Belize: Dangriga
Belize: Middle Caye

Belize: Glover's Reef


The next morning I was back with the college girls having breakfast at the Riverside Café in Dangriga. If you ask the Island Expeditions people for recommendations on where to eat in town, they'll inevitably mention the Riverside Café. Breakfast? Lunch? A good seafood restaurant? The Riverside Café is the answer. The only other place worth mentioning in town is a Chinese place. The Riverside serves authentic, local food. If you want conch, for instance, they have it. The food is cooked slowly, one plate at a time. So for our party of over a dozen, breakfast took forever. Despite our guide's heartfelt recommendation for the breakfast burrito, I ordered the "fry jacks" −− deep-fried pieces of dough, a staple in Belize. It was served with beans, eggs, and freshly squeezed orange juice. By the time I was done (and I ate at quite a relaxed pace, waiting until at least the girls on either side of me had gotten their plates before starting, then getting into a long discussion with them about Mayan caves, howler monkeys, and how tough academics were at Wilson College, where apparently half of the freshman class drops out) our other table hadn’t gotten their food yet. “I think the boat will be delayed”, our guide told me, referring to the boat that was supposed to take us to the camp at Glover’s Reef 30 miles offshore. The college group would be catching a plane back to the States that afternoon.

Those of us who finished with breakfast walked back through the middle of town to the Island Expeditions office. I chatted with one of the girls who is on the vet−tech track. She spotted a scrawny dog tied up in a yard. Its ribs were showing. She told me that the dogs in Belize are afraid of humans and behave like they’ve been beaten. Even the puppies. They are fed food scraps and chicken bones. The Belizians only use their dogs as watch dogs or for hunting, not as pets. My thoughts turned to how we spend no small amount for our pets in the States, including food, toys, haircuts, teeth cleanings and medical care, including even surgery and chemotherapy.


Glover’s Reef is an atoll named after the pirate brothers, John and Rodger Glover. In the 1750's they used the cays on the reef as a base and buried their treasure there. Pieces of Mayan pottery have also been found on the islands, evidence that the Mayans had sailed there to fish.

In 1996 the atoll was designated as a marine reserve. In 2000 Glover's was designated a World Heritage Site under the UNESCO World Heritage Convention. Currently, 30% of the atoll is zoned as a “No Take Zone” patrolled by Rangers from the Belize Fisheries Dept. One of our guides, a fisherman−turned−tour−guide, said he was fined a couple hundred dollars for harvesting a conch from the “No Take Zone”. He hadn’t realized that he was just inside the border. He complained bitterly to me about being fined without even a warning by the woman ranger, who was actually a member of his village. She obviously had some personal beef with him.

The boat that took us to Glover’s sped along at 15−20 knots. It took us about 1 3/4 hours to make it to the reef. We enjoyed a smooth ride until we passed the barrier reef halfway into the open ocean. A cold front had passed through the day before and a fresh northeast wind still blew. In the 6 ft swell the boat bounced up and down. The three Australian kids sitting in the front were buffeted off their seats. They squealed while trying to hold on to the edge of the boat, their seat cushions sliding off onto the floor. The trip was just beginning but their parents already looked exasperated. The hatch to the forward compartment that held our bags flew open, and the captain had to stop the boat a couple times so it could be secured. After about a half hour of this, the kids got tired and the boat had to be stopped again so they could move to the back where the motion wasn’t as great.

Our guide Mike introduced us to camp at Southwest Cay. We each got our own little tent, with real mattresses and beds. The freshwater is collected from the roof of the dining hall when it rains, stored in large black plastic cisterns, and purified for drinking. The outhouse has composting toilets. Solar panels are used for electricity, which is turned off around 9:30 PM. There is a VHF radio and a satellite phone which is used to check into the Dangriga office every morning. A variety of colorful kayaks line the beach. The sound of the conch signals dinner.

A few people in our group wondered what a "cay" was and how did it differed from a mere island. A cay is a small, low-elevation, sandy island formed on the surface of coral reefs. It is usually almost entirely made of biogenic sediment – the skeletal remains of plants and animals – from the surrounding reef ecosystems. The sand is sharp and quite effective at exfoliating the soles of your feet. According to Mike, the coconut trees on the cay were planted hybrids. When a hurricane comes, the whole place is under 5 feet of water. The outhouse ended up a little crooked after the last big one blew through.

Conch shells lay everywhere. The paths were lined with them. I picked a small one up on the beach and turned it over to see the gray soft foot of the snail retract deep into its shell.


Over 700 patch coral reefs are scattered within the shallow protected waters of the atoll, which is at most 30 feet deep. In the afternoon a group of us paddled south of the cay to a patch, dropped an anchor and tied our kayaks off. While our guide gave a few of the newbies instruction on kayak self−rescues I slipped on my mask, snorkel and fins, and dove into the clear water to explore the reef. The density, diversity and color of the sea life was stunning. The corals sat just below the water, which was sometimes only chest deep. Occasionally, I would just float quietly to allow the fish to grow used to my presence, simply watching and losing track of time as the fish swam by.

I was saddened by the presence of plastic garbage on all the beaches, even this far from the mainland. Bottles and weathered fragments that looked like they had been floating in the sea for a while littered the sand. The caretakers helped maintained the illusion that our own white sand beach was pristine by cleaning and raking it every morning. I bet that when they open up this camp at the beginning of every tourist season, after hurricanes have passed, the beach is a dump. I wonder if there isn't a beach in the world where you won't find a plastic bottle cap.



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