Armed with my factor 50 SPF, I was ready. We were spending a day on a sailboat with Raggamuffin tours and I was determined not to return tomato red like the stereotypical Englishman.
Captain Ish loaded us on, stole our flip flops (“This boat is a no shoes boat!”) and explained the three stops we were going to make. We were heading out to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, which means “little channel” in the Maya language. I was most interested in the first stop at Coral Gardens, where there was a chance we could see manatees. The manatees hang out here between June and September and had been spotted frequently over the last few days.
Snorkel kitted up, we jumped in to the crystal waters and slowly floated over towards the main parts of the coral reef. Nervous swimmers were very well looked after with life jackets which as we approached the edge of the reef must have been reassuring for some. The waves were beginning to swell here and it was hard to stop yourself from being washed onto the shallower parts of the reef. We hung around for as long as possible, the guide showing us different types of coral to pass the time, but the manatees didn’t want to come out and play with us. As we left at 10:30 am, we were one of the last boats to arrive at the Coral Gardens that morning. I wouldn’t be surprised if the manatees had been scared away by the influx of earlier boats and snorkellers, they’re notoriously shy and skittish animals.
Disappointed but looking forward to the next stops, I pulled myself back onto the boat. After dodging the boom a few times, I settled in to sun myself with my legs dangling into the spray. Ish and the other guide (I’m gutted I can’t remember his name but he was great fun!) made sure we were constantly refreshed by refilling our cups with water and soft drinks. We were under very strict instructions not to lose the cups otherwise we couldn’t help out with finishing the gallon of rum punch they’d brought for the sail home.
The second stop was at Shark and Ray Alley. Food was thrown over board and all of a sudden, the boat was surrounded by sting rays and nurse sharks. These sharks were big. When I’d pictured nurse sharks I figured they weren’t more than a few foot long but they can actually reach up to 14ft! I must say, I did hesitate a bit before I jumped in to the water this time.
We floated on the surface as they all swarmed around us. Thankfully, the guys on the boat stopped feeding them after we were all safely in the water so there wasn’t quite as much thrashing about. I loved watching the sting rays swim so majestically along the sea bed below.
We still had one stop left, at the channel the reserve was named for. This is where we saw the most variety of marine life, including three green turtles. They’ve worked really hard to attract the turtles back to the area and it’s obviously working. We were also treated to barracuda, whole schools of fish, and Ish even dove down to give a Moray Eel a big kiss. You won’t catch me trying that!
Back onto the boat for the last trip, the ‘sunset cruise’ back to shore. The sails were fully raised, the engine switched off and the punch handed around. Blimey, it was potent. Jacob, the Tucan leader, had earlier told us that he’d never seen a group finish off the punch but as a group mainly made up of Irish, Aussies and English, we were feeling pretty confident. Two glasses in, I can tell you, we’d lost some of that cockiness. With the sun on our backs, wind rushing through our hair and delicious ceviche to snack on, we were definitely feeling that Caribbean vibe Caye Caulker is famous for.
By the time we hit land, the rum punch had also hit me. Pretty hard. I even cheekily convinced the great guys from Raggamuffin to let me keep my cup as I was still working on my rum. Suitably sun kissed and slightly (okay, very) tipsy, we padded on over to the split for a few more drinks to catch the sunset.