Friday, August 26, 2011

Caye Caulker and the Game of Survival In Houston/Bush Airport

The key to the Caye is their motto--"Go Slow!"  This welcome logo is the the Caye's logo, motto, mission, goal, legacy!  Of course it is pretty easy to go slow when the air temperature is 94 degrees F. and the humidity is pretty much the same.  If you walk along the ocean-side path/road the constant breeze makes the climate tolerable, even pleasant at times.  As the road continues behind a row of one and two story buildings the heat/humidity/blaring sun, comes bearing down upon even the slowest wanderer.  A hat is a necessity for me these days.  I'm not one of the Caye Caulker tanned yet.  Of course, a hat makes it hotter, but you can only get so wet from sweat, eventually you are soaked and the occasional breeze starts to cool.  Why don't the others with bare feet and bathing suits sweat?  All of this is just a temporary distraction.  More importantly the tropical scenery occupies my mind.  I'm talking about the real scenery, not the scenery walking around with skimpy coverings.  The palms and flowers remind you that you are not walking along the Lake Erie beach front now.  The Messo-American Barrier Reef, popularly know as the Great Belize Reef (second largest in the world,) lies 1 mile off-shore.  You can see the waves breaking over the corals from the island.  When the tides are low you can see the line of breakers very distinctly.  Even at high tide the tops of the breaking waves can be seen.  Beyond the breakers the deep blue color of the deep ocean stretches on past the horizon.  The color of the water between the Caye and the reef is "Caribbean Blue."  You know, the blue that swimming pools are painted.  The blue you think about when you think about tropical paradises.

The wildlife is always a highlight.  Frigatebirds--Magnificent Frigatebirds ( Fregata magnificens) to be exact, soar overhead.  the females with their white chest and the males all dark (the red throat pouch or gular sac is seen in the males only during mating season.)
Isn't it amazing how the human powers of observation have been honed--that is, when something out of the ordinary comes into view it is all you can do to look away.  As we neared the island on the water taxi the soaring Frigatebirds were the center of our attention.  These strange, exotic, huge creatures were awesome (and that is the literal meaning of awesome--AWEsome!)  Almost prehistoric in form and incredibly large, the Magnificent Frigatebird demands attention.  That is until you have seen that they are the Turkey Vulture of the Cayes.  Now Turkey Vultures (or as we call them in Ohio-- Buzzards,) are also magnificent, but when they are always soaring in the sky above your house you tend to "ignore" them.  I'm sure that this is how our minds stay receptive to change, to new 'dangers' entering our neighborhoods. But magnificent birds are still magnificent.  The same was true when I first saw a mob of kangaroos in Australia's bush, or a lounge of Marine Iguanas on Espanola Island in the Galapagos Archipelago. The number of photos in both cases is evidence of this phenomena.  First sighting--rolls and cards of photos (back when I first saw the iguanas I was using film to photograph.) Finally, after awhile, the unusual was the only thing I shot--the iguana skeleton or the Joie sticking it head out of a pouch.  The same was true here.  All of the travelers with cameras had them pointed at the sky.  Snap, click, "darn"--(They are hard to focus on as they soar above.)  Snap, snap, click!  Eventually--"oh look at the sleepy cat on the railing.  It's just what we do.  We have to to survive in the ever changing always dangerous environment of places like Caye Caulker.  None the less, the Frigatebirds soar, the palms sway and the lure of the ocean screams out its invite.  We are on a Caye, one mile from the second largest barrier reef in the world, what is a biologist to do??   Sail, Sail, relax and Sail.  

A sunset sail is always a great way to get a feel for Caulker's motto.  The sunset is earlier (by the clock,) than it is right now in Ohio.  In Ohio the sunset was about 8:35 or so on August 9th.  Here on the Caye it came about 6:20.  Of course this difference is smaller in the winter months when our sun sets in Ohio are at about 4:50 and the 'go slow' folks on Caye Caulker watch the Sun hit the horizon at about 5:30 or so.
I'm feeding a magnificent Magnificent Frigatebird
But there is more that needs to be done with the Belize Reef.  Visit it.  There are really three ways to visit this reef.  You can dive it (SCUBA,) Snorkel it, or just look at it from a small boat.  All are good.  Some easier than others.  I opted for the snorkel route.  It is shallow by nature and SCUBA might be overkill and anyways, I don't SCUBA much.  Talk about observing the world around you!!  That is the whole purpose of snorkeling.  Corals, and urchins and rays and sharks. Green Morey Eels, schools of colorful reef fish, anemones, conchs and did I mention the Frigatebirds soaring above??   What a world, what a world!!
Conch I found, photo by Judy Jones

The corals were showing signs of recovery from past hurricane damage.  The colors of the older corals looked bland.  Bleached a bit, but not as bad as corals I have seen in the Bahamas.  The new growth on the corals show great color.  It is good to see that at least some of our ocean environments are showing signs of improvement. The "dive" was divided into three distinct environments.  The first spot was a bit deeper and had more larger fish swimming in and around the corals.  The second was shallow and had a sandy/weedy bottom and featured a whole gaggle of rays and nurse sharks the came for the chum that the tour guides threw to them. Finally, the best dive was on a 'coral garden'.  This is where I saw the most coral growth and the best coral colors.  Sun, sea, fish, corals, rays and sharks.  A great place to concentrate on observations.

But the tropics are only a travel site for me.  Eventually thoughts start to drift back to the task of traveling home.  Ten days of being on guard for new scenes, new animals, beautiful plants, and interesting cultures takes it toll.  The thought of becoming human cattle--marched through three flights, immigration, customs and security in two different countries and three different airports seems harder than building a Mayan temple to me.  Especially when one of those airports is Houston's Bush International!!  The airport on the island adheres to the Caulker motto--"Go Slow."  We arrived about  45 minutes or an hour before our scheduled flight and the airline administrator, ground crew, luggage handler, ticket taker and fire department chief (all the same person,) wondered why we were so early.  He expected us to be no later than 15 minutes prior to the scheduled flight time.  Well the 15 seat plane (including the pilot,)  arrived from Ambergris Caye early, so he squeezed us into the small prop plane and we took off about 1/2 hour early.  Why not!

The rest of the trip deserves its own blog entry so stay tuned for the Survival Game called Bush International!!

1 comment:

Stewart M said...

Hi there - nice post - yet another place to add to the wish list.

Interesting how different it looks to Magnetic Island - I would assume your tropical area has more rain - even if they both have coral reefs.

Cheers - SM