Nestled in the clear pristine waters of the Caribbean sea is an island belonging to Belize called Caye Caulker. That island is only 4 miles (6.4 km) long and less than 1 mile (1.6 km) wide and is divided in two by a small channel of water. The channel of water was caused by Hurricane Hattie in 1961 and is called The Split. On The Split is a bar partially extending into the water called the Lazy Lizard where sunbathers relax and party. Next to the Lazy Lizard is a laid-back and relaxed main town area spanning for about 1 mile (1.6 km) with one main sandy dirt street. This main street is lined on one side with restaurants, stores, accommodations, and hammocks, the other side is the beach. On this beach, are docks with a variety of boats, one of those boats is a sailboat. It is that sailboat that took a few of us into the sea, to snorkel in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, drink Rum Punch and Party into the Sunset, and, oh yeah, snorkel in Shark and Ray Alley.
After cruising out into the sea underneath a clear bright blue sky, I donned my snorkel mask and jumped into an ancient other world. The bright uniquely shaped coral gently swayed with the placid current of the water, as if waving a welcome to me. Brightly colored fish dodged in and out of the coral like they were playing a game of tag. An emerald green moray eel gripped by curiosity and a bit of aggression for us getting too close to his hiding spot came out to warn us to back up. Sea turtles glided by, lobsters hung out under coral shelves, and sea urchins intermingled on the seafloor.
Back on the boat, birds looking for fish handouts swarmed our boat. I grabbed a fish, held it up high in the air, and the one that was the savviest, most adept, closeby, and lucky, snatched it from my hand.
We sailed some more, and finally arrived at Shark and Ray Alley. We invited all the sharks around to stop in by chucking a huge chunk of bait into the water. It didn’t take long before they were swarming all around our boat. They brought a bunch of stingrays with them.
Once the waters around our boat were sufficiently teeming with sharks and stingrays, our boat captain said, “Jump in,” but also cautioned us not to step on a shark because we may get bitten and not to step on a stingray because we may be painful spiked by their barbed stingers. How to “jump in” and succeed in not landing on one of these seemed impossible, but somehow I did it.
I could feel them brushing up against my legs as they weaved through them and next to them. The water was about 5 feet (1.5 meters) deep, so it was easy for them to graze my legs as they cruised around the sea floor in a feeding frenzy. They were nurse sharks, which range from 7 feet (2 meters) to 10 feet (3 meters) long, and 200 lbs (91 kg) to 330 lbs (150 kg). Attacks on humans are rare, but not unheard of, and will dispense a clamping bite if aggravated.
There were no clamping bites, attacks, or barbed stinger stabs that day. We drank rum punch, ate freshly made salsa and chips, and danced to reggae music as we sailed back to the island into the sunset.
We danced to Demarco’s, “I Love My Life,” a good reminder that life is short and moments are important. I got to go to a foreign underwater world, breathe in the ocean air, feed birds, and spend time with sharks – and survive it. Sometimes that warrants someone singing at the top of their lungs, “I love my life.”
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“I’d rather look back at my life and say, ‘I can’t believe I did that’ instead of saying ‘I wish I did that.'” – Unknown