Snorkeling with sharks in Belize

, March 27, 2012

In this chapter of my trip around the world without using airplanes, balloons, zeppelins, birds or any sort of flying paraphernalia, I got on a boat at the Mexican border of Chetumal and floated along the Caribbean waters of the Mesoamerican barrier reef into the island of Caye Caulker, Belize.

The weather was less then promising on the first day, with clouds taking over most of the sky. Nonetheless, I was eager to experience life on this little Caribbean island where the motto “go slow” reigns supreme. The recipe seemed to be large doses of Reggae, enough Belikan beer, and zero expectations that anything would happen time. As they said, just take a “chill pill”.

Now, lets get to the real deal of the island’s culture, or should I say, lets get in the water. I dare to say that it’s almost impossible to come to this place and not feel obliged to get on a boat and explore the sea life. Wether you are an experienced scuba diver or a simple snorkeler (like me), Caye Calker will likely have something unique to offer – even when the sky is gray.

My first day go off to a slow start. In keeping with native tradition, our “all day trip” to the barrier reef started only after midday when we were finally brought onboard a sailboat operated by “Regamuffin” tours. For a moment I wondered if we would ever set sail. The boat was prepared sluggishly, and we were ready to go only when the cooler with rum punch and “cevice” (a seafood dish prepared with fresh raw fish and shrimp, marinated in citrus and spiced with chilli peppers) arrived.

Fortunately, the wait was well worth it. After a first spot without much significance, we got to an area filled with sharks. Gathered near the stern of the vessel, they shoved each other to get near the food thrown from the boat. It was not the kind of sight that normally brings in me a desire to get in the water, but this time it was different. I had a chance to overcome this fear and I didn’t want to waste it. With the crew telling us to get in the water, everyone gradually jumped in. And what an entry that was!

Setting sail

Underwater, the sharks were all but alone. Stingrays, turtles, barracudas and a myriad of small fishes swam around us, fearless and apparently indifferent to our presence. To avoid disturbing these animals, we tried to keep some distance, but sometimes they got so near that I feared hitting them with my fins and getting bitten in return. There was a mixed feeling of amazement, respect and fear, but mostly an incredible joy about being in the water with such incredible creatures.

The sharks we ran across were of the ginglymostomatidae family, also known as “nurse-sharks”.  These elegant creatures measured around two to three meters and were brownish in colour. Interestingly these animals hunt mostly at night, taking advantage of dormant fishes, which would otherwise be too hard to catch. Also, the nurse sharks are reputed for not showing any special aggressiveness towards humans, which makes them an ideal start for a first contact with this sea predator. In our case, everything went perfectly.

Pier at Caye Caulker, Belize

We explored the sea life of the Mesoamerican barrier reef – second largest in the world – during the rest of the day. Amongst the creatures of the sea, we shacked our fins from deep valleys to shallow waters, swam side by side with turtles and passed through all kinds of coral reef and its inhabitants. It was an unforgettable experience. Everything felt so peaceful that I almost envied the lives of these creatures, forgetting for a moment about the wilderness and dangers of their own existences.

After getting out of those waters and jumping on the boat I looked again at the horizon. It’s hard to believe that we can forget all the diversity that lies under the surface the second world of our planet.

For more images and updates visit Daniel’s ‘The world is not flat’ Facebook Page.