Today we wake at 7:30, for we must get to the airport by 9:30 in time for our 11:00 flight. (I'm a bit groggy having stayed up to midnight tagging all my photos. That was likely the last night of the trip where I'll be caught up to my photos.) After breakfast in the hotel's dining room, I have some time for a few pictures of plants whose flowers are only fully open in the morning, such as Momordica charantia (Bitter Melon). Then we are off to the airport by taxi.
I have the window seat on the flight from Nassau to San Sal, but sleepiness trumps interest in the scenery. My dad pokes me awake as the island comes into view. From up here, I can clearly see the "wall", the nearly vertical 2.5 mile drop from shallow reef to deep ocean seafloor: The reef is a bright turquoise/aquamarine, the abyss is dark blue. As we circle the airport, I can see the entire island. This is where I'll be spending the next 5 days: Dense bush several meters high, brackish cresecent-shaped interior lakes, limestone and sand beaches, coral reefs, and one main road circling the island.
We are met at the airport by Tom, the director of Gerace Research Centre, where we have arranged for lodging. He has driven here in a flatbed truck with railings welded at the edges. We join 12 or so fellow travelers headed to GRC on the wooden perimeter benches of the bed, with the luggage in a long pile down the center. Then we're off, roaring down the sandy asphalt coastal road, heading north on the west side of the island. We were warned to hang onto our hats and glasses, but we quickly learn to also pay mind to the leaves of overhanging palm trees, and sharp corners where luggage tries to fly out under the benches and through the railing. Lunch and orientation follow arrival.
After unpacking and settling in, my dad and Kathleen check in with acquaintances at the main office, chat with residents who work at GRC, and try to schedule themselves on the truck rental board. I mostly attempt to get acquainted with the land crabs, who are reticent and not at all forthcoming.
A little later in the afternoon we gather our equipment and make for the collapsed dock a kilometer up the coast. I have my mask and snorkel, fins, lycra stretch pants, and a tight-fitting turtleneck: I'm ready for snorkeling. Into the water we go.
After the initial stretch of sand, plant life starts to appear. My first animal sighting is a 2-inch long, shrimp-like creature clamped along the back of a fish that appears quite distressed. Next is a fat, orange starfish the better part of a foot wide. As we round the end of the dock, I see my first living coral, accompanied by various shapes, sizes, and colors of fish. I can't go over the dock wreckage itself due to concerns about the possible presence of lionfish, an invasive species. I am told to stay at least 5 feet away from crevices and overhangs, prime hangout territory for this deadly fish. It is no matter, there is plenty to see at the edges.
A concrete pillar is home to a brain coral, a truck tire holds a purple-tipped anemone and a small school of small fish, a collapsed beam shelters what just might be a parrotfish. Piles of conch shells swarm with activity. Tiny clownfish hide in an anemone. My dad points with two fingers ("danger") at a hydroid growing on a frame of wood angled out of the ocean floor; these wispy creatures bear a considerable sting. He also spots a jellyfish and a sea turtle, but I am too late to catch sight of either. Finally, my face starts to hurt from the suction and pressure of the mask, and my lungs complain about the pressure on my chest. We head back to shore.
There are little hermit crabs here! They are much feistier than the pets and petting-tank specimens I've encountered back home. These guys put up a fight. There are big ones, too, the size of a child's fist, but I have no photos of them: I have not yet determined a way to hold them that keeps my fingers safely out of reach of those massive, painful claws.
A mosquito-infested walk about the grounds, dinner, and fast asleep by early evening.