Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Adventures In Belize - Day Nine

Friday, October 19, 2012
      The wind was blowing out of the northeast when we went to bed. I was a bit worried that it would shift during the night as it had other nights. If that happened, there was not enough room on the other side of the spot where we had dropped anchor, and we would drift into the mangrove roots. It didn't happen.
   Instead, the wind died completely and the night was hot and sticky. To add to the discomfort the still air next to the mangrove swamp on Lark Cay was populated by those tiny little gnats that people call "no-see-'ems". Small enough to squeeze through a regular window screen, they have a hearty appetite, and sleep was frequently interrupted with sharp little pinprick bites. 
   The lagoon where we were anchored behind Lark Cay was mirror-still in the early morning twilight, reflecting tall dark cumulus clouds with bright edges, back lit by the rising sun.
The others on board were still too sleepy to go adventuring, so I took the inflatable dinghy by myself to explore the shoreline. Actually there was very little shore visible. 
     Dense mangrove thickets crowded right down the edge of the lagoon, creating an impenetrable barricade of aerial roots all the way out into water. They plunge down a foot, two feet into the muddy or sandy bottom, holding the land in place against all but the fiercest of hurricane-driven wind and waves, and create a labyrinthine refuge and nursery for all sorts of sea life.
      Beyond the reach of the roots, colonies of coral grow in the clear, sunlit water. Seemingly infinite in variety, composed of uncountable billions of tiny sea-creatures living in symbiosis. These polyps eat microscopic plankton and floating organic debris, but also are nourished by the photosynthesis of specialized cells of plant algae that live inside the coral's tissue. Each individual coral polyp is capable of sharing the nutrition with all of the members of the colony. Their supporting calcium carbonate skeletal material, accumulated over countless generations builds the massive coral reefs of Belize.
    As I skimmed along the surface I was fascinated by the constantly changing contours of the bottom beneath the Zodiac. One moment the water would be that infinite deep cobalt blue of the tropic ocean. As I sped over different depths the color would change to a lighter, shadowy blue, then emerald, then apple-green, dependent on how close the coral heads were to the underside of the dinghy. By the time I got back to the "Lovely Cruise" the rest of the crew was almost ready to haul up the anchor.
    There is a long coral and sand bank that stretches a long distance out from the shore of Lark Cay, and we were not eager to repeat the previous day's tense moments of crossing that shallow water. 

   John set a course south toward Bugle Cay, and I stationed myself on the forward deck to watch for shoaling water. As soon as we were certain that there was deep water to starboard John set a new course directly toward the town of Placencia. We dropped anchor in twenty feet of water a hundred yards or so off the town waterfront, joining several other cruising sailboats already there.
    A shouted conversation with the captain of the closest boat indicated that the new town dock was still under construction, and that we should tie up to that rickety-looking low wooden dock that stretched out a couple of hundred feet from the beach. 
  As we motored in on the dinghy we could see that the outermost section of the dock consisted of nothing more than pilings, the decking having been carried away in some storm. We tied up the dinghy midway on the dock, walked cautiously toward land, stepping over loose planks and missing pieces.
     A long panga fishing boat with a high, rounded bow rested on the beach, and people sitting in the shade just beyond the sand enjoyed the gentle late morning breezes. We were enticed by the delicious odors of cooking food coming from a vendor's hut at the edge of the beach, and stopped to talk with the owner for a few minutes, promising that we would come back to try some of her edible wares after we explored the town a bit.
    Placencia is spread out for several miles along a very thin spit of sandy land with the ocean on one side and a vast salt water lagoon on the other..There is one dirt road that winds from the waterfront up the peninsula toward connections with the other largely unpaved roads that pass for highways in Belize. We strolled past a Shell gas station, and were a bit puzzled that there were no cars getting gas until we read the hand lettered sign taped to the front of the pump!

     The Guiness Book of World Records lists Placencia's Main Street as the world's narrowest main street. It is really nothing more than a cement sidewalk that reaches for over a mile through the long skinny center of the town, raised a few inches above the loose sand. We walked along it for a bit.

    Scattered along the main street are small shops selling clothing, shops selling touristy souvenirs, guest houses and bed-and-breakfast establishments, beach cabanas, an elementary school, brightly painted houses with metal roofs and gutters to catch rainwater in cisterns, well-kept gardens, and sandy vacant lots. No place in town is more than a few blocks from the water. We walked out toward the ocean side and found a beautiful narrow beach where the three-inch-high waves broke in small ripples against golden yellow sand. 
   On a side "street" we found a charming little open air bar, and stopped for some lunch. The couple who own the Pickled Parrot were recent arrivals fro New Jersey. He had been a truck driver, and when his wife retired from a teaching job and suggested that they move to Belize, he eagerly had embraced the idea. He runs the bar and she does the cooking in the kitchen of the adjacent house wherwe they live. They have been in Placencia less than a year, and are loving it. We stopped by the beachside food vendor's spot to buy some home made candy on the way back to the boat.
    By late afternoon we had navigated the thirteen waypoints on the GPS that marked the shallow channel back to the Sunsail Marina. Two marina workers came out to meet us as we approached, pulling alongside to let the pilot come aboard to steer the big catamaran back into the tight quarters between the boat slips. 
     With a practiced flourish, one hand advancing the port engine and the other hand reversing the starboard engine, he pivoted that clumsy square boat with ease, sliding it backwards smoothly in between the pilings into the slip. Someone else tossed the mooring lines. They were cleated in place, and with that final nautical action our voyage was over.
    It did feel wonderful to take a long, hot shower, to put on clean clothes, and to walk with the others down the road to Robert's Grove for a delicious dinner on the deck overlooking the water, but I was already feeling nostalgic for the time we had spent on this Lovely Cruise.

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