After a grueling 5 months, finally finishing my greenhouse floor and about 9 months since my last vacation, I decided I had earned one. This vacation was a little different. I was determined to focus on new experiences, have a goal, and do my best to accomplish it wherever I chose to go. I considered the wildlife that I have hoped to see living in Belize but have not seen so far. While I have never seen a jaguar, they do live in my backyard already. I decided I wanted to hopefully see sea turtles and American crocodiles. A little research suggested San Pedro was the (easiest and) best place to go. So San Pedro Town it was.
First Impressions of San Pedro
Local people from San Pedro describe Caye Caulker as what San Pedro used to be 20 years ago. So, I guess that means San Pedro is no longer such a great place in the grand scheme of things. This would be my first visit but I am sure not my last visit to San Pedro. While the ocean, ocean breezes and palm trees are appealing, if noise, golf cart congestion and construction development are your ideas of paradise you will be in paradise for sure. I have never been to San Pedro before, but I dare say that golf carts are ruining the island atmosphere there. But I am only a visitor.
Life in the jungle: I arrived at the San Pedro water taxi in Belize City right at 9 AM with no ticket purchased yet. Purchasing my ticket took waiting in line for 10 minutes with only one person in front of me to buy their ticket (SMH). The 9 AM water taxi departed at 9:10 AM and I missed the boat by about 40 seconds. Next water taxi at 10:30 AM. The trip to San Pedro costed $59 USD (return) and takes an hour and a half. My first impression was that San Pedro is overrun with golf carts.
Green Iguanas at the iguana reserve
I was determined to take my first day easy. I am here for a few days anyways. Waiting for check-in at the Sandbar Hostel, I had my first American-style hamburger in basically 3 years (not including Burger King in Guatemala in January and all the Big Macs I had in Mexico on my bike ride). It was my best meal this year so far. Two beers, a hamburger and fries for $15 USD. After I checked in, I went looking into options for snorkeling. I have never snorkeled before and it might even be 20 years since I put my head under water or swam, possibly longer. When inquiring about options at a dive shop, I let the guy talk me into a combo deal that included an introduction to and actual scuba dive along with snorkeling for tomorrow. Like I said I haven’t even put my head under water in over 20 years. To put a scuba tank for the first time was going to be a big deal for me. But I have learned when an opportunity to leave your comfort zone comes up you say yes without a second thought.
On my way back to the hostel I did a tiny bit of exploring. I visited the local Roman Catholic church because Roman Catholic churches generally have really nice/beautiful interiors. I then got an ice cream at Western Dairies and I visited the Iguana Eco Sanctuary. The Iguana Eco Sanctuary is sort of locally famous as a result of an islander doing his best to protect the iguanas and their local habitat and educate tourists about the iguanas. I was shocked at how small an area the sanctuary encompassed and how built up everything was around the sanctuary.
San Pedro Catholic Church
In the evening I enjoyed beers and the breezes right off the ocean. The last time I was around so many tourists, especially Caucasians was in Tikal back in January. But even then, there weren’t that many tourists like there are here and this is the slow season. Part of me was in a little culture shock from regular life.
Iguana Eco Reserve
Look what I found. My favorite drink. I have never before seen in Belize.
Life in the jungle: This morning getting instructions and what to expect with scuba diving had me feeling anxious. This was way more than I signed up for. As I mentioned I feel it’s been over 20 years or longer since I went swimming and put my head underwater. The feelings inside my stomach after hearing the breathing tests they wanted me to complete reminded me of getting behind an 18-wheeler for the first time when I was 40. Along with my claustrophobia, this was going to be tough. And it was. It took a long time to get comfortable in the water and certain breathing tests that you are required to pass in order to dive. I got a lot of salt water in my mouth and I kept failing my breathing tests horribly. My guide actually felt bad for me. We had gone out with a snorkeling group. On the tour, we visited two spots. The first stop is Hol Chan Marine Reserve and then Shark Ray Alley. While the snorkeling group snorkeled, I attempted to learn how to dive. When the group returned to the boat my lessons came to an end.
In my scuba gear
From Hol Chan Marine Reserve we went to Shark Ray Alley. Shark Ray Alley is snorkeling only. It was super cool to snorkel with Nurse Sharks. I am not even sure if I have ever seen a shark even from a boat before. The guides chum (release bait to) the sharks to attract them to swarm around the boat. While snorkeling I kept drifting (accidentally and intentionally) right into the school of Nurse Sharks. One guide (already in the water) kept pulling me away from them and the other guide (in the boat) kept warning me to give the sharks more distance hence they accidentally bite my hand(s). They had a really neat but rough rubbery texture to their skin. I think I got to touch about 6 of them.
Upon returning to land, I rented a bike and went out to ACE Wildlife Animal Rescue. ACE’s original focus was strictly crocodiles but locals kept bringing them injured sea birds. So now crocodiles are only a small part of their mission. They house a few crocodiles (that can never be released back into the wild) and assorted other wildlife that can also never return back to the wild.
Chris from ACE’s talking about a blind iguana they care for
For my visit, I was more focused on learning about the status of the American Crocodiles here on the caye. Talking to Chris one of the main guys running the rescue I was told how he has seen maps of the entire caye and how almost all of Ambergris Caye has already been subdivided and sold off for future condos even including some areas of Bacalar Chico Nature Reserve. So pretty much the entire Caye at some point will be completely destroyed by human development. So much for Belize having an environmentally sustainable vision. We talked about being trapped in paradise. How I sometimes feel trapped on my farm because I don’t have the freedom to travel (because of house security reasons) and how he is trapped in all of this noise and congestion. I said I couldn’t understand how people could think of this as paradise. He agreed 100% and said he wished he could leave for a quieter destination. He mentioned that the only reason they stay on the caye is for the animals. If they leave there is no one to care for injured wildlife.
Interesting signage considering the land behind the sign is ruined forever.
Probably what shocked and disturbed me the most was how he said how they gave up on their mangrove reforestation project. He said there was simply no point in continuing the project. Mangrove forests are the most important trees found on an island. But mangrove grows extremely slowly. There is simply no point in (re)planting mangroves when the government has written this caye off for money. This really shocked me hard. I mean hard. The best ACE hopes to accomplish from an environmental perspective is to rescue, rehabilitate, and release (mostly) sea birds. I sort of felt defeated by their conclusion that there was ultimately no hope for the caye long term if things didn’t drastically change. Of course, they won’t because all the land is already sold and everybody wants their tiny peace of paradise.
And by the way, a few months back they completed an island-wide crocodile survey and discovered drastically reduced populations across the island including in the Bacalar Chico Nature Preserve. Between poaching, habitat destruction and lack of suitable nesting areas the population has been drastically reduced. Yet the locals think there are lots of crocodiles because the few that are left are living where the people live attracted by garbage, discarded food and dogs.
San Pedro – the noise, development, dust, congestion. But when part of the American dream you have been brainwashed into thinking that paradise is retiring on a Caribbean Island regardless of the destruction of natural habitat, I guess this is paradise for someone.
Before and after. Fulfilling the American dream.
I had every intention to bike to Secret Beach this evening to see if I could spot some glowing crocodile eyes from the beach. But I was getting around the island with a rented bike and I find these sand cruiser bikes very uncomfortable for my tailbone. On my back to the hostel, I grabbed an ice cream at Western Diaries. Today was about a 14 km bike ride and all around a very full day.
A new San Pedro tradition
Yum. Another first for me in Belize.
Today really had me do some reflection. I know governments have hijacked the climate change debate for carbon tax money. It’s 100% about money in their pockets, they do not care. Virtually every form of renewable energy today has an even bigger environmental cost than fossil fuels. The best I can come up with is: Don’t litter, don’t cut down any trees unnecessarily. Support as many trees being planted as possible. Be thankful for the small environmental victories in your lifetime. But realize all of these victories are temporary. Those victories are only temporary until money sells out the victory down the road. And every victory will be sold out eventually. The planet as we know it will be destroyed eventually. And realize that the governments have no actual concerns for the environment. Their motives are 100% financial and tax-related. This attitude may sound helpless and pessimistic but, in a way, it freeing for me. Think about it, it is actually freeing. Besides, who are we really fooling? Do you honestly think humankind will be flourishing in 1,000 years? And by all means, do what you can do as ACE now does. They find their meaning and purpose in helping the local wildlife that crosses their path. Surely that is a more fulfilling purpose than the all-American dream of retiring to a Caribbean Island at the expense of its natural habitat.
More of the future