Now I feel like my adventure has really begun! I’ve got to find my way from the hotel to the San Pedro Water Taxi Rank, walking with my full pack for the first time, and feel really pleased with myself when I get there without any difficulty.
I’m heading to the small island of Caye Caulker from Belize City and the taxi journey takes just under an hour. The boat is full, but no one can hear each other over the roar of the engine as it speeds along, so we all sit in silence and take in the sea breeze, lost in our own thoughts.
Caye Caulker beach front is a medley of brightly coloured wooden buildings, palm trees and golf buggies! There is happy chaos as everyone gathers their luggage and I’m soon accepting a lift from a taxi driver in a golf buggie who takes me to my hostel, slowly picking his route around the bumps and pot holes in the dirt roads that make up the village streets.
Golf buggies and bicycles are the only mode of transport other than walking on Caye Caulker and there are no sealed roads. I think of my friend Denise and our day trip to Sark, in the Channel Islands, many years ago, where they only have tractors and dirt roads.
Juan’s Guest House, where I have booked three nights accommodation has a Cabana style front with tables and chairs, comfortable seating and colourful hammocks hanging idly.
My private ensuite room is basic but cheery and it has an airconditioner. I drop off my backpack and head out to explore this dusty little village.
There are only a couple of main streets which run the length of the village and a number of beach front shops and restaurants along its shore. You can walk its length in about half an hour and you can walk its width from shore to shore in about ten minutes, so it doesn’t take me long to get my bearing.
While it has the most beautiful Caribbean setting, thick muddy sea grass grows all along the shore and so there are very few places to swim off the beach. The tourism industry is all about the snorkelling and diving and I’m keen to organise my first trip.
There are a number of operators along the sea front advertising amazing half and full day trips to the many popular snorkelling and diving sites.
I quickly learn the hard way that none of the trips are guaranteed as it all depends on getting enough confirmed numbers to make it viable.
After booking what promises to be a full day of fun snorkelling for the following day with fiesty little Rosa from Ezytours I wander along the shore front and stop to check out one of the other tour operators. Peppa calls out to me to join him while he explains their tours. They are advertising half day tours for this afternoon and I’m interested.
He is a typical laid back Caribbean character with short dark dreadlocks. He is comical and makes me laugh so I join him at his insistance for a beer, even although it is only twelve noon! When he comes back from fetching my beer, which has somehow cost me a BZ$1, he has bought a bottle of Rum for himself.
We chat a while and some other people soon join us. He is popular and knows how to work the ladies! This week’s favourite lady is Peggy from USA and its her birthday! I suspect she’s going to have a great Caribbean birthday to remember!
By now I’ve booked my half day snorkelling trip with Peppa’s company so I head off to get my gear and to be back in time for the 2pm departure.
When I get back Peppa and Peggy are nowhere to be seen and I make my way to the Jetty kiosk. The crew are there and soon fit me out with fins and all that I need. There should be another four people joining me on the trip, and I chat easily with the crew while we wait for them.
2pm comes and goes and still no sign of my trip companions. Eventually the crew call Peppa only to find that the other group have cancelled and he forgot to pass on the message!
Its not financially viable for them to take me out on my own and a quick call around to the other operators confirms that everyone else has already left shore! If only Peppa had let us know earlier I could have joined one of the others!
I’m disappointed and walk back along the jetty to the shore. Peppa has returned to his post. He’s still surrounded by his harem of women and Peggy, but by now I understand why his boat didn’t sail today! He’s “three sheets to the wind” on Caribbean Rum!
“Don’t Worry – Be Happy!” I hum to myself as I begin to wander off.
However in the next moment one of the crew members is running along the jetty after me shouting……”Lady, Lady we gott a boat for you Munn!” in that lovely accent that many of the Belineze have.
One of the other boats has had to come back to shore due to some fuel trouble, but they are going back out shortly and will take me!
Suddenly its all a mad rush! I have to get to the other end of the village immediately, I’ll take too long to walk, so the crew member flags down a passing Golf Buggie…..“Quick, get the Lady down to Heather at Tsunamia’s!” the driver is told and I soon find myself hurtling along the bumpy dusty road towards Heather. I’m quickly measured for fins and bundled on to the waiting speedboat and I’m on my way to my first snorkel dive!
My trip companions are a young couple from Holland and an elderly American lady. Our crew are two young men, David and Carlos. They are full of fun but at the same time very professional and safety concious.
For all the snorkelling I have done by now and for all the lessons I’ve had this is my first real jumping off a boat into deep water experience and I really am quite frightened. But I let David and Carlos know and they take great care of me, coaching me and reassuring me along the way.
It is a wonderful experience and exceeds all my expectations. The reef is alive with colourful corals and every shape, size and colour of fish imaginable. As I see each new fish I’m squealing in my mask with joy!
Later we move on to the Nurse shark and stingray area where we have scores of stingray and sharks swimming around us and brushing into us as they pass! I cannot believe that I am letting them so close to me without panicking. It is quite an experience and they are a majestic sight to behold.
I’ve had such a wonderful time that I want to go on the tour they have for the day after tomorrow. It’s an island hopping tour with several snorkel stops along the way.
I still don’t know if I’m going on Rosa’s tour anyway, as it all depends on her getting her numbers and I wont know until 9am in the morning!
I spend my time between snorkel trips wandering the streets of Caye Caulker or hanging out back at the hostel, sometimes with Dianny who cleans and runs the place and her little son Antonio who has his lunch break from school at the hostel.
The other travellers staying at the hostel are mainly Canadian or Dutch. Britney, Brennan and Richard are here to Dive. Richard has asked Brittany to marry him, but she needs to win him over to her passion for diving before she can accept. He’s here to do his first open water dive and so far things are looking good for their wedding!
They are a friendly bunch at the hostel and although a younger crowd, they embrace me and I feel included, even when I’m sitting on the sidelines writing my blog while they loudly play cards.
The following morning Rosa lets me know she didn’t get her numbers so the tour is off. I’m glad actually as I’m feeling out of sorts and lethargic and the thought of a full day on a boat doesn’t inspire me.
I explore the village some more and pay particular attention to the huge dog population. They all have homes, but they have run of the village, sleeping in the shade or meeting on street corners to sniff one another, sometimes half heartedly chasing a startled tourist as they cycle past.
I visit Kenny who has an animal shelter. He has been taking in strays for over thirty years and has been instrumental in banning animal poisoning from the island. He currenty has over thirty cats and eight dogs. All look healthy and happy as they roam about his yard and he always finds homes for them. He relys on donations for food and makes a living by fixing bicycles. When I visit it is dog bathing time and his old pet dog wont come from under the house for his bath!
I don’t know what is wrong with me and as the day goes on I can feel the black creature stirring. Maybe its about the dogs! It probably is, but no matter how I try to turn my thoughts to other things the black creature wont settle and out of nowhere it suddenly rushes at my thoughts and emotions snapping and snarling as it goes.
I can’t beat it and I’m despondent that even here in paradise it can find me and attack like this. Eventually succumbing to it I retreat to my room and hide under my immaginery douvet cover, and let it have its wicked way until I eventually fall asleep.
When I awake my head is thumping, my nose is blocked and my throat hurts. Now I know why the black creature got such a strong hold of me. I’m starting a cold and the creature took advantage of my low ebb. Thankfully it has retreated and is dozing by the edge of its festering pit once more. I’m so relieved, but now i have a cold to contend with.
I take some tablets and spend the rest of the day resting quietly in my room. A part of me feels I should be out mixing with people, but I know its more important to get my strength back up.
The plan works and the following morning, although I’m still choked up I have my spirit back and am ready to tackle the day of island hopping and snorkelling.
But before I go I have to extend my booking at the hostel for another night. They don’t have my room available any more, but if I want I can stay in what has been used as staff quarters until now. They’ll have it ready for me when I get back and I agree that sounds like a plan. It will be cheaper than my current room anyway.
Today’s tour is a different crew and a different crowd, mostly Americans, one fellow Scot who now lives in New York and a lovely Mother and Daughter from Canada. The young Dutch couple from the other day are also here. It takes us an hour of high speed motoring to get to our first stop, the Manatee Sanctuary. We are not permitted to swim with these majestic mammels, we are simply here, hoping to catch a glimpse of them as they surface for air. And we are in luck! A couple of them put on a show for us and we watch the image of their great mass coming towards us under the water until suddenly their noses emerge for a brief moment before they dive again. We spend a good hour watching them before we reluctantly move on.
We then speed on to our first Island stop for some lunch and snorkelling. Its a tiny little sandy desert island with lots of palm trees for shade. The perfect place to be ship wrecked, but as its used by a lot of day trippers including the incoming boat full of cruise ship passengers it has a picnic area with tables and benches and even has toilets!
We snorkel for a bit just off the shore and then head on to the next island. This time the wind is strong and its against us so the sea spray soaks us as we motor along.
This island is no more than a sandbar a few metres in circumference and there is no shade. the water is shallow and it takes forever, fighting against the current to get to anything that resembles the reef. Nonetheless there are plenty of little fish to see along the way, but I chuckle into my mask at the realisation that I’m disgruntled because its not deep enough for me!!!
We’ve all had a good day and get back to Caye Caulker happy but tired. I call in at my favourite restaurant for a refreshing drink. Although I’ve only been there a couple of times the waitress immediately knows that I will want a Mojita.
Infact I realise that I’m starting to get to know and recognise the locals and they me as we all wander or cycle up and down the few streets a number of times a day, going about our business. I often see Rosa on her bike and she always yells out “Hi Ann” as she passes.
As I wander back to the hostel I pass Rasta the Rastafarian who has a stall selling paintings. I’ve passed him often and we sometimes wave at each other but today he calls me over and says “Hey Lady, where’s your people at? I see you walking here and there every day but never with your people. Where are they at?” I explain to him that my people are not with me and I am alone. “Well Lady you need to come back later and hang out with me munn! You gonna do that?” “Sure I’ll come back and hang out with you” I say as I walk off ,thinking to myself “Lady its time you got you ass off this island munn!”
When I get back to the hostel there has been a slight problem with my room. The “electrician” didn’t come to put the fan up, which is still lying on the floor up nor did the carpenter who was going to fix the door lock and put the fly screen up. I can still have the room, which is basically a wooden annexe with a tin roof attached to the building, but it doesn’t have any windows or screen and there’s no lock. So effectively I will be sleeping in an open shed with a tin roof! I do have an upright fan and by now I’m so laid back I don’t care!
I don’t yet have anything in Belize other than Belize City to compare Caye Caulker with, but it is without doubt a unique little island which still has an unspoiled charm and where tourists and locals blend together comfortably. There ar no aggressive selling or trying to rip off the tourist dollar. We are simply a part of their infrustructure and we quickly blend in. I love Caye Caulker, but I’ve seen enough. It really is time to move on.
The following morning as I make my way to the water taxi with my backpack on a little man sitting at the corner of the street calls out to me. “Hey Lady, are you leaving today Lady?” and I reply that sadly I am “Oh Munn” he replies “I’m really gonna miss seeing you every day!”
Places To Stay In Caye Caulker
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