We packed up our bulging suitcases, all the more swollen from the two hammocks I had rented (to be shared with two other people don’t worry – I am aware that I can’t sit in two hammocks simultaneously) and a couple of bottles of drink. We opted for the infamous (and brilliant) idea of using squash as a mixer and had found ourselves a rather terrifying bottle of ‘Mixed Fruit Cocktail’ squash that came in what looked like a PVC glue bottle and had a similar colour to grapefruit juice that had been left in a cupboard for several years. However, once I had actually managed to fit everything into my bag and wheeled it down to the pier, I was ready to go. Cannelle and I had tried to say goodbye to our homestay family, but they were all out. Rosy, our Belizean mum, was making tamales at someone else’s house with her son and husband (or Adrian squared as I liked to refer to them) and I have no idea where her daughter and her family were. This left only Rosy’s dad who very sweetly, wished us the best on our journeys in his broken English. He shook our hands and kissed us on the cheek and said,
“I will be praying for you girls every day that you find no danger. You will have good time at Bacalar Chico.”
“Thank you so much,” Cannelle said.
“Yes thank you,” I added, “And we’ll see you when we get back,” We had one more night to stay with our Sartenejan family right at the end of our expedition. Having said goodbye to the only member of the family at the house there was nothing stopping us from starting the hot walk down to the pier. We lugged our heavy bags down to the water, where our lovely boat captain was waiting on the dock and helped us put them on board. There were two boats, one for luggage and one for people, so we clambered aboard the other one and waited for the final two volunteers to arrive. Once we were all together and ready to go we set off. Everyone had a life jacket that we all used as makeshift cushions to try and absorb some of the shock from the bumpy boat. The benches were wooden and not very comfortable, although to be honest I can’t tell you how much more comfortable I was on the life jacket, and the boat went very fast. Every now and then there would be a collective yelp as we went over a particularly steep bump. You could practically hear people’s vertebrae clacking together.
We were all very excited to finally be going to the Dive Camp. Everything that we’d been doing in Sarteneja had been leading up to this. It seemed that almost everything Jenny, our fabulous expedition manager, told us started with ‘Well when we get to camp…’. We had only been going for about fifteen minutes when we saw a big group of frigate birds circling up ahead. Dave, an avid bird watcher, was immediately intrigued and it was him who spotted the first dorsal fin in the milky blue water up ahead.
“Dolphin!” He called out, pointing alongside next to the boat. Our Captain, Mani, killed the engine and we drifted for a moment until they resurfaced. I caught a glimpse of one of them.
“Yes, yes! Over there,” I shouted, pointing to a spot about fifty metres away. It was a pretty fleeting encounter but I was already excited. We had been told not to be too expectant when it came to seeing dolphins. They usually only saw them once every couple of expeditions.
“Oh my gosh – there’s more,” Valerie said, and she was right. Looking around the boat there must have been a pod of twelve or more dolphins all around us. “And they’re coming closer!” And sure enough they were. Mani started up the engine again and we moved along very slowly with the dolphins. They swerved around our boat and we could see their shadowy shapes looming in and out of visibility in the murky water. Every now and then a tail or a back would burst out of the water and I was practically gasping like a delighted five year old who’s just been told they’re going to Disneyland. Valerie and I clambered up to the front of the boat to watch and I was flabbergasted. There were a couple of them riding with us, dancing under the helm of the boat. They were so close that I could see the scars on their backs. It was magical.
Sadly, we did have a dive camp to get to and so couldn’t stay long. We waved the dolphins goodbye and continued on our bumpy way. The sound of the wind roaring and the engine growling meant that conversation was very limited so we ended up playing a hysterical game of silent ‘I Spy’. It starts every time with miming ‘I spy with my little eye’ through various pointing before making your letter with your hands. We got through many rounds of this for the duration of our one and a half hour journey until we reached the mangroves.
When we got to the mangroves we had to slow the engine right down because the channel was so narrow that it was difficult to navigate through, as well as being a peak habitat for manatees. On one side of us were the Belizean mangroves and on the other side were the Mexican mangroves so it became a challenge to try and position yourself on the boat in such a way that you could touch both at the same time.
The water was shallow and surprisingly clear, enabling us to catch our first glimpses of fish (excluding the bait balls and needle nose that we had seen off the end of the pier) which was very exciting. We hoped and hoped for a manatee but sadly it was not to be. We did however do an almost complete rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, so the mood on the boat was still definitely positive. When we reached the end of the channel it was just another fifteen or so minutes to get to the dive camp. It’s fair to say we were all quite ready to decompress our spinal cords on some dry land.
Soon the boat turned in towards the shore and there was the dive camp. Our home for the next five weeks.
The real adventure was about to begin.