Wake up, eat breakfast, snorkel, lie in a hammock, wait for the lunch bell to ring, eat again, snorkel again, hang out in another hammock, take a 5-10 minute walk (depending on how fast you walk, and by now you’re pace should have slowed considerably), go back to the hammocks, eat dinner, sit on the sand and look at the stars, sleep, wake up again and repeat.
The Life of a Chosen Few: Tobacco Caye
Tobacco Caye is one of the many southern Cayes in Belize that you can reach by boat from the town of Dangregia. The Caye dawns its name from the Puritans who used the Caye over 300 years ago as a trading post in order to exchange goods, including tobacco, with visiting mariners.
A few acres of sand, several palm trees, five “resorts” (which basically consist of a few cabanas), two dive shops and a bar make up Tobacco Caye. You cannot be on the “wrong” side of the island to watch the sunset, as the other side of the island is a one-minute walk away.
The Underwater World
Tobacco Caye is one of the few Cayes (within easy access by boat) that sits right next to a reef. Though the waves break on one side of the island, making it too dangerous to snorkel, the other side has relatively calm water with enormous coral and schools of colorful fish. The water is somewhat shallow (usually about 4-6 feet) and visibility is excellent.
Since my husband and I don’t dive (YET), we snorkeled 2-3 times a day, for at least an hour each time. Entering the Ocean, we swam through very shallow, belly-almost-rubbing-on-the bottom water in order to get to the reef. I preferred to swim rather than walk through the water, as there were a few too many poisonous Scorpion Fish that blended in with the rocks.
I had a “spiritual experience” with a school of beautiful blue fish. I was snorkeling by myself (my husband was within yelling distance) and I began to follow a school of about 50 fish the size of dinner plates. At first, they seemed a bit shy, but as I non-intrusively just hung out with them, they began to “let me in.” Within about 15 minutes, I became “convinced” that I was one of them. We swam together while time stood still, until I was called back to join the group of human swimmers with whom I had originally began the snorkel excursion.
Getting to Tobacco Caye
We took a three-hour bus ride from San Ignacio (see my review: Caves, Medicine Trails, and Ruins: It’s Jungle Love) to Dangregria. Once in Dangregria, we met a friendly local Garifuna (an ethnic group of mixed West African and Caribbean Indian ancestry). He ate lunch with us and arranged our travel to and from the Caye, as well as back to the airport when it was time for us to leave, three days later.
From the bus station, we took a short taxi ride to the dock and waited for the boat to pick us up. The $15 boat ride over to Tobacco Caye was a mixture between an amusement park and pure torture. The Ocean was extremely rough that day and I got the impression that even the driver would not have crossed it had he not had 7 paying customers right in front of him. It took over an hour to go a distance that should have taken 30 minutes to navigate. As the small boat’s bow shot up into the air upon every 3-4 foot swell, saltwater filled my eyes as we crashed down upon each wave. Despite the sunglasses, my eyes burned for over an hour. I figured that I could swim if the boat capsized, but I did worry about my “stuff,” forever lost on the Ocean floor. Needless to say, I couldn’t see very well and didn’t notice that my thighs got completely fried on the trip over to the Caye.
Once we arrived safely upon the island, we began searching for places to stay. A hurricane had hit a few months previous, so many “resorts” were not open for business. (A lot of debris in the form of coconut palm had not been cleared up, making the island look a little junky.) Though we found a cabana to rent without previous reservations, I recommend making reservations in advance, as it is a very small island.
Gaviota Coral Reef Resort
We stayed in a cabana on the water’s edge for $50 per night, including three meals a day for two people. We got a deal on the cabana, which is normally $60 or so, because at the time, it did not have electricity. However, Bert, the owner, lent us an oil-burning lamp, and we were quite happy with the accommodations.
Bert is an excellent host. The atmosphere of Gaviotas is comfortable and friendly (and Bert makes sure it stays that way with various handwritten signs saying such things as “no gossip,” “you can drink, but don’t get drunk,” and “no swearing, no foul language”).
Hammocks hang loosely underneath 2 separate thatched-roofs. A group of three hammocks line up nicely under a sign that reads: “Belize: Lifestyle of a Chosen Few.” These hammocks are the closest to the dining area, so that you can roll out of your restful state and stagger into the dining area with as few steps as possible. The other group of hammocks lie closer to the Ocean; this is the social area, where groups of people hang out and talk about their diving and snorkeling experiences.
The shared bathrooms and showers are clean and easily accessible. The food is excellent, served family style with good conversation and an expectation that you share with everyone. On our first day, we watched men dive for lobsters, and that night, we had a lobster-type stew.
On our last night, Bert cut a coconut from the tree and we all took turns sipping its milk, which was more watery and sweeter than I had expected. It also poured on our last night, leading me to believe that this place was more similar to my home than not: I assumed that the Ocean, like our mountain roads in Colorado, was probably impassable during certain storms. As the rain came down in sheets, even pounding in through our window slats sideways, I thought I might be living a Gilligan’s Island re-run the next day. The huge drops of rain pinged and pounded on our metal roof. But, by the next day, the rain had cleared, and we were on our way back home.
An (Almost) Deserted Island
The “population” of (empty) sea conches far outweighs the number of people who visit Tobacco Caye in a month! (The sea conches wash up on shore, especially after storms, and the locals use them to outline paths, as well as for land fill!) Tobacco Caye is similar to being stranded on a desert island, only with (almost) all of the comforts of home.
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