While Caye Caulker is well known for its laid back and slow pace, it is full of active water sports and activities like scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and many more.
During my visit to Caye Caulker, one of the activities that caught my attention the most was kayaking. But not just any kayaking, it was kayaking with Ocean Academy.
Since Caye Caulker is a small island with a small population, it didn’t have the means to provide for a public high school – so all kids had to either drop out or go to San Pedro to continue their education.
Education in Belize is not free, and for some families, this is an expense outside their limited budget.
But in September 2008, Ocean Academy –a non-profit community high school– opened its doors to provide a high school education to local residents.
While the school is much more affordable than going to San Pedro, students still need to pay for their education, either with paid tuition or with tuition credits like community service. And, here’s where kayaking comes in…
As a way to earn tuition credit and gain valuable job training, many of the 60 students of Ocean Academy volunteer to guide visitors around Caye Caulker; either by foot, bicycle, or kayak.
A pair of Ocean Academy high school students introduce visitors to island life including its history, community, plants, animals, and sea creatures.
Just as the school’s motto is “Preserving our Heritage, Creating our Future,” the students share their unique perspective of how they value the roots and the careful development of their precious island.
I personally don’t consider this to be another tourist activity, as it is mostly a way to interact with the kids in the local community, see Caye Caulker through their own knowledge and experience, and at the same time, help and encourage them to continue their studies with the small donation given for their time.
I did the kayaking trip with a group of six kids from the school, and we kayaked the northeastern shores of Caye Caulker, the split, and the western shores where there are a few underwater caves and where sometimes the manatees can be spotted.
What made this kayaking experience much better than just renting a kayak is the fact that I had the kids showing me everything around the island, and all their tricks and secrets. I had Mercedes as the leader, a bright young girl looking to become a marine biologist.
As she paddled with me on the same kayak, she fed me all the information she knew about the island, sea, and current events – in addition to sharing her passion for sea life.
The other kids, spread in two extra kayaks, did also their part by looking for stuff to show me – like the freaky six-legged star, different fish types, and the underwater cave entrance.
One of the moments that impressed me the most was when Kyle told me from a distance, “if we go to that specific spot we might find a sea horse”. We paddled our way there, and indeed, there was a sea horse!! This was the first time I had seen a seahorse in the open ocean, and it was beautiful!
These kids know these waters like the back of their hand.
By the end of the trip, we stopped to feed the Tarpon Fish. Usually you put the bait on the water surface and the Tarpon will jump and suck it right out of your hand, but in my case, they were all lazy so they only ate the bait when it went deep in the water (which I’m glad because I didn’t want a fish sucking my hand!).
I believe this is a different way to get to enjoy the island while creating a positive impact.
The cost of a “Meet the Island With a Student” is a donation of $30 BZD per person to Ocean Academy (not including the bicycle or kayak which can be rented at a variety of places on the island).
Arrangements can be made through Ocean Academy’s website contact form or through the Sea Dreams Hotel (the local sponsor of Ocean Academy’s “Meet the Island With a Student” Visitors Program) by emailing reservations (at) seadreamshotel (dot) com.
The students are available when school is not in session (weekends, holidays, and summer).
I highly recommend doing this while in Caye Caulker, but if you’re not able to schedule a “Meet the Island With a Student” session during your time in the island, you can always donate to the school to help with students’ tuition.