Dec 1: the journey
As always, Andrew thoroughly enjoyed the ride on the underground train at the airport. From there, the first leg of our flight took us through Dallas. Amy's secret seating scheme to reserve 3 seats but skip the middle seat served us well. We reserved an aisle seat, the opposite aisle seat, and the window seat, but not the middle seat; no one else got that unreserved middle seat, so it was ours! From Dallas to Belize City, we didn't get so lucky, until the couple across the aisle from us discovered that they lost their passports. Their loss was our gain - 2 extra seats on a flight that was otherwise completely full! Next was a 14-seat puddle jumper that took us 30 miles to the village of San Pedro on Amergris Caye - the smallest plane I've ever been in except for a short joy ride in a sail plane (glider). What is ambergris? A secretion from the intestines of a whale, once used to make perfume, and at the time, more valuable than gold. Next was a short taxi ride to the dock, followed by a boat ride through the dark to the Costa Maya Reef Resort, about 6 miles north from San Pedro. There aren't any real roads outside San Pedro, so boats are really the only way to get there.
Dec 2: relax
On Sunday we let the kids enjoy the pool and the sand, and we snorkeled around the resort's pier. A school of about 400 bonefish puttered around a sand flat just past the end of the pier, and hundreds of grunts hung out under the shade of the pier.
Dec 3: snorkel
Belize, just south of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, is a small country with only about 250,000 residents. It's home to the world's 2nd longest barrier reef, which sits about half a mile from the front door of our beach-front room. A nice spot for snorkeling called Mexico rocks is a short paddle on a sit-on-top kayak from the beach. Dozen of coral "heads" (small groups of coral) are separated by sand flats in about 10 feet of turquoise water. Amy and I spotted a large southern sting ray up close, and a large variety of smaller reef fish. Quite good snorkeling, though not the best I ever experienced. How did we do this with 2 small kids in tow? We left them with grandma and grandpa for a few hours.
Dec 4: snorkeling in Hol Chan marine reserve
Hol Chan is a reserve at the southern tip of the key. We joined a group of 4 others plus our guide. The first stop is a cut in the reef where we snorkel down one side, across the cut, and the back up the other side of the reef. Here we saw 2 large spotted eagle rays with about 8 feet of wing span. The graceful fish are amazing to watch. The next spot is known as shark/ray alley. Here the nurse sharks, southern sting rays, yellow fin snappers, and jacks are well accustomed to tour boats feeding them chum. I'm not really crazy about the idea of feeding wild animals, but the result here is an incredible and very memorable experience. We were actually able to reach out and touch the 3-6 foot long nurse sharks, while the rays were so tame they would swim straight to us and I could grab their wings.
Dec 5: diving; Andrew falls in the drink
On Wednesday morning we went for 2 dives. The first was a deep dive to 100 feet just outside the reef, starting with a swim through a short cave. The area has deep coral canyons, a wide variety of hard and soft corals, and a decent number of reef fish. The 2nd dive was in much shallower water maybe 1 mile from the heart of San Pedro. Once again the guide used food to lure the sharks and rays, and they were even tamer than yesterday. Here, you could easily reach out and grab a nurse shark by the tail and let it take you for a short ride. They didn't even try to get away when you swam toward them. One shark acted like a dog when we grabbed it, turned it upside down and rubbed its belly; the shark seemed to enjoy it! After the feeding frenzy, we swam around and saw a turtle and another spotted eagle ray, this time up close. Awesome. In the afternoon I cast Ron's fly rod from the end of the pier while Andrew watched. After one cast, I heard a big splash - Andrew had fallen right off the end, about 4 feet into the shallow ocean below. I immediately jumped in after him, and was proud when he popped up to the surface with his eyes wide, but didn't panic, tread water like a champ, and remained calm. Another man on the pier pulled him back up, and then Andrew was actually pretty excited about his little adventure, and went running to tell mommy all about it.
Dec 6: back to Mexico rocks
On Thursday we ventured back to the coral heads in front of our resort. This trip was better than the first, with brighter sunlight and a more aquatic life, including another nurse shark and another eagle ray, again up close and personal. Andrew and Elizabeth enjoyed the pool and the beach -yet again!
Dec 7: fishing in the lagoon
Ron (Amy's dad) and I ventured in a 2-man kayak out to the mangrove-surrounded lagoon on the west side of the island with 3 fly rods. Ron explored the lagoon 2 days before, and plotted his course on his GPS. Without it, you could easily get hopelessly lost in the narrow channels and confusing, small lagoons. I landed a small bonefish and small barracuda, and we spooked a school of large snook but weren't able to land any of them. As I paddled back, we trolled a fly and Ron landed a decent size barracuda which we kept for one of the maintenance men who worked at our resort and told us he liked barracuda. After paddling 10 miles with my bony butt on a hard plastic kayak seat, I was happy to be back on land.
One other thing: all of us endured mosquito and sand fly bites, but somehow Elizabeth was almost unaffected. While we had dozens of itchy bites, we could only find one spot on Elizabeth that appeared to be a bug bite. Lucky girl!
Day 8: from hot to cold
On Saturday we woke to our 7th consecutive beautiful, 80+ degree sunny morning overlooking clear blue ocean. 12 hours, 1 boat ride, and 3 airplane flights later, we landed in Denver in the middle of a snowstorm at 18 degrees Fahrenheit, scraping ice off the windshield.
Overall, Belize was great. The diving and snorkeling was great and very memorable, even if it didn't fully live up to the hype of being the world's greatest. Prices in Belize are high, since almost everything is imported. Groceries cost about double what they would at home.
The Costa Maya Reef Resort is above average, but not fantastic. The beach and pool were nice. The isolated location makes it quiet and relaxed, but with the next resort about half a mile away, you don't have a lot of choices - you're pretty much stuck with what they offer you. Food prices were high, some meals were good, and some were mediocre. Service was slow. Our room was spacious and adequate, but far from superb. The dishwasher was broken, although they did fix it, and the AC in one room didn't work.