Memories of Christmas in Belize

For the past few years, I’ve chosen to work or travel for the holidays.  I’m not sure why I felt compelled to take a break from the usual Christmas celebrations.  I think it was a combination of years of the stressful hustling between gatherings of my fragmented family units, the little reserve I had left after finishing residency, coping with several stressful life events, and just being too exhausted for the hustle, the intensity of family interactions, and the expensive materialistic focus that the holidays in the US brings.  While there are so many aspects of spending Christmas with my family that I have missed over the past few years, this short hiatus has been refreshing.  I spent my first holiday hiatus making much-needed money, and the second on a delightful holiday in Belize.  This holiday, I spent a week with my parents on the beach in Roatan followed by a week with several hours spent working at the hospital, but also fitting in some quality time with my mama, going to dinner, to the movies, and just drinking coffee in our pajamas watching the Today show.  At the end of it all, I find myself looking forward to next year, a holiday season that I plan to spend with my family, making Christmas cookies, playing board games, and watching National Lampoons while drinking hot cocoa spiked with Baileys.  But, while I envision the times I hope the next Christmas holiday brings, I reminisce on the last few, in particular the special memories that I have from Christmas last year spent on a 3 day sailboat journey through the Belize Barrier Reef.

Christmas 2011 was spent on the Ragga Queen, a 50ft custom built Stonington sailboat owned by Raggamuffin Tours, a company based in Caye Caulker, Belize, a small (I mean small, like 5 miles by 1 mile) laid back island located 20 miles off the coast of Belize.  If time spent on Caye Caulker isn’t special enough, a trip with Raggamuffin is the cherry on top.  Raggamuffin Tours takes passengers on day and overnight sailboat cruises, and from personal experience on both cruises, they do an absolute wonderful job at both.  So, on the 23rd of December, I boarded the Ragga Queen, alongside 15 other passengers, to embark on a 3 day, 2 night journey on a sailboat through the Belizean Barrier Reef from Caye Caulker to Placencia.  We spent the days lazing on deck listening to reggae, some fishing, some sleeping, and taking a few stops per day to do some snorkeling.  Then, we docked at little islands in the evening where we slept in tents after hours spent eating fresh seafood (prepared by our captains), watching the sun set, drinking rum punch, and just hanging out.

Laying on the top deck of the Ragga Queen, often shielded from the sun by my sarong, I would frequently stare out to sea just admiring the changing textures, colors, reflections of the Caribbean waters.

A group of college aged Norwegian dudes were spending their holiday in Belize and added a ton of action and comedy to our trip, especially by night. But, during the day, you’d often find them sleeping on deck or fishing off the back. Not a bad way to spend a day.

A view of Rendevous Caye, our camping spot for the first night of our journey, from the starboard side. Drinking rum punch and watching the island as we approached, hoping that we would make it in before the rain began…and we did.

My tent on Rendevous Caye, where I crashed after an evening hunkered down during a rainstorm on the dock shelter getting drunk on rum punch with my shipmates. Even though I went to bed before many of the other party animals, the ocean breeze and the vastness of the surrounding sea kept my spot quite quiet and peaceful throughout the night.

The thing about the Caribbean is that it can be raining one minute and sunny the next. We woke the morning after a night of storms to a beautiful sky. This is the view of all of Rendevous Caye from the deck of Ragga Queen.

I can’t even begin to express how beautiful the waters were during our journey. I spent so many hours staring out at them, and I have too many photos to prove it!

Bye, bye Rendevous

Jerry, the captain with the most boisterous personality, manning the helm.

Another photo of the water. I can’t help it! I spent hours staring out at it while we sailed through the barrier reef, and I have too many photos of it that it’s hard to narrow down!

Another one of those views I have engrained in my memory. So peaceful to lay on deck sleeping, staring at the ocean, staring at the sky, all the while feeling the warm ocean breeze and listening to music (or trying to block it out depending on the DJ of the hour!).

Tobacco Caye, our second night’s stop, a tiny island 10 miles off the coast of Dangriga with a permanent population of about 20 people!

A simple little cabin on the shore of Tobacco Caye with its deck and hammock, looking like they all do.

We docked, set up our tents, took turns showering in the small little shower that ran from a rain barrel, then I took a little wander around the island…which took about 5 minutes!

Early sunset from the west end of Tobacco Caye. I just sat here for a while grabbing some quiet before heading back to join the group for dinner.

The shores may have had a little trash here and there, but that was balanced by the beauty that a shore littered with conch shells exudes. There were conch shells all over the island, some appearring intentionally placed and some just haphazardly scattered by Mother Nature.

The birds were intense, sailing through the air and intermittently nose-diving into the water to pull out a fish. I sat and watch one dive down and grab a fish, soar back up into the sky, accidentally drop the fish which was subsequently briskly snatched up mid-air by another. It was a bit insane.


The Ragga Queen at dock in front of one of the island’s two bars. Shane out on the dock grilling up some lobsters.


Our cute little outhouses.

The Manning family sitting around watching the sunset. Sitting at a picnic table drinking a Belikin and looking out past them (and the random coconut) to the boat, the ocean and the sunset was just really a relaxing way to kill some time on Christmas Eve.


After spending a bit more than a week in Belize, I became quite accustomed to a daily Belikin stout…so tasty. Because of the glass, we didn’t bring beer on the boat. So, after a few days of rum punch when we pulled up to Tobacco Caye, I went straight to the bar to get a Belikin. It was so tasty and I was so happy, I had to take a photo!


The sunset this evening was so beautiful. Even after narrowing my photos down, I am still left with many I can’t bear to keep to myself.


And, probably 15 minutes later…


Barracuda, freshly caught by some of the dudes in the group, getting ready to be thrown on the grill. I have only ever heard nasty things of the barracuda until this trip. But, in Belize, I found that barracuda is one tasty fish…and I ate plenty of it during the weeks I spent in Belize.


Shane worked his magic on these lobsters, just like he did on all of our meals during the trip. The food was quite tasty.


Viewing Tobacco Caye from the Ragga Queen.


The sunset became so intense and dynamic. The variety of clouds in the sky gave so much texture and canvas for color.


…and more


And the colors calm as the sun settles. So satisfying. Sunsets are so wonderful!


There might not be snow, gingerbread cookies, stacks of gifts, or Christmas trees, but we brought the Christmas cheer. Claire and Bonnie, sisters, wearing their Santa hats for the occasion!


The Norwegian boys had a gift exchange with some of the most ridiculous gifts, like a rubber chicken, a Borat unitard, and this great little Rudolph get up. I’m pretty sure Shane had no idea what to make of these guys!


Whats a sailboat journey or a camping trip without a little guitar and singing on the dock…


Then, we took it to the bar, where some local guys were playing drums, and these guys danced the night away…


The next morning, I awoke and caught this view of the island’s main path as I climbed out of my tent, which by the way, I attacked and almost destroyed during a nightmare in my sleep during the night. What a memory of Tobacco Caye!! … but beautiful surroundings


The island Santa, trying to figure out how to use the camera to take a group photo. Even though it was 9AM, I’m pretty sure he was already drunk!


Captain Jacob, our Raggamuffin Santa, looking cool as usual.


Our boat’s Christmas tree, brought by an Austrian girl, propped up in the window. It was really nice to have these little emblems of Christmas around the boat. As a midwesterner (U.S. that is), it doesn’t really feel like Christmas without cold and snow. The Santa hats, Rudolph noses and inflatable trees really kept the spirit alive.


Wooohoooo!!! Every time someone caught a fish, we’d all rush to the back and watch the fight. It was suspenseful, and every time the fish was brought in, we all celebrated in the victory…plus, we knew what we were about to eat for dinner! Comradery at its finest.


Scuba Steve…Scuba Santa Steve, with his Christmas cocktail…coconut water and rum…doesn’t sound great but he looks happy!


Shane, constant entertainment, always performing. Claire, with her bikini of Rasta colors and Santa hat, dancing and enjoying the entertainment.

Even with grey skies and rain, the ocean is gorgeous.

What a great way to spend Christmas.  I met some really nice and interesting people.  I relaxed to a point I didn’t know was possible.  And, in the end, while I enjoyed every one of the passengers, I walked away with a few new friends, people that I would soon keep in touch with and soon meet up with again.  Traveling often pushes you outside your comfort zone.  And, while travelling anywhere alone is never easy, overall this was a nice reprieve from the “work” of travel…as well as the “work” of Christmas.  I didn’t have to think about where I was going, what I was eating, or worry about my safety.  And, I left relaxed and tan.  Merry Christmas to me!

Note:  I loved the overnight trip on the Ragga Queen, and I was more than comfortable on the boat and sleeping in tents.  However, this is not a luxury trip, and the Ragga boats are not luxury yachts.  If you are not prepared to rough it a bit, this trip is not for you.  If you don’t mind replacing a few showers with a few swims, lazing on the deck (no lounge chairs), and sleeping in a tent, then you will likely enjoy this trip thoroughly.  As you should before embarking on any trip, do your research and make sure your plans are right for you!