Life is sweet in the former British colony bordering Mexico and Guatemala, from its Barrier Reef and the tangle of inland rainforest to the heartwarming laid-back lifestyle. And the rum. Lots of rum
By Helen Warwick – National Geographic Traveler Belize Sailing Vacations. Published on 16th July 2015
“Shark, there’s a shark! Get out of the water!”
Ellis’s deep voice booms above the stillness of the afternoon. A seabird launches from the water, as if it understands the warning. Despite an almost perfect blue sky, several clouds turn to black and pass in front of the sun, casting dark shadows across the sea’s surface. Panicking, I glance around, pulling off my mask. I’m the only swimmer left in the water. Where. Is. That. Fin?
The first rule when being approached by a shark? Do not panic. Rule number two? Leave the water in a swift but smooth manner. In a split second, both impossible-to-follow rules have gone out the window, and I manically splash and swim my way towards the speedboat.
Desperately, I grab the side of the boat and hurriedly hoist my legs up, my bottom suspended in the swelling tide. Gritting my teeth, I try to heave myself up and into the boat, gasping in salty sea air. Where is Ellis? Why isn’t he helping me? Why didn’t I swim to the ladder? My knuckles whiten with the strength of my grip. Eyes glazed from memories of bloodthirsty scenes from Jaws, I kick my legs up and fling myself up and over, collapsing in a heap on the deck.
As I look up, I know the joke’s on me. Lying back with a beer and a beaming smile, Ellis lets out a gruff chuckle. “Cheers, Hels,” he nods his bottle towards me. “Only kiddin’, man!”
Utter ‘Belize’ to anyone who’s travelled here and watch as a Cheshire Cat grin spreads across their face. It’s not just the bewildering Belize Barrier Reef — one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems, running for 190 miles along the coast — and its gin-clear seas, where, on my first day, I snorkel alongside shivers of nurse sharks, giant stingrays, an aged duo of turtles and swarms of parrotfish.
It’s also the tangle of rainforest which smothers more than half of the central American country, the extraordinary Mayan ruins, the fresh barbecued lobster, and the laid-back lifestyle and joie de vivre that’s as heartwarming as the local’s chilli sauce I douse over every meal.
The only nation in Central America with English as the official language, it’s the Caribbean without the all-inclusives. And for those on the cayes — of which there are more than 200 — it’s all about the good life, from larks on the beach to the reef, rice ’n’ beans and rum. Plenty of rum.
“Can I get you a corkscrew?” Ellis winks as I board my home for the next three nights: the lagoon catamaran, Aubisque. He hands me the iced cocktail (rum and pineapple with a shaving of nutmeg) as I step down, barefoot, onto the deck and shuffle beside the dining table.
“Without the nutmeg, it’s called a panty ripper,” laughs Cliff, our skipper, handing over a fantastic plate of conch ceviche, thick with coriander, lime and black pepper.
“OK, so here’s the plan.” Ellis perches himself next to my husband Adam, unfolds a map, and smooths down the edges while I shovel up chunks of conch with tortillas. “We’ll head north and anchor close to some mangroves to shelter from
the winds tonight,” he taps his finger at a speck of land. “Then, we’re going home — to my home, Caye Caulker. I’ll show you a good night out,” he beams, revealing his perfect set of teeth. “Finally, we’ll stop by Tobacco Caye — it’s so chilled there, man.”
Cliff, Ellis and the rest of the Belize Luxury Sailing team have a sweet, sweet life. And they’ve got it prepped down to a T — from breakfasts of banana pancakes to barbecued seafood dinners, and an enduring love of the ocean that’s as infectious as Cliff’s excitable laugh.