SHARK-RAY ALLEY & CAYE CAULKER
This was my husbands birthday and I figured why not "go out" with a bang right? So I decided to take him swimming with the sharks! YIKES! I had him so freaked out prior to the cruise and a lot of teasing went on about "You've had a good life right?" "You can still work with only 1 arm right?" (He didn't realize they are only nurse sharks and I made the most of it).
We were originally going to do this excursion with a private vendor. I was looking into doing one that took you over in a small plane (which freaked him out even more) and then swam with the sharks. I knew that the cruise excursion took you to Caye Caulker (which I had never been to before) and if you did a private tour by plane you would actually get to head over to Ambergris Cay (which seemed a little more exciting to me). Plus Ambergris Cay would include a snorkel at the barrier reef, which they say that it's a lot better over there than by Caye Caulker. However, we were doing this trip with some friends and some of the sisters wouldn't do this unless it was by ship excursion. I also knew that a lot of the ship excursions would pick you up directly from the ship (instead of having to tender over to the port and then on to another boat), which saved time. I have done this before when we went to Bannister Island (which is now called Starfish Island I believe). So we booked with the ship. I would soon realize that we were actually on the TENDER to the port (ugh) instead of on our way to the excursion...the one thing that I had hoped to avoid.
We were soon ready to start our tour and everyone piled on the boat. The tour operators did their little speech about what was going to happen today and then told us that it was a 1 hour and 15 minute ride. YIKES! I swear I have read it was around 45 minutes. I wasn't too thrilled with this, but figured I would make the best of it with taking pictures.
I amused myself by taking multiple shots of Sakari's wild hair blowing in the wind...it made for some interesting shots and she giggled when we reviewed all of them.About half way to Caye Caulker, they slowed down and told us we were about to go in this little (I'm not sure what they called it) calm area you had to pass through. It was a little canal and it had trees on both sides. Very pretty and very calm.This channel had a lot of mangroves and wildlife.They told us they spot a lot of dolphins and manatees in the area, so keep a look out. They also past around a menu for the place we would be stopping at when we were done with our swim to eat. Then they started going around taking lunch orders from everyone.
I spotted a huge termite home in the trees. Sakari reminded me (and everyone else who was listening) that we had eaten them twice before when in Belize, now making us the "weird" family on the trip.
It definitely was beautiful in the channel, but no manatees or dolphins around.I truely felt like this was just a ploy to get us to all be on the look out while it gave them time to take our lunch orders because as soon as they were done with the orders, the boat sped up again.
We did see some really huge birds up in the tree (I don't remember what they said the name of them was). The driver of the boat decided to get a little closer to them so that we could all get pictures.I mean REAL close...within feet close. If we were any closer, we would have been running into the mangroves. Of course it got a little too close for comfort with the birds and they decided to hit the road (or sky) and fly off. Then we were on our way again...full speed.
Then all of a sudden....STOP! The engines of the boat were killed and everyone got quiet. A dolphin pod was spotted. Is this just a ploy to get our hopes up high and make it look like this was a trip of a life time? No...THERE THEY WERE!!! Real dolphins...in the wild...on our excursion!!! Sakari was so excited.
I took so many pictures of this I was pretty sure my battery would be dead before we ever made it to the sharks. But it was the first time that I had ever seen dolphins in the wild. I haven't even been able to spot them while on the cruise ship pulling out of port or anything. So this was super exciting for me...I mean Sakari. wink wink
We followed them for awhile getting closer and closer. We finally managed to get them over to an area that you could tell was more shallow and we could get better pictures and actually see down into the water where they were at.
Of course the bad thing about being on an excursion with a bunch of other people, instead of being on a private excursion with only a handful of people, is that when something like this happens, you are left to battle for your position to take pictures. Everyone is up and running from side to side to try to see and get a good picture that it's really hard to get that picture yourself. It takes perfect timing to spot the dolphin and be able to focus for that split second on whatever area they will pop up at to get the shot. Then we were having to deal with a little one, who is a dolphin freak and names every stuffed dolphin animal she gets "Foxy Dolphin" from swimming with the dolphins at age 3 in Chankanaab, trying to be able to see them as well. 45" of pure dolphin love versus 5'-6' adults acting like they had never seen a dolphin before and fighting for that position...YES, me being one of them of course! hehe (So not saying this in a negative way...just a joking way of course).
They came within feet of the boat and it was an awesome experience.I believe there were 3 of them most of the time.
As much as none of us wanted to leave the dolphins or the area, we knew we had to move on with the tour. (Now I realize why they tell you it takes 1 hr and 15 minutes to get to the Caye...they factor in the time for looking for dolphins and manatees....which is a good thing and well worth it. I would find that our ride on the way back would be much shorter and we didn't even go through this mangrove channel, which made it quicker).
Moving on...we passed a huge house sitting on a small island in the middle of nowhere. I really wish that I could have got a cleared picture.
hen to find out it wasn't even a house but a boat dock and the "house" only looked like that from the front. On the sides and the back...was no house or walls. LOL I thought this was interesting.
On to Caye Caulker for a restroom stop and to stretch our legs before heading out to the sharks.
Sakari found that Sponge Bob was on vacation there this day too.
We hit the streets to find a local store that we would be able to purchase some ear plugs for the hubbys swim today. I mean if he was going to get eaten by sharks today, at least I wasn't going to let him get another ear infection on top of it. I tell you I am the nicest wife you'll ever meet!
We did find a place that had the soft rubber ones and we were on our way back to the boat to get this party started!!!
It was a very short ride out to the sharks and as soon as we pulled up, here they all came...ready for my husband...I mean lunch...I mean to swim with us.
I was so worried when booking this excursion that we would be on an excursion that wouldn't "lure" the sharks to us. Well, I guess I didn't have to worry about that because the boat arriving meant food was on it and they all came really fast before we could even get "parked".
I managed to get a picture of the hubby looking down at the water at what awaits him. (If only I could have had a shot of the look on his face). I know Sakari squealed with excitement.
Of course for some reason I had to be the first (of my family) to go in the water. I started climbing down the ladder into the water and I paused. I remember the captain of the ship saying "go ahead, it's ok" and the first thing I could think of to say wasn't "I'm a little scared" but instead blurted out "they are right under neath me and I don't want to step on one." hehe, yea I'm sure that was convincing and I'm sure they've heard that excuse before. It's sorta like using "the dog ate my paper" excuse in their book I'm sure.
I finally made it into the water and Sakari was eager to join me. Meanwhile the hubby is still fumbling with his "gear"...yea sure, I'm believing that one. He managed to get a few pictures of us out in the water. I'm sure he wanted to remember us just the way we were...you know, just in case.
Now before entering the water, they were splitting everyone on the boat up in to 2 different groups. They ask for those that have never been snorkeling. Well that wasn't us of course. Then they ask for the non-swimmers or those that couldn't swim well...not us again. We were then informed that we were going to be going with the girl and the other group would go with the guy...who they happen to call "shark man". Why do they call him this? Because he is the one that catches the sharks while we are out in the water!!! I immediately told "shark man" that I wanted to be in his group because I had planned on holding, feeling, touching, kissing or whatever else you can do to a shark, one of them that day. He assured me that when he caught a shark, he would bring it around for everyone to see, feel and hold if they wanted.
The rays were everywhere...just like at Grand Cayman, but this place had a grassy bottom.
Then we spotted the sharks...IN the water with us!! Yikes. Ok, I got this! I gave the hubby one of the cameras...you know to take pictures of his own and to also get pictures of me to prove I was actually in the water. Then I took the other camera (which is why we always have 2 cameras with us on vacation).
I was trying to take as many pictures as I could with capturing both the hubby and Sakari in the water with the sharks in the background.
There were a bunch of ballyhoo fish in the water with us. I remember first seeing these first at Sapphire Beach in St Thomas back in 2010 and was a little freaked out because of their appearance. Back then, I had no idea what type of "swordfish" (I thought) they were. But of course now I know they won't hurt you and they are actually prey for a lot of fish in the ocean.
This large spotted trunkfish guy was following us around. I have noticed that every time we have done a stingray excursion (this will be our 3rd), there is always a rather huge one in the area with the rays. I guess they must get along fine with them, but find it interesting. These guys have the cutest little faces with pucker lips.
Now the people on the boat told us that we would be in 4 feet of water. I'm here to tell you that we definitely were in water well over our heads!! I was not liking it for this reason: On all of the other stingray excursions we have been told that we have to be barefoot. No water shoes! They said you need to plant your feet into the sand and "shuffle" so that you don't step on a ray and hurt them or get hurt.
This excursion, we were told that you HAVE to have water shoes on the whole time in the water. If you didn't bring any, they rented them to you. I found this kind of weird since I had been taught differently by previous excursions.
Well, have you ever tried to wear a pair of water shoes and try to swim in water over your head? It's not easy IMO and they weigh you down. I was struggling while trying to swim or just float still. It just wasn't working out to well for me. If I would have been able to remove my water shoes, I would have been just fine. If I would have been able to touch the ground, I would have been just fine. But it was wearing me out. Then I have Sakari who just has no fear and does her own thing getting further away from me and letting the water carry her the opposite way of where I'm trying to go. I'm telling her to "come this way toward the boat" and she's busy watching the rays and the sharks and I'm sure purposely ignoring me as well. I have been saying for awhile now that I'm going to have to make some type of contraption that attached to her floatie and mine to keep us together so she can't wonder off. I'm going to work on that now.
One thing I have noticed about my pictures when I return is that I can be in the same area, same depth and everything, taking pictures and I will get a different result within seconds. I looked at this picture and thought "ok, why does the water all of a sudden look so blue like we just went deeper, when I know we didn't and then Sakari turns red/orange like she's burnt?" I can only come up with the reason being the sun. Maybe the sun went behind the cloud and caused the white balance to be thrown off? I'm not sure. This happens all the time and sometimes it makes a weird effect in the picture. Non-the-less, I'll take them and enjoy them anyhow.
Remember how I take one camera and the hubby takes the other? This is another reason why...if I shared the camera with him, I would probably never get a good shot of the entire excursion. He is not to be trusted with the camera under any circumstance...and I learned this years ago. Most of the time he doesn't focus. He's worse than me with my walk and snap pictures. Other times he'll cut things off...like a shark head or two. You will also die holding your breath waiting for him to get some pictures of you in the water as well...not gonna happen (and didn't) Sigh* Then somehow he'll managed to screw up the settings...even when I dialed in the settings prior to handing him the camera. Now I know for a fact there's NO WAY this picture (and all of his pictures he took) was on the "underwater" setting. There's just no way. With the pictures all turning out green, he had to have somehow switched the settings to land. So I will only be showing you 1 lonely picture he took, just to show you what I mean.
Doesn't it remind you of those old waterproof throw-away disposable camera pictures you see? For those of you that don't want to invest in an actual water-proof camera, but whine that you want great snorkeling picture but don't want to pay the price of one (which I personally think there's some great prices out there on point and shoot underwater cameras), these are the pictures you'll end up with.
So while we are swimming, the hubby managed to lose one of his ear plugs and had to go back to the boat. I was having an issue with my snorkel and every time I cleared it, I would get water back in it and get a mouthful. (This has happened to me a few times and it gets aggravating). I finally gave up and decided to struggle my way back to the boat.
Our "group leader" was on the boat and had some of the feeding fish out to feed to the sharks/rays and the seagulls and gave one to Sakari.
Sakari was able to throw them up in the air and the seagulls would go after it, sometimes diving to the water surface to grab it before a shark came along to scoop it up.
When she gave Sakari the fish, she said "Now you have to break them apart into smaller pieces to feed them" and Sakari starts riping the fish apart with her bare hands. LOL Sometimes I think she should have been a boy, but then again, I was the same way growing up and use to bait everyones fishing poles with worms for them.
Of course being the person that Sakari is and growing up with a mom in the medical field that works in the gory ER with traumas, she's gotten use to me watching weird surgeries online and can name off body parts and the shapes. It does not gross her out at all. She's riping apart fish and checking out the insides and says "look, there's the fishes heart, it's red" Only my child would take the time to check out the insides of a fish I tell ya.
Once we were back on the boat, I noticed that the other group was way over in front of the ship and a little ways away. Then I also noticed that they were STANDING in the water!! Wait...what the heck. No wonder they said we would be in 4' of water only for me to find out that we weren't. The 4' water was over there. Sigh* I would have much rather been over there than struggling to swim with water shoes on. I also noticed sharkman was over there letting them touch and hold sharks. So much for him "coming around to everyone" with them. I was a little "ticked" about that and it was going to be the highlight of the excursion for me...that never happened.
They had told me once I had said something about it that I could get back in the water and go over there, but at that point, I was tired and declined to do so.
Then the "shark man" came over to the boat and started catching the sharks in front of us.
Once he was over that way, the sharks started coming back. The hubby decided to get back in the water to touch one.
As he entered, they were waiting on him.. I noticed that sharkman was drifting futher and futher away from the boat as the hubby was trying to get into the water. But yet, there were still some pretty nice sized sharks in the water by the boat.
He went over to where the sharkman was at to see if he could hold one on his birthday. But they were so far out by that time that it was hard to get a picture. I kept telling him to come closer, like when he was right beside the boat, but it just wasn't working.
The one and only complaint I have about my 2 cameras is that they really suck when it comes to zooming in. The quality goes down the drain. I sometimes find it's better off to shoot a distance picture and then crop it closer than to actually zoom.
I was able to only get TWO pictures of the hubby with the shark. He was just too far away and I zoomed. One picture was completely blurry and the other (below)...well, since he was so far away, it was really hard to tell what he was doing or holding from just looking at the picture. Had they stayed right beside the boat, you would have been able to tell it's a shark and seen all of it. Sigh*
Of course at this point Sakari was a bit upset that they hadn't brought a shark for her to hold when she was in the water. The hubby was back out of the water and at this point and she was letting the tears flow about it. It kinda turned into an upset moment and I hate to see her like that. I know how much she wanted to hold a shark or "pet" it, but the sharkman was done with catching the sharks and had already climbed on the boat. There wasn't anything that could be done now and I had a teared up child. Sharkman had promised to bring sharks over to our group and let us touch them and the promise had not been fulfilled.
There's one thing that I have learned over the years and cruising...when you book an excursion with the ship, these various vendors do not take the time to assure that everyone on the excursion gets the same experience. Plain and simple....which is why I always have reservations about booking with the ship unless it involves something more that benefits me (like not having to tender to a port or it's the only way to get to a particular spot).
With a private excursion, you always get a lot less people on them and they cater to each individual. They take the time to make sure EVERYONE gets to do the same thing and everyone has the best experience possible. I have also noticed that excursions where there are children involved, they will take extra time to make sure they go out of their way to thrill the child beyond belief with the animals. I have also noticed that in Sakari's short few years of life and even shorter time of cruising, when they find out all of the things she has done already while cruising, they really make sure she has a great experience. This did not happen and it left me a little disappointed in our choice.
I have vowed to return to Belize and next time around I will go with a private vendor to see if we have a different experience. She WILL get to touch her shark some day. I promise.
Now we are all headed back to Caye Caulker for our lunch and boy was I hungry. We passed this area and they called it the "beach" and said if we had time, we were welcome to walk over to this area after lunch and check it out or go snorkeling. It didn't look like a "beach" to me and was just a hang out place where people were just lined down a pier sunbathing. I honestly didn't think it looked too appealing.
They announced that we would be going to see some "really huge fish"...I knew right away that they were talking about the tarpon that I had read about. I told Sakari in my "I'm so excited voice" about the huge fish we were about to see. She was not talking to me at this point and gave me that "I'm not interested" look...as if it was all my fault she did not get to touch the shark.
We arrived at the spot, which is right there at Caye Caulker, where the tarpon where located.The tarpon were really huge, just like I had expected and seen pictures of. Sharkman was holding up fish above the water and they were jumping up really high and grabbing the fish.
They gave several of the adults some fish to feed them and one lady managed to get one to jump really high up out of the water and take it out of her hand while her hubby caught it all on video...she squealed like it scared her to death.
Finally they gave Sakari a fish, but I had watched a video on youtube prior to going here and seen a guy that was feeding them and filming. By the time he was done feeding them, his hands were all bloody and I completely freaked out when I seen Sakari holding the fish above the water knowing that they have teeth and could probably swallow her entire arm.I pulled her back...again, I managed to lose "mommy points" with her. Sigh* I tried to explain that they bite and then she told me to do it. You could see them circling and looking up at my hand with the fish in it. Once again, I'm a little freaked out. I would raise it higher and higher to the point I knew they were not coming up out of that water. LOL Then of course I gave the excuse that they just not be that hungry anymore and threw the fish in the water to them to eat. Whew, I had escaped a close one.
We arrived to the boat dock and where we would eat our lunch. The purpose of ordering lunch the first time around was to have our lunch ready for us when we arrived. It was not. Others did manage to get their meals, but we waited quite a bit for ours. They also had assigned seats at the tables as well, which I did not like since we were unable to sit with our friends we booked this trip with.
Our food finally came and it was yummy.
I ordered the shrimp kabob, cole slaw, and beans and rice for me and sis and the hubby got a hamburger and fries. We ate every last bit of it and was good and full.
The one thing I found odd was they didn't have diet soda here. I have never ran across a place that didn't sell it and I know the stores there had it in them because I had purchased one before we left for our shark tour (when we bought the ear plugs).
After lunch Sakari headed over to the water to gather some shells.
One of the ladies there that kept wanting to braid her hair found her a conch shell, well Sakari found it and picked it up and the lady told her she could have it. (Rolling my eyes at this point because I knew she was trying to work in some type of tip for this statement like if she had "given" it to her). But at least Sakari was happy at this point.
We were told we were allowed to go wonder around the island until 2:10pm and then we were to meet back at the lunch tables. So...off we went to explore and for me, to take pictures of this little town.
We found an entire area in front of a store that was loaded with bottle caps. I'm not sure if it was their way of decorating or not but I found it interesting.
Sakari is gullible at her age and doesn't have the concept of when these hawkers approach you trying to get you to buy things that you are supposed to hand them money for it. She has had things put in her hands, around her neck and so on and then them putting their hand out for money from me and instead getting their item put back in their hand. She thinks everyone out there is so nice and just ready to hand her anything she wants. She falls for it every time and any time we are in port you will hear me saying "Sakari keep walking, Sakari don't stop, Sakari get over here, No Sakari" because she'll get suckered into something that I have to get her out of.
Here is a table full of polished conch shells for sale. Of course a hawker runs over and gives Sakari a bright shiney one in exchange for her older one that she just got out of the ocean. Hmmm, she's excited that she is going to get one of the pretty ones. She just don't understand and I'm left handing the pretty one back and giving her the old one back and having to explain to her why hers is better. Sigh* It sometimes gets aggravating for me. I can tell you that I'm the type of person that wants to be left alone when shopping...even back home. If you leave me alone while I'm shopping, I'm more likely to buy things from you. If you are hasseling me and pushing stuff in my face, I won't buy a darn thing off of you. I wish they could understand this and have a lesson on not being so pushy to the Americans. They would probably sell a lot more IMO.
I just love it when places are brightly painted different colors and this place was colorful. I don't believe there are any cars on this Caye. We seen a lot of bikes and go carts and I believe that's pretty much how they all get around. Which is neat.
We went down the main road and the headed down a side street. Man it was hot! We tried to avoid walking in the direct sunlight and headed for every shady spot in the street we could find.
At one point, on the side street, we were able to look both directions and see the water. This made us realize just how small this small place was.
The hubby decided to buy some sunscreen. He bought the highest spf he could find...I swear it must have been like 110spf or something like that. I decided to purchase another Belize teeshirt saying "You better Belize it".
We managed to get back to our meeting place around 2pm and had some time to spare, so we would just sit around at the tables for awhile and hang out with the locals and the tour guides.
We were told that the dogs around there are all "local neighborhood dogs" ...meaning they had no home and just roamed the neighborhoods. (Sakari hiding behind daddy because she just swam with sharks and stingrays and is scared of a dog).
Most people had headed back to the boat and we just hung out with the tour people.
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The tour company gave us a brochure with their information on it. The name of their company was H2O. I'm not sure if they give private tours or just use the ships as their main source of income on cruise days. I know the lady said she did this job on cruise days and was a bartender on the other days.
Then after that, they pulled out tee shirts to try to solicit everyone with. They had their names on the shirts...which was weird and I kept thinking why would we want a tee shirt with your company name on it? I'm pretty sure most people would want a tee shirt with the shark-rays tour saying they done that. I didn't really see anyone buy any of them, and if they did, I would like to know what reason you had for buying it???
We finally headed down to the boat and sat there for a little while. Then all of a sudden some people from the restaurant came down the dock and called off several names...one of which was ours. They said we didn't pay our bill. GASP! How embarrassing. We purchased 2 excursions with the cruise line and for some reason I thought the meal was included on this. I guess I was wrong and it was the meal for our Cozumel excursion that was included in the price. Geesh. It also confused me because this day was so much like the day we went to Stingray City in Grand Cayman....and the meal was included. You were on the boat, you ordered your food to be ready for you when you returned from swimming with the rays and you ate when you arrived at Rum Point. Oh well, leave us to be the family that is scorned upon after that. Honest mistake and I gave a good tip after that for my mistake...it actually wiped my cash stash out, but a few dollars. Oops.
We finally headed out from the dock around 2:30pm, but first they did a roll call to make sure they weren't leaving anyone behind.
The ride back to the port was a lot faster of course. We didn't go through the channel where you see the dolphins and manatees.
When we got on the boat leaving Caye Caulker the tour lady approached us and told us that the ship would not allow us to carry the conch shell back to the ship. I sat here for a minute and thought about this knowing that I had done it before. She went in to this VERY long detailed explanation that they don't allow conch shells to be brought back because, by law, you have to purchase them from a vendor and the vendor is supposed to write on the shell the date it was caught from the ocean and their name on it proving that you did not take it from the ocean yourself, which is against the law. She kept on and on about it and...of course, Sakari thought she was going to take her shell from her and started tearing up. Here we go again...
So in the end, she said she had brought some markers just for this incident and could write something on it, like Sakari's name and the date and she should be ok. She wrote it on there and once we arrived back to the ship, they didn't even look at it or take it out of our bag. I'm still not sure about this, but did see a huge overflowing box of conch shells under the security scanner desk as we walked in. I only noticed them taking the shells when people were actually walking onto the ship with them in their hands. So, I'm not sure of what this story is all about and if they would have taken Sakari's shell if she had been carrying it.
Swimming with the sharks and rays was an amazing adventure (despite the major upset of not actually getting to touch or hold them). This is one of those "once in a life time" experiences and if you get the chance to do it, I highly recommend it!
Would I do it again? Absolutely! However, I would book with a private local vendor next time around. I know with using a local vendor, you are assured to get that personal one-on-one experience that I was looking for.
Would I recommend using the company H20? Probably not for several reasons. We were assured that we would get to at least touch the shark and that "sharkman" would come around to everyone and this did not happen. We were supposed to be split up into 2 groups and our group leader was not even with us in the water. There was no interation, direction, or help. I did not feel safe trying to swim with the current and keep an eye on my little one, who was drifting and swimming off. I struggled and was tired trying to keep up with everything and felt a little unsafe without our leader even there with us. I also did not appreciate us having "assigned seating" for lunch. What is this? Elementary school? We did not get to sit with our friends. I also did not care for them trying to solicit their apparel to us.