12.4.08 Ambergris Caye, Belize

Ambergris Caye Travel Blog

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Snorkeling Ambergris Caye with Marteen

12.4.08 Ambergris Caye, Belize


What a terrific day!  We were up before dawn, paid Henry Menzies $5 BZ ($2.50 U.S.) to drive us the mile or so to the ferry dock.  By 6:35 am, we were sitting on the 7 am ferry to Ambergris Caye.  By preparing the night before, we were ready to roll early for a fun day!


The ferry was a vessel with six enclosed-seating rows, with a few open-air seats in the back.  We lasted in the back for 30-seconds.  The ferry travels a long way at high-speed for 2 solid hours, and was prompt to the minute for every departure and arrival- impressive!  It’s also very bumpy, so take Dramamine if you’re prone to sea-sickness.

Snorkelers are ready!
  We were fine, but I avoided reading. 


The ferry was being loaded when we arrived with about 100 boxes of Christmas decorations and what looked like stock for a store.  Customs officials were slicing open every single box and Charles said they confiscated three boxes.  One guy wasn’t going to be allowed to go, but at the last minute the officials let him on with instructions for him to call them. 


A couple from Germany and we were the only apparent tourists on the ferry, along with about 15 locals, who were normal people who treated us no differently.  We got a $5 BZ discount when we bought a round-trip ticket onboard and Lia got a discount (half price maybe?) and so rather than $200 U.S., the round-trip was only $170.

Beautiful Caye!
  While that is still a sizable ferry fee, we got to go to an experience of a lifetime!


After arriving right at 9am, we made it to Amigo’s Dive Shop by 9:15, but unfortunately, their only tour for the morning just left.  I guess the Corozal ferry doesn’t typically bring many tourists for dives, as the Belize City ferries.  Those are about the only two ferries to the island, I believe.  Bummer!  Now we could only snorkel off the shoreline ourselves, but we were happy to rent gear for $6 U.S. from them.


Well, we didn’t quite make it.  After searching in vain for an underwater disposable camera, we headed back to get the snorkel gear.  A man was coming down the pier, hawking a snorkel tour to the Hol Chun National Park (UNESCO World Heritage) area and to the Shark Ray Alley dive spot.

Lunch! Rice and Beans
  Perfect!  For $100, we’d get a private tour, use of snorkel gear, and could head off in a few minutes!  Whoo-hooo!


So we went back to Amigo’s where the man kindly returned our credit card imprint, set our gear back on their counter, tipped him $5 BZ (which seemed to please him) for his trouble in fitting us, and headed over to Elsworth’s shop called , Yazzy Dive Shop. 


Marteen, our guide has lived all his life on the island and got us fitted with our gear.  He was enthusiastic, helpful, and patient- terrific!  We boated 10 minutes out to the reef at the park at the south end of the island.  The speedboat ride itself was fun!


We didn’t know how lucky we were to get Marteen until we were in the water.  He swam without a snorkel, but would tell us at the surface what a fish was called, as well as stingrays 3’ in diameter that swam right under us, black grouper, exotically colored fish, and nurse sharks!  That was wild! 


The reef is amazing.  It is thousands of feet deep to the ocean floor, and gets as high as 6 feet from the surface in places.  It is the longest LIVING barrier reef in the world, and the second longest barrier reef in the world (I think 105 miles).  You could see a white line where the waves crashed into it a few hundred yards off shore, but I couldn’t really hear the “roar” of the crash that I’d read about in a book.


Marteen also did things like dove down about 15 feet and disappeared into some low coral, reappearing on the other side of the coral- it was a tunnel!  (I’m glad he didn’t get stuck).  He brought a snack for the birds (who would swoop down to take it from his hands).  He pointed out a Spotted Eagle Ray and knows the rocks that the eel frequents.  By pounding his fist into his hand underwater, he got the eerie eel to stick his head out of the rock so we could see him!


It was also very helpful having someone help the kids with their gear, as it was their first real time experiencing it.  Charles had some gear trouble throughout the dive that convinced me that his enjoyment of snorkeling (and mine) depends on buying him some gear that fits, that he knows how to use.


The kids really enjoyed it too.  The water was cool when you jumped in, but not shockingly.  There was a small current, but the fins really helped us move fast, although more experience will help our team.  But swimming around in the middle of a big ocean is a little intimidating at first, but they did great.


The big time fun was when we boated over to “Shark Ray Alley” where Marteen had a conch shell filled with small fish lowered into the water.  There were about 7 sharks and 5 enormous sting rays!  The sharks were at least 5 feet long and slithered through the water like jaws, without the big dorsal fin.  These nurse sharks and stingrays knew Marteen and he played with them like pets!  He held a big 6’ long nurse shark and Lia practically rode it!  He turned it over and rubbed it’s belly.  This shark was as big as him!  And he insisted we feel it’s sandpapery back and soft tummy.  But when Marteen felt like it was tired, he was sure to tell us that he was sending her off.  Several times he’d already released her and she played right around him.  We probably played with the shark for 5 or more minutes.  Really amazing!


The stingray. Marteen lifted up to show us near the surface, was about 3’ in diameter and we were scared as its tail whipped by, but the ray seemed to love Marteen and we got to pet its octopus-like, fleshy skin, see its eyes, etc.  Awesome!


We were back at the dock near noon- the time had flown by and we’d have loved more time to snorkel, but we certainly got our money’s worth on that amazing dive.  We gave Marteen a big tip- without his efforts, the whole experience would be half as much fun for us.  He walked us up the street to a restaurant when we asked, but the 4-table  place was full.


So we sunned on the dock while drying off.  My bathing suit top, that I’d put on in the dark, was inside out- discovered when we were on the boat about to jump into the water.  Not going to switch it around under that crystal aquamarine Caribbean water with snorkelers around!


Then after a while of working on relaxing, we returned to the restaurant and tried traditional Belizian food:  Rice and Beans.  Now that’s different from Beans with Rice.  The first has beans stirred into the rice and they’re cooked together.  Beans and Rice has white rice and the beans are served beside the rice.  The owner’s husband kindly explained all this to us.  He said that he could eat Rice and Beans every day, he loved them so much.  The food was delicious.  The meat appeared to be cooked for a long time, like in a crock pot, which is good because we only got a fork, no knife for eating it.  Also, the Backed plantain slices were delicious.  Our meals cost $7 BZ each.  Good prices when divided by 2!


We got to call Ned with our new phone pin number.  It is like having a card, but you have a number on a receipt to poke in when they tell you to do so.  We just punched in the pin and then 001 for country code plus long distance and


It is 7:55 pm and the kids are asleep and I’m fading.


Summarizing:  One of our top experiences on the whole trip!  People were nice wherever we travelled.


Rich, Jessica, and Rowanna from England were on our ferry home.  They are set up here at Henry’s campground now.  They’re also headed down to Panama.  The started their trip in Denali, in Alaska in August.


We walked the mile or so home from the ferry and it felt good.  It reminded me about how rare walking is at home.


Chinese leftovers for dinner- and there’s more left!


We’re so happy we got to visit on part of the UNESCO World Heritage site!






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Snorkeling Ambergris Caye with Mar…
Snorkeling Ambergris Caye with Ma…
Snorkelers are ready!
Snorkelers are ready!
Beautiful Caye!
Beautiful Caye!
Lunch!  Rice and Beans
Lunch! Rice and Beans
Ambergris Caye
photo by: travelman727