Angel Falls, Venezuela


Still fresh in our minds is the memory of the horrifying journey to get here. For most of the journey the speedometer nudged 170k and the driver
slowed down only once to point out a dead body on the roadside, lying beside the mangled wreckage of a car.

So, less than 24 hours later, contemplating the world’s smallest plane (with just 5 seats) and a pilot with alcohol on his breath, I started to wonder if we are not being just a little irresponsible.

The engine splutters into life and we racket along the runway, finally ascending the open sky. I’ve never experienced flying in a plane with the windows open before. There are boxes of coke cans under my seat and the controls just in front.

The scenery is stunning and we feel every whisper of breeze and shuddering of the plane’s wings. Mystic and brooding tepuis (flat table mountains) and roaring waterfalls fill the windows. It’s exhilarating.


Canaima (the town closest to the falls) could possibly be one of the most striking places on earth, with waterfalls pounding into a lagoon with a reddish tinge to the water, caused by an agent in the soil. The first day of the trip we will not see the falls, but progress up the river in a wooden boat and visit lagoons and smaller falls along the way.

Our party comprises the two of us, a late-middle aged couple from Aruba – Baba and his wife – and three elderly Venezuelan ladies. We have not chanced upon the party trip. The camp is basic in the extreme and when we arrive after dark, soaked through to the skin after a long journey upstream in driving rain, there is no electricity.


There is also no alcohol and our cigarettes have been sacrificed to the elements and are limp, wet and broken. There seems little to do after we have eaten and we crawl into our hammocks at about 8.30. The deafening throb of crickets and other cries from the surrounding wilderness feed my over-imagination and the most sleep I can snatch is in periods of minutes
and marked by curious lucid dreams.

The camp´s dog decides to plant itself directly beneath my hammock and begins to lick its bottom and scratch its fleas into my ear. Not wishing to disturb my fellow hammock dwellers, my feeble whispers of “shew, shew” go unnoticed. The dog stays put. I am forced to resort to some loud expletives and slapping movements with my hands, which provoke a gnashing of teeth and a hurt whimper as the mangy creature limps off.

Ciara is now awake and we both dissolve into a shushed giggling fit as I explain the dilema. The rest of the night passes more or less like this. There´s nothing like a good night´s sleep. And that was nothing like a good night´s sleep.

Stiff and weary at about 6.30am, we cannot bring ourselves to get under an icy cold shower and we pull on the still-damp clothes from the day before. I ponder what effects of sleeping in a banana shape are having upon the elderly among us. They are beginning to look a little worse for wear and bleary-eyed.

We pack ourselves onto the boat and make our way upstream to the falls. We have to cross several rushing rapids on the way up, which pound the boat and scratch the motor. I´d always wanted to try white water rafting, but I´d supposed it would be in a raft. Not in a beaten-out, over-sized canoe. The trip up the river is a test on our aching bottom and back muscles, as the wooden bench offers not one once of comfort. The life vests now double up as seat cushions and the lesser-able begin to look progressively more peaky and grey.

But the thick, green vegetation and rushing red river, peppered with frothy white rapids, keep our minds occupied. At last we catch a glimpse of the falls, obscured by the dense jungle, tall, proud and imposing. It is now that our group splits into two – those who will tackle the hike to the falls, and those who will wait at the bottom. It is not particularly strenuous, but littered with thick tree roots and low-hanging branches. The path becomes increasingly steeper as we advance to the falls and the insects more bountiful, as we slap and shriek and swish our way up.

Suddenly they are revealed. Staggeringly high and pouring into the lagoon at their feet. The beauty and impressiveness of the Angel falls is not in the volume of water, thundering angrily, like Niagra, but more in the sheer size and staggering steep height.

Bathing in the icy-cold pool at the bottom and staring up at the cascading water is a phenomenal, almost sobering experience. We sigh contentedly before hiking back down to a hearty lunch of chicken and mashed

On the return to the camp, the rain sets in and doesn’t stop for the next 15 hours. Volumes of water dumping from the sky, relentlessly bashing us in the little boat. Our party are looking fairly grim. As darkness falls, the thunder and lightning become increasingly aggressive. We spend several hours playing cards to pass the time until we can sleep. Both of us are now bored and more than ready to leave the jungle and see some civilization. Its getting desperate.

We are now scraping for ways to entertain ourselves, inventing new games, such as – how many life vests can you put on in under a minute – and – how many games of shithead can we play before losing the will to live.

Staring out at the ceaseless rain and unbroken darkness, it does feel as if even God himself has forsaken this land. Even the dog has jumped ship. It
literally flung itself into the river and swam for freedom. That night I sleep even less, as images of flash floods causing land slides fill my brain and I am convinced the camp will be washed away.

As we load our aching bones onto the little plane once more, it is with enthusiasm. This time to satisfy our overwhelming desire for a decent shower, massage, and general de-jungling session. I ache to see a car.
Hear the sounds of a city. Drink a beer. Neither of us are jungle girls. We both have a pair of high-heel shoes in our backpacks. It is time to hit the
dance floors of Brasil. The southward journey continues…

Hunting Anacondas, Los Llanos, Venezuela


It’s something like 7 O’ clock in the morning and I’ve already had a hearty breakfast of platanos, eggs and cheese. I’ve seen the huge orange sun rise up over the plains and, as I crawled out of my hammock, found a curious, spiky green caterpillar beneath me. At home, I don’t achieve anything much before midday. In Venezuela, I am standing in a swamp, heart-in-mouth, hunting for anacondas.

It’s one of those things you do when you’re on vacation, although you’re not really sure why. Propelling yourself over a cliff edge or scaling a lofty mountain suddenly become more appealing when they are handed to you on a glossy flyer or sold to you by a ruthless tourist tout.

Something like 15 minutes passes before we here a cry from the small group of llaneros “ANACONDA!!!” I watch with fascination and fear as these young, wild-looking boys begin to wrestle with the 7-metre-long reptile, calling at us to come closer. In our group of about 7 or 8, each of us manages to hold a section of the 120 kilo creature which, shedding skin, leaves a souvenir on my back.


To cool down and clean anaconda skin from us, we are taken to a river to swim, which meant propelling ourselves from a 4 meter high rock in to the murky waters below. I felt ashamed of my fear as the accustomed, adventurous “tour guides” back flip and dive bomb in to the pool.

I breathe deeply, screw my eyes shut and launch myself into the air, landing with a less than elegant splash. I felt relief flood over my body until I looked up and realized that the rest of my group had declined the chance of a dip, electing instead to lance nylon wires, barbed with meat into the waters. I wondered what they were doing until I saw the wire pull and a razor sharp toothed piranha struggling as it is pulled out of the water.


I don’t know if I’ve read about this somewhere but, is it a good idea to swim in piranha infested waters? Night falls and out come the musicians, playing their famous jigging music, jorope. The young llanero who has been undressing me with his eyes all day will not take no for an answer and we are first up on the dance floor.

It’s actually quite fun and fueled by just enough shots of rum, the company claps and cheers as we dance for hours, quite the stars of the evening. He looks my deeply in the eyes and asks me if he makes me nervous, saying that he will protect me from the anacondas and crocodiles, when what I need most is protection from him.

Declining his offer of an “adventure” under the stars, I go to bed giggling. Next stop… Isla Margarita. I’m in need of a few piña coladas to soothe the aches, pains and bite marks from my time in the wild.

Epic Border Crossing on a Shoestring From Honduras to Nicaragua


Although by now we should have been seasoned professionals at crossing borders in Central America, they still filled me with apprehension. It wasn’t the thought of the unknown that made me hate border crossings; that was the most exciting thing about entering a new country. It was more the fact that wherever there was a border, indeed, wherever there was a tourist, there was also a rip-off merchant lurking in the shadows.

It was inevitable that these two things went together. They seemed to always come out and try to hit you when you’re at your most vulnerable, when you don’t know where you’re going or what the currency is worth. Running so dangerously low on money at this stage, in one sense, we had less to lose but, because of that, every time we did lose anything, or over-pay for something, its loss was felt more sorely. And with our backpacks appreciating in emotional value every day from all the souvenirs we had picked up, I became less and less willing to hand them over to the bus workers and watch them disappear from sight onto the roof above.

After yet another morning of me having to play “alarm clock Nazi” and Tony doing his usual “shifting-into-reverse-gear-mode”, I eventually managed to hustle us out of the hotel. A little late, but in time to make the walk to Mi Esperanza bus depot (or so we thought). After last night’s torrential downpour, which caused a power-out (and some of the most violent thunder I had ever heard) the morning was far from cool, even at 8.30: in fact it was sweltering hot. The walk to the station was not ‘cuatro cuadras’ as we had been told, but more like fifteen.

We hurried along the dusty, busy streets, descending further and further into the worst district of town in the Capital of one of Central America’s most dangerous countries. With the weight on our backs, we sweated and were told “si, recto, recto, recto!” every time we asked for directions, assuring us that we were on the right track, even though we appeared to be getting nowhere. After at least 20 minutes of walking (and several near-death experiences attempting to cross the hectic streets), we eventually saw a bus swinging around the corner, bound for Choluteca.

“That’s the bus!!” I closed my eyes and let out a howl “it must have already left.” Fearing an hour of waiting on the pot-holed sidewalk by a taco stand, being stared at by passing alcoholics and crackheads, I started to whimper. Tony took the initiative and started frantically waving his arms in the air. The bus pulled over on the other side and we (rather recklessly) managed to navigate our way across the street, darting in and out of cars.

“Es para Choluteca?” I panted at the bus driver. “si, si, si” he yelled back, and we bundled ourselves on to the bus. It’s hard to describe the sense of relief that washes over you every time you succeed in securing yourself a seat on a bus or finding a place to stay after hours of travelling in a foreign country. It’s something like the few seconds after awaking from a nightmare, where you realize that it was just a dream, and that you don’t actually have two heads after all. When that backpack is lifted from your shoulders and plonked down on the seat in front of you, a mental weight as well as the physical one is lifted from your shoulders. I sat back in my seat and panted. Tony winked at me “alright babe, we made it.”

The bus began to make its way painfully slowly along the same road we had just struggled down, as it stopped every few minutes to let people off. I didn’t notice any thing out of the ordinary about this, until Tony asked “why are people getting off?”

“what do you mean, why are people getting off? It’s a bus. It stops”

“No, but it’s going to Choulteca, so people wouldn’t be getting out here in Tegus, would they?”

It was then that we realized that the bus was actually coming from Choluteca, and we had to endure a tedious loop through Comayaguela’s frantic back streets and markets, before changing buses at Mi Espiranza’s other depot, about four blocks away from our hotel. Beyond the initial irritation about having to walk unnecessarily along the bad streets with our luggage, as long as we were safe, the only real nuisance about this unexpected scenic tour, was the hour that we lost in time. It was to be the blue print for the rest of the day.

We prepared ourselves for the three hour journey to Choluteca which (although closer to three and a half), passed without any major incident, and involved the usual vendors leaping on every time we stopped, selling anything from flash lights to clothes to Coca Cola and full blown comidas.

I noted with interest the subtle changes in culture from country to country, down to the very simple things, such as the way they speak, or the food they eat. A taco in Mexico is soft and small, an enchilada, similar to a taco, but a bit longer and a quesadilla usually just plain cheese sandwiched in between 2 tortillas (although, if they were feeling creative, it could involve an assortment of ingredients, such as onions, peppers, and meat).

In Honduras it’s not the same. An enchilada is what a tostada is in Mexico (a crispy shell topped with meat and cheese). A taco is larger and baked, giving it a crunchy texture, the quesadillas they were selling on this particular bus were another thing entirely. Strange cookie-like objects that caused the jaw to ache after several bites, laced with a sweet, syrupy gel. I think they’re the kind of thing you would get used to and eventually even like if you spent any length of time in Honduras. I couldn’t quite claimed to have reached that point yet. But seeing as these appeared to be the only snack on offer, and with both of our stomachs rumbling, we decided to part with a couple of limpiras, and put up with an aching jaw.

We arrived at Choluteca, and boarded a microbus for Guasale, the border town to Nicaragua. Although our luggage was on the roof, and the spitting rain drops and black clouds threatened to drown our packs, we luckily made it to the boarder with dry luggage. As the bus pulled into Guasale and I climbed out, I was encircled by at least six men with bicycle taxis and dollars and cordobas, all pulling and harassing me into changing money with them and choosing their vehicle to take us to the frontera.

After about five hours of travelling, it was utterly over-whelming and I had to grab my backpack from the clutches of more than one over-eager bicycle men. I changed some money and waited for Tony to get out of the bus. Five minutes of chaos ensued, as they yelled their prices at us and tried to explain why their’s was the best way to get to the border. I had to keep pleading “uno momento, uno momento” and stepping back while I caught my breath.

After the ripping off incident at the Mexico/Guatemala boarder, I was determined not to be had again. Eventually, we chose one guy to take us there for 10 cordobas, and I foolishly tipped him one US dollar (which more than doubled his original price). But with four countries and four currencies inside of a week, I was perhaps understandably a little confused- in fact, my brain was fried.

Anyway, we were at immigration. Feeling pleased and surprised that we were not charged on exiting Honduras, our spirits fell when we discovered we had to pay UD$7 to get into Nicaragua. And they only accept US dollars, which, considering how many miles away we were from the United States, seemed quite bizarre to me. Anyhow, that’s the way it was and we were forced to change seven dollars worth of cordobas back into dollars (having just changed them moments before) and Tony lined up in the bank while I chatted to the security guard in my best broken Spanish.

If I thought Honduran Spanish was a little hard on the ear, then Nicaraguan Spanish is even more so. They meow when they speak and miss the ends off of words, which is terribly confusing with prices and numbers (something we had tried so painstakingly to learn).

A few stamps later, a few dollars poorer and another sweaty walk to the bus station, we were bundled on to another bus. This was a “Leon express” bus which only cost 15 cordobas and would omit having to change autobuses and Chinandega.

With our backpacks safely behind us on the bus (infinitely more comforting than strapped onto the roof and out of sight) and both seated, we awaited the departure of the bus. We sat and waited. And waited. And waited. As the sun streaked through the windows and the bus became more crowded, I had the sensation of being a fly trapped in a jam jar. I also needed the toilet. But it would only be another 2 hours to Leon when we eventually got going. I could wait. I looked out of the window at the dusty, dirty area where buses congregated and under-fed horses and over-fed pigs mingled about with the people. Our sixth new country.

During the wait (of not far short of an hour) we were at least kept entertained by the chaos around us. I was awe-struck by the number of fat people (most notably women) with huge behinds, in this poor country where much of the population could scarcely afford to feed themselves.

As they attempted to squash past each other up and down the bus, on more than one occasion did two huge asses become tightly wedged in between two seats in the narrow corridor of the bus. And then a very large lady, with an even larger basket on her head hauled herself into the bus with all the effort of a man attempting to pull an over-size truck up a hill.

Her purpose, and therefore the purpose of her basket was explained a few moments later when she produced a pile of tortillas and began to slaver them with sour crème and onions, rolling them up into plastic bags and handing them around the bus. I have to say, they would have been slightly better had they been a little warm, but, not having much in my stomach, it was not an unwelcome snack. And still the damn bus stood stationary.

Being left with a plastic bag of sour crème and onions on my lap, I was faced with a predicament. Of having it soak through onto my lap, or following the example of our fellow passengers and tossing it out of the window. Being, at some times, almost anal in my disposal of litter, it was a hard choice to make. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and let it drop down the side of the bus into the seething pile of pig shit below. “I’m really sorry” I thought. I wasn’t sure exactly to whom.

The engine spluttered into life at last and within a few moments, we were finally on our way. We had scarcely covered two or three kilometers when we encountered a policia road block and the bus was forced to come to a grinding halt. Pandemonium reigned, as armed police jumped onto the bus, checking for goods and forcing people off.

Apparently, the bus was laden to the gills with goods brought in from Honduras. Goods for which the owners had evaded paying the duty on. We wondered what they could be checking for at first- drugs? Weapons? Counterfeit money? I stared up at the “PELIGROSO” skull and cross bones pesticides around us and at the bag of the lady with the sweaty, hairy, fat armpits beside which was chocked full of tablets, and decided this must be what they were after.

But after they ushered more passengers off of the bus and found more of what they were looking for, I realized it was more cans of pop and boxes of chips. The pesticides and dubious-looking tablets were not even afforded a second glance. These are such strange countries.

After nearly an hour, a slightly lighter bus and most of the passengers reboarded, we again attempted to set off for Leon (the police apparently satisfied). I breathed a sigh of relief until we were flagged over again after scarcely pulling away. The policia waved at the driver to stop and the whole of the bus started yelling at the driver to carry on and ignore the police.

He nearly did until out of no where another police car appeared. Bigger police with bigger guns (AK47s) boarded the bus. Confiscationg more boxes, ordering more passengers off. We sat and watched as the people started playing games with the police. Waiting until they were on the bus, to throw themselves over our seat and fling bags and boxes out of the window at their friends. The woman with the sweaty arm pits kicked her bin liner of prescription drugs under our seat. Surrupticiously, Tony pushed them under the seat of the fat arsed lady in front.

After a couple of hours of delay (the time was now a quarter to five) the bus was ordered to return to the border. With admirable speed and strength, we managed to haul our backpacks out of the seat and squish past the obstacles in the path of the exit (one of which included and armed policeman) and jump out of the moving bus.

“FUCK!!!!!!!!!” we both resounded. Our skin was sticky and wet and I could feel sweat beads coursing down my stomach. There was now no way we would make it to Leon before dark and I had lost count of the amount of times we had promised each other not to arrive in a strange city after dark again.

Standing on the side of the Nicaraguan highway, with our packs at our feet and rain clouds beginning to form, I felt suddenly a long, long way from home. And still I needed the toilet.

We hadn’t been waiting too long however, when a bus for Chinandega rumbled along the dirt road and we were able to squeeze ourselves onto it, with our packs hauled on to the roof. As I melted into the seat, whacked out from heat exhaustion and frustration, I made a little mental deal with God. He was allowed to let the rain saturate our baggage, as long as it was still there when we reached our destination. The rain drops fell. He at least was keeping his part of the bargain.

Ten minutes into the journey and we encountered our third police road block. Absolutely everything, it seemed, was conspiring to keep us from reaching Leon. At least this bus was relatively empty of goods and we only had to wait for a few minutes while objects (probably including our backpacks) were hauled off of the roof and checked. We were on our way again.

Sharp pains were beginning to form in my stomach from holding my pee too long. It had been hours and it was to be at least another two before I found a bathroom. I am sure that my expression on that bus must have been one of absolute misery as we bumped and swerved our way along the pot-holed, unpaved road, every movement jiggling my bladder.

The sun set dramatically over the volcano, painting the sky with vibrant pinks, reds and oranges. I would have thought it devastatingly beautiful, had not it’s presence indicated the imminent darkness. Many bumps, swerves and stops later (and at one point a dangerous over-take which saw us sandwiched in between two huge lorries) and we finally rolled into Chinandega. Our luggage was there- and it was covered too.

I left it with Tony and went off in search of a bathroom, in a nearby cantina. I took a deep breath and walked in. My entrance was greeted with silent stares of pairs of dark eyes belonging to men with too much drink inside of them. I walked up to the bar and asked for a baño. I was pointed through some beaded curtains.

I walked straight into a large room of pool tables, gambling, and horny men. A gringa in the midst of a huge, men only cantina. I pulled at the dilapidated door of the baño and was greeted by a man sitting down taking a shit. I immediately slammed the door.

Suddenly a plump and kindly old lady arose out of the hammock she had been occupying and came to my side. She was gentle and grandmotherly and spoke to me in broken English, most of which I couldn’t understand, about her family in Texas.

She banged on the cubicle door at minute intervals, yelling at the man in Spanish to come out. He grunted back momentarily in reply. She vanished. I was left with fifty pairs of eyes boring into me.

She re-appeared with a roll of toilet paper and a smile, then turned back to the door of the toilet and proceeded banging again with great force. Eventually, the man came out and grunted something under his breath. The lady went in and before she would let me enter, she grabbed a bucket of water and poured it into the bowl. “It’s OK now”. She handed me the paper. I closed the door and relief flushed over me as the liquid flowed from my body and my stomach pains began to subside.

As I went to leave, I walked over to the lady and thanked her. She gave me a hug and wished me safe and happy travels. I felt like crying at this point. Her kindness overwhelmed me. As I emerged from the cantina, I found Tony speaking in English with some Nicaraguan guys outside. They were so friendly and so cool and pointed us in the direction of the micro bus to Leon. We thanked them and walked off towards the bus, and as we did so, one of the men ran up behind us and pointing again as to where we should go. These people were so friendly and so kind, and I couldn’t believe that we could have found such shining lights in a day such as this.

Forty-five minutes in a microbus, one taxi ride, and a short walk later, we finally reached Casa Ivana, our sanctuary in the dark streets of Leon. Twelve hours to complete a four hour journey. I lay on the bed and closed my eyes. Against all the conspiring odds, police blocks, boarder crossings and potholes, we had made it through one of the most testing days of our trip.

No Shirt, No shoes, No shit, No problem


Out of the corner of my eye I could see the two men under the tree. Horizontal and relaxed, shaded from the penetrating midday heat, one chewing on a long blade of dry, brown grass, the other pulling on a cigarette.

“That’s total evidence of this tropical climate, that tan you got right there baby – you look like syrup,” the first one drawled, removing the straw from his mouth.

His friend sat up and a large, lazy grin spread across his face, wrinkling his thick, jet-black, skin. He pushed his dreadlocks out of his eyes, cooing, “I like the way you walk baby – why don’t you come over here?”

I received their comments with a mixture of mild irritation and amusement. The men here are forward. The beer and cuba libres flow freely and the Caribbean sunshine goes to the head like an intoxicating drug.

Strikingly set apart from its Latin neighbors, Belize, home to a diverse mix of people and cultures, often feels like several different countries at once. The Creoles (descendants of the African slaves and British pirates who first settled here) speak the official language of English with musical lilt, Caribbean flavor, and poetic license.

Spanish is the first language in the north and some towns in the west, where the Maya and mestizos (persons of mixed European and Central American Indian ancestry) concentrate. Garfunas (of South American Indian and African descent) dominate the south, and small pockets of Europeans, Chinese, East Indians and North Americans also make up Belize’s improbable population, adding to its unique charm and character.

Creaking and bumping into Belize City by bus is truly a feast for the eyes. Chaotic and bustling with activity, loud voices can be heard selling oranges, pineapples, cigarettes, jewelry, clothing, and, as I wouldn’t put past some shady Belizeans, their own grandmothers.

Whether they’re trying to sell something, help you out, or scam you, the colorful language and facial expressions used by the friendly Belizean people always bring a smile to the face. “Honey, you could die three times and still come back,” responded the boat hand when I asked if my ticket to Caye Caulker was good for the return journey.

The cayes are numerous islands that bask in the shallow warm waters of eastern Belize. The essence is on relaxation, with street signs on the pedestrian Caulker reading ‘Go slow’, ‘Hesitate… you are here’ and, my personal favorite, ‘Betta no litta’.

The sound of reggae beats and smells of charcoal grills fill the air. Beach huts and ramshackle hotels dot the length and breadth of the caye (about four miles long and only 600 meters at its widest point) and brightly colored hammocks swing from palm trees.

Five star luxury it isn’t. Caye Caulker is a poor man’s Caribbean. Shrubs and roots pepper the white sand, and there are few places to swim or sunbathe because of mangroves and lack of space that is not covered by grass or buildings.

Yet despite this, Caulker maintains a certain amount of charm and character. Serving mainly as a jumping off point for the coral reefs, it’s largely uncrowded during the day. Those who remain on the caye can be found swinging in hammocks or diving off the jetty into the deep waters at the ‘split’ (so-called because of Hurricane Hattie that literally split the island in two in 1961).

Over the years, Caulker has suffered the wrath of many powerful and dangerous hurricanes. This is evident in structural damage to flimsy beach side hotels. Many palm trees lie broken or bent along the shoreline, and Caulker’s most popular swimming spot, ‘the split’, is testament to the devastation a fiercely whirling hurricane can wield.

The islanders who live here are familiar with the tropical storms that ravage their home every year. Living in fear of a hurricane large enough to raise their houses to the ground means that their houses are little more than a few slats of wood nailed together, as if the less ostentatiously they build, the less they will have to rebuild when the time comes.

Children run around with dirty noses and huge smiles. The older ones launch into triple back flips off the jetty, throwing themselves into the air, daring each other to jump higher or further, or splash louder. Theirs is a lifestyle handed down by parents who have witnessed how fragile life can be. No one here takes themselves – or anyone else – too seriously. There’s a sign hanging outside the Sand Box bar which reads:

“No shirt,

No shoes,

No shit,

No problem.”

On the third night of my stay, I went to the Sandbox and unexpectedly witnessed the capabilities of a tropical storm firsthand. I watched as the ink-blue sky was suddenly illuminated by a fork of lightning, followed by a rolling boom of thunder. I saw the black silhouettes of the palm trees swaying against the backdrop of the night and felt the power of the wind.

The rain poured furiously. Sheets of water fell from the sky, blowing sideways into the bar, as it was caught by a heavy gust of wind, drenching those inside within seconds. The bar tender ran towards the door and pulled down the wooden hatches, winking at me.

As crash followed crash, and the intensity of the rain continued, I asked a local near me about Hurricane Keith – the last major hurricane to rock the island. He chuckled as he described the noise of the wind and the ferocity of the rain.

“I heard that wind and it was like he saying ‘I got a whole lot more where that came from!’” He stopped suddenly and looked sombre, his face taking on a deadly serious composure. Gesturing towards the hatches, which were rocking fiercely in the wind he said, “this sound just like Keith.”

My horrified face must have been a picture, because he took one look and let out a loud, belly laugh. “Honey this bar wouldn’t be here no more if this was another Keith!”

The next day, wandering lazily along the caye, the sun was out and the puddles had drained away. Food stands and tour operators were open, and tourists and locals were swimming in the clear waters again.

Deciding it was time to go out on the reef, I was bombarded with offers. Huge, brightly-colored banners plastered with underwater pictures are displayed outside every store, and it is hard to see much difference in the services offered.

My concern was that I would end up on an overcrowded party boat and have to compete for space and equipment. I began to examine some of the flyers I had picked up before noticing a small painted sign reading ‘JUNI’ in white letters on the side of a beach hut.

A man of about 60 was gently rocking on a chair on the balcony, looking down at me with an expression of faint amusement.

“Are you Juni?” I asked. He nodded calmly, fixing me with an intense gaze. At last he said: “If you’re looking to go out on the reef, I have something very special going on out there.”

I liked his soft brown eyes and the coral cross he wore around his neck. I liked his calm manner and knowing expression. He was the type of person whose presence made you feel safe and I decided to go to the reef with him.

Although nurse sharks enjoy a placid reputation and are rarely provoked, I was nervous as we sailed into Shark Ray Alley and I could make out the shape of one swimming beneath our boat, the magnifying quality of the water making her appear huge. Juni had timed our arrival just as the powerboats, heaving with sunburned bodies, were leaving.

He threw out the anchor into the green waters below and, in his unhurried manner, turned to face us: “I am going to tell you a story. You will never have heard anything like this before.”

As he stood on the edge of the boat, he looked like a mythical character, serious and earnest. “Almost ten years ago I was in my boat when I came across a female nurse shark that had been speared by a fisherman.” He spoke softly, as if confiding a great secret.

“She was weak and bleeding. So I brought her some food and stayed with her for a while. The next day I went back and fed her and stayed some more time with her. I went back every day and, after three weeks, she was up. She was better. She swam with me all day.”

He paused and looked round at each of us, as if to make sure we were listening, and then continued. “One day I noticed that she was getting fat. I called her gordita,” he smiled: “I did not realize that she was pregnant.”

He went on to tell us of how she had two babies and, although one of them died, the other had three babies of her own. For ten years now Juni had returned almost daily to swim with his sharks.

As beautifully as he told the story, I could’t help but feel cynical until we spent a couple of hours with his shark family. On that day, just three of them came, the grandmother and two of the young sharks. As soon as Juni splashed into the water, they were by his side. They followed him closely, and we followed Juni.

Every movement he made, they moved with him. When he rolled over and when he swam, they did too, playing with him as he turned them over and stroked their undersides.

Juni beckoned to me underneath the water and I swam close to him. He nudged one of the baby sharks toward me and I patted her back. Her skin was scaly, like the rough surface of a cat’s tongue. Juni turned her over and I held her in my arms for a moment and stroked her soft belly.

Swimming with these sharks gave me an insight into how intelligent and peaceful they are. Each beautiful, graceful movement they made and their acceptance of us was touching.

I was unnerved only when they speedily changed direction, making a sudden U-turn, and three meters of shark swam towards me. Their two barbels (thin, fleshy, whisker-like organs on the lower jaw that sense touch and taste) hanging low, like teeth, provoking an irrational fear of sharks instilled in me from watching Jaws many years ago.

But there was no malice in these sharks, just an inquisitive playfulness. When Juni led us back to the boat he gave the sharks one last pat on their heads, and a morsel of fish each before they swam off away from the reef and out of sight.

Watching the sharks go, I realized that I had never felt such a close affinity with wild animals before, and it was elating. A smile appeared on my face that refused to fade.

As we sailed back to the caye with the warm air blowing in our faces, I noticed the name painted on the side of Juni’s boat – Trinity. I asked him why he had chosen this name. He smiled and said “My boat, my ocean, my sharks… my trinity.”

Juni was a man who needed nothing more in his life. The wooden slatted beach hut, lack of family, even a home that was rapidly being built upon and blighted in the name of tourism, mattered little to him. Out on the blue horizon are his family. On his boat is his home.

Caulker was evacuated just two days after I left. The strong winds of Hurricane Chantal, with gusts of up to 100 km per hour stopped just short of being a classified a true hurricane, whose winds much reach over 119 km. I thought of Juni, and the words he had spoken through a wide smile: “I like hurricanes, they control the gringo population.”