Saturday, 31 January 2015

Belize Part Two. Man vs Fish. One All.

Craig Writes:
Wednesday 14 January
San Pedro is a stunning little town on the southern island of The Ambergris Cayes and it was here we met Captain Pany, 'the greatest captain who ever rode the seven seas.' This old fella is straight out of a Hemingway novel.  A crusty weather beaten cliche whose wide toothy grin and sparkling eyes belied his aged years.  He came complete with the requisite fishing injury required of an old man who had spent his life on and in the ocean.  He had lost his thumb and index finger of his right hand when they were blown off by a dodgy shotgun shell as he attempted to put a hole in the side of a four metre hammerhead with a bang stick.
The indomitable Captain Pany.
With our luggage piled high in the bow he slowly idled his 250hp Evinrude through the shallow waterways of the quay.  When we hit the dark blue water he opened her up and the force of it pushed us back in our seats. It was exhilarating, the smile on my face was ear to ear.
We were still a twenty five minute ride from the resort when he spied an approaching front moving quickly in our direction. The half canopy would never have been enough to protect us or our luggage so he decided to try and outrun it.  He eased the throttle forward until we were skimming the tops of the small breakers at more than 50 klm/phr. When the rain hit it was like being lashed with nettles. We were soaked through within a minute.  He slowed after realising that the rain had won the race.  Within minutes the showers had eased, the clouds had passed and Captain Pany had us back to full throttle.  We were completely dry within minutes.  
Waiting at the dock of the resort was Imelda holding a shiny tray with four icy cold fruit punches, two liberally laced with rum. After a short introduction to the facilities she walked us down the  small beach towards Sea Turtle, our home for the next three nights.
We couldn't believe this was our home for the next three days.
The beach is a broad brushstroke of the purest whitest colour.  It is dotted with deck chairs and kayaks and provocatively leaning palms bulging with coconuts. There are ten brightly coloured cottages discreetly placed along the beach that are literally a stones throw from the blue warm water.
View from the kayak. We were third from the right.
The only way in or out of the resort is by boat and we are the farthest you can be from anywhere before hitting the mangroves of Mexico.  We'll be eating in their restaurant and drinking in their bar for the next three days and I couldn't be happier.

Thursday 15 January
You could not photoshop a more idyllic slice of paradise than Tranquility Bay.  The Belize Barrier Reef passes three hundred metres from our beach providing a sheltered bay full of hundreds of species of fish and coral.  The turquoise waters are balmy, warm and as clear as a nuns conscious. There is a gentle morning current that intensifies as the afternoon wears on.  After lunch you can paddle your kayak out and tie up to one of the buoys, snorkel for an hour or so and then just let the current slowly pull your kayak back into shore.  
This was our front yard.
Most of the other guests were out on trips today so the beach and the reef were ours.  We had breakfast and then the four of us paddled out to the reef for a snorkel. You know you’re relaxed when time ceases to have any meaning.  We paddled in when we had had enough, showered up and then it appeared it was time for lunch. We ate, we reclined under the coconut palms, dozed, daydreamed and eventually decided to go back in and float around the coral for a bit longer.  I’m in paradise here, did I already say that?

Friday 16 January
This morning we were headed north along the Belize Barrier Reef up towards the Mexican border. We were following the path of the diving Terns and Pelicans hoping to find the schools of sardines that we would be using for bait.
We were guests on Captain Pany's twenty five foot Skiff, The Tackle Box, for a full day of fishing and snorkelling.  The weather was warm and the seas were calm, it was going to be a good day. We were fishing for snapper and hopefully barracuda and then later  diving for lobster. The boat was packed with all the fishing and snorkelling gear we would need and floating in the icy water of the esky was an assortment of water, softies and the beers we would need for our lunchtime beach cookup.
While the birds snacked effortlessly, crashing face first into the water and surfacing with a gullet full of sardines, we were having less luck.  The Captain decided to drop some lures over the side and we tried to catch something by drag fishing. That didn't prove successful either so we hoisted rods and continued in search of sardines.  A circling flock of Frigates, dive bombing Pelicans and White Egrets gave us hope.  We pulled in only metres from the shore and the shallow depths fairly shimmered with the number of fish.  Captain Pany steadied himself and threw his net wide pulling in a haul of shiny white sardines. Two more throws and we had what we needed.
Loaded with buckets of live bait we made our way to Rocky Point and commenced to pull in a variety of black snapper, red snapper and something called a grunt.  Callum hooked the first biggy of the day, a 25lb Tarpon that unfortunately was lost to his youthful exuberance.  He would more than make up for it later in the day.
Much bigger things were to come for young Callum.
He might not have hooked a real bigun but he got a lot of these.
Kiss and release?  I don't think so.
She didn't catch the biggest but she caught the first.
We fished Rocky Point for an hour or so before Captain Pany decided we were good enough to head down to Bacalar Chico, the river that divides Belize from Mexico.  This was the stamping ground of barracuda, one of the toughest fighting fish in the world. It was here I would fight for ten minutes to bring a 30lb barracuda to within a few metres off the boat before the crappy little reel I had disintegrated in my hand.  Captain Pany valiantly grabbed a hold of the line but it quickly became evident he was going to lose a couple more fingers if he held onto it.  It was the one that got away.

He let me throw the bait net to try and ease my disappointment but the water was too deep and I could only manage two lonely sardines.  
The hard part was not following the net in.
Not one to give up the Captain baited up his personal rod with the biggest, juiciest sardine we had and Callum and I had one more valiant attempt to hook ‘the big one’ before heading out to dive for lobster.  
As fate would have it it was Callum who was to redeem the family honour.  With the lighter of the two rods not only did he hook a 20lb thrashing barracuda he played it like an absolute pro. From the bow to the stern and over the top of the canopy he kept the pressure on, releasing and reeling in until the fish had exhausted itself. When finally it came crashing into the port side of the boat, Captain Pany was there with a large gaff to pull it on board.  
Barracuda boy.
I can’t remember the last time I saw such a huge grin on my young fellas face.  He was so proud, we were all so proud, proud of the way he kept his cool, letting it run when he needed to and then reeling in as soon as there was slack.  It was a tremendous effort.
Feeling pumped and now guaranteed of a huge feast we laid the rods aside and headed back towards Rocky Point.  It was time to snorkel and see if we could add some lobster to the menu.
One of the glorious things about the water around the reef is that the average depth is about 1.5 metres. In some places you have to inflate your lungs to maximum capacity just to float over the coral reefs.
A small window into this magnificent underwater world.
We dove with a gaff, peering into the tiny crevices and holes looking for a stray feeler poking out and listening for that telltale clack clack clack sound they make. We didn’t have to look for long, Captain Pany knew exactly where they would be.  He doesn't dive with a craybag preferring to hook and drags them from their holes and killing them on the spot by piercing their heart with the tip of the gaff.  Thirty minutes later we were heading back towards the Tackle Box with him clutching seven large lobster in one hand and his gaff in the other.  We would eat like kings.  
When too many crays are barely enough.
We pulled the boat into a small piece of beach where a friend of his was caretaking a small failed beach bar.  An unsuccessful venture by a Denver dentist.  In the shade of an old bush kitchen in a large cast iron pan he cooked up a feast of fish, lobster, potato, onions, salsa and hot sauce.  We sat drinking ice cold beer watching the generous Caribbean Sea, eating lobster and snapper and barracuda and thinking it doesn't get any better than this.
Yes, it tasted just as good as it looks, actually, it was better than it looks.
There was an offer to go back in and snorkel but lunch was so enormous it was more likely than not that we would just sink to the bottom.  The Captain, still disappointed at my lost barracuda, took us a little further out where we dropped our lines into the deep water for one more go at something really big.  We baited triple hooks with whole sardines and dropped the lines down twenty to thirty metres. Within minutes something huge took my bait and nearly ripped me out of my seat.  Whatever it was it took everything, hook, line and sinker.  We quickly rigged new hooks and bait and went back in but whatever it was had moved on.  We waited for another twenty minutes but there was nothing, not even a nibble. The day had suddenly seemed to disappear, the sun was hanging low and it was time to reel in.  Minutes later we were skimming across the surface of the Bacalar Chico National Reserve, tired, sun kissed and very very happy.
There were a couple of kilo of fish fillets left, some yellow snapper and some barracuda as well as some Conch that the Captain had picked up with the lobster. Dinner was going to be another feast.
We couldn't eat it all, half went back to the kitchen staff.
We have certainly lived the postcard paradise dream here at Tranquility Bar.  The small intimate beach, the attentive staff and the limited number of guests make it very special. The only dark side was the several trillion sandflies and mosquitoes and their relentless appetite for humans and of course the dodgy fishing gear.  
Parasitic little bastards.
If not for those two things it would have been absolutely perfect.

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