Horace, a native of Belize and local skipper, is our guide. We anchor at Half Moon Cay – an enchanted island with swaying palm trees and white sandy beaches. It is here in the pristine, turquoise waters that we free-dive for lobster and conch for our evening meal. Our next stop is Victor Forman’s Cay to procure some coconut oil – the secret ingredient for Horace’s famous conch chowder.
The island was made by Horace’s family – concrete, sand and gravel poured onto an eroded shoal. The small, primitive fishing camp is also home to a makeshift coconut oil factory. Five motley dogs greet us at the dock, wagging their tails excitedly and begging for attention. Wooden lobster traps, grease-stained coolers and mismatched buckets litter the grounds. A whitewashed cistern collects precious rainwater next to weather-beaten fishing shacks wearing faded shades of green and gray. A pair of outhouses project from another dock – open to the sea below.
Victor and the other fishermen tend to their recent catch. One man minds a pot cooking on an open fire and seems as starved for attention as the dogs. With touches of gray hair and flecks of sand on his face, he puts a live sea urchin in his mouth as his eyes dance playfully toward us. He smiles, takes it out and offers it to me. I gasp and grin, unwilling to take the spiny creature. I look in his blackened pot and fish heads stare back at me. I ask gently, “Will you eat these?” He laughs heartily and says, “No, they are for the dogs!”
With coconut oil in hand, we climb into our dinghy and invite Victor and the others to join us at the end of their day. Back onboard, our galley windows cloud over with steam as the aroma of our savory, coconut oil-infused chowder fills the air. Okra, garlic, lime juice and a medley of other fresh, local vegetables add to the exquisite goodness. Under the star-filled night sky we sit with new friends, savoring the rich and varied flavors of Belize and her warm and friendly people.
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