One final adventure of our Belizean vacation awaited us on the last full day of our stay: snorkeling the barrier reef that lies just off the coastline. Team WestEnders' mission began after breakfast, when we picked up our fins and masks and convened with the rest of our fellow seafarers on the dock, for the resort's boat to ferry us out to where all the fun and fishes awaited (we fervently hoped!).
Although it would only be a 20-minute journey, Riley was a bit nervous, given his...ahem..."negative reaction"...to his previous boating experience in Seattle last year. However, the ocean proved calm and agreeable this morning, which certainly helped encourage his stomach to remain so as well. When we arrived at the dive site, he and I were among a handful of...ever-so-slightly less intrepid?...explorers to request life vests for extra security during our time in the water. He feels he's not a terribly strong swimmer, and as for me...it's probably more psychological than anything else, but I just like the sense of safety it gives me, knowing I don't have to rely on just myself to stay afloat, in a spot where they told us the surf would be 18-20 feet deep. (Gulp!) I'd much rather focus on watching the marine life, and putting the waterproof camera to the test by snapping photos at will, without worrying about sinking down to join them!
With that all arranged, we slid off the boat into the Caribbean, and cruised away from it, following our guide, Neal. He brought a long blue pole to point out creatures of interest, then would name and describe them for us. Most of these, I'll admit, I don't remember anything about...but they were fascinating at the time, I promise! Some of those that DID stick with me were the tarpons (impressively LARGE!), barracudas (surprisingly innocuous-looking...perhaps because we weren't close enough to see their teeth? That's probably for the best, of course!), a moray eel and various lobsters hiding under rock formations (which Neal obligingly poked at, until they showed themselves...which begs the question: is this entirely ethical eco-friendly tour guide behavior? Whatever--I'm not gonna tattle on him!), and a delightful school of...blue thingies (I TOLD you the details didn't stick, right? But they were lovely, nonetheless...)
But, as entertaining as all of these species were, none of them compared to the Big Three that we considered the stars of the Main Event. First, a lionfish, its brown, black, and white coloring and spiky quills making it instantly recognizable. It was also notable because we'd been educated about this specific beastie in our week at the resort. You see, it's an invasive species, with no predators, and therefore is multiplying out of control and throwing off the reef's ecosystem. Thus, hunting them is condoned--even applauded--in an effort to control their numbers. (In case you're wondering, spearfishing is the method of choice...and no, we were NOT issued spear guns as part of our equipment for the day. Can you imagine Derek and Riley being given that kind of deadly weapon...and permission to use it? Oy, the possibilities--all of them DIRE--are practically endless....)
Okay, that was pretty darn cool. But the next sighting blew it out of the water (Sorry!). Directly below us, clearly visible as it lay on the sand, was a stingray. Now, I'm not a great judge of size, but I'd say it was probably several feet across, if I had to guess. Then, as we watched, captivated, it slowly lifted from the ocean floor and gracefully glided off. Yippee! And then, for the Grand Finale (as far as Team WestEnders' Bucket List o'the Sea, anyway) Neal found us...a sea turtle! It was calmly munching on grass near the bottom as we approached (as quietly as possible...yeeeaaah, for landlubbers, so in all fairness, we probably sounded like the...underwater cavalry...charging in to capture it. What can ya do? We're only tourists in the watery realms, with add-on flippers made of rubber rather than the real thing...but still, we tried our best not to scare it...)
It stuck around for a short time, then calmly rose from its snacking spot (probably sensing our presence) and swam away, still appearing as though it were in no particular hurry. Seriously, if I witnessed nothing at all for the rest of the time, or even called it a day and returned to the resort, my snorkeling needs would have been met. I'd have to say, being that close to an animal--in its own habitat--that you've only admired on TV nature documentaries was possibly one of the most awesome experiences of my life.
All of that happened in the first 45-ish-minute part of our session. Then we rejoined the boat as instructed, to motor over to a small island for refreshments, rest, and reapplying sunblock. In an unexpected, unfortunate turn of events, I'd discovered that being rocked by the motion of the water during our swim-time...makes me extremely queasy. (Husband pointed out that this may have been the life jacket's fault, since it made me bob around on the surface more? Who knows...whatever the reason, my stomach was waaaay unhappy.) There was a solution, though: Husband gets migraines (unluckily) and thus is prescribed anti-nausea medication (luckily)...that he carries with him in...non-car-travel...kinds of situations, just in case. The scenario he's preparing for doesn't usually involve ME needing a pill, but I certainly wasn't going to turn it down, that's for sure!
Aaaaand...it did the trick. Enough that I was able to participate in the second half of our underwater extravaganza, tolerate the return boat ride...and even eat lunch after I'd had my feet back on dry land for about 30 minutes. Altogether, a wildly successful and profoundly satisfying day...although I have to conclude that, no matter how much I might enjoy the music of Jimmy Buffett, I think I can ease any of my family's concerns (you know, in case this might have occurred to them...ever...) about me taking off and sailing away to live out any pirate fantasies...at least, not without packing a whole....shipload...of DRAMAMINE--ha!