Pat’s Wildways: Rain and Shine in Belize

By Pat Foster-Turley
Flooded sidewalks in Placencia during a week of heavy rain.

Bucko and I have found a place in the world that we keep returning to, for longer stays each time, and more to come I’m sure. Placencia, Belize hits all the buttons for us. And, having traveled much of the world throughout our lives this says a lot.

On this recent trip, we aimed to stay there for three weeks, and that’s a really good thing. For the first two weeks, it was mostly raining. It was not only raining but was really flooded where we were. For the first week of our stay, we never saw the sunrise, even though it was right outside our porch. In fact, we never saw the sun at all. Just rain, and rain, and more rain. The waves crashed against this usually placid shore and the winds raged around us. We had to cancel our four-day trip up to the Mayan jungles, since the roads and Mayan ruins there were flooded too. And any plans for snorkeling or kayaking or beach swimming or most any other water activities were on hold too.

But hey, no problem, we are flexible. We donned our water shoes, intended for the snorkeling that was out of the question, but perfect for strolling around town. The normal pedestrian sidewalks were submerged much of the time, but we could follow them by the white tiles we could see under the foot or so of water. We had large umbrellas provided by our hotel. The cooler air temperature was just right for walking, and there were virtually no other tourists around at all. It was wonderful!

The waves tossed wrack, mostly plastic bits, to the shore.

We spent a lot of time hobnobbing with the residents, eating locally prepared food and getting to know our village neighbors by name, and they knew ours. People who live here year-round are used to the occasional seasonal flooding and many we talked to actually enjoyed the cooler weather, just like we did. I had lots of fun walking down the wrack line of the beach where all kinds of things showed up from the offshore winds. Sadly, lots of plastic waste was in the seaweed but I also found conch or whelk egg cases, mermaid purses (egg cases of skates or rays), and many pumice stones that originated from volcanic activity far away. Our lodging was complete with a kitchen, a blender, good internet service, and a wonderful second-story porch where we could watch the sea under cover. Belizean rum, beer, chocolate and fresh fruit were readily available, so even spending hours at our place, we were not suffering at all.

We also found pumice rocks and marine egg casings, like this one from a type of snail (conch or whelk?).

But I must admit it was a glorious morning when I saw our first 5:45 a.m. sunrise right from our porch. By the end of the second week, the sun was shining, the pathways had dried up and it was business as usual. I happily carried the floating raft I brought with me out to the beach in front of our room and floated and swam and bounced over the remnant waves in the wonderfully warm water.

And one day, finally, we woke up to a beautiful dawn reflecting off the once again smooth water’s surface. Time to kayak at last! By 7 a.m. Bucko and I were paddling out to sea. We headed out to the mangroves on the island across from us at one with the large tarpon fish that broke the surface near us, and next to the cormorants diving for prey. Over at the Placencia main beach, we watched the construction workers boarding a boat to take them over to this island, where, sadly, the habitat is being rapidly replaced by more and more buildings. To us, Placencia seems like Amelia Island maybe 15 years ago, before the rampant development hit us. But now, it is hitting here too. We selfishly feel happy that we are old now, and will not be here to see the full transformation. We’ve fought for conservation for decades, but now, we just want to enjoy what nature and peace are still left, wherever we can still find it.

And when the weather changed it was perfect for kayaking!

While we were drowning in Placencia a diving group from Fernandina Beach was also in Belize. We felt sorry for them, but learned from Kathy Russell, their leader, that the weather was fine just one hundred miles away at Ambergris Cay and they had a great dive trip. Tour member Sheila Faricy’s great underwater photos proved it!

You just can’t count on the weather when you travel, but what we can count on is our ability to enjoy whatever comes our way. And believe me, we really enjoy Belize. And now, with a prepaid unused reservation for our planned four days in the Mayan mountains, we will be back again before you know it.  It can’t be soon enough.

Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]