02.02.2013 - 05.02.2013
I woke each morning to dark skies, heavy rain and cool temperatures. I also woke to a sense of foreboding about the sailing trip I was waiting on. I am not a hardy individual and suffer terribly from the cold. It’s manageable when I am Ireland; I can buffer myself from the worst excesses of the climate with a wardrobe of fleeces, down jackets and waterproofs of all shapes and varieties. But on a backpacking trip in the tropics, well that’s a different story.
Two evenings before departure I decided I was going to pull out. The company were fine about it, but suggested I attend the trip briefing the following evening before making my final decision. On attending the meeting I was doubly certain that the trip was not for me. That was it, done and dusted. Sure, I had wasted 6 days on the island and sure I would loose a fair sized deposit, but hey ho. As we moved off I got speaking to a couple of the shipmates, Alissa and Jeanne from the States and English Matt, who began a charm offensive so slick and persuasive that after about two minutes I decided I was going to go after all. I didn’t let on though; I said I would think about it, wanting to maintain the myth that I am a hard nut to crack.
To be fair, it wasn’t raining when we left the next morning. But it was pretty gloomy, not quite the picture postcard image conjured up when you talk about a sailing trip in the Caribbean. Most of my 20 or so shipmates were bundled up as warmly as was possible and I was relieved to observe that the sisters from Holland looked a thousand times more miserable than I was feeling. About two hours later we dropped anchor for the first of the days’ snorkelling adventures. The eager half of the posse stripped off immediately, while the other half were divided amongst the ‘you got to be joking’ crew (thankfully, there was more than just me) and the hmmmers and haaaaers. There was no doubt that more fun was to be had in the water. As you would expect, people were raving about what they could see when snorkelling on the reef. Furthermore they and the crew members, armed with spear guns, went out fishing for dinner and came back with loads of goodies. Lobsters were caught having a dander along the ocean bed and they too were put aside for fresh ceviche that evening. My guilt about not snorkelling escalated with each stop, not just because I was missing out on all the wonderment. The fact I was paying a lot of money to do this also lay heavy on my frugal mind.
Late afternoon we pulled into Rendevouz Caye, 1,400 square foot of fine white sand, and our home for the evening. I really couldn’t believe how magical it was, a tiny dot of white sand surrounded by ocean. And us. I was very happy I had decided to come on the trip. Running round the island in a fit of excitement took less than a minute. We took to putting up our tents while the crew got to work on making our dinner. The dark sky has remained with us all day and I was relieved we could pitch the tents under the Palapas, thus offering some sort of protection should it rain. Glow in the dark rum punch was consumed as we worked. Dinner for twenty was fantastic, especially since it was cooked on a 2 ring hob in the hull of the boat. Ceviche (raw fish marinated in lemon juice) of conch and lobster, followed by a whole range of dishes made with the fish caught that day. There was plenty of booze on the go too, large quantities of it being consumed by four fellow shipmates from the Emerald Isles. Two of them were brothers from Dublin. They were scrawny malnourished looking things with inner city accents so strong I rarely understood them first time around. They looked as if they’d never been outside the M50, so I was rather amazed they were on a tour of Central America and South America. I was also amazed at the speed at which they, and their more polished female companions, tore into the alcohol. And, remained dedicated to its consumption throughout the trip. I liked them though, especially the girls.
I headed to bed at the rock n roll hour of nine o’clock, in quiet dread of what might lie ahead. On the odd occasions I camp, the weather is rarely on my side and I have many a tale of woe to tell on my return. My fear of course was about the cold, especially as we had no sleeping bags. However I had managed to wrap up really well and although I wouldn’t have described myself as warm, I wasn’t cold either. Praise be and all that. The rain didn’t begin till around 5am, rain so heavy that the noise was absolutely deafening. I kept telling myself we were fine, protected by the Palapa not to be bothered by the noise. I told myself that for quite a number of hours, but as time progressed I could feel the edge of my sheets getting wetter and wetter, but at least it was only the edges. At about 8, my tent mate Jocelyn sat up. As she did so, water began dripping from her beautiful long hair. Then I noticed her back, her jacket was soaking wet, her shorts, soaking wet. For hours she had been lying on a sopping wet mattress and sheets. She was soaked to the skin. Compared to her I was a dry as a bone. I felt both elated (I’m only damp) and guilty (I’m only damp). It seemed that with the wind direction, most of the rain had come in to her side of the tent. Furthermore, I had been saved by my nearby shorts and day pac; they had managed to soak up a fair bit of the water near me. What a lucky escape. The Irish brigade appeared to survive the onslaught totally unscathed. After putting on an impromptu adaptation of Riverdance, they apparently went to bed at 4.30am and due to a state of severe inebriation, slept soundly not even noticing the wind or rain. After failing to get up well after at the arranged hour, the captain stood outside their tent blasting an air horn. Did it rouse them? You must be joking. They slept on like babies
The big problem for most people was that they came, as instructed, with only one set of clothes. I remember the breakfast scene vividly; cold, subdued folk in damp clothes sheltering from the wind and rain under the Palapa, wondering what the day might had in store for us. Due to the rough conditions our departure was delayed for a few hours and even Kevin, the effervescent Captain looked glum and dejected. However when we eventually set sail, the gloom lifted and although the weather wasn’t too good, it wasn’t too bad either. After the lucky escape in the tent, Nora decided to buck up her attitude, so when the boat put down anchor for the first snorkel stop of the day, she was up front, flippered and goggled. The water wasn’t so cold and the snorkelling was fantastic. To add to the golden gold, we were told that our destination for the evening, Tobacco Caye, had wooden cabins. Because the mattresses and sheets were still wet from the night before, there was a strong possibility we would be allowed to stay in the rooms. Wooooooo hoooooooo.
Tobacco Quay, perched almost on top of the barrier reef, was a delight. Scattered with palm trees, brightly painted wooden cabins, a few locals and a few tourists, it was just what the Doctor ordered. Even better, it had a Palapa covered bar, meaning that I no longer had to drink the glow in the dark/radioactive Rum punch in order to get squiffy. I could return to my beloved Belkin beer. After a snorkel we were shown to a glorious cabin, replete with bunk beds, shower and a flushable toilet. I was ecstatic; there are no other words for it. Later that night the crew cooked up a feast of barbequed lobster and fish kebabs and I grew very drunk on good food, happiness and only a few Belkins. Despite some pretty gloomy moments, the trip had been great and it was lovely for me to be with people. This was the first time in ten weeks that I had spent more than a cursory hour or two with someone. When you are on your own, you have to actively work on making things happen. When you are with a group of people, nice people, life just flows along. It was great just to be in the flow of things.
After a further night of torrential rain, we were greeted by a bright blue sky. And, rather unbelievably, after what had gone before, a day of glorious sailing in perfect Caribbean conditions. I still smirk when I look at the photograph below, taken by a fellow shipmate. It really is us. It really is perfect. Jeanne, Alissa and Matt, thank you for persuading me to go.