By WENDY DE LA FUENTE
Wendy Auxillou de la Fuente is founder and editor of the new Caye Caulker Village Voice newspaper. She provided this report on a somewhat typical day for her on the island.
I awake this morning very refreshed since I had decided to forgo the usual happy hour rounds yesterday. Most expats and locals hop the main three bars most evenings for an evening of socializing. This ritual usually starts at the Oceanside Bar at the Split from 5 to around 7 p.m., continues to the Sandbox Restaurant with its cozy bar up until 9, and usually ends at the very Rastafarian bar, I & I, around midnight. At this time, the island virtually closes down and the streets are empty except for the few stray dogs rummaging around for food.
The sun winks at me through my louvered window, saying hello and welcoming me to the new day. I am glad. Today, my three children and I make the snorkel trip to Shark-Ray Alley with one of the local tour operators. It is my treat to the kids for doing well in school.
For those of you that do not know, Shark-Ray Alley is a patch of local reef somewhere in between the islands of Caulker and Ambergris. It is inhabited by friendly nurse sharks and sting rays that have become so accustomed to being admired they gravitate immediately to the human onlookers who flock here. They prance around with regal finesse - these kings and princes of the sea world - basking in the attentions and affections of visitors to the area.
Since the tour would go beyond the lunch hour, we first head out to one of the two island supermarkets to pack a picnic lunch. Caye Caulker is famous for its "Go Slow" lifestyle which got its reputation from the general culture of the people, but also from the many Go Slow signs seen around the island, originally intended for the golf cart traffic. The golf cart still is the island's preferred mode of transportation, but the Go Slow signs have now become synonymous with the island's image.
I dress the kids in their usual island attire - swimsuits and sarongs - pack the sunscreen and hats, pick up some bottled water and snacks for the kids, and head out on the boat.
We ride on the speedboat with a group of tourists for about 25 minutes until we arrive at our intended spot, Shark-Ray Alley. My six-year-old, Giselle, promptly pulls her fins and mask on and jumps in the water to get a closer look, much to the amazement of the tourists who gasp and wonder aloud whether they have the courage to get into the water while 8-foot sharks circle around. After the guide gives his briefing, they soon realize that these sharks are really docile and virtually harmless.
My kids love these trips. This is their Disneyworld, and the sharks and the stingrays are their Mickey and Minnie.
After about 40 minutes, we all clamber aboard and roar off to our next stop, the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Another underwater adventure awaits my excited kids. The marine park is teeming with colorful corals and hundreds of species of smaller reef fishes, but the one sea creature which truly excites them is the big, fat 300-pound grouper which never fails to come over and observe them. And they are not disappointed. As soon as the boat docks, he emerges from his cover to greet us. We swim and snorkel for a while, until the sun is beating down as if attempting to drain the energy out of us. We board the boat for our lunchtime stop, San Pedro.
All this activity has made us hungry. Once we arrive on San Pedro, some of the tourists head out to local restaurants for lunch. For my part, I have come to the conclusion that doing a walk-about with three babies is even slower than "Go Slow," so I find a nice spot on a beach and unpack our picnic. We relax for about an hour or so and head out once again to our final snorkeling stop, the coral gardens.
The coral gardens is another popular area of local reef, beautiful with its display of abundant living corals. The boat is not even tied to the buoy yet when the first snorkeler jumps into the water. The crystal clear sea is definitely a seductive temptress, and my kids and the tourists fall for it unflinchingly. Disneyworld, at this point, has become no match for the allure of the Belize Barrier Reef, part of the second-longest barrier reef system in the world.
At about 4 p.m., after a fun day at sea, we head home to have a warm shower and a meal. The kids fall into their beds exhausted and are asleep by 7 p.m.
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