A week on a reef 36 miles off the coast of Belize, plus 4 days in the jungle and on a wildlife sanctuary.
For one brief, glorious week of perfection, my dad and I lived on a private reef island in the middle of the Caribbean.
During our stay on the island, our itinerary looked roughly like this:
We awoke for an hour-long sunrise yoga session on the beach with a professional instructor from Canada. Around 8am we heard the cook blow a conch shell to announce breakfast, and we filtered in to the open-air dining room overlooking the sea to eat from a buffet of homemade banana pancakes and fresh fruit.
After breakfast, we chose between morning activities. These included snorkeling on a patch reef inside the atoll, going for a kayak paddle, exploring on a stand-up paddle-board, or just relaxing in a hammock.
Our guides – some Belizean, some North American – were extremely knowledgeable, and were able to name every colorful and bizarre type of fish we encountered underwater. Highlights included a nurse shark, barracudas, angelfish, lionfish, and sting rays.
We ended each day of water activities with an outdoor happy hour, complete with reggae music, Belizean drums, and Belikin beer. The cooks made fresh snacks for us including conch ceviche, eggplant hummus, and fish salsa (speared earlier that day by one of our guides).
We stayed in 2 or 4-person tents on raised wooden platforms. The island only had electricity for a few hours each evening through the use of a generator, so the tents were lit with old-fashioned hurricane lamps. At night the breeze off the ocean cooled down the tents, and slowly rustled the branches of the palm trees.
One day, our guides spent the afternoon teaching some of us how to sail kayaks. I'd never heard of sailing a kayak before, but the wind was steady without blowing too strong, so we decided to try it. The tandem kayaks had been rigged with a hole in the center, and a 10-foot pole goes into it so it points straight up at the sky. A sail fits onto the pole (which acts as a mast) with a rope tied to the bottom corner (which acts as a boom). The kayaker in the rear of the tandem holds onto the rope, and pulls it in different directions to maneuver the sail and catch the right amount of wind.
There wasn't much technique to it; you just kind of played around with different angles to figure out what worked. The rudder gets the kayak pointed in the right direction, so the only thing the sail needs to do is gather momentum. The day we tried it the wind was low but consistent, which kept us moving at a leisurely pace through the water. The next day, when a few others tried it, the wind had picked up and was really whipping across the water. Everyone ended up flipping their kayak at least once.
My experiences in paddle-boarding have been polarizing. My first try was in the harbor in Redondo Beach in LA, where there was no current or wind to speak of, and I found it relaxing and very easy. My next few times were in the San Francisco Bay, off Angel Island in Marin. The wind careens through the bay at an alarming pace, and standing up on a wobbly board while your body acts as a sail is no easy feat. I was worried each time that I wouldn't make it back to shore.
Paddle-boarding in the Caribbean Sea is a different experience entirely. The water is bathtub temperature and a gem-like hue, which eliminates any fear of falling in. It's also completely transparent, so you have a perfect viewpoint for watching the fish, sharks, and other undersea creatures that live right below you. The depth of the water increases at a very slow rate around the island, so we were never paddling in water deeper than about 15 feet. One day we took our snorkeling gear with us, and periodically jumped off with the boards cuffed to our ankles to take a look around.
Like all things, paradise must come to an end. After a week of what my dad called “summer camp for grown-ups,” we headed back to the mainland. On our way, the Caribbean saluted us goodbye with a dolphin escort alongside our boat. So long, Glover's Reef. Next stop, bird-nerding in Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary!