Daily Discoveries: Tobacco Caye, Belize

January 27, 2011 in Belize, North America, Travelogue

If you close your eyes and imagine the blackest of velvet skies, studded with brilliant diamond stars peeking through a canopy of coconut palms waving in a warm night breeze and the rhythmic beat of Garifuna drums, echoing their African roots, punctuating the darkness you will be with us at night on Tobacco Caye.

This little island snoozes through long afternoons. Men sit in hammocks, or lazily rake the sand. Women cook and the smell of conch fritters mixed with the heavy sweet scent of the local ganga hangs heavy in the air. A few tourists with masks and snorkels make their way across the sand. The only real motion is our boys, who are in active discovery mode, working hard and fast to suck every bit of adventure out of their pirate island week.

One of the things I love about little boys is their drive for discovery. Every single day they seem to live with the singleminded purpose to find something, or experience something new.

It’s only nine o’clock, but already they’ve talked AC out of a ziplock bagful of glassy eyed sardines to go with the hand lines he donated to their cause yesterday. They came for Daddy’s knife and are now gleefully hacking the poor, stiff fellows into bite sized chunks and hoping for a barracuda off the dock. Since there’s no metal leader on their line, they’ll be sorely disappointed, but I haven’t the heart to tell them that.

Yesterday was conch discovery day. They brought ashore many, of various species, from their snorkeling expeditions. David showed them how to gauge the size of a “keeper” and then taught them how to clean one. We ate their catch with our fried rice for dinner. Ezra was not a fan, but he quietly cut his into the tiniest pieces he could manage and mixed them in with the rice to make the tough snail as palatable as possible. I much prefer the taste of the meat raw, when it has a pleasant crunch to it and an almost milky, coconut flavour.

So far the big discovery of today has been the hermit crabs. They’ve collected whole buckets full in the past and enjoyed watching them swap shells. But this morning, they realized that the sand, raked clean by day, is a superhighway of hermit crab action by night. They awoke to the signature tracks of a large flat band flanked by tiny scrape marks where a heavy shell has been dragged by pointy little feet through the darkness.

They quickly set to tracking.

It didn’t take long before we heard the shouting that accompanies almost every new discovery. Gabe appeared with a small conch shell, inhabited by the BIGGEST hermit crab I’ve ever seen (and I spent a fair amount of time tracking them in my youth too!) This dude could definitely do some damage with his claws. Gabe gingerly fingered the bandaid on the end of his left index finger, a souvenir from his run in with this fellows little cousin last night.

Who knows what discoveries will be made today? At breakfast, the loose plan for the little men was to circumnavigate the island with their snorkels. At five acres, that’s a fair goal and should take the edge off of their enthusiasm for at least a little while. They were plotting their attack to make maximum use of the current and the wind since they lack fins to propel themselves quickly.

I have one discovery up my sleeve for much later. One that I hope will trump any they make on their own today. We made it last night, sometime after midnight when the moon had almost set and the night was at its darkest. It was Eric who offered to show us, after I looked quizzically at him when he announced he had a “phosphorous date” with a couple of Austrian girls tomorrow night.

We closed the bar, long after the drummers had given up for the night and then padded softly across the sand and out onto the dock furthest from any of the lights still on in bedroom windows. The wind, so blustery all day long, had laid and the surface of the ocean was a rippled black mirror.

“Are you ready?” Eric asked, with his island accented lilt.

And then, he jumped.

The dock rattled as he landed and I gasped as the ocean floor erupted in a symphony of underwater fireworks.

It was as if the milky way was mirrored in marine fireflies as thousands of tiny creatures used bioluminescence to distract whatever creature was creating the dangerous vibration they were sure meant imminent attack.

I laughed out loud and both of the guys started stamping their feet as fast as they could, creating a light show unlike any other.

“Well if THAT doesn’t impress the girls, I don’t know what will!” I giggled.

Eric grinned, “Yeah, man, I hope so!”

We stood for a long time on the dock, frightening a million tiny sea creatures for our own amusement. Eric told us about diving this reef at night and turning off his light and having the entire reef come alive and glow for him. I’d like to do that sometime.

Perhaps it’s not just what I like about little boys, but what I like about being alive in general. The potential everyday to discover something new. The amazing, unpredictable gift that each day is, pregnant with possibility and promise, if only we’ll be present enough to look for it.