Belize Expedition–Day 6

April 17

I wake up before sunrise and find a meditation spot under a palapa during a downpour. Soon the sun returns.

Lionel Webb photo

We decide to remain here one more day and enjoy a long leisurely morning.  Around noon, John, Eman and I head south on a winding white path straddling a long narrow isthmus.  We pass a young couple led by a Belizean toward one of the cabanas, and next, a fully developed boardwalk and harbor on the west side of the island invisible to us earlier.  Then, hidden by tall palms and casuarina trees, we come upon a huge conical thatch-roofed lodge.  We walk up the steps to a verandah surrounding a 50 foot conical dome held up by rafters lashed to a wooden circle near the peak.  A mastlike pole at the center supports a circular counter roofed by its own thatched palapa.

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The floor is a mosaic tiled with multicolored pieces of varnished hardwood. On one side of the dome is a large well-stocked bar, and opposite a small gift shop, and between them a couch, armchair, coffee-table arrangement, behind which is mounted a well-stocked bookshelf.  At the table sits a large bearded man typing on a Mac laptop.

Eman and I hang back while John engages him in conversation and elicits information: he’s the current manager of this place, Thatch Key Lodge.  It’s a resort for maximum 20 guests, usually in groups, often clients of the paying guests.  He supervises a staff of 20 people to maintain it.  The island used to be part of CoCoPlum, but was severed in a hurricane and is now Thatch Caye, though it’s is not known as such to mapmakers. It’s been almost completely reclaimed from the sea with rocks from the mainland imported by boat and wooden pilings constantly replaced with wood from a now rare palm species. Lodging is $500 per person per night, but camping where we’re staying is $15.  We’re welcome to come back for drinks, and if we make a reservation now, for dinner. Thanking him for the invitation and still somewhat awed, we continue down island through a large staff housing section to the southern tip and a swimming dock under a palapa ornamented with inlaid slices of bamboo.

Back at camp, Joe and I and Lionel and Peter agree to kayak out to Man O War Caye, an elegantly  shaped island always crowned with a ring of flying birds that we’ve been gazing at from our campsite.



We paddle through a stiff crosswind without difficulty to the wildlife sanctuary, a nesting area for boobies and frigate birds and see what a pure, unreclaimed mangrove island looks like: no raked white sand or rock or conch shell dikes, but a dense growth of saltwater swamp-forest with tall trees held up by arching roots that extend down into the coral reef.


The birds themselves don’t seem disturbed by our visit and some of them display throats inflated like red balloons, part of their mating behavior.



Back at camp we trade stories with Andy and Eman who have been snorkeling in the shallow mangroves on our island.  While they head off to Man O War, we wade into the shallows and explore the fish nurseries among the submerged roots until the receding tide makes it impossible to stay afloat.





Joe and I have our portrait taken in matching FirstLite underwear.


As the sun sets over the western mountains, all seven of us traipse down the path to the big lodge for happy hour.



An elegant athletic woman in a deep v-necked green gown joins Joe and me and Eman on the couch where we’ve been perusing brochures and is delivered a daiquiri by a silent native server.  She and her husband are owners of this place along with ten other people.  She runs a dive-shop in White Rock near Vancouver and leads diving tours here.  Their group bought the place recently from a previous owner who developed it as a labor of love and an experiment in environmentally sustainable construction and operation.

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I’m relieved that it’s too late to make dinner reservations.  We walk back to camp in the dark and haggle amiably about space on the table to boil water for our freeze dried meals.

More photos and movies here
Slideshow here

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