A lovely little habit that we got into while working at the Blue Ventures offices in Sarteneja was taking a walk down to the pier at five, after all of our work for that day was done. I would swing by my homestay and pick up a pair of board shorts and a rash vest and usually a couple of people would pick up some beers and a bag of ice from one of the many shops around. Everyone in Sarteneja seemed to have their own shop out the side of their houses, so some were more well-stocked than others but nine times out of ten you could find what you needed. We would meet at the end of the pier where there were two large concrete benches, painted with a smiling sun.
But first a quick introduction to who ‘we’ actually was. There was Jemima (also known as Jimmy), the girl from Norwich who I had travelled to Belize with from London. She is outstandingly lovely and hilarious in to both English and Spanish speakers (not that she herself can speak any Spanish – I think that’s part of where the hilarity comes from). Then there’s Lizzie, another London girl on a gap year who is incredibly witty and equally as lovely. The three of us get along like a house on fire. Then there’s another gap year student Matthew, who on one of our first nights got a bit too drunk and cycled off this very pier into the sea. Poor bloke was carrying both his phones (yes both) in his pocket alongside $150 instead of putting them in the dry bag that he was carrying. He also nearly lost his crocs. It was a bit of a drama. Then, moving up the ages, there’s Justin. He’s twenty and two years into a chemistry degree at Imperial. He’s very funny, if at times a touch trying, due to his level of whinging. He is a top bloke, though. Honest. Then there’s Cannelle, the girl who is sharing my homestay with me. She’s twenty as well and is studying Marine Biology in Arizona. She had a bit of a surprise, because she didn’t really read the expedition guide before she left so she was definitely taken aback to find out that the dive camp would be on a remote beach in the middle of nowhere with no wifi, shops or other people around. I think the brine showers were the real shock, but she recovered well. There’s Valerie and Dave, a married couple from Switzerland. Dave is Canadian (he moved to Switzerland later in life) and is as sweet as the stereotype would suggest. Valerie is our expedition medic, so she’s the one we go to in a disaster situation. She’s our ‘revive-them-on-the-boat-and-save-them-from-decompression-sickness’ gal. Finally there’s Ben, who’s a thirty eight year old freelance animator from (you’ll never guess where) … London (we’re quite over-represented it has to be said). He’s six foot five so towers over all of the Belizeans, much to their amusement and confusion.
So – back to the pier. We would to the end of the pier to watch the sun set. These sunsets had caused quite a lot of controversy, as the sign when you arrive in Sarteneja reads ‘Sarteneja – where the sun sets over the water‘. But every single evening we were there, there was a thick layer of cloud that completely blotted out the layer of sky directly over the sea. You might get the sun until it was a few centimetres away, but inevitably it would be obscured. The colours were amazing, so we could really only complain so much, but we felt like it was false advertising. I guess that’s why they say ‘over the water‘ instead of ‘on the water‘… cheeky bastards.
However, that never stopped us from going to the pier and enjoying ourselves. I would usually jump straight in, unable to resist any open body of water that looked so inviting, and tread water, chatting to whoever was sitting on the concrete sofa until other people joined me in the water. That was usually Ben and Justin, after they’d had one or two of their beers. Once they had bought their beer and ice they would wrap it up in Justin’s rain coat to keep it cool. On this particular evening, Justin and Ben hadn’t actually brought swimming things but decided to jump in in their shorts instead. It had been a freakishly hot day, even for Belizean standards, and the dust had formed an encrusting layer over all of us. The water was preposterously warm and the bottom was like no seabed I’ve ever encountered before. It was thoroughly disconcerting. Instead of your feet reaching solid ground (as one would expect from most floors) it seemed to be a layer of gloop-ish sediment that you just kept sinking into. Unless you found a rock your foot would free fall, I presume, infinitely. It gave me the heebie jeebies so I never persevered long enough to reach a solid end. I didn’t like the idea of what I’d be standing on. So it was a good test of my treading water skills.
After Ben and Justin had jumped in, splashing the others sat on the sofas of course, we started swimming out to sea.
“Let’s swim out to that boat,” Justin said, indicating towards a sailboat a couple of hundred metres away.
“Yeah sure sounds good,” I agreed and we began to make our way towards it. I really liked these swims because we struck a really good balance between Granny-hair-out-the-water-breast-stroke-chatty swimming and actual I-wanna-go-places-with-the-salt-in-my-eyes-front-crawl swimming. It didn’t take long to reach the boat and when we did we could make out the name along the side. It read ‘OUTTA BUSH – Exotic Supplies’. We were all intrigued as to what sort of Exotic Supplies it was carrying and Justin said,
“Wanna climb on?” I thought about it for a moment. I felt kinda bad given that it wasn’t our boat.
“I don’t know man. I think that’s illegal,” Ben said, glancing back towards the beach. Justin digested this for a moment.
“Nah it’s fine,” he said swimming over to the side. “It’s only to jump off,” he hauled himself out of the water and walked to the front of the boat. “Should I do a front flip?” He asked, inspecting his audience.
“That depends,” I said. “How much do you back your front flip abilities?”
“They’re pretty poor,” Justin replied.
“Then I’d say no,” I said. He thought about it, shrugged and launched himself into the water. There was a tremendous SMACK as his back hit the water. Ben and I exchanged a glance and laughed as Justin surfaced.
“AHHHHHHHHH,” he shouted, “THAT WAS SUCH A BAD IDEA,” I laughed,
“I’m afraid I did slightly see that one coming,” I scrambled up on to the boat as well, it seemed pretty harmless and decided that I would most definitely not be doing a front flip off the boat. Justin clambered up after me.
“How bad is it?” He asked and turned around to show me his back. I clapped my hand over my mouth in a weak attempt to stifle my laughter. There was a big white oval taking up most of his back surrounded by red, red angry skin.
“Pretty bad mate,” I said and opted instead for a rather less risky dive as my mode of water entry.
“How was that?” I asked Ben.
“Not too shabby, but you could have had more finesse,” he said with a smile.
“I’ll work on that,” I replied.
“Okay what should I do now?” Justin asked.
“Do a dive like I did,” I said, “I had a great time,”
“But your dive was shallow, I don’t want to do a shallow dive.”
“Okay then do a deep one,”
Justin jumped high into the air and then arched his stinging back so that he landed almost vertically into the water. It would have been pretty graceful if his legs hadn’t been bent, but after what he’d already been through I thought it would be kinder not to mention it.
“How was that?” He asked.
“Wonderful,” I said. “Should we head back?”
“Yeah sure,” Ben said and we turned around to face the shore. We started front crawling but this proved to be rather difficult for Justin, who’s shorts were most definitely not designed for the water.
‘Ughghghhghghghghgggggg,” he groaned. “These shorts are so annoying,”
“Take ’em off then,” I said.
“Tuck them into your boxers maybe,” Ben said.
“Will you carry them?” Justin whinged.
“No Justin, because I’m not your mother and you’re not six years old,” we swam a bit further.
“Guuyys it’s so harrrdddd,” he said, part moaning and (I think… well hope) part joking.
“Come on we’re nearly there now,” I said.
“There’s too much drag,” Justin said. I swam on a bit further and reached the pier.
“See Justin that wasn’t so bad was it?” I said with a laugh. He was still very funny throughout his moaning. I clambered out of the sea and onto the dock. Justin and Ben clambered out behind me and I turned around when Ben burst out laughing.
“This is why I struggled,” Justin said and indicated at his khaki shorts, which he had taken off and then tucked into the front of his boxers, almost as if he was trying to gauge the size but didn’t want to have to actually try them on.
I chuckled. “Oh Justin,”
We dripped on the others a little bit before settling to look at the sun set. Just before it dipped into the cloud belt it became the most incandescent colour. It was an entrancing burnished orange, like a perfectly shined coin slipping its way down the sky. Sometimes tendrils of cloud would ensnare its perfect silhouette, giving it an almost tiger striped appearance as it sank below the surface of the clouds. Then we would wait, because a few minutes later the whole sky would be ignited with the same colour palette. The clouds that had so frustrated us before were alight with colour. And so we would sit there, chatting and laughing until we had to head back to our Belizean families for dinner.