I joined ships after graduation to continue my lust for global exploration.
Though the more I prioritized work over itinerary, the ports begun to blend into a redundancy of overweight passengers beelining to Señor Frogs, with familiar scenes of white sand and turquoise waters. Port days became ones for sleeping in past lunch, resorting to 24-hour pizza for fuel.
That is until I glanced over the schedule to notice a navigational revision for the season, and my floating home would be stopping in Belize for the last time during my stay.
“What are you doing for Belize?” I asked Jessica, my South African friend-turned-colleague.
“Probably sleeping” Jess replied.
“Get off the ship with me, my treat. It’s our last stop in Belize for the season, perhaps ever.”
And with an incentive and sense of urgency, Jess was sold.
Lying south of the Yucatan Peninsula, bordering Mexico and Guatemala, the coast of Belize hosts the second largest barrier reef of the seven seas. The UNESCO World Heritage Site culminates a largely diverse ecosystem in the Caribbean, with over 1,000 species of fish and coral.
The sacred sea off Belize illuminated for miles from the mammoth ship, a vessel too large to dock shoreside. Jess and I slated for the gangway as tender boats circulated along the liner. While crew courtesy assembles guests before “the help”, a cordial shore-ex mate cropped the line for the two blondes, allowing us to flee within minutes of standing in a never-ending queue.
We boarded the enclosed raft, tightly squeezed between some sort of family reunion. As if our new neighbors had never sailed before, their surrounding voices shrieked in excitement. Attempting to cancel out the enthusiasm, I blared Lorde through my headphones, split between me and Jess. We rolled our eyes in aversion.
After a slight act of insensitivity, the elation caught on from the crowd. I eagerly tapped Jess’s shoulder as we drifted closer to shore. “We’re here!” I exclaimed.
There was no agenda for the day, only an idea. And with that idea, we walked past three promoters selling tours before selling out ourselves.
“We want to swim with the sharks along the reef!” I blurted.
“No problem. Snorkeling, Rum Punch, and Beach. Four hours. Fifty dollars each. Sharks, stingrays, you got it.” The dark man replied in a deep Caribbean tone.
One hundred dollars and an hour later, Jess and I boarded a wide speed boat with a dozen others, filling up our plastic cup with the peach colored drink, cheering to an awaiting adventure.
The hours flew between rounds of punch and specified repositioning within the reef. We chased nurse sharks and pet the velvet skins of sting rays. Fear of wildlife ceased to exist underwater. We became one with the fish, floating in our fins, watching the majestical species drift past in a dreamlike element. A slight current worried me, pushing me into the vulnerable coral reef. The kaleidoscope frontier ranges nearly 200 miles long, humbling the tourists who discovered just a portion of the sight during our short-lived trip.
The salty snorkeling excursion called for more punch and a break behind the goggles. We docked along a deserted shore. After all, Belize is the least populated country in Central America. To keep us company, Jess and I made friends with a young mom and her adorable daughter; sharing stories, drinks, and hummus along the beach.
“Good for you girls. Do this while you’re young. I wish I travelled more when I was young. Before marriage, before children. It’s never the same after being single.” The mother advised.
We smiled back in appreciation. This was not the first time we had heard such suggestion, and it wasn’t the last. We realized how fortunate we were to work where we play, though the situation was a catch 22. For I went to work that afternoon with burning skin and a headache, hungover from the emotional endeavor of fitting in a day trip to Belize. In between talking with guests throughout the evening, anxiety crept in thinking of the unexplored territory from the previous destination.
Unfortunately, this feeling is common with the majority of my travels. The restaurants I passed, the monuments I missed, the locals I ignored, and the photos I neglected to document strike me as an incomplete expedition. But from time to time, a friend will explain an upcoming trip to Belize, triggering my memory of the translucent waters. The overwhelming images saturate my thoughts and all I can contribute at the time is:
“Yes, I’ve been there. And it was incredible.”