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#451896 - 11/25/12 09:21 AM Camping in paradise during a tropical storm
Marty Offline

I confess: I’m not really much of a beach person.

Shocking, isn’t it? Seriously, who doesn’t like the beach?

I suppose I have nothing against the beach. It’s beautiful. It’s relaxing. But perhaps a little bit too relaxing. I mean, I can only lay in the sun for so long before I become bored and restless. It is because of this, my mild aversion to intensive relaxation, that we have typically opted to take more active trips together.

We’ve gone hiking and camping, explored medieval fortresses and historic ruins. So when we mutually decided to take our vacation this summer to sunny, sandy Belize, I began to question my sanity.

Sure, I knew Belize would be beautiful, but had I signed up for three weeks of total boredom with a great view?

I can only do this for so long ...

I can only do this for so long ...

Fortunately, our friends Mike and Anne, who are taking a year-long honeymoon (or, HoneyTrek!) around the world, proposed the perfect solution for my beach-going woes: a three day snorkeling, fishing, sailing, and camping adventure along the Belize Barrier Reef with Ragamuffin Tours, an outfitter based on the easy-going island of Caye Caulker. The trip would involve snorkeling the reef and camping on remote islands as we traveled by sailboat from the island of Caye Caulker in the north to the town of Placencia, along the southern coast of Belize.

Relaxation plus adventure? Perfect!

If you're ever on Caye Caulker, be sure to stop by the Ragga office!

If you're ever on Caye Caulker, be sure to stop by the Ragga office!

Our Raggamuffin adventure started at the Raggamuffin office on Caye Caulker. After our team briefing the night before, we arrived early the next morning to load up our belongings and prepare to set sail. We spent the morning getting acquainted with our crew members — Ish, Chris, and Captain Jerry — and our fellow adventure-seekers, who came from the U.S., Ireland, Spain, and the Netherlands.

As our boat, the Ragga Queen, pushed off from the dock, we were immediately greeted with sparkling turquoise water teeming with wildlife, including bottlenosed dolphins and loggerhead sea turtles, each of whom came to the surface to bid us safe travels. We couldn’t believe it — we were about to spend three days sailing and snorkeling the Caribbean!

Three days with this view? Well, if you insist ...

We sailed along leisurely for nearly two hours, basking in the sun and indulging in the generous helping of fresh fruit making its way around the boat before finally arriving at our first snorkel stop of the day inside the Belize Barrier Reef. Our underwater exploration lasted around 45 minutes and included beautiful angel fish and majestic spotted eagle rays, as well as yellow brain coral and purple fan coral. This was my first time snorkeling a coral reef, so the experience was very moving for me.

The rest of the day involved much of the same — sleep, snack, snorkel, sleep, snack, snorkel.

And when we weren’t snorkeling, sleeping, or eating, we tried our hand at fishing. While we never caught anything, quite a few of our fellow passengers managed to snag barracudas, which the crew fried up for dinner that evening.

Ish (l) and Chris (r) pose with a very disappointed barracuda.

After an exhilarating day of adventure at sea, it was time to find land and set up camp on Rondevouz Caye, our home for the night. We pulled up to a tiny island covered with nothing but sand and palm trees.

No way! We were camping here?! It was like stepping into a postcard.

As we stepped onto the dock and gazed in amazement at our pristine island, one passenger remarked, “Wow, it really doesn’t get any better than this, does it? When you think of paradise, do you not picture this scene exactly?”

Indeed, it seemed like total paradise … at least for awhile.

Not long after we docked, we began to notice ominous-looking clouds approaching in the distance. Although the crew had thoroughly checked the weather repots before we departed Caye Caulker, storms can arise at a moment’s notice in the Caribbean, so this one would have been difficult to predict. We hurriedly set up our tents, trying to beat the rain.

Fortunately, the rain held off for a few more hours, and we enjoyed a spectacular dinner spread prepared by our three crew members.

By 8:30, we were all so exhausted, we decided to call it an early night (big party crowd, I know).

Not five seconds after Justin and I settled into our tent and zipped our door shut, we began to hear the gentle pitter-patter of rain drops on the roof of the tent.

“Is that rain?” I asked Justin.

Before he could answer, our tent was hit with a torrential downpour and some of the strongest cross-winds I have ever felt. Fortunately, our rain covers (which the crew insisted we use, regardless of whether or not rain was in the forecast) managed to keep a lot of the rain out. Nonetheless, we were beginning to get wet. Within minutes, the winds had become so strong that our tent was blown within inches of our faces.

“Quick, help me support the tent!” Justin called. The sound of the rain and wind thrashing against our tent was so loud, we could only hear each other if we screamed.

We scrambled to support our struggling tent, contorting our bodies in very uncomfortable positions. First, we tried holding it up at its four corners with our hands. When the wind ceased to subside and our arms grew tired, we devised a more long-term solution to maintain our shelter. After several failed attempts, we ended up on our backs with our heads together, feet up to support the four corners, and our arms supporting our legs to delay fatigue.

As we lay there in our awkward and uncomfortable position, Justin, whose glass is always annoyingly half full, remarked, “Well on the bright side, we have this same tent at home. It’s good to know our tent could withstand such harsh weather conditions! We made a good investment, babe!”

Seriously, dude? You’re thinking about value for money at a time like this?! There’s a tent on my face!

The rain and wind continued to batter us for at least a half an hour.  We estimate the winds must have surpassed 40 mph. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity to our exhausted arms and legs, the storm left as quickly as it appeared. Slowly, we unzipped our tent and crawled out to survey the damage to our campsite and to ensure our ship mates were safe. Although everyone was physically all right, some were a little emotionally shaken up and everyone was exhausted from struggling to keep their tents intact and their belongings dry.

We worked quickly to restore the damaged tents and restore our battered campsite for fear the storm would return. Sure enough, within forty minutes, a gentle rain quickly turned into another downpour. We assumed our positions inside our tent once again and prepared for what would turn out to be a very long night, as storms came on and off again throughout the night. Eventually, we grew so tired we just fell asleep with our legs still supporting the tent.

When we awoke the next morning, the rain had subsided, but more gray clouds loomed on the horizon. It was time to pack up, move out, and bid goodbye to our little piece of paradise.

I know to most, such an experience might make for a horrible memory and potentially even ruin a whole vacation. But not for us. Not only did we survive our night camping on paradise during a tropical storm, but we also enjoyed it. Although I’ll admit, after that ordeal, a day just sitting on the beach doing nothing didn’t seem like such a bad idea anymore!

But our sailing adventure was only getting started. Stay tuned for Days Two and Three of our Belize Raggamuffin Tour!

What’s the scariest camping experience you’ve ever had?

Editor’s Note: Raggamuffin Tours provided us with a 2-for-1 deal for their Overnight Sailing Adventure, but all opinions expressed here are our own.


#451911 - 11/25/12 03:49 PM Re: Camping in paradise during a tropical storm [Re: Marty]
BeBelize Offline
Great story! Thanks for posting, Marty. I don't think I'd want to be in a tent in that storm, but it makes for good reading from the comfort of home. grin

Former Belize expat traveling the USA & Mexico

#452023 - 11/27/12 09:06 AM Re: Camping in paradise during a tropical storm [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Late-night surprises on Tobacco Caye: Belize Raggamuffin Tour, Day Two

After camping overnight in a tropical paradise during a Caribbean storm (oops, did you miss that part of the story? Read this, then come right back!), it was time to set sail for our second day of our Raggamuffin Tours adventure along the Belize Barrier Reef — one that would prove one of the most magical and memorable days of  all our travels together so far.

Our objective for the day involved sailing from our storm-battered campsite on Rondevouz Caye, a small patch of sand inhabited only by an island caretaker, to the more populated island of Tobacco Caye, where we would set up shelter for our second night.

The day was dotted with the usual Raggamuffin adventure activities like snorkeling with octopus, catching barracudas, and getting caught in yet another torrential downpour (hey, you can only outrun them for so long before they finally catch up!). Because of the lurking rain clouds, our crew decided it was safest to get to the island sooner rather than later, in the event another phantom storm appeared.

After two days riding the waves, we were more than happy to rest our feet on dry land for awhile. No complaints here!

Besides, the place we were going to looked like this …

And this …

Tobacco Caye, Belize
Photo by Raggamuffin Tours

Not long after we docked, the crew turned us loose to explore the small island village on our own, so long as we returned for dinner at 7 pm.

The island holds probably one hundred or so human residents, plus several dozen of the most laid-back dogs on the planet. Most of the island’s houses, interspersed between the plethora of beautiful, shady palm trees, are elevated to avoid damage from flooding.

The children of the island roam the sandy streets, playing games of tag and basketball, similar to any other neighborhood in the world (except for maybe the sandy streets part) and are more than happy to have a traveler or two join them in their games.

The children were all-too-eager to introduce you to the island’s newest residents, Spot and Princess, two of the most adorable little puppies I have ever seen in my life. Ordinarily, I have a policy that I do not touch animals while traveling, but Princess in particular was absolutely irresistible and I scooped her up every chance I found (sshhh! Don’t tell customs!).

While I was cuddling Princess and devising ways I might sneak her home in my backpack, Justin was losing miserably to some of the local kids in a pick-up game of  basketball. They seemed quite relieved when he told them it was time for him to quit!

Pretty soon, puppies and basketball were but distant memories as  the next group of kids presented us the most interesting proposition yet: a chance to check out their latest catch — a hammerhead shark they had caught earlier that day!

“We caught a shark! Ya wanna see?” they squealed in delight, hoping we would follow them.

“That depends,” Justin replied. “What kind of shark?”

“A hammerhead!”

Our eyes immediately caught the same glimmer as theirs and we followed eagerly to the shark’s secret hiding place (which turned out to just be the side of an old dock). Sadly, the shark had already been diced up, its remains discarded along the shore, their rancid smell disturbing the otherwise picture-perfect scene.

A little bit of blood and guts did not deter Justin from touching the hammerhead anyway.

After Justin thoroughly inspected what remained of the poor shark, we decided to relax on the edge of the dock.

But we were not alone …

Over a dozen stingrays swam under and around the dock, scouring the sea floor for discarded crab and lobster carcasses.

They glided gracefully around us as we watched them feast, mesmerized for hours. We saw large Yellow Rays, close to three feet in diameter, as well as the smaller species, the Spotted Eagle Ray.

A Spotted Eagle Ray glides past us at the dock on Tobacco Caye.

As we sat there for nearly two hours watching these beautiful creatures glide beside us, I marveled at the opportunity to view wildlife so up close and personal — and actually in the wild! How refreshing and inspiring! This trip had exposed me to a spectacular underwater world I had never seen. I never imagined I would have such an opportunity, and I sat in wonder at the creativity of God. I qiuetly thanked Him not just for His creation, but also for allowing me the opportunity to experience it.

Surely it couldn’t get much better than this!

We rejoined our crew just in time for a delicious, expansive Raggamuffin-style feast of chicken, pasta, corn-on-the-cob,  lobster, and the day’s catch — barracuda! After stuffing ourselves to the brim, tossing back a few Belikin beers, and swapping travel horror stories with our new friends, we stretched our arms and patted our stomachs, announcing it was time for us to head to bed.

As we stood to leave, we noticed a noisy crowd gathered by a nearby bar. It seemed for others the party was just getting started!

“Hey guys, over here!” someone called to us.

Just as we raised our hands to decline their offer, we noticed they were gathered around something on the ground, shining a flashlight in the sand.

“Baby sea turtles!” a voice squealed.

We hurriedly, but cautiously, made our way across the sand, careful not to step on any hatchlings. We watched in awe as dozens of newly hatched sea turtles instinctively scurried their way across the sand toward the sea. Their instinct is to follow the light of the moon, but because the moon was obscured by the light of the small outdoor bar, the turtles were headed straight for it!

So, in order to keep the turtles on track, a group of locals began tracking them down as they hatched and using the light from a flashlight to guide them safely toward the sea.

Now those of you who know me understand that I am a sucker for baby animals of any kind, but baby sea turtles? Could anything be cuter than that?!

They were so tiny — smaller than the palm of a hand. Endless bundles of energy, they scampered their way toward what they thought was the sea, as if somehow conscious of the unfavorable odds of their survival.

Watching these baby sea turtles hatch and head for the sea was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. It was such a great reminder to me that God cares about all the creatures of this world, not just humans, and that He devised a unique plan for them, too.

If He cares so much for these tiny turtles, how much more must He care for me, I wondered as I watched the first group of hatchlings plunge safely into the sea.


#452034 - 11/27/12 11:18 AM Re: Camping in paradise during a tropical storm [Re: Marty]
joey2angels Offline

What a great series....looking forward to tomorrow's adventure.

I was surprised that Ish worked for "Rag tours."

Great guy.

#452698 - 12/04/12 09:29 AM Re: Camping in paradise during a tropical storm [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Come Sail Away: Belize Raggamuffin Tour, Day Three

We woke that morning to the sound of seagulls calling and a gentle breeze blowing across our sea salt-encrusted skin.

After camping in paradise during a tropical storm and witnessing the hatching of baby sea turtles, we weren’t sure the third, and final, day of our sailing and snorkeling adventure with Raggamuffin Tours in Belize could even come close to topping the previous two days.

And we were right. It didn’t.

Although there was no impressive crescendo at the end of this day, it was relaxing, amazing, and equally enjoyable, nonetheless.

When you wake to a view like this, who could complain?

Because our tents and bedding remained soaked from the storm of night one, we slept in basic, but cozy, rooms on Tobacco Caye on night two. Although this meant we didn’t get to camp again (something which we really looked forward to, despite the previous night’s storm), it did provide us with a second-story view of the turqoise waters of the Caribbean from the comfort of the balcony hammock.

We had several hours to lounge around the island and get in some last-minute snorkeling before it was time to set sail and head toward our final destination: Placencia.

The sun was shining brightly as our boat departed the island. Finally, no more rain clouds!

Back on the boat, we caught a few quick naps and soaked up the sun in between snorkeling stops. Justin tried hard again to catch a barracuda, but he was met without success.

Fishing with Raggamuffin Tours in Belize

Poor guy ... he tried!

Our final snorkel stop of the day was my favorite of the entire trip: the luxurious private resort island of Southwater Caye. The water was crystal clear in many places and you could stand and watch fish glide along the ocean floor. We also saw some of the largest and most beautiful coral we had seen yet along the reef. Justin and some of the stronger swimmers swam further out to sea, while I returned to sit in the gorgeous white sand with some of the other women my age.

While my time in the sand was fairly uneventful and relaxing, Justin’s group saw seven — seven! — tarpins all lined up staring back at the snorkelers. Each tarpin was at least six feet in length. At first they mistook them for sharks! Although I’m sorry I missed the tarpins, I would not trade my time along the shore for anything. My memory of it is so strong I can still feel and smell the pristine water gently splashing up against me as a refreshing breeze blew across my face.

Did I say I wasn’t a beach person? Nonsense!

Unfortunately, our time at Southwater Caye eventually came to an end and we bounced up and down along the rolling Caribbean waves until we reached Placencia.

Once the boat reached Placencia, it was time to disembark and unload our stored luggage. Although passengers do have the option to sail back to Caye Caulker overnight with the crew, we opted to stay the night in Placencia to catch up on rest before heading inland to our next stop, the jungle town of San Ignacio.

We bid a bittersweet goodbye to our fantastic Raggamuffin crew and headed off for a night of land-based fun with some of our new friends.

Placencia beach, Belize

Why not spend the night in Placencia and wake up to this?

We spent the rest of the evening relaxing along the beach, enjoying a few Belikin beers and eating (or attempting to eat!) the biggest burrito and quesadillas of our lives at the Tipsy Tuna bar (highly recommend).

Whoa ... now THAT is what I call a Burrito!

Whoa ... now THAT is what I call a Burrito!

So now that you’ve read about our three amazing days with Raggamuffin Tours, are you thinking of taking an adventure of your own?

Here’s what you need to know before deciding whether Raggamuffin’s 3-day/2-night sailing, snorkeling, and camping adventure is right for you:

Raggamuffin Tours, Belize

The Route: Raggamuffin’s overnight adventure departs from Caye Caulker, a small island located less than an hour by water taxi from Belize City. The boat makes its way to the remote island of Rondevouz Caye, where you’ll camp for the first night. The second day will take you to Tobacco Caye, where you will spend the second night. The third day, you will make your way to the final destination, the coastal Belizian town of Placencia.

The Food: The food on Raggamuffin’s trips is amazing. They prepare full spreads for breakfast and dinner, with hearty lunches as well. A wide variety of options is available to meet all preferences and dietary limitations. If you are a vegetarian or have a food sensitivity, notify the crew ahead of time. They will prepare something special for you. They take their responsibility to make sure all passengers are well-fed and satisfied very seriously. One of the most fun aspects of meals on the tour is getting to enjoy the day’s catch, which usually ends up being barracuda.

Raggamuffin Tours in Belize

Captain Jerry cleans the day's catch to prepare it for dinner. Photo by Raggamuffin Tours.

The Accommodations: Unless your bedding gets ruined like ours did, you will be camping on the beach for both nights of your tour. The tents comfortably, but not spaciously, accommodate two persons, and those traveling individually will receive their own personal tent. If you are not comfortable camping, then this adventure is probably not for you.

The Weather: The company takes their responsibility to protect its passengers very seriously, and monitors the weather regularly. If a severe storm is predicted, the trip will be cancelled. However, due to the unpredictability of tropical weather, it is not always possible to anticipate all possible weather challenges (like, for example, the storm we experienced our first night on Rondevouz Caye). Therefore, passengers should be aware that they are willingly putting themselves in a potentially unpredictable and hazardous situation, and those travelers who are not comfortable with such risks should not embark on an overnight Raggamuffin adventure.

Equipment: Raggamuffin Tours will provide all your equipment for the weekend. They will fit you with a snorkel and fins, and they also provide high-quality sport fishing poles. They will provide tents and bedding. Please treat all this equipment with respect!

Other considerations: Don’t forget to bring your own towel to dry off after your time in the water. Bring a separate towel or a sarong to wear around the boat. We also recommend bringing a rain coat, a windbreaker, or a fleece pullover in case the day is cool and breezy, or in the event you feel cold at night in your tent. Your larger luggage will be stored underneath the boat during the entirety of your journey, so you should bring a smaller overnight bag to keep everything you will need for three days. Do not overpack! You will be camping, swimming, and overall getting dirty. Be practical. Finally, we recommend you bring several zip-lock or sealed plastic baggies to protect your camera and electronic equipment from splashing salt water and potential rain damage. This proved to be a life-saver on our trip. 

Photo by Raggamuffin Tours

Our Raggamuffin Tours adventure has proven one of the highlights of all our travels thus far. We cannot recommend this tour enough for people who enjoy being moderately active while on vacation. To learn more about how you can start booking your own trip, visit their website.

A trip with Raggamuffin is an investment you won’t regret and an experience you will never forget.

Editor’s Note: Raggamuffin Tours provided us with a 2-for-1 deal for their Overnight Sailing Adventure, but all opinions expressed here are our own.


#458737 - 02/24/13 08:40 AM Re: Camping in paradise during a tropical storm [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Raggamuffin Tour’s three day sailing trip from Caye Caulker to Placencia through turquoise waters along the world’s second longest barrier reef!


Click for excellent scuba lessons with Elbert Greer!

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