Cayos Cochinos and my first tropical storm

A day in heaven that turned into hell

Quick facts:

13 islands – 2 volcanic (the big ones)
– 11 coral (some were only a couple of meters long while others between
50m and 100m)

Population: 20 people

Some islands were private (!), others inhabited by Garifuna, and some deserted.

After three days at the dentist I was finally done and ready for some fun. After much consideration I decided to take an organised day-trip to Cayos Cochinos (Hog Islands) instead of doing it myself. Now looking back it was a wise decision. I don’t see how I could have done it on my own and it would definitely not be cheaper (quite the opposite actually). It is rainy season you see, and there are hardly any tourists. Tour operators only have a limited number of trips and the cost goes up because of the low number of people taking them. A bummer for solo travellers!
Anyhow, back to my original story.

I got a phone call from the travel agent confirming the trip was on and few minutes later I got picked up to be taken to a nearby Garifuna village which served as the starting point of our trip. The sun was shining and the sky was blue. The ride was bumpy because of the wind but well worth it. I enjoyed the wind in my hair, the view of the endless sea, the sense of space and freedom, ultimately resulting in peace and happiness.

We got to our first snorkelling spot after a few turns and views of the islands. We saw a lovely bonsai tree perched on a rock completely separated from the main island. The tree was 100-125 years old according to a Japanese scientists. Go figure what it feeds on! It must be the volcanic rock.

The reef was on the other side of the island and well protected from the wind. The water was calm and we didn’t waste any time getting in. That’s when the magic began.

Th islands are a viciously protected area, so wildlife and coral are abundant. There was so much of it all over the place and the colors were amazing – purple, yellow, red, white, green in any shape imaginable! We saw tons of fish – a barakuda, a trumpet fish, a ‘Dori’ (the crazy black and blue fish from ‘Nemo’), a small fish that was half yellow, half purple (so bright, like a star under the water – my favourite!). There were big fish, medium fish, small fish, zebra fish (it probably has a better name), and they were all swimming around looking busy! We saw a lobster hiding under a coral and a spotty sting ray passing by magnificently. I couldn’t contain my excitement! I later found out that it had followed us for a while. Our guide also showed us something growing on a ball-like coral. It hid when he poked it and came back in a few seconds. Funny!

I had snorkelled and even dived before but had never seen anything like that! In fact I was disappointed with the dive. After what I saw today I’d definitely give it another try.

On the way to the second snorkelling spot I got a chance to sail the lancha. Goodie! I sat next to the captain at the back of the boat just so I can be inthe sun. The I felt the navigating stick poking me in the thigh and I wanted to move it away. That’s when I realised the boat responded to my movement. Then I figures out how to excelerate and here I was crashing the waves! That’s also when I figured out sailing was no easy job. Too much or too little gas, too sudden of a turn and you’ll be in the water with the boat on top of your head.

We made our way to the next snorkelling spot. Sort of an underwater abyss – there were 5m deep spots and all of a sudden it dropped to 25m. We got into the water but this time there was nothing protecting it from the wind. We did snorkelled for a while before our guide said it was too wavey and we should get out. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it closer to the shore where coral and fish are better seen.

Our next stop was a Garifuna community where we had a delicious lunch – a whole (rather exotic) fried fish, rice, and plantains. I felt kinda bad eating the fish after what we had just seen but I was told it was some sort of a snapper. I could tell it was white and orange and it had teeth. It was delicious though! It didn’t die for nothing.

We then strolled along and around all 50m of the island 🙂 It was covered in dead coral, pretty sea shells and rubbish (the sad reality!). Where there’s people, there’s rubbish.

The island we were on was the twin of an adjacent island (private I think) which were connected by land. One could walk there only for a short period of time in December though. The rest of the time it’s covered in water. It was then time to head back to the mainland. The clouds on the horizon were getting darker. We were supposed to go to another island (a deserted one) to swim and relax but the weather wouldn’t allow it.

So, we were in the boat again, it was bumpy (or exciting) and we were racing the storm. We lost the race and were caught up in the middle of it. The boat was slamming against the waves, making horrible noises while I was thinking it would break in half. We were surrounded by waves (1-2m), splashing us on the face. The sky was grey and the water was vicious. We were like a match box in the middle of it all. And if that wasn’t enough it started raining. The sky was completely grey now and everything just blended into a foggy greyness. Visibiity was zero, which meant we couldn’t see the shore. The wind was slamming the rain in our faces, it was painful, it was bumpy, and we couldn’t see a thing.

How did I feel about it?! At first I was worried about the boat breaking into pieces. Then when it didn’t happen, I got all excited thinking what an adventure this was. You don’t get to experience a tropical storm at sea very often. Towards the end I was bored with it and wanted to go home.

At some point I think we got lost (despite the captain’s assurance) as we made this inexplicable turn. One moment we were going straight and then we turned and went back and a bit to the right. All along the captain (Exson) kept assuring us that he knew exactly where he was going and we should remain calm. I later asked him if he really knew where the shore was and he said: ‘Definitivamente!’. What was I thinking asking a man (a captain and a guide) whether he knew what he was doing! Phew!

Well, we did eventually make it to shore. In case you were wondering. We definitely got our money worth or not depending on how you look at it! 😉


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