Rounding out our time by the sea with my parents, we head back out to the islands — this time, the tiny little island of Tobacco Caye.
Lori and I visited Tobacco Caye on my birthday weekend back in September (which also coincided with Belize’s birthday weekend). We knew we wanted to get back one last time before leaving Belize and thought that taking my parents out in June/July would be the perfect opportunity.
If you’ll recall from our last trip out to Caye Caulker, we caught a ride with the lobsta-catching, laid back, good ol’ Captain Doggy. We gave him a call a few days beforehand to make sure he’d be around, and sho’nuff, the Captain had a fully loaded boat ready to go — and his crew had multiplied three-fold. It was fun to watch the discipline exercised by the first, second and third mates who obviously respected the Big Dog.
We were surprised this time around to see just how much the sand has filled in the bar where Stann Creek meets the sea. At low tide, it is nearly impossible to navigate. At high tide, it isn’t much better. But Doggy did it with a degree of skill and finesse generally reserved for Kung Fu masters. The 45 minute ride out was gloriously calm and clear. The ride back was a bit rough, but Doggy’s skills shone through. Lori and I have been on numerous crossings in the last year in all types of conditions and I’d say with absolute certainty that Capt. Doggy is one of the finest, most attentive and down-to-earth skiff captains in Belize. Highly recommended!
You can reach Captain Doggy at: (+501) 627-7443. He runs a boat between Dangriga and Tobacco Caye almost daily, leaving Dangriga around 9:30am.
We did have a bit of a small crisis on our hands this particular morning, as my dad had not felt 100% for the last day or so and took some fairly potent cold and flu meds that wiped him out. We’ll just say that at breakfast he looked like the last person who would want to get on an open top skiff for 45 minutes over open water. But not to worry, he made it across and into his hammock by the sea no worse for wear.
This was also a somewhat poignant occasion as it was likely going to be the last round trip Caribbean crossing in Belize for us for awhile, after numerous crossings.
Again, it’s also important to keep in mind that we hadn’t told my parents where we were going. We had spent the previous night in Dangriga, with all its charm, and had led them to believe that we were heading north in the morning. Instead, I dropped them off by the dock with their stuff. So they knew they were getting on a boat at that point, but still didn’t know where they were headed. At one point I felt obligated to ask my dad if he felt up to spending 45 minutes on a boat. Fortunately, he said yes.
Last time we were here (on my birthday) I wanted to stay at this place (above) — Tobacco Caye Paradise. I had seen the picture of these cabins over the water in a magazine and wanted to go. Luckily, Tobacco Caye is one of the few places in our price range in Belize that actually makes it into magazines. Unfortunately, Paradise was closed for renovation and we instead stayed at the nearby Tobacco Caye Lodge. The Lodge was fine and all, but we resolved to book two cabins at Tobacco Caye Paradise for my parents stay and got the two that share a connecting porch which worked out perfectly. Given that both places are similarly priced, I’d recommend Paradise over the Lodge. I mean, how often do you get to stay in a bungalow over the water in paradise?
Do not be fooled! This bottle of wine was one of two we brought back with us from Guatemala, and therefore very special. It was US$5 and very good (compared to wine in Belize which goes for US$15+ and generally sucks). Some might criticize us for not helping the Belizean economy. Well, for one, most of the shops that sell wine in Belize are owned by one very wealthy Chinese guy who lives in China. Two, Lori and I are volunteers and live off of Lori’s modest living stipend and our savings. Let the thousands of affluent foreigners who visit Belize’s overpriced resorts (or better yet, the many wealthy Belizeans) support the economy. If I can get $5 wine that’s stinkin’ good in Guatemala, I’m going to get stinkin’ good $5 wine from Guatemala.
This may strike you as a sickening waste — a graveyard of conch shells — the leftovers of numerous sea snails that take a decade to grow to maturity. But this is actually conservation in action. Prior to a big push by the Belizean government and conservation NGOs, common practice was to harvest the edible portion of the conch shell in the water and leave the empty shell where it was found. This, unfortunately, was detrimental to the ecosystem as live conch will not regenerate amongst dead conch. Hence, bringing the entire conch ashore and discarding the shell along the bank. This also helps to ensure that more of the conch is used and not wasted. The institution of a Conch Season has also aided conservation efforts. Conch remains one of the most widespread and lucrative livelihoods for local fishermen in Belize, in addition to a being an important staple and main sources of protein of the coastal Belizean diet.
This time around, Lori and I had a goal to swim around the entire swimmable area of the island, essentially from the Paradise dock around to Reef’s End lodge. We covered just about as much area as one can without a boat, spotting Southern Stingrays, a Yellow Stingray, a few very large Great Barracuda, Lionfish, Trumpetfish among Sergeant Majors, Angel Fish, groupers, etc. The water temperature was just about perfect, with rushes of cooler water from time to time. Visibility as excellent as well.
We spent two nights and most of three days on the island and got absolutely gorgeous weather. We had one squall come through on our last morning, but otherwise the weather was perfect.
And of course, the most significant development of the three days is that we finally got my dad in the water snorkeling. My mom took to the water quite easily in Maui last year, but dad had a bit of a tough go. But there are few better places to get accustomed to the water than Tobacco Caye, with its warm, clear, calm and shallow water.
A Southern Stingray or two graced us with their presence often, circling the island throughout the day. Unlike September, we didn’t see a single Eagle Ray, which were plentiful in the evenings and mornings during our last stay.
Shortly before getting on Doggy’s boat for the ride back to the mainland, we got a fast moving shower come through out of nowhere. Nothing like laying back and watching a squall pass through on a tiny little island in paradise.