Storm and sharks

‘Ahh Moses’, I said as I made up my mind. ‘I’m not comfortable with this. We’re going back to the island’.

Moses pulled his head up out of the water, looked around and nodded agreement, though he looked a little reluctant. Moses was our snorkelling guide and at the time we were about 250 metres off a tiny sand atoll known as the Silk Caye. Silk Caye was 26 kilometres from the mainland. We were on a snorkelling outing to Belize barrier reef.

Trouble brewing in paradise

I wasn’t comfortable because a rain squall which had been looming off in the distance all morning had finally caught up with us. Bright blue skies had turned grey. Balmy zephyrs had become a stiff wind and glassy waters had become choppy and rough. Ten minutes beforehand I had looked up from the coral and asked if the approaching weather would be a problem. Moses didn’t seem to think so but instead of floating serenely over the reef we were now being bounced along in a one to two-foot swell with the occasional gulp of water splashing down snorkels.

Moses may not have thought it was a problem, but it wasn’t Moses’ children swimming in the middle of the ocean with a storm breaking overhead. We started swimming back to the island. It was hard going into the waves which kept slapping us about the face and pushing us in the other direction. It was better just to keep your head down looking at the coral where the wind and rain just seemed to disappear.

Our beautiful beachfront cabana back on the mainland at Placencia seemed a long way off. Placencia is a sleepy little town, accessed via a drive down a narrow sandy strip of land on a road with more speed bumps than the highways of Jordan.

Our cabana was a kilometre out of town, overlooking a large bay. It sat just metres from the water’s edge. Palm trees swayed overhead in the steady breeze and water lapped gently at the shore. There was a hammock hanging from the veranda and two chairs positioned with views up the beach on to the ever-changing hues of the horizon.

Our cabana by the beach

The proprietors, Jacob and Tyrone, were super friendly and allowed us to use their paddle boards for free. Pleasant hours were spent paddling, swimming and clowning around in the calm waters between school work, reading books and writing blogs. The only downside was the world’s smallest sand-flies that munched us to pieces every time the wind dropped.

Blogging, reading and waiting schoolwork
Beautiful sunrises

Back out at sea, it took about twice as long to get back to the sandy Silk Caye as it had to swim away from it and without wishing to over dramatise the whole situation, I was relieved when we finally made the shallow sandy water where we could sit safely while the wind blew and the rain fell.

Relieved we made it back to the Caye

How quickly things can change. The squall blew for another 15 minutes before passing over completely and the clear sunny skies returned. The boat which had delivered us 26 kilometres offshore to the Silk Cayes was nowhere to be seen. It was off on a scuba expedition with some other customers. Pelicans and ospreys fishing in the waters surrounding the island kept us entertained along with scores of hermit crabs which scurried here there and everywhere.

Just a small hermit crab
An osprey with a fish

When the sun was shining Silk Caye was the very vision of a tropical paradise. It was worth going out just to splash around in the green and blue waters as they swished upon the sandy shore. The atoll was surrounded by coral except at one end where sand made a friendly path out into the waters.

Silk Caye
Arriving in paradise
So many awesome blues

On our first snorkel outing we circumnavigated the island taking about an hour to complete the lap. Amy has always been at home in water and this was no exception and Oliver surprised me with his ease and delight in exploring the underwater world.

The underwater world
Tricky family selfie
No smiling – it makes your mask leak
Looking closely at the reef
Healthy coral

My favourite fish was a vicious looking barracuda who watched us pass as it sat motionless. Emboldened by its seeming lack of concern at our presence I swum a little closer. It reacted by opening its mouth wide, sharp teeth flashing and angling toward me. I backed off and hurried to catch up with the others while it disappeared into the hazy void.

Our boat returned to pick us up a short while after the bad weather had cleared and took us another mile seaward before dropping anchor seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The crew indicated we ought to don our gear and jump overboard. We did and landed in relatively shallow water.

The bottom was covered in sea grass, like a marine paddock. Fingers of light reached down to make the scene shimmer and shine. No coral here… but sharks everywhere. There were at least ten of them in view as soon as we hit the water. The spot is a regular stopping point for local fisherman to clean their catch and the sharks linger and wait for the home delivered meals.

They were nurse sharks and totally harmless but if you’ve never swum with sharks before, as we have not, it is a thrill to be suddenly in their midst. Some were big (two to three metres) others were smaller and they all glided silently around us and back and forward around the boat floating above.

Amy swum up behind me straight after taking the plunge, enthralled but full of nerves. Nerves however quickly became superfluous. Curiosity arose to take its place. It seemed we all wanted to know how close we dared to get without tempting fate.

Amy and her underwater camera were in full flight and the rest of us were keen to be featured in a picture with a shark (or three). Several eagle rays and southern sting rays also joined the scene and just when our time was up and we were being summoned to return to the boat a hawksbill sea turtle swam along and we were granted an extra 10 or 15 minutes in which to enjoy his or her company.

Waiting for a snack
The only sharks that can sit still
Just swimming over some sharks
Eagle ray
Hawksbill turtle

Then, all too soon, it was over. We climbed back aboard our vessel and were whisked across the water back to Placencia. Another day done, another unforgettable experience.

The ride home

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