Raphael Kessler

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South East Asia 1999

  1. Vietnam - February 1999
  2. Thailand - April 1999
  3. Malaysia and Singapore - May 1999
  4. Indonesia - June 1999
Africa to home, the long way
- Africa
  1. South Africa
  2. Namibia and Botswana
  3. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya
  4. Uganda
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Egypt
- Middle East and Balkans
  1. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey
  2. Balkans
  3. Turkey
  4. Iran
- Asia
  1. Pakistan
  2. China
  3. Tibet
  4. Nepal
  5. India 1
  6. India 2
  7. India 3
  8. Sri Lanka
  9. Bangladesh
  10. Myanmar
  11. Thailand
  12. Cambodia
  13. Laos
  14. China, Macao and Hong Kong
  15. Mongolia
- North America and Caribbean
  Caribbean, USA, Mexico and Canada
- Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
  1. Russia
  2. Sweden
  3. Baltics
  4. Poland and Czech Republic
South America 2002
  1. Brazil
  2. Argentina
  3. Chile and Easter Island
Central America and Mexico 2002
  1. Panama
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Honduras
  5. El Salvador
  6. Guatemala
  7. Belize
  8. Mexico
South America 2003-4
  1. Trinidad and Tobago
  2. Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana
  3. Venezuela
  4. Colombia
  5. Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Argentina
  9. Uruguay and Paraguay
  10. Bolivia 2
  11. Peru 2
Specific Pacific
  1. California to Fiji+ French Polynesia & Cook Islands
  2. Samoa, Niue and American Samoa
  3. Tonga and New Zealand
  4. Australia 1
  5. Australia 2



Once again I have come to the end of one of my trips and have done so when it is particularly cold in the UK, oh well. Anyway the final instalment for the while to let those of you who care or are too bored to do anything else find out what I got up to.

As I mentioned at the end of my previous newsletter I would be going to Belize, it was only right that I did so. I got a bus at a ridiculously early hour accompanied by John and Melanie whom I met in Tikal the previous day. The border crossing was incredibly slow, but otherwise painless. From Belize city, the former capital everyone else rushed off the bus pushing people out the way and getting in the way to get the boat to Caye (pronounced Key) Caulker. We went at a more sedate pace, whilst a few who had not been allowed on board the boat due to a lack of space ran about creating stress, we sat down and thought about getting some lunch. They then announced there would be another boat leaving in two minutes, so we boarded that. The boats they use to ferry people and goods to the islands are not very big and are very overpowered, with four hundred horsepower propelling the things over the water to make the journey much more exciting than the cross channel ferries back home. As our boat was much lighter, we were able to cut through the middle of a Caye en route when the previous boat had obviously had to go round it, so we overtook them and couldn’t help gloating that we had a more comfortable ride with more space, boarded at a more leisurely pace and got there first. The three of us then decided to share a small bungalow as it was not going to cost much more than the cheapest hotels and then we had a kitchen and much more space.

The evening we arrived, being a Saturday, turned out to be a long one, with too much partying and seemed to set a precedent for the rest of the time we spent there.

Although Caye Caulker is an idyllic little Caribbean island, it is the diving nearby that most interested me, so after a days rest, I went with John for a day of diving. At one location, there are some very friendly nurse sharks and grouper and I hovered down in front of one nurse shark, expecting it to back off, but it didn’t I was just a couple of inches from it staying still when it gave me a friendly head-butt. I then swam round with it very close to me and we followed each other in circles, I then swam underneath it, facing upwards looking into its face and mouth and we mirrored each others swimming (although I’m sure the shark was more elegant) and swam in circles. After a few minutes of this I decided I should get back to the group, only to see them all perched on the side of the wreck, where we had first encountered the sharks, watching the spectacle. It was a special experience to move so closely with what is a wild creature. The groupers were also surprisingly friendly with Black groupers and Goliath groupers around, that were not shy at all. Amongst the other things we saw were southern sting rays, two metres across and three metres long. In the surface interval between dives we went to one of the Shark Ray alleys. These are areas near the inhabited Cayes where lots of nurse sharks, southern sting and rough tailed rays congregate as the fishermen returning to the Cayes throw the unwanted fish and guts overboard in these areas. It is possible to snorkel close to these amazing fish and they only alter their course if you get in their way or get too close for their comfort. With a bit of shallow free diving one can get right in amongst them and under them.

One of the worlds most famous dive sites is the Blue Hole quite some way out in the Belize Barrier Reef (which incidentally is the world’s second largest reef and the longest continual reef and one of the seven underwater wonders of the world). The site is actually a cave that collapsed and is several hundred metres deep, the appeal of this site is not the marine life, but the massive stalactites that can be found at about forty metres. It is a long way to the site, two or three hours at ridiculous speed on the boat and then the actual dive time is very short due to the depth. When we got there we had moderate visibility, but due to the depth and lack of almost anything there but the limestone walls, stalactites and a couple of grouper that joined us there is an extreme contrast of colour, with the water appearing black and the walls white it is quite eerie as at forty-three and a half metres (which is the deepest we got) the only reference point was the white walls and column like stalactites. Up down and to the side is just pitch black. This gave the dive an eerie quality and swimming amongst the stalactites it somehow felt like I was in a surreal cathedral. Anyway, with an eight minute bottom time one didn’t have the time to get too carried away with it all.

The subsequent dives of the day were interesting although not phenomenal and during the surface interval on the isolated Half-Moon Caye we were able to see lots of red breasted boobies. An interesting bird that inflates a bladder in its chest that makes it look like a big red balloon stuck under its chin. Apparently this is mating thing. They are called boobies not because they look like tits, but because they act like them apparently being quite curious so in early colonial times they were easy prey for hunters, so earning their name.

I was going to do some more diving but due to a lack of clients the boat didn’t go so I had another day taking it easy. The following day John and I went on a tour to see the manatees in their natural environment. Manatees, also known as sea cows are most closely related to elephants and are a shy vegetarian aquatic mammal. They are also quite rare and becoming more so, as they swim close to the surface and regularly get chewed up by propellers from boats that race through their feeding grounds despite ample signage telling them to go slow. Carlo our guide managed to find one of the magnificent creatures and when it came up for air every couple of minutes we were able to have look at it. It became reasonably curious of us and spent some time around the boat. AS we had snorkelling stuff with us, John and I had the idea of hanging over the side of the boat with our heads in the water to be able to watch the thing in its watery home. Carlo was worried we were going to hurt ourselves and possibly capsize the boat, but we paid him little attention and continued to watch our friend. Snorkelling with the manatees is strictly forbidden.

After the manatee adventure we headed to Sergeants Caye for some snorkelling and saw some nice fish and marine life and I saw for the first time ever a Christmas tree worm outside of a hole and actually in the process of making one. We then headed for some more snorkelling in another Shark Ray Alley where apart from the sharks and rays there were also ballyhoos, cowfish, trunkfish and conches to look at.

Despite previous plans the cost of things and declining weather in Belize dissuaded me from looking anywhere else round the country so we got on board a boat back to Belize city and off to Mexico. The people in Belize were generally very pleasant, in a typically laid back Caribbean way. It was interesting to be in an English speaking country in Central America after getting used to speaking Spanish with the locals.

The only problems I had with Belize was that it was competitively very expensive and the weather was not particularly good. The exit costs were my biggest problem with Belize as non-Belizean have to pay an exit tax of twenty Belizean dollars. In addition we have to pay a conservation fee of seven and a half Belizean dollars. When I asked the immigration why Belizeans don’t have to consider conservation, but merely leave it as the responsibility of tourists, he had no reply, just insisted on me paying the fee. Then I crossed into Mexico and left Central America behind, Mexico being a part of North America. This is not only geographically correct, but the change in the quality and price of buses proves it to be so.



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