Clouds hid the stars and moon. It was dark and lightly raining as the boat buzzed deeper into blackness off the coast of Belize. I was on a mission to capture an island with a single palm tree at sunrise. Yesterday, I mentioned this vision to my snorkeling guide, who directed me to his mother, who told me about the island Coco Solo, and booked the boat for me with her husband, Bernardo.
Coast of Belize
Getting set up
To my wife, the thought of waking up at 2:30am to head to the harbor, jump onto a small boat driven by a man we had never met, and head away from civilization towards the Caribbean looking for islands in the dark was less than appealing. Brittany loves sleep and this was supposed to be a vacation, but how many times do you get to see a sunrise with your husband off the coast of Belize? Apparently she envisioned her and I cuddling, watching the sunrise and sharing a romantic kiss. So, against her better judgement, Brittany decided to go.
Huddled in a ball, dressed in yoga pants, a swim suit, and a sweatshirt, Brittany quickly became aware that she had not dressed adequately for the night chill. Or the rain. The romantic in her was fading the further out to sea we went. After an hour of dodging reefs and waves, I looked at the fancy GPS/compass thing on my phone and asked Bernardo, our driver, “Are we off course?”
Bernardo, who we’ve known a full hour and apparently barely speaks English, replies “No compass.” Brittany goes from wet and uncomfortable to full blown panicked very quickly. Why didn’t we inspect the boat the day before? Why didn’t she go through her 80 item safety checklist before getting on this floating coffin? Why the hell didn’t Bernardo say something earlier? As she considers attacking Bernardo with her flip flops, I calmly get up, stand next to Bernardo and direct him where to go using the compass on my cell phone.
Another hour goes by, and then Bernardo pulls up to an island and stops. “Too dark,” he says. “We wait.” He hops out and ties the boat to a rock. The rain had stopped, and Brittany was happy to get off the boat. She hopped out and started walking on the sandy shore of the island, using the flashlight on her cellphone to light the way. I, however, who had been totally content up to this point, was starting to get antsy. I needed time to set up my shot BEFORE sunrise, and waiting on this island for daylight so we could find Coco Solo was completely throwing my plan out the window. Communicating this to Bernardo was proving less than effective, but if the man who had been more than comfortable buzzing in the dark without a compass felt going further was too dangerous, Brittany was more than inclined to agree with him.
Reluctantly and resigned to waiting, I take out my camera gear and decide to get a shot while the sun rises on this island.
Brittany amuses herself by taking selfies in the dark, pictures of me, and she also gets in some cardio a as she ran screaming to the “safety” of the boat after “discovering” there were humongous tarantula sand spiders on the island.
Visible light photograph of Ranguana Key in the Caribbean Sea near Belize
As the light changes from red to orange on the horizon, Bernardo says “Go,” so I wrapped up, grabbed my gear, ran to the boat and we took off towards Coco Solo. After ten minutes, we saw a cute little island with TWO palm trees. Well, one palm tree or two, this is what we came for, so I start shooting away, keeping the camera as still as I can while the boat rocks in the waves.
The lifting darkness takes Brittany’s anxiety with it and the dawn brings a renewed sense of adventure and joy. She starts to notice albatross diving for fish, the smell of salt, the gentle rocking of the waves. She’s tired, wet, windblown and hungry, but it doesn’t seem so bad now. Too soon, due to time and fuel constraints, we head back towards land (and food!).
Later, Brittany talks to me about the two trees on Coco Solo. While she knows it isn’t exactly the way I had wanted it, she likes it better. Everybody should have a crazy partner in crime. She is mine, or maybe I am hers. Either way, life would be boring without a “Coco Loco.”
Brittany and Bernard
Visible light photograph of an island in the Caribbean Sea, Belize