Weekend of Paradise

Caye Caulker Travel Blog

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Fri 24 Oct 2008

Tanya and I decided to go to Caye Caulker for the weekend. Mostly everyone was against the idea due to the flooding. Getting to Belize City may be difficult we agreed, but out in the cayes the weather was beautiful.  Carmita was especially concerned. Before we left, we were asked to help out NEMO �" the national natural disaster organization.  Elliot, Jodene, Tanya and I went to a warehouse and packed beans and sugar from their large sacks into small bags that would be distributed to families in need. We scooped the beans with our hands, trying to pick out the small stones mixed in. By midday, we were covered in sweet sugar.


At half past one, Tanya and I packed up and had sufficiently convinced Carmita that we’d be alright and safe. After my first trip to the bank and a stop at the china store, Tanya and I caught the 2pm bus to Belize City. Scoping out Belize City for pretty much the first time (coming in last time I had been sleeping), I noticed that many of the buildings were bigger, guard rails covered many of the windows, and the city seemed a bit nicer than San Ignacio. Tanya disagreed with me. However, we both agreed that Belize City looked more dangerous, and we stayed on our guard.


Our taxi driver drove us to the San Pedro Express Ferry for $7BZ. 2 round trip tickets to Caye Caulker were $44BZ, cheaper than the other Caye Caulker ferry across the way, which is $50 round trip. Tanya found out that this business has been running only 3 months while the other one has been running for more than 10 years. We were glad our taxi driver sent us to the cheaper one, otherwise we would have never known the difference.


The small speedboat we boarded carried a handful of other passengers. Most notable were two guys who were backpackers like Tanya and I, and also had with them 2 mountain bikes. As daylight diminished, we began a conversation with the two guys who were sitting across from us.


Justin and Tim are two childhood friends from Kansas. They are currently on an unplanned adventure biking across Central America with 65pds of gear on their back. Ramblings of their journey developed in a bar one night, when after quite a few were thrown back, they scribbled on a napkin their aspirations for the next several months. 4 weeks later, they had quit their jobs and boarded a plane to Cancun. Before their sudden departure, Tim was working in Colorado as a bartender and Justin was working in construction in multiple places including Antarctica. I was quite intrigued by the way they chose to live life.


It wasn’t yet 6:30 as we arrived at Caye Caulker. We all decided to get budget accommodation and went in search of Tina’s Hostel which happened to be right off the pier. Lucky, since we could barely see five feet in front of us as it was already so dark out. The four of us booked a room together for a measely $15BZ/night each.


I love hostel living. We hung out with 4 crazy British guys who were quite entertaining. I also chatted with 4 Germans about politics, religion, school, life, careers, and travel. Little John was so sarcastic he was almost difficult to keep up with. In all my travel experience I haven’t met a German I didn’t like. The language barrier isn’t much of a problem, but it always gives us something to laugh about. After a long, crazy night, we retreated to our rooms and kept the conversation and fun rolling.


Sat 25 Oct 2008

As morning broke, I didn’t want to waste any time lounging in bed. I enjoyed my first warm shower in 3 weeks. (Apparently we DO have warm water in San Ignacio �" as I just found out from Tanya. When we arrived, Miss Nellie showed us what supposedly was the warmest it could get and I never thought otherwise. If the water isn’t on full blast, a warm shower CAN be experienced. Yes, I’ve been a fool). Then, happily barefoot, I began my exploration of the island.


Front Street has many shops and restaurants to satisfy both tourists and locals. The grocery stores are small and run by Asians, just like in San Ignacio. Restaurants advertise everything from scrambled eggs to fresh lobster on outdoor chalkboards. Taxi drivers in golf carts (no cars here) fervently asked me if I needed a ride. Most travel is barefoot, either walking or on bike. The island is so narrow that the east coast and west coast could be viewed from the middle of the island. The Caribbean Sea has spectacular shades of blue, contrary to the green rivers I had been accustomed to seeing. Seawater eased onto the beach lazily instead of in a furious rush of waves.


From studying guidebooks and maps I knew the layout of my location. Caye Caulker is made up of two islands. Only the southern island is inhabited. The two pieces of land are divided by a narrow strait called “The Split” Most of the touristy places are on the northeastern end of the southern island. There are three main roads, locally known from east to west as Front Street, Middle Street and Back Street.


Since Tanya and I had walked north along Front Street to The Split the night before, I decided to navigate south on my morning walk. It was a paradise with lush foliage, coconut trees, sandy roads, various species of birds, and a relaxed style of living. I scoped out the different homes and made my way as far south I could go until I came across I private property sign that I was hesitant to pass. I found the airplane landing strip, the mini-reserve and the cemetery. It seemed unlikely I could walk along the western coast, as it was proliferated with homes and I didn’t want to stroll through the locals properties. (I later found out that it is okay to walk anywhere there isn't a fence - even when it does say private property.) I continued my walk north along another road and came across a type of road kill I had never seen before �" a giant smashed blue crab. As I passed a property on sale for $75,000US, I spotted a bunch of tiny land crabs who quickly escaped to their holes as soon as I came near. As I peered closer, I could just barely make out their forms in their small sandy homes. I waited, but they wouldn’t budge, somehow still aware of my presence. My stomach was aching for breakfast, so I returned to the hostel.


By the time I came back, the British guys had found a kayaking deal for the 8 of us. Two of the guys were fitted with single kayaks. The rest of us paddled in doubles. We paddled in a counter-clockwise direction, per the recommendation of the kayak owner. Our first encounter was the Split, which has the strongest current than anywhere else on the island. We made our way through easier than we thought. On our two hour adventure we saw a proliferation of large birds �" one of which zipped towards the sea and snatched up some breakfast. There was one lone crocodile on the western coast, but we were unable to find him. A third of the way through, I was already forming blisters on my thumbs. Justin encouraged me to take a break paddling, but I didn’t want to be viewed as a wuss, so I altered my grip.


About midway through we hitched up kayaks up to a dock and took a break. Not one for relaxing, I jumped in the water and swam around, looking for sea creatures. To my amazement, there wasn’t much to see in the murky water besides sea grass. In disbelief, I continued swimming around, leaving Tanya alone with the 6 guys. Most areas were shallow enough to stand in (chest high) and on my way back to the pack, I chose to walk. While the others were refreshed from their relaxing break, I was beginning to slow down from tiring myself out.


We continued our paddling, unable to find the crocodile, sea horses and other animals we had been told we may encounter. We soaked in the sun and bobbed through the water in intervals of aggressive paddling and relaxing breaks. Around the southern edge, I was itching to get back in the water. I slipped in, leaving Justin to man the boat alone. I bounced around on the sea grass for awhile until I stepped on something sharp and decided to hop back onto the kayak. At one point Tanya tipped Tom’s kayak over and paddled off with Tim. As we finished our ride, we limboed under several piers instead of paddling around them. It was funny seeing Tanya shriek with a foot of clearance, while Tim behind her escaped by barely a smidge. The paddling was quite a workout and we all looked forward to a relaxing afternoon.


On our way back to the hostel, the boys picked up a phenomenal BBQ from one of the street vendors. Tanya and I searched for $5 shrimp kabobs and picked up a free golf cart ride on the way. The shrimp kabob vendor was an expatriate from the U.S. He had quite an interesting personality, and shared his experiences on the island. The most amazing part of the conversation was about the crack problem Caye Caulker had. Drugs had washed up on shore and many of the locals successfully took advantage of selling it. The police force only managed to catch a small percentage of the culprits.


After a delicious mini-lunch, Tanya and I went for a swim in The Split. We came across a restaurant/bar, a diving board, seasoned locals, and international travelers. In the water I met Patrick, a half-Irish, half-Belizean island boy, who works as a tour guide for the noteworthy Raggamuffin Tours. I learned his story, finding out that his mother lives in Chicago and his grandmother lives in San Ignacio. Since I had an interest in snorkeling the next day, I sought out his advice. Previously, he had worked as a chef in San Ignacio. Upon finding out that the local custom was to catch your own fish and cook it for that day’s meal, I suggested that Patrick quench my appetite. He was expecting a friend who was sailing in from Placencia, but made plans to cook up dinner. After teaching me a bit more about the sea and its creatures, he caught a baby crab and handed it to me. I was afraid it may clip me, but it was more intent on escaping. Patrick had a good eye and quick hands and snatched it back up from the water several times and threw it back at me. I was pretty excited, and watched a few others creep across one of the cement walls.


Earlier, Tanya had gone back to the hostel so when I left The Strip, I accompanied Patrick and his friend/coworker Dice (Nicholas) to Patrick’s home. Along the way we stopped by a few local fisherman who were hacking away at the day’s catch. I watched in excitement as the lobsters were beheaded and thrown into buckets. The fisherman at the end of the pier had the job of extracting a long inedible strip inside the lobster tails. We collected 6 tails and I carried them in my sandy skirt to Patrick’s home.


Patrick’s home has only 2 rooms: a makeshift kitchen and his bedroom. A colorful hammock is strung up across the room. Despite the small quarters, Patrick does have a few small luxuries including cable TV. On a bookshelf sits a few photos of his 10-month old son who lives in England with Patrick’s ex-girlfriend. After some lounging and watching the neighborhood kids kick around a soccer ball, I went back to the hostel to recruit Tanya. I discovered that the English and American guys had been relaxing on the pier the whole afternoon. Before heading back to Patrick’s I ordered some Belizean Fudge ice cream, which was so mouth-watering and satisfying that I promised myself another scoop the next day.


Tanya and I went to Patrick’s place and met a few more of his friends. The aroma from the kitchen was almost too much to handle. When Patrick was done cooking, we gorged out on the most satisfying cuisine we could have hoped for. The lobster tails had been cooked in a non-spicy Creole sauce with coconut milk and cabbage. On the side, we had white rice. Unsurprisingly, I went back for seconds. After hanging out some more, I made plans to catch back up with Patrick and his friends at the karaoke bar.


Back at the ranch, everyone was pretty much heading to bed already. I was hoping Tanya, Justin and Tim still wanted to go out for karaoke, but they were all winding down. Not wanting to go out alone with the locals, I decided to hold back for the night. Justin and I sat alone outside reminiscing about the day when Patrick and his friend showed up. We weren’t supposed to encourage locals to be on Tina’s property. Tina’s biggest dog began barking up a storm, somehow knowing immediately that they were locals and not backpackers. He jumped on the picnic table and furiously barked at the two Belizeans. The manager came out and demanded that Patrick and his friend leave, but they wouldn’t. Patrick tried to coerce me to hang out with him, but I respectfully declined. The manager crossed his arms and held his ground, even though he was quite smaller than both of the island boys. The heated situation had Justin and me wide-eyed and frozen. Eventually, Patrick and his friend left as the manager and dog glared at their dark figures disappearing into the night.


Sun 26 Oct 2008

On Sunday, Tanya and I decided to forego snorkeling since there wasn’t enough time, and decided to relax, photograph and swim. Justin, Tim and I went out for a hot breakfast, and were incredibly satisfied. I had a papaya smoothie and grilled cheese and pineapple sandwich. Yummmy. The majority of the day, I focused on photographing. I was so absorbed in it, that I skipped swimming and lunch. I traveled through the mini-reserve which was teeming with mosquitoes, hermit crabs and geckoes. I also walked through the small cemetery. Caye Caulker is a barefooter’s paradise �" everywhere except for one place �" the cemetery. (Not that anyone needs the strange advice of not walking around the cemetery without shoes.) There were burrs (Belizean: bur burrs) everywhere and I couldn’t manage to dodge them. My fascination with the cemetery though shouldn’t be that surprising. The graves are above ground and create an interesting look. Surprisingly, there was one Jewish grave, which was painted in vivid colors. At 4pm, I managed to get a scoop of coconut ice cream, which was delicious, although not quite as good as the Belizean Fudge.


With only an hour left on the island, I was nearly panicking at the shortage of time. There was so much left that I wanted to do. I began speed walking and was told be several locals to slow down. Yes, I knew that it was custom to walk at a relaxing pace, but little did they know I wanted to cram as much in my last hour as I could! I said goodbye to Patrick and his friends and couldn’t manage to grab a real lunch/dinner or go for another swim. Instead I packed up and spent my last minutes watching the boys fish off the pier. My final excitement on Caye Caulker was witnessing Justin reel in a deadly stingray. Yes, we had been swimming in those waters! After some heartfelt goodbyes to the boys on the pier, Tanya and I boarded the boat back to Belize City. We reminisced as the beautiful skies in the cayes transformed into dark storm clouds above Belize City. We dreaded returning home, but made plans to return to the gorgeous island.


Mon 27 Oct 2008

Monday wasn’t the best of days. Of course, I wished I was still on the island. I have more bites on me than I realized. I’ve tried every method I know to stop the itching: Anti-itch gel, spit, ice, rubbing alcohol, drawing Xs with my nails, Burt’s Bees lip balm, a cold shower, distraction �" to no avail. When one spot doesn’t itch on my body, somewhere else does �" and usually it’s like five other places simultaneously. The worse problem areas: my upper arms, lower legs, feet and ankles. Falling asleep and concentrating on work is difficult. On top of that something disagreed with my digestive system. I counted all the abnormal bumps on my skin caused by mosquitoes, sandflies, and whatever other critters are out there. The final count: 198. I’m still taking suggestions of anti-itch methods.

travelman727 says:
Great blog! I was on Caye Caulker three days after you left. For the future, I've found spraying yourself constantly with Deep Woods Off keeps the mosquitos from biting. You're on your own with sandflies :-D
Posted on: Nov 11, 2008
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Caye Caulker
photo by: vulindlela