Trompe le Monde: A Round the World Tour Diary

An online travel diary so people can keep up to date with what I'm doing and where I'm going.

Location: Home, United Kingdom

You all know who I am, I assume.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Mosquitos and Manatees (and Farewell and Goodbye, mis amigos)

Caye Caulker, an island off the coast of mainland Belize, is where I've been the last few days. The island itself is beautiful, despite a lack of enjoyable beach. There's clear blue Caribbean water as far as you can see, and blazing sunshine all day. There are also, however, the worst mosquitos in the world.

We stayed there three nights, and yesterday, half way through our second full day I paused to count the number of bites I had on my arms and legs. While bite-counting isn't an exact science, due to swelling and other factors, I obtained a figure of 110 bites accrued. Added to bites on my face and back, I estimate that I must have in the region of 150 mosquito bites. Agony.

Not only were there thousands of mosquitos on Caye Caulker, but they were some sort of super-skeeter. Mosquito repellant had no effect on them whatsover - one fellow tourist told me she had sprayed 100% DEET all over her and still been bitten everywhere. But I could top that: I got bitten through my clothing. The little arseholes managed to penetrate both T-shirt and trousers.

When they bit, they didn't just do it subtley and fly off. Oh no, these bastards bit with a pin prick of pain, and remained there, sat on your skin, sucking away for some time until they'd finished or you swatted them. That was in fact the only decent thing about them: their single-mindedness at least made them easy to swat, after they'd settled on your flesh that is.

All told, the experience of being driven out of bed at 6am in a blind panic because I was being bitten too much is not one I particularly want to repeat...

However, there's more to Caye Caulker than mosquitos and a pleasant Caribbean island experience. There's also the possibility of going on a snorkelling trip, which we did yesterday. Long-time readers of this may remember that I went snorkelling a fair bit the last time I was on a desert island, on Caqalai in Fiji. That time you could just walk in off the shore and swim over a coral reef. Here you needed to go out on a boat trip, so it was more expensive. But, as will become clear, it was also much, much better.

The boat took us to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, an area of sea in Belizean waters that is a protected wildlife reserve. It's over a channel in the reef (which is, incidentally, the largest in the world after the Great Barrier in Australia). Our first stop was one point of this place. We stopped over the reef, so the water was only around 4-5 feet deep. Looking over the edge of the boat, you could see a big school of large grouper fish, 50-75cm long each, and a Nurse Shark, which must have been 4 feet long. Wow.

We snorkelled around there for a while, then went across the channel to the other side of the reef, on the way spotting a large Manta Ray swimming along the floor of the sea. Cool. Then we came back to the boat.

I thought that was pretty cool, but that was just the start of the day. Next stop was at a place called Shark Ray Alley, also a part of Hol Chan. This was aptly named: there were lots of Nurse Sharks swimming around, some getting up towards 6 feet long. We could snorkel close to them, watch them feed off the bottom of the sea, even see the remora fish attached to their fins. There were also big Stingrays, getting up to a metre across. It was fantastic.

But the best was yet to come. Our last stop was at a place called Coral Gardens. We got in the water and followed the guide around a big patch of coral. Suddenly our guide indicated for us to stop, and pointed ahead. Through the water up ahead was a big grey object. As it swam closer it became clear what it was: a manatee. It glanced up at us, then swam on below, passing directly underneath me, at a distance of around 4m. We swam around the reef, and as we came back towards the boat it we came across it again. As we all floated there, it swam up to us and curiously investigated. So it was that I was able to be less than a meter from an endangered animal in its natural habitat.

It must have been around 3m long, and was covered in thick grey skin. Thickset in the middle, its strange body tapered to the tail, which was a great big featureless paddle. It was amazingly graceful, and yet somewhat ponderous in its nature. Seeing it was one of the best things I've done on this trip. Truly fantastic.

Right now I'm in Belize City, but it's not that great and there's not much to see, so I expect I shall go to the bus station in a bit and catch a bus to Orange Walk in north Belize.There I'm planning on going on a riverboat trip through the jungle to some Mayan ruins. If that comes off, I will of course report all about it here.

A final note, though: Today I parted company with my two travelling companions, Si and Trev. They're going back home a couple of weeks after me, so they are going to the Yucatan to bum around on the beach, while I intend to follow a straighter course for Mexico City. After nearly eight months in Trev's company, and six in Si's (on and off), it's going to be weird being on my own. I'm going to miss them...


Anonymous Shall said...

this is probably too late, but sod the DEET. Avon So Soft is the only stuff that will keep them off. I had the same problem in Texas with the bastards not only biting me through my clothes, but leaving allergic-to-mosquito-bites me with huge purple and black blotches all over me at various stages and PROBABLY West Nile Virus

July 6, 2005 at 6:18 AM  

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