Looking for Manatees
Saint Patrick's Day dawned bright and cloudless and after big pancake breakfast, we went looking for manatees. We had heard that they gathered in the sheltered waters of Lagoon Caye, where we could anchor away from the entrance and then dinghy, kayak or paddle in to the area.
Wending our way north west up the Victoria Channel, through the cayes and reefs from Hatchet Caye, we kept a sharp lookout for shallow areas. The cayes all lie very low and it's difficult to recognize which is which as they are also very close together. Sometimes the cruising guide will identify one by indicating there is a house on the northern point, or a large stand of coconut palms! The charts are filled with notes of "Numerous coral heads" and "Incomplete Survey" which was a bit nerve-wracking!
But we reached Lagoon Caye, and anchored in about 10 feet of water off the entrance of the horseshoe-shaped caye. The weather cooperated as usual, with the water absolutely still and glassy and we hoped this would give us an advantage to see the manatees. All the toys went overboard and the crew headed into the mangrove-lined lagoon. Pelicans roosted on the tree tops, watching as we slid by, slowly circling the entire shoreline without a sighting. The manatees were not cooperating! That was disappointing but of course, there are no guarantees that the giant mammals will be there. They were definitely operating on Belizean time!
Back on board, the next short leg was through a maze of small islands, coral heads and shallow water. On one of the tiny cayes, someone has built a whole compound and it sits out there, all by itself, brightly showing off it lively Caribbean colors! Underway, in honor of Saint Paddy's day, we enjoyed corned beef and cabbage for lunch!
Very carefully, we made our way to Hideaway Caye.
If you have ever dreamed of living the Robinson Crusoe life, this is where you will find it. Hideaway Caye is the manifestation of Dustin and Kim Ingersoll's dream, a built-from-scratch restaurant and cabana, where they work and live with their young daughter, Ama. Completely self-sustaining, boaters must call ahead to find out what's for dinner, as Dustin fishes each day to provide for the restaurant.
We called in early in the day and he asked us to call once we were actually there before ordering dinner, which we did. As we attempted to order, there was so much laughter, he could hear us from his aerie, our sounds wafting over the water! We confirmed that along with the grouper and conch, he had conch fritters and he replied, "Always, and the best rum punch in the islands." That settled that!
Shortly after that, Dustin paddled out in his kayak, a big, burly guy with his 3-year old daughter in his lap, and Ki the dog, swimming alongside. Apparently, Ki swims three miles every day! He is a big, black Rottweiler-mix I think.
The island is magical, there just is no way to really describe the winding wooden walkways, meandering through the mangroves, piles of conch shells tangled in the tree roots. The stairs switchback up to the small restaurant and bar, perched on stilts. A long bar spans the length and two big dining tables, all hand-made from native woods, take up the rest of the space. The kitchen, visible through the pass-through is tiny! But Kim churns out the meals, while Dustin pours the rum and keeps an eye on Ama, who is very outgoing and entertaining, especially to a bunch of women with children and grandchildren of their own.
The next morning, my birthday, I woke to the sounds of birds squawking and men's voices echoing across the water from the far side of the adjacent caye. As the sun rose, I felt so lucky to be spending a second birthday in Belize. The first time was 16 years ago, when I first fell in love with this little country and I knew, then, that I would soon be making an all-out effort to move there. Some places just feel right, and fit!
We wanted to make an early start as it was a bit-longer-than-usual passage to South Water Caye but we were delayed because, darn it, our fresh-baked bread delivery was a few minutes late! It amazes me that Kim could produce fresh baguettes and have Dustin deliver them by kayak, all by 9am after cooking for our crowd the night before. Of course, one of the loaves was demolished as soon as he delivered and the rest were reserved for our pulled-pork lunch.