When I really think about it, think about what makes up our lives, it seems that it is a series of moments. Moments that add up to minutes, minutes to hours, hours to days, and days to years. Years and years of life, filled with individual moments. Sometimes these moments are amazing, sometimes they are sad and somber, others seem unimportant or bland. And sometimes, there are moments that are magical. Moments that become seared into your memory that you hope to never forget. In this blog post, I am going to share a series of moments that I hope to never forget.
A quick overview before I start that. After our crew left Roatan, Kyle and I spent a while longer there, snorkeling, doing some boat projects, and we moved to a different anchorage in French Harbor. We went to the grocery store, got a couple beers at a bar, did lots of swimming, and enjoyed the reef system as much as possible. We then sailed from Roatan to a chain of Islands called Cayo Cochinos. These were even more magnificent than anything we could have expected. We felt it was like the South Pacific of the Caribbean. Sadly, while we were there, my phone fell into the ocean, and I lost most of my photos. So hopefully sharing my moments as well as the photos from Kyle’s phone, will give an idea of how incredible these islands are. After Cayo Cochinos we sailed back to Utila. We had a lovely few days there, tried to go to Mango Tango but they were closed (sad face) but we did visit the Chocolate Factory. We got Covid tests and checked out of the country. We then set sail to Belize. We had not planned to go to Belize, but as is the theme of this adventure, it made the most sense logistically and with our timeline, so to Belize we went. Plus, neither of us have ever been to Belize, so we were super intrigued to explore yet another new country. Usually before we go to a country, I do tons of research and have everything all figured out. This time, other than the check-in procedures and Covid situation, I didn’t do much research. Instead, I decided to just figure it out along the way. So far, I’m very thankful I made that choice. Here are the most memorable moments that have led up to where I am right now: at an anchorage in Placencia, Belize. The loveliest seaside village near the South end of Belize.
-Cayo Cochinos in the distance: We have been sailing for a few hours. The motor is off, and the sails are full. Since we left Roatan, we have been able to see the islands that make up Cayo Cochinos, but for most of the morning they have just been small little dots on the horizon. Now we are approaching them, and they are growing bigger and bigger by the minute. To our left is the largest of the islands. The water leading up towards the island is a deep blue. And then it fades into a turquoise, making the location of the reefs obvious. The turquoise water fades into white sandy beaches. The beaches are narrow, and quickly the landscape grows upward. And it keeps going upward. The trees take over the shoreline and are a dense green of various colors. It’s so sunny and the green so vivid, that I can smell it. It smells earthy and fresh like the rainforests in Costa Rica. Waves gently fall on the Eastern shore, but just barely. They are at point in between gently lapping and crashing. Somewhere in between. On our right is another island protruding out of the ocean. It is slightly smaller than the one on our left, but just as grand. Just as green. Just as vivid. The contrast of the flat blue ocean to these mini mountains protruding from what seems like nothing, is shocking. It is making me and Kyle giddy. We keep running to the bow of the boat and just staring in awe. In between these two islands are at least 10 tiny little islands. The tiniest specks of land. Pure white beaches with scattered palm trees. They fit perfectly in the frame that the two large mountainous islands have created in front of us. And behind all of this, behind the beauty of Cayo Cochinos… is mainland Honduras. The mysterious place that I long to explore. The mountains are huge. They are towering over La Ceiba. They are so tall that as I follow them from their base, upward, they are interrupted, disappearing for a while behind the clouds so you think that’s where they end. But your eyes keep moving up and beyond the clouds the tips of these mountains protrude proudly into the sky. I stare at them, knowing that I will be back to uncover what is within these mysterious mountains. All the while, Safi is surging along, bringing us closer and closer to the anchorage that will be our home for the next 4-5 evenings. The energy between me and Kyle is high, and we sit on the bow of the boat while the autopilot keeps Safi on course. And we laugh and hold hands and point at all the buoys in the water marking the dive and snorkel spots. And we smile.
-Pastel colors and something in the water: Kyle is down below reading his book. He is sprawled out on the settee, his head propped on a pillow. I find myself sitting in the cockpit. The sun has just set and the bay around us is still. The sky has exploded into orange, red, green, and blue pastel colors following the sunset. The water is reflecting this and colorful wavelets dance on the surface. I am taking deep breaths and looking around me at the mountains of Cayo Cochinos and of mainland Honduras in the distance. And then I see something. A sea turtle! I have seen like 5 since we arrived the day before, but I get excited each time. Wait… that’s not a sea turtle… what is that? Is that a person?? There are some people who live on these islands, maybe they are swimming.. but they are pretty far out there. No.. that’s not a person.. what is that?? I stand up to get a closer look. It’s a DOG! A dog?! What is that dog doing?! “Kyle! Come out here, there is a dog, just swimming across the bay, but the bay is huge and he’s so far out there. Kyle come here!” Kyle comes climbing out of the cabin. “What are you so upset about?!” I hand him the binoculars and point to the dog. “Huh! Look at that, a dog just swimming along,” Kyle says, not surprised at all. “Kyle, he’s so far out there. What do you think he’s doing? Should I go help him in the dinghy?” “Danielle, that dog can probably swim farther than it can run. It’s fine. My dog used to swim across the entire lake.” Kyle goes back down below, and I keep my eyes peeled on the dog in case it needs rescuing. It looks like he/she was swimming from one house on the island to another house, all the way across the bay. It is getting darker and darker, and it’s hard for me to keep my eyes on the dog’s pointy ears. But I squint and I watch until it makes it to the shore on the other side. By the time the dog is safely across I have calmed down and I sit back down in the cockpit laughing. How random. The sky is now a solid dark blue. Not quite the nighttime black, but just before that. A few stars are poking through the light cloud coverage, and I finish my breathing and stretching. I smile.
**Follow up on the dog- the next morning around 9am, I am sitting in the cockpit reading, and there is the dog again! This time heading from where it landed the night before, back to where it had come from… but this time it has a friend with him! They are just swimming next to each other. It takes them over 20 minutes to get from one shore to the other and they stay with each other the entire time. I watch as they land on the rocks of the opposite shore. One dog climbs out first but doesn’t leave until the other dog is also out of the water. And just like that, they continue on into the trees. I imagine they are smiling.
-Hiking to a lighthouse: We found a trail on the main island with the help of an employee at the somewhat abandoned dive resort. “Stay to the right to go to the lighthouse, stay to the left to go to the village,” he told us. Making the assumption that the lighthouse would give us a cool view, we headed to the lighthouse. The jungle we found ourselves in felt ancient. The trail was poorly maintained, making it feel like we were the only ones around. But I guess we actually were the only ones around. There are no roads. No cars. Nothing of the sort on the island, so therefore the quietness we experienced was extreme. The stillness when we would stop to look around at the towering trees engulfed us. We hiked for over thirty minutes before arriving at the lighthouse. Unfortunately, there was no views, and the lighthouse wasn’t much to see, but we poked around a bit and sat and enjoyed a granola bar together. The lack of view wasn’t very disappointing because the hike itself was so unique. Also, after spending so many days on the boat, surrounded by nothing by water, being out in the jungle of the island felt like a sensory overload. The greens were so vivid. The smell from the rain that morning, permeating off of the leaves. The sound of the sticks and ground crunching under our feet, loud and crisp to our ears. We hold hands, quietly listening to the world around us.
-The reef surrounding Cayo Cochinos: The snorkeling and free diving we experienced was out of this world, just like everything else in the Cochinos. But this particular moment has stuck with me, and when I look back on it, even weeks later, I can’t help but smile. We are on our third reef dive of the afternoon. It’s sunny out, and the first few feet of water below the surface are warm. Kyle and I are freediving. Meaning, we don’t have on any scuba gear, just a weight belt, our snorkel, mask, and fins. Kyle is very advanced at freediving. He can dive down to 50+ft and stay down for up to 3 minutes or longer. I, however, am new, and prefer to dive to about 25ft and stay down just a minute. Regardless, there is a freedom in free diving. Being so intimate with the water. With the surroundings. It’s different than scuba diving. Scuba diving requires so much gear, and you spend so long under the water that I always have to wear a thick wetsuit. It’s not as quiet because you can hear the breathing from your tank and there are a lot of bubbles. I love scuba diving, but it’s different. Free diving, I only wear my swimsuit and a light sun shirt. Back to the moment…
The sun is shining on the reef. The amount of tropical fish is endless, and in front of us is a huge school, probably 200+ small blue fish swimming together as though they are one organism made of many parts. They are so tranquil, calm, flowing with the water. Kyle dives down to the wall of the reef. There is a two-foot grouper swimming nearby. Kyle is almost within the school of fish. They are all around him, they don’t feel threatened by him at all. I dive down, not nearly as deep, and put my face right near the reef. The color of the coral is so vivid, and the small fish hiding in the coral fans are such a fluorescent color, it’s like they are glowing. I am not moving much, to preserve my energy so I can stay down longer. I see Kyle in the distance, his long free diving fins barely moving, his hands held gently behind his back. He looks like he belongs down there with the fish. I gaze back over to what is surrounding me and focus in on all the fish around me. I listen to them. To the sounds of the reef under the water. So much life. So much movement. I begin to get the feeling in my chest… it’s time to breath. I am about 30ft down, so I take my time swimming to the surface, slow and steady. As I turn to swim to the surface, I slow and look at the brilliant sight in front of me. The beams from the sun are shining down through the surface of the water. They are so bright that I feel like when I break the surface I will be in the sun. I glide up towards the surface, anticipating the breath I am about to take. And the sun beams dance on the water’s surface. What a different perspective. I spend so much of my day watching the sun dance on the water’s surface from above, but I have never noticed it in this much detail from below. It’s magical. My face breaks through the surface of the water and is greeted by the sunshine. I take a deep breath and find myself grateful for fresh air. I love moments like this. Moments that make me grateful for something that I usually don’t even notice in my day to day life. I am grateful for air. I laugh.
-Pasta for dinner: It’s our last night in Cayo Cochinos. The sky has once again exploded into a watercolor painting of blues, greens, pink, orange, and grey. Kyle is cooking spaghetti with red sauce for dinner. He’s been simmering the pasta sauce for hours, and it smells delicious. I set up the table in the cockpit and pour us some red wine. He serves our dishes and we drop little pieces of fresh basil on the top. We sit in the cockpit, across from each other, clanking our wine classes to the sunset. “To the South Pacific of the Caribbean.” We laugh. We know we aren’t going to make it to the South Pacific like we had wanted to. My getting so sick changed things for us. So instead, we enjoy where we are, and focus on being in the present moment. Leaving behind what could have been or how we thought things would be, we cheers to what is. Because really, that’s all there is. Right here, right now, in this moment.
-Covid test in Utila: After Cayo Cochinos we sailed back to Utila and spent a few days there, waiting for a weather window for our next crossing. We were leaving Honduras and sailing to Belize, so we had some paperwork and things to get in order first. One of these things was a Covid test taking within 48 hours of arriving in Belize. So, on the 18th at 4pm, Kyle and I had appointments for Antigen Covid tests at the Utila Hyperbaric Chamber. The Hyperbaric Chamber is where you go if you have decompression sickness from scuba diving. It’s a rather fascinating thing. But they also run a small clinic out of the building. Back to the moment…
It’s 4pm and Kyle and I are sitting on a low cement wall that lines the local playground. There are some kids swinging and playing basketball. We are sitting across from the door of the clinic. We both have on face masks and are waiting for our appointment time. At 4:15 I knock on the door to let the nurse know we are ready when he is. He tells us to wait a moment and he’ll be right with us. Someone else leaves the clinic, and then we are asked to come in. It’s a small room. About 20 x 20. And more than half of the room is taken up by the Hyperbaric Chamber. The nurse is a younger guy, probably in his 30’s. He’s friendly. I get tested first. Sitting down on the chair, waiting for him to stick the thing up into my brain. “Well that doesn’t get any easier,” I laugh when I’m finished. Kyle is up next. While Kyle is filling out his paperwork and getting his test, I wander around the small room. I find myself peering into the chamber, feeling so thankful I’ve never had decompression sickness, because being in a chamber that small would make me very claustrophobic. I also find myself thinking about how strange this all is. To be living through a pandemic. The word “Covid” which wasn’t part of our vocabulary just a couple years ago, being something I say daily. The normalcy of getting tested and needing to provide test results for certain things. I stood in the middle of the room, taking in the whiteness of the space. The sterile feeling. The cleanliness. Kyle and the nurse are talking about the details of the chamber, and I am half-listening to them, while also contemplating the events which had to occur in order for me to find myself in this room at this moment. It’s overwhelming to try to think about. Sailing. Adventuring. Saving our money and working so hard in order to travel. Plans changing. The randomness of being in Utila, Honduras. The strangeness of paying $160 to get two Covid tests in order to enter the next country. The unexpectedness of going to Belize. I don’t even know anything about Belize! I know it’s so cliche, but life is a crazy ride and I so love the randomness and adventure of it all. Or maybe it isn’t random, maybe it’s all happening exactly as it should. As it will. Either way, I’m here for all of it… “Well neither of you have Covid!” the nurse smiles.
-23 hours underway from Utila, Honduras, to Punta Gorda, Belize: We waited for a good weather window to make the passage from Honduras to Belize. We wanted East winds so they would be behind us. We left Honduras around 11:30am on January 19th. We motor sailed out of the anchorage and were quickly able to turn the engine off because of the winds. The wind and waves were from behind us, and we were heading right for our destination. The waves were a bit bigger than we anticipated, and I could tell I was going to feel nauseous. I decided to take a full-strength Dramamine, because I just couldn’t let what happened on our last passage happen again. However, I really dislike taking Dramamine because it messes with my mind. But it was either that, or get sick, so Dramamine it was. We made a mistake and chose to hang the dinghy off the back of the boat, rather than put it on deck. Usually when we go offshore, we put the dinghy on deck, but it was just a short passage, we decided to leave it hanging. However, this meant we couldn’t use the wind vane, but could use the autopilot. The reason this was a mistake is because the waves were too big to use the autopilot. So, we found ourselves around 7pm realizing we couldn’t use the autopilot and without somehow maneuvering the dinghy on deck while at sea, we couldn’t use the windvane. Which meant hand steering. Hand steering really isn’t that bad, except when there is only two people and we need to sleep. Oh well. We made a mistake. We misjudged the situation, time to make do with what we have. So, we did 1-2 hour shifts all through the night, 1 hour of sailing, 1 hour of sleeping. 1 hour of sailing, 1 hour of sleeping. Unless whoever was steering felt they could stay awake longer, we’d give the other person a bit longer to sleep. Anyway, to the moment…
It’s 10pm. I am sailing the boat. The waves are big, but they are behind us, so we are surfing down them, which is helping our speed. The wind is gusty, which makes sailing a bit exhausting. I feel weird. The Dramamine has kicked in and I feel like I am high. Kyle is hungry. We didn’t really eat dinner. He’s down below, with his red headlamp, making quesadillas. I am behind the wheel, looking down at him through the companionway. He’s dancing and singing. And I feel like I am out of my body. It is the strangest feeling. It’s like I’m asleep, but I’m awake. I’m sailing! I’m watching Kyle sing this song, and it’s just a normal song, that we often sing, but at this moment it’s all too strange. I feel like I am on drugs. I guess I am, Dramamine is a drug. But I don’t like the feeling. It’s not a good feeling. I can’t quite think straight. I just focus on sailing. Kyle brings the quesadillas up and we eat them in the dark. I am holding a triangle piece of a quesadilla, but it doesn’t feel like it’s in between my fingers. “I feel so strange,” I tell him. We laugh. There is nothing to do about it. At least I’m not throwing up. Kyle goes down below to sleep and I keep sailing. I listen to an audiobook, but I can’t concentrate on it. I switch to music. It’s been an hour. Kyle comes up and takes over. I stumble down the companionway and fall into my bunk. I sleep hard. When I awake, it’s 2am. Weird dreams. So bizarre. I feel more clear-headed. Exhausted, but clear-headed. I take over and continue sailing. As forecasted, the waves begin to lessen, and the winds become more consistent. I take over again at 5am and stay on watch until the sun comes up. I love watching the sun come up. The Dramamine has mostly worn off, the seas are calmer, and I am happy. The autopilot is steering again, so I go down below to make coffee. Kyle wakes up and we sit in the cockpit, watching the sun come up and sipping on hot coffee. The passage is almost over, we’ll be in Belize in a few hours. What a strange passage for me.
-Arriving in Punta Gorda, Belize: It’s 8:30am on January 20th and we are less than 5 miles from the anchorage in Punta Gorda. The anchorage isn’t a good place to stay overnight, but we need to anchor there in order to check into the country. Around 9:15am we drop anchor, and thankfully it’s calm. We are both really hungry. I make us a huge breakfast. And then I have to go swimming. The feeling is so strong, just like when we arrived in Honduras; after a passage I need the cleansing water of the ocean. I quickly put on my swimsuit and jump right into the water without skipping a beat. Instantly. It happens the instant my entire body is submerged. I feel like a new person. So, refreshed. Cleansed. Crisp. And we are in a new country! Sailing to a new country is exciting. And I find myself overcome with a feeling of new beginnings. I am not sure where the feeling comes from or what it means, but it’s almost like this heavy energy I’d been carrying around with me for weeks, completely disappears. The ocean water removes the heavy energy and when I emerge, I feel lighter. Cleaner. Refreshed. I swim around the boat for a while to get some exercise, and then take a shower. We gather all our documents, launch the dinghy, and head to shore. It’s a long and expensive check-in process. But two hours and $250 later, me, Kyle, and Safi are legally in the country of Belize for the next 30 days. We are happy.
As I finish writing this, we are currently at anchor in Caye Caulker, Belize. My best friend from growing up and her boyfriend are coming from Salt Lake City to meet us this weekend. We are going to spend a week with them exploring Belize. So far, Belize has been amazing. Every place we’ve visited. Every town, every island. The people are so friendly. It’s clean. It’s welcoming. When you look Belize up on the internet, it makes it sound like a scary place. And it’s just not. We’ve spent time on the mainland and the islands. We are smart. We don’t go out late at night. We don’t make a scene. We are just ourselves. And both mainland and the islands are incredible. This is a really awesome country. I am sure there is crime and bad things that happen. But the unfortunate reality is, that happens everywhere. So, we just keep on alert, stay smart, as we always do in a new place, but otherwise, we just enjoy. And some of the interactions we’ve had with the locals are interactions I won’t ever forget. There are cheesy signs and t-shirts everywhere that say, “It’s Un-Belize-able!” And the reality is, it is. It’s just lovely. Stay tuned to learn more about Belize and the awesome little towns we visited along the way!