Cool winter camping on a tropical isleYou could call it winter camping. But coconuts fell instead of snowflakes. We fished for wahoo instead of walleyes. Our tent, pitched under palm trees, required no woodstove for heat.
By: Lora Lockett, Duluth News Tribune
You could call it winter camping. But coconuts fell instead of snowflakes. We fished for wahoo instead of walleyes. Our tent, pitched under palm trees, required no woodstove for heat.
For a week in January, my husband, Phillip ,and I discovered an easy way to escape the cold grip of the Minnesota winter — camping on the beach on Glover’s Atoll off the coast of Belize in Central America.
Glover’s Atoll is a United Nations UNESCO World Heritage Site, part of the Belize barrier reef about 30 miles off the mainland, where we made our home for a week in January. Glover’s Atoll Resort sits on a nine-acre island amid the ring of the atoll.
The word “resort” is used loosely here. This place is rustic in all the right ways. No running water, no electricity, but fabulous sunsets, white sand beaches, aqua-blue water teeming with fish and brilliant stars over our hammocks at night.
The resort does have idyllic but simple over-the-water cabanas and more on the beach. But we chose to do our stay Minnesota-style. We pitched our tent on the beach.
We made one rookie mistake. Trees mean nice shade in Minnesota, so that’s where we pitched our tent to escape the hot tropical sun. But we neglected to do one simple thing — look up. Several days later, a rogue coconut would let loose and come crashing down like a falling boulder, narrowly missing our tent.
We quickly slipped into island time. Brian, the island manager and a native of Southern California, told us more than once that week, “This is where spare time comes from.”
Our week on Glover’s was spent with a multi-national group of like-minded travelers. About 30 or more of us made the three-hour ferry trip to the island. Our companions hailed from Arizona, Oregon, New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands.
We spent our days sea kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, casting a fly on the flats for bonefish and lounging in the hammock with a good book. But perhaps the best parts of our days were spent on more utilitarian hunting and gathering activities. This island paradise holds a bounty of foods from both land and sea that Minnesotans find only in the grocery stores.
First, there were the coconuts. Thousands of them. On the ground. In the trees. Soon after arriving, we received a demonstration on how to properly open a coconut with the right implements. We used a metal spike sticking 3 feet out of the ground to peel away the hard outer husk. Then, with the gentle tapping of a large machete, the coconut would pop right open, exposing the sweet smell of coconut milk and the tender white meat.
Seafood came in many forms. Artificial flies and spinner rigs cast from shore or from a sea kayak consistently produced tasty hogfish and snapper. Spearfishing was an effective way to remove lionfish from the marine reserve while also putting dinner on our plate. These beautiful dragon-like fish are an invasive species that are not native to the Caribbean. Their voracious appetites for native reef fish are unchecked, because they have no natural predators. Amazingly, lionfish taste very much like walleye and quickly became a favored meal.
Early in the week we took a 16-foot skiff trolling in the open ocean. In just three hours, we caught multiple species, including wahoo, tuna, barracuda and grouper. That provided enough fish to last us all week and share with our fellow campers.
Perhaps the biggest seafood novelty was the conch, a large sea snail with a pink shell and spiral shape. They’re not so hard to catch — just swim down and pick one off the sandy ocean floor. By cracking a hole in the shell with a knife, you can detach the mollusk, which then slides right out.
After the sun set, everyone gathered in the open-air kitchen to prepare our day’s collection of island food. Propane burners were fired up. Beams of light headlamps crossed like light sabers in the dark. Kerosene lamps emitted a soft yellow glow in the room, taking us back to the days of the early buccaneers who plied these waters. Coconut-shell husks provided an endless supply of island-style firewood for barbecues and bonfires.
The nightly conversations turned to food preparation. “How should I cut up this conch?” “What seasoning should I put on that grouper?” “How hot should I cook that tuna?”
The pan-seared tuna, drizzled with soy sauce, still delectably raw on the inside, would have given any five-star restaurant a run for its money. The wahoo steaks, barbecued on the open fire with lemon and garlic, came out perfectly. The coconut shavings, lightly toasted with sugar and cinnamon and served with an evening coffee, were an excellent dessert to end the day.
After a week of living in a swimsuit and bare feet, reality set in. When we returned to Minnesota, the air was literally 100 degrees colder than on the atoll. So, while we count the days until our next tropical vacation, we’ll have to settle for a canvas tent heated with a wood stove while we catch lake trout.
And we won’t have to worry about coconuts landing on the tent.