March 21, 2020

Belize is free from COVID-19

Left for vacation in Belize on March 7, 2020. For the first week, stayed aboard a liveaboard ship, the Belize Aggressor III, trip booked through an outfit called Snorkel Ventures. There were 12 guests including me and my husband, 2 guides from Snorkel Ventures, and 6 staff from the boat.

When we left, there was some concern about the virus but no shelter in place orders yet. We had been planning our trip for about a year so we were going no matter what. We had a wee niggly thought that maybe we might have trouble getting back into the US if things get worse but getting stuck in Belize might not be so bad. We did take precautions on the flight with plenty of hand sanitizer which I had from my work supplies (and will have to replace when supplies are available again), and accelerated hydrogen peroxide towelettes, the kind used in hospitals (luckily I had it in my home supplies). I wiped down every surface we were going to touch in the airport and on the plane, ducked into every rest room in the airport to wash hands. Totally didn't want any illness to mar my vacation plans!

Living on the boat was fantastic although snorkeling with an arranged trip took some getting used to since there were 4 snorkels scheduled a day (and 3 meals) at set times and even though we could choose to not go if we wanted, who's going to say no when not going with the group meant no going at all. Even so, we only really ever did 3 snorkels a day. I personally like going snorkeling when I feel like it rather than a regimented schedule. After all, isn't snorkeling all about the freedom to be spontaneous?

Still, the snorkeling was fantastic if a bit cold. We got to Belize in the middle of a cold front with rain. They needed the rain since they had been having a couple of years of drought but it really made me miss the water temps of French Polynesia. It made me appreciate the fact that I brought my wetsuit jacket and forced my husband to bring his. When the sun finally came out 3 days into the trip, everyone on the boat appreciated that we could finally hang out on the lounge deck. Unfortunately, I fell asleep in a deck chair without sunscreen. Ouch! Now my skin is darker than I've been for years and years (humble brag?) and I'm peeling. But at the time, my bones felt wonderful.

My first impression during the first snorkel was there was a lot of coral, sponges, and parrotfishes were plentiful and huge. There were also a lot of yellow fish with blue stripes everywhere. Come to find out they are grunts of many different types. Second thought in the water was, boy I had missed the lovely floating feeling when snorkeling, even though the current was rather strong. Third thought was how tired I was from having to wake up for 7:30am Belize time (6:30 PST) for breakfast then 8:30am snorkel after not really sleeping on the red-eye flight from SFO, so not my schedule but amazing how seeing all the fish varieties that I've never seen before could banish the fatigue. Then the camera clicking started in earnest.

All too soon, we were made to get back to the boat. The Belize Aggressor III is usually a diving liveaboard so I think they were still following the diving rules of getting the divers out for an hour. The next snorkel was scheduled for about one and a half hour after we got back onto the boat. I suggested that they consider allowing us to have longer snorkel times by having 1 snorkel in the AM, 1 in the PM, and 1 in the evening. People who didn't want to stay out longer can go back onto the boat when they wanted. But, their schedule was set so we had to follow it.

We fell into a routine pretty quickly. Food was fantastic and plentiful. Each snorkel was a slightly different location. I lost count of how many new fishes I saw. The other guests were all really nice. There was a pair of sisters from Canada who were more hardcore snorkelers than I was and were always the last back on the boat. I went on 2 evening snorkels and it was pretty cool since I've never snorkeled in the dark before. Didn't see much on the first evening snorkel that I hadn't seen while snorkeling during the day, although it was kind of cool to see the parrotfishes all snuggled in their little hiding places under the coral ledges. The second evening snorkel was wonderful, we saw 2 toadfishes (and heard countless others), a spiny lobster, a slipper lobster, a couple of eels, a sea hare, squid (is the plural squids?) and rays.

All too soon, we were headed back to port and after 6 days with no internet access, we starting getting the news and e-mail on our devices again. The news wasn't great but it seemed liked it was happening on another planet given the routine of our previous week. That's when we found out Belize was still free from the virus. Since we had another half week in Belize for the next part of our vacation, it was very reassuring.

We left the boat a night early so we could check into our lodge, the Bird's Eye View Lodge, in Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. This gave us an extra day to start our the birding part of our trip.

It was amazing how many birds were right outside our doors at the lodge. We thought we would have to plan some excursions off the property of the lodge to see birds but we never really even had to leave the front of the lodge. The lodge fronted a lagoon that many of the water birds come in for so we could stand at our balcony with our binoculars and see just flocks of birds flying from their evening roosting spots to their morning feeding spots and then in the evening, we saw the reverse commute. There were also a couple of birds that tried to come into out room, which gave us quite the chuckle.

We took a boat excursion one morning before sunrise (ugh, what is up with the early morning thing?). We got to see groups of Jabiru, Snail kites (at least 20, it seemed like every stalk of plant that was a little taller than those around hit had a kite on it), other hawks, more ospreys flying overhead than I've seen in my whole life, huge flocks of wood storks, egrets, and herons. We saw 6 out of the 7 herons that are found in that area. We never got to see the Agami heron, sad. We also didn't get photographs of the tri-colored heron or the bare throated tiger heron, which our guide pointed out to us. We also took a couple of guided hikes to the nearby Crooked Tree Village, for a slightly different type of environment, where we saw a Morelet's crocodile sunning itself on a log in someone's backyard pond. Wow! Back at the lodge, my husband saw a lizard on one of the picnic tables, he didn't have his big camera and had to rely on the cell phone camera, hurray for the Google Pixel cameras. It turned out to be a basilisk lizard. I've only ever seen those on the nature shows I grew up watching so even though I never got to see it in real life, I now know someone I'm close to who has!

Normally the Bird's Eye View Lodge is pretty full during the high season, we were told. But while we were there, there were never more than 20 people in the dining room at meals. COVID-19 was the reason. They had cancellations happening daily. By our last day there, we said goodbye to the last Canadian guests after breakfast as they cut their trip short to get back home before the borders closed and then the last British guests after lunch as tried to get back before their borders closed. By that night, we were the only people in the dining room for dinner and the only guests overnight. It is incredibly weird being the only guest in a 30+ room accommodation. There was a little bit of gallows humor as the staff joked that they guessed their low season was going last a bit longer than usual this year. We hope they can weather this downturn in business.

Coming home was not much of an issue. Same routine with cleaning every surface we were going to touch with my disinfecting towelettes and hand washing. We did have the conversation of what we had to eat at home since we tried to eat down our food supplies before our trip since we were going to be gone and our Nextdoor feeds were all about the shortages of basic supplies in the stores in our city. The planes were fuller than we expected but we were still able to get the rows to ourselves.

Now it's back to real life. At least I have uploading our photos to iNat to occupy my time during the shelter in place orders. That's going to take a few days. We'll see what happens in the coming days. Interesting times! But great memories from our trip.

Posted on March 21, 2020 10:02 PM by petdoc petdoc | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 23, 2018

What a variety

Just started to post fish photos from May 2017 Fiji trip as observations on iNat and I'm amazed as how many varieties of fish we saw. I started snorkeling in Hawaii and got hooked because of how many fish there were to see. But the astounding variety and colors of the fish around Fiji renews my interest in snorkeling yet again!

Posted on February 23, 2018 09:41 PM by petdoc petdoc | 4 comments | Leave a comment


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