Friday, November 9, 2012

Adventures in Belize - Day One

Thursday, October 11, 2012
    The radio turns itself on and begins to play some unidentified classical piece at exactly 4:30 a.m., but I've already been awake for perhaps five minutes, my internal clock outpacing the electronic one, interrupting dreams of cobalt blue waters and warm, moist breezes.
    By the time we've tossed duffels and backpacks in the back of the car, left our forested neighborhood and traveled mostly empty highways through downtown Richmond the sky is beginning to show the first hints of dawn. A waning crescent moon, its horns curving upward, looks like a tilted grin. Venus, a brilliant beacon in the east, marks the subtly shaded boundary between night and morning.

    Our flight leaves promptly at 7:10, curving into the bright sunlight in a graceful arc away from the chilly city, heading for Miami. Our bags have been checked through to our destination, so there is little to do while we wait for our next flight, but stroll along the concourse marveling at the amazing array of unnecessary services and souvenirs offered for sale, or sit and talk while trying to ignore the ubiquitous overhead TV monitors and over-enthusiastic news anchors narrating unpleasant news with practiced smiles.    It was interesting to see the city of Miami sprawled beneath the wings of the plane as we headed out on the next leg of our trip, but the vegetation didn't look as green, the water as blue, nor the buildings as bright as the super-saturated colors we're used to seeing on CSI Miami. After climbing to altitude and heading south-southwest over the Gulf of Mexico, I dozed off. It seemed like a short time until the pilot announced that we were beginning our descent to Belize City. 
    As we sank through each thin layer of clouds I could circular rainbow with the shadow of the airplane in the center. Far below small islands and cays glowed like emerald gems, scattered across a colorful variegated expanse of pale sky blue, robin's egg blue, morning glory blue, and azure blue banks and shoals of water.
    Belize City is only sixteen degrees north of the Equator, and as soon as the doors of the plane were opened we were immersed in the soft warm air of the tropics. Time to shed heavy denim, fleece sweaters, shoes and socks for shorts, T-shirts, and sandals!

    Our final flight leg today was on a ten passenger twin engine plane, John Leckie occupied the right hand seat next to the pilot, and I shared the bench seat at the back of the aircraft, stretching my legs luxuriously out straight with unlimited space.
    We surged down the runway, the roaring engines propelling us forward only short distance before the plane seemed to leap into the air. Staying low, the pilot banked to the left out over the water and then made a second turn back to the right and began to descend again. Looking out the window, I could see that the plane was lining up with what appeared to be a narrow path paved with yellow gravel. Dense vegetation crowded in from each side, and the road ended at the edge of the water, just a few hundred yards from its beginning.
    Before I had a chance to worry the wheels touched pavement with a squeal, the turboprops revving briefly to full throttle in reverse, and slowing, the plane made a quick hundred and eighty degree turn at the end of the runway only feet from the edge of the lagoon. There was short pause in front of a tiny office building while a few packages were unloaded and replaced with others, one person off and two more on. Within minutes the plane was taxiing back down to the end of the tiny runway to face into the wind for another leap into the air.

    Before long we were lining up on another equally intimidating narrow strip, ready to plunge toward certain, bone-crunching impact that changed at the last second to a gentle touch down and hard application of brakes, and we were on the ground at Dangriga for more unloading of packages and a couple of more passengers. Then off again for another short hop, and another similar landing at Placencia, our final destination.
    We stepped to the side of the small shack that serves as the airline terminal, and waited in the fragrant shade of a plumeria tree while our bags were unloaded. An eager taxi driver, fortunate enough to have a decrepit van capable of holding six people plus luggage was happy to collect six dollars from each of us to load us and our belongings and rattle off down the road to the Sunsail Marina.

    We spent an interesting hour in a meeting room with one of the Sunsail employees, taking lots of notes and talking about navigation charts, anchorages, islands and cays, dangerous reefs, and radio protocol before heading down the pier to our 38.5 foot Robertson and Caine sailing catamaran, home for the next nine days.

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