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Brooklyn, New York
October 21, 2006
From journal South of the (Mexico) Border
August 10, 2005
The trip itself was $40 for both of us, with $5 extra for the special mask. This was only a half a day tour, but that was plenty, as it was so hot
Jeffery picked us up at 9 that morning from our hotel beach, and after a brief diversion to get other vacationers, we were off to Hol Chan (Little Channel). It is about a 20-minute boat ride to get there, and on arrival, Jeffery had to pay the few dollars entry fee, as this is a protected part of the famous reef.
We put on our snorkel masks and followed Jeffery as he swam up and around the reef, pointing out all the marine life and interesting creatures as he went. The coral had lovely colors.
We saw all kinds of fish that I will never remember, as well as the head of a Moray eel peeking from the rocks and a few nurse sharks eating from the bottom of the nearby boats.
After a good amount of swimming and marine lessons, it was back on the boat for drinks and homemade banana bread and on to my favorite - Shark Ray Alley. As soon as we approached, the boat was instantly surrounded by big nurse sharks and sting rays. It was quite daunting to say the least. Jeffery told us that they couldn’t feed the fish in the Hol Chan Preserve, but here it was still okay, something about because this had originally been a place where fishermen stopped to clean their fish, so the fish and sharks still gathered to eat leftovers. I’m not sure this sounded so ecologically correct, but you know, I loved seeing them all so close that I didn’t ask too many questions.
It took some guts to get in that water, and by then, the sharks that were much more nervous were swimming off. The sting rays, though, were so curious and would swim right up to me - kinda freaky.
Jeffery was quite the comedian, and his favorite trick was to throw little bits of dead fish at you where you weren’t prepared, which caused the sharks and bigger fish to swim up mouths open. No matter whatever anyone tells you, nurse sharks do have teeth - I saw them!!!! They are just little (and I’m sure sharp).
It was a wonderful time, though, and I really recommend going early, as we did, before the areas become full of tour boats. Also, do remember to bring a waterproof camera, as the photos from the boat just make it look like a giant aquarium and no one back home will believe you swam in it!!
From journal From Jungle Juice to Panty Rippers
May 11, 2005
After a 45-minute high-speed cruise through the mangroves and along the shores of many different islands, we had a stop in Caye Caulker to pick up some sardines to feed the fish. We soon arrived on the barrier reef, and watched the shadows of the sharks (nurse sharks, no threat, so they say...) and rays under the clear, shallow water. I really had to talk myself into jumping in, but I am very glad I did! I could not believe my eyes about what I saw under the water. So many fish! Rays all over, but they seemed very tame. We were warned not to kick them, but otherwise we could reach out and pet them as they glided by. The crew even grabbed the rays on either side and held them up so we could see their undersides - funny mouth and teeth! A number of sharks glided under me, maybe seven or eight feet long. It was an amazing display - I felt like I was swimming in a giant tropical aquarium. We also did a tour of the coral reef. If you look in the distance, the reef looks kind of bland and colorless. It's when you're right next to a formation that you can see the vivid colors and shapes. Unreal! I could have spent hours more floating around.
We spent the afternoon in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. It’s a very funky, kind of primitive town. Golf carts with oversized tires are the primary mode of transportation on the sand streets lined with ramshackle buildings of all different hues. I found the people to be laid back, ready to chat or help if you needed it. There are many different races and national origins there. I saw Americans or other westerners who obviously lived there, people of Spanish and African descent, even Amish! I didn't find a lot of shopping venues, but I did stumble upon a shop that had some Central American handicrafts in the window. I was warmly greeted by Ricardo, the owner, whose main product was jewelry he made out of black coral. I spent time chatting with him about different things, about living on the island and how the jewelry was made. It was very unique and some pieces were exquisite.
I spent the rest of the time in Fido's Bar, under a thatched roof on the beach. Nothing like sipping a drink with the breeze cooling you nicely, watching the palm trees and the water... I would heartily recommend an afternoon or more in San Pedro for a true off-the-beaten-track destination.
From journal Enchanting Cruise to the Western Caribbean
April 19, 2005
From journal A Week in Belize
SAN JOSE, California
January 23, 2005
Then it was onward to Ho-chan reserve, a lovely underwater sea life "park." We saw lots of parrot fish and so many different species than what I have witnessed in Pacific waters. This was truly a delight - the water was perfect and our guide was quite knowledgeable and friendly. I can't wait to go back here.
From journal Ambergris Caye and Belize: Tropics and Nature
August 11, 2004
From journal Belize CA
May 18, 2004
They look huge in the water, dark shadows circling around the boat, and when you get in the water they are massive. Nurse sharks will reach around six feet in length and the rays almost five feet in diameter. They are friendly, curious fish and like to approach you closely and check you out! I was quite scared at the beginning, but they are quite relaxed animals and some will rub against you like a cat. The rays are beautiful and move as though they are flying through the water.
It is possible to swim to the reef, about 100 metres away. In some places the reef reaches the surface of the water, but it is still teeming with fish. Shark Ray Alley is definitely a place to bring a camera to, as the shallow, clear water means that it is ideal for taking pictures of your close encounter.
On one visit to the site, I spotted a four-foot long Caribbean reef shark in the water. These are much more fearsome looking than the dark brown nurse sharks, silvery and pointed. It certainly got my adrenaline racing.
Once you have visited Shark Ray Alley, you can buy the T-shirt from the Toucan on Caye Caulker!
From journal Ya betta Belize it!
May 14, 2004
We decided to do our snorkeling from Caye Caulker. The nice thing about Caulker, as well as Ambergris, is that they are both close to the Barrier Reef so you do you get to spend less time in the boat and more in the water. We went through the tour group Tsunami Adventures and we were very happy with the tour they provided. They gave us the standard day snorkeling tour of Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark-Ray Alley, but the nice part was that our guide made sure to leave early enough to beat the rush to both places. Both Hol Chan and Shark-Ray Alley are the most popular places and since most tour groups run the same schedule, the sights get terribly crowded at certain points throughout the day, but our guide at Tsunami Adventures made sure we got to each place a little early so that we could beat the rush.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve is a large reserve around a small channel in the break and is a sight for spectacular snorkeling. The coral was varied and colorful and so was the sea life. No more than five minutes after entering the water, I saw a nurse shark swimming languidly along. Our guide was very knowledgeable of the area and very aware of where animals like to hide. With his help we found an octopus hiding in coral and a huge moray eel at least six feet in length tucked under a ledge. Along with that we saw a rare school of spotted rays. At least seven rays, some as long as nine feet came swimming through the channel right when we showed up. It was one of the more spectacular sights I have ever seen snorkeling. It’s too bad I didn’t have an underwater camera
Shark-Ray Alley is the tourist attraction of Belize snorkeling. We originally didn’t want to go because we heard about how touristy it was, but it is hard to find a tour that doesn’t stop by, so we gave in. Shark-Ray Alley basically became a popular place for nurse sharks and rays because fishermen used to dump their chum there after filleting fish, but that has long stopped, and now it is tourists who flock to see the sharks and rays. The sharks and rays keep coming though because a lot of guides still toss chum in the water. Thus, when you pull in, the sharks, hearing the motor, immediately come up. Admittedly it was neat to swim with them, but I was glad we got there early because soon it became a crowded mess of sharks, rays, and snorkeler legs.
From journal The Coast and Cayes of Belize
by Cindy Grant
September 6, 2003
Our second stop was at Hol Chan. The captain stayed on the boat, and I got a personal guided tour by the crew! He took me around the underwater reserve, telling me the names of the fish and coral we saw. There were a lot of people here, but not so crowded that I couldn't enjoy myself. A definite must to do!
The captain furnished rum punch (only after snorkeling stops) and we stopped in between at Caye Caulker for lunch. I had time to walk around the Caye, take pictures, have lunch, and do some shopping.
From journal Week in Belize
December 9, 2002
The sloping shelf of this reef is abundant with gorgonians. Large purple fans seem to wave as you float over them. Here we saw a couple of 10-13 pound lobsters. The one was so large I dove through a small tunnel to get a better look with the dive master right with me. A beautiful spotted eagle ray caught my peripheral vision, but too fast and too far away to be photographed. Their shape, like an exaggerated diamond is so different from the rounded tips on a manta ray or the round body of the yellow stingrays found close to the beach.
A couple friendly groupers, having been fed by divers in the past, seemed to escort us through our entire dive. Knowing that things appear 25% bigger underwater and making the decision to take a snapshot, I outstretched my arm to get a better idea of how far away the fish was. My finger recoiled quickly as I was stunned that I touched the grouper. He obviously wasn’t fazed at all. I actually had to put some distance between us in order to get all of him into view.
One sight that was both new and fascinating to me was the pillar coral. They looked like stalagmites protruding from the ocean floor, some several feet high. Here, hamlets, purple and yellow fairy basslets, butterfly fish and others seemed to playing hide and seek. As I would seek a close-up picture they would hide behind a pillar.
The maximum depth on was 90 feet for certified divers and 35 feet for those in training and is a two-tank dive. The reserve is easily reached from both Caye Caulker and Ambergis. A $5 fee is charged for non-residents and a boat patrol does come around and count passengers.
From journal Rapture of the Deep Blue Hole