Photo and Story by Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com
Ambergris Caye Island, 13 miles off the eastern coast of Belize, sits just inside a reef line separated from the deep, open Caribbean. The waters that surround the island inside its barrier reef are shallow, calm, warm, clear and protected. Beyond them lies the wild sea.
I’ve been to Ambergris Cay several times. It is one of my favorite places on earth. I shot this photo the day I was flying home from a dive trip there. It’s an old photo, shot on film maybe 20 years ago, but it remains one of my favorite because it says so much about life, adventure, decisions and this place.
Several young lads native to the island were playing in the water, as they always do. The kids on Ambergris Caye grow up with a respect for the sea, but they do not fear it. Sharks are stray dogs, rays are friendly cats. The sea gives in the form of tourist dollars, and it takes in the form of hurricanes and accidents. It is a part of life on the island.
The boy trudged through the sandy weeds out into the water, flopped himself underwater in an exaggerated splash, then ran back to shallow water and did it again. He was experimenting with going farther out into the unknown, into the deep water, toward the open ocean.
When I got home I looked at the photo, one from a sequence, and realized it was breathtaking. The sky vaulted above in a moving expanse that inferred the infinite. The sea changed colors from light to dark as the sand plunged over the reef and dropped into an abyss. And the boy trudged into the unknown with a youthful assertiveness that suggests courage.
And so the image of this young lad bravely walking out to sea has become an inspiration to me. The sea, like life, is a frightening and unforgiving place. But it is also filled with wonder and beauty, bounty and abundance.
I have no idea who the boy was. He is probably nearly 30 years old now. He may still live on the island, he may have left. I do not know what happened once he continued his metaphorical journey out to sea. I know my journey has taken me through terrible storms, across deep water and to remarkable paradise. And so the journey out to sea continues.