Breath’s aware that will not keep.
Up, lad, when the journey’s over then there’ll be time enough to sleep.”
Up, lad, when the journey’s over then there’ll be time enough to sleep.”
-- A. E. Houseman
To my surprise, in the middle of nowhere, el barco a.k.a. the boat shut off its motor. Why here? Surely I couldn't be at another dive site because this patch of Caribbean Sea seemed no different than any other.
The staff informed me that I would be snorkeling a quarter mile to Half Moon Caye, an island that looked straight out of the movie Cast Away (in which Tom Hanks washed up on an unknown island). A haze loomed around Half Moon Caye from the midday heat, but the upshot was the Caribbean Sea transformed into the most transparent & vibrant shades of azure. I thought Hawaii's water was the clearest & most breath-taking I had ever laid eyes on... until now.
I launched into the fluorescent water. There were some fish, but nothing awe-inspiring. I was underwhelmed by the plain terrain that stretched on (infrequently broken up by a mass of coral) and was littered with fallen coral. The highlight of this segment was an enormous lobster and a tiny Hermit Crab, that retreated into its mobile home before I could see it. Perhaps, I could have been more enthused about Half Moon Caye's underwater scene had I not just frolicked in the famous Blue Hole & fell captive to its reef life and abyss. Only later did it become obvious to me why Belize Diving School dropped anchor at Half Moon Caye...
The island grew on the horizon & eventually I could stand in the water, although I acquired a few gashes on the bottom of my feet from the sharp coral. The flora appeared taller and wider from this point of view, but I saw a trail wide enough for two people, leading into the jungle. In the thicket, away from the lapping waves and sea's breeze, the silence & heat were stifling. The sand seared the bottom of my feet insofar that I scurried from the cool shadow of one palm tree to another. My guide lifted his left arm parallel to the ground so I instantly froze. A striped lizard with a tapering tail & large sack under its throat basked in the sun, but noticed our presence. We carefully & slowly kept to the left edge of the trail, but the Spiny-tailed Iguana slinked away. Not 15 yards further, the same scenario ensued but I found this lizard more confrontational. It stared at us & refused to move as the group drew nearer. So we skirted around it, but thereafter my eyes were more attuned to the google of lizards in the brush.
Also in the oppressive brush I heard plenty of scurrying & eventually captured a photo of the local rats. I was so focused on watching where I stepped, that I barely looked skyward. When my guide brought my attention to the multitude of nests in the Orange-flowered Ziricote trees, again, I developed a new awareness of the life encapsulated on Half Moon Caye. Whilst ambling along the path -- toward the island's center -- I spotted another Hermit Crab, clinging to a random branch & more coral. It's like how you can be unaware of all the homes for sale, until you're ready to buy one... suddenly, like they materialized overnight, there are realty signs everywhere!
Yet the best part of the hike to Half Moon Caye's interior were the unexpected views of the dazzling ocean. I happened to glance to my left at one point and practically gasped! This was the stuff you see on postcards; stolen from a ubiquitous wall calendar. Peeking through the overgrowth or around a turn laid a pristine beach. Out at sea was my vessel -- the only unnatural thing about Half Moon Caye, save us visitors. If not for this island's lack of resources (i.e. timber, fresh water supply, natural food) I opined this would be a heavenly place to pass my days.
In the interior of Half Moon Caye, a lone wooden structure with faded, crackling paint emerged. Sweating profusely, our trio ascended the platform which put us a tad below eye-level with the treetops. The deck was cooking as the sun beat down on us & I was forced to stand on my fins for relief. Amidst the greenery I saw fuzzy white chicks, birds with orange bulges that matched the Ziricote trees & the rare (and smallest of the species) Red-footed Booby. A flock of Frigates was constantly in flight although their rakish wingspan & obsidian bodies resembled something Jurassic. From the platform it looked like an apocalypse of Pterodactyls approaching.
Having showcased Half Moon Caye's hallmarks, my guide said I was free to run around for one hour. If the island was a vertical rectangle, as a group, we had only explored its base & center. On its long, right side I combed the beach like I used to in my childhood in San Francisco. There was a rocky bar only 20 feet from the sandy shore that created cacophonous waves & tidepools that harbored a few patterned shells. While taking my photograph my boyfriend voiced I looked "like a black girl." Indeed, I was getting fried out here. I was on my -- no joke -- fifth application of SPF 100, but could already feel the burn on my shoulders and nose. I also forgot to lather one important body part with sunscreen: my butt (usually not a problem, but it had been exposed all day whilst snorkeling). As much as I wanted to sit on a log, drink in the view & watch the sweeping waves, it was too painful.
Despite the solitude of Half Moon Caye, I was in disbelief to find it flourishing with fauna! How the rats came to the island I'll never know, but I like to think it was aboard a pirate ship loaded with rum. If you simply removed the scientists' camp & research huts on stilts, this would truly be a survivor situation. I imagined how I would fare... perhaps, by feasting on the rodents and foul. The unbeatable views, carnivorous possibilities, time to waste & fact that I had the entire island to myself made me feel like I was living in the film Lord Of The Flies.
My time on the deserted island drew to a close & everyone skipped onto el barco from the scorching dock. I was filled with dread over how execrable the return ride to Caye Caulker would be. Unlike this morning, no one chatted nor scurried to take pictures. We had all been awake since before dawn. On the upshot, belongings were not being hurled thanks to the rough sea. Cut, sunburnt, exhausted & absolutely content I pulled my hat over my eyes and immediately passed out which spared me the nausea from the journey back.
This day would be recorded as my favorite of the entire trip throughout
because I truly experienced another world.
Though 50 miles a.k.a. 80
kilometers from civilization, the Blue Hole & Lighthouse Reef felt much
further away in terms of distance and
time. Like I had stepped through a
wormhole, back into an early era of cavemen where the world was new [to humans]
& unexplored; where large carnivores -- not humans -- maintained the top of
the food chain; where time & a human presence had not left its
mark. This was an esoteric world & I
felt honored to spend just six hours reveling in it. The Blue Hole could not be the Blue Hole were it just off Belizean shores because then it
would be commercialized, noisy and unnatural.
It would all be wrong. As if the
Sphinx was in New York City. The world was not meant to hop in a car to
visit Half Moon Caye because it would lose the very qualities that have
preserved & exemplified it: isolated
and wild. Lighthouse Reef's remoteness
humbled me & I was grateful to see a spot in the world where the animals
& plants lived out their days uninterrupted... the way it should be.