or condone that kind of behaviour, however seeing something like that did take me with surprise. Thanks for reading!
Posted by Travelling with kids Travel Blog on
OMG!!!!! We have to meet one day!!! I can't believe you did that!!! I won't swim in the ocean, unless its crystal clear because of all the shark attacks....I know my chances are slim ..but still, it scares the hell out of me, especially when Im dumped in the middle of the ocean...Im always looking for JAWS!!! Well done girlfriend!!! I also think that a stingray barb is going to take me out as it did Steve Irwin!!! However...The Emerald Cave..now thats another story!!! Mia looks like she is having a bawl...she has plenty of school years ahead of her, you guys are giving her such a precious experience!!!
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