Leaving Caye Caulker I take the San Pedro Belize Express Water Taxi once more and this time head for the town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye.
I suppose this can be classified as the tourist mecca of Belize, but any reading has either not a lot or nothing at all to say about it and I’ve been in two minds whether to visit or not.
However it is on my planned water taxi route to Corozel, and it is close to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve where I want to do some more snorkelling so I decide I will stop off.
I’ve not made any arrangements for accommodation but I have a rough idea of what is available and where I might like to stay
When I get to the island it is immediately more frantic and less attractive than Caye Caulker and I have to quickly disentangle myself from an insistent taxi driver who wants to take me somewhere – anywhere!!
Quickly making my escape I walk along the beach in the general direction of a couple of hostels that Dianny at the hostel in Caye Caulker had recommended. I pass bars and restaurants facing the beach with music playing and tourists mingling about, but there is something missing in the vibe.
Standing on a street corner leaden up with backpack and daypack I’m considering my next move when a man coming down some steps asks me if I need any help. I tell him that I’m looking for some accommodation and he quickly makes some phonecalls from his mobile, telling the people on the other end of the phone that he has “Found a lost waif wandering around!”… “Hmmm! I am NOT a lost waif nor am I wandering around!” I think rather indignantly to myself! Nonetheless one doesn’t look a gift horse in the mouth so I smile sweetly and put on my best helpless expression!
He confirms that the hostel I would have liked to stay at, The Sandbar Beachfront Hostel is fully booked, but recommends the hotel next door to us, which I believe is also one of Dianny recommendations We chat a moment and I discover that he is from England and has lived in Belize stress free for five years. I appreciate his random act of kindness and head towards the entrance of the hotel, which is just around the corner.
A local beckons to me “You want some accommodation lady, I can help you!” I follow him as I’m going that way anyway, but he rather insistently bundles me along past my hotel to the next one and introduces me to the owner who happens to be standing by the street entrance. He’s a dodgy looking character with one eye and they are both telling me I should go up and look at the rooms. I’ve already noticed the name of the hotel and vaguely remember it not having a particularly good write up in my Lonely Planet book, and besides I don’t like being pushed around so I decide NOT!
I politely decline and head back to the hotel I’d wanted to check out in the first place, The San Pedrano. The local man comes with me into the store which is below the rooms and where I need to check in. Of course I’m capable of dealing with this all of this myself but the man is getting involved in the conversation and I know very well what is going on.
The rather sombre woman confirms that I can have a room for two nights and the rate is within my budget. I like the look of her even if she doesn’t smile and book the room without viewing it. It wont be ready for a while but I can leave my backpack and have a wander around.
I know even while I’m booking the room that two nights is going to be too long here, but I want to do this last snorkel before I head inland. The man is still hanging around and muttering in a way that I can’t understand at the hotel lady until she empathically says “NO! I don’t pay commission!” As I leave the store, he is following me and muttering at the injustice of no commission until I give him a couple of US dollars and he happily wanders off leaving me alone to explore in peace.
San Pedro is similar to Caye Caulker, but on a larger scale. The shops are similar, but the roads are sealed and there are some proper vehicles, however the streets are still dominated by golf buggies, many more of them, and they travel much faster. Sometimes it seems like mayhem at crossroads and you often find yourself dodging in and out between them.
There are some larger hotels here and the further out of the town you go the more like European Resorts they become, but still I feel something is missing.
I go in search of a Tour Operator to take me out snorkelling the next day and I struggle to find something that looks credible and safety conscious. Finally I do find somewhere and book a half day trip with Searious Adventures for the following morning to visit Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley. The two most famous areas of this part of the reef.
Hungry, I stop by a restaurant which looks nice and order some fish, but am dismayed to find it undercooked and I send it back. The waiter deals with it politely, but no one is particularly friendly.
Infact I realise that while I find the Belizean people to be friendly and helpful I have noticed that service staff rarely smile in the first instance. They are not impolite or unprofessional, they just don’t smile. However, once you have returned to the same place a second or third time, then they will welcome you with a smile and by now you are friends! But this isn’t the problem with my “lack of vibe feeling!”
My room is once again adequate for the price. I still have my cold and I’m not convinced the dusty air conditioner at the hostel didn’t have something to do with it so I’m happy to pay less for my room with only a fan than I would for one with an air conditioner.
However, I have a luxury! I have a television!!! I have to pay $20 deposit for the remote but that is refundable. So deciding San Pedro nightlife is not going to be for me I happily retreat to my room, catch up on some washing and settle down to watch the only thing which appeals to me on the 27 channels available – re runs of “The Golden Girls”
It’s an American channel and I’m amused by the adverts. New Super Drugs are advertised, which will have amazingly positive affects on certain health conditions, however the list of possible side effects, which presumably are legally required to be disclosed, are so long and include problems such as brain seizures and genital fungus that by the end of the advert you think the drug should be banned!
My favourite advertises a gadget for ladies that you carry around in your handbag and when you go to have a poo you use it (I’m not sure how) and somehow it stops your poo from smelling!! Which according to the advert is expecially useful and gives you greater confidence when you are in a hotel bedroom with a man! It also suggests that it would make a great present for your friends and colleagues for Thanks Giving and shows someone gift wrapping a dozen of these gadgets!! The advert that follows is for constipation!!
I’m glad I’ve not ventured out as the oppressive humid evening finally turns to rain and when it rains the heavens completely open up and it is torrential! But it is typical tropical rain and stops as suddenly as it begins and there is no relief from the humidity!
My hotel room is at a crossroads on the main street and as it is Saturday night everyone except me seems to be partying and laughing very loudly, revving their golf buggies up and down the streets with music blaring all night long, so sleep is fitful.
Nonetheless, between interruptions I sleep deeply and the following morning I’m soon heading off on my snorkel trip.
It doesn’t take long to get to the site which is a part of the Marine National Park and as I’d expected there are other boats there and scores of people bopping up and down in the water. Many including me are wearing life jackets around their waists for extra bouyancy and for a black humoured moment I think about the Titanic.
But there is room for us and we swim along, following our guide to the reef as he points out the many fish and corals along the way.
By now I’ve already seen some amazing corals and fish but this snorkel is the most incredible yet. We really are up close and personal with the fish as a shoal of them swim with us wherever we go.
I get a bit cranky with one rather large fish that seems to just tread water right in front of me every time I want to use my camera! I don’t know the names of the fish and as soon as my guide tells us I forget them again, but I know I will do some research when I return home as I need to understand this amazing underwater civilisation much better.
I do know some important residents however and see below us a lone Nurse Shark swimming along; a barracuda is nearby and then an ugly Moray Eel appears; the one sea beast I’ve always despised and dreaded seeing – there it is snaking along not nearly far enough below me! I am videoing it when suddenly another snorkeler inadvertently kicks it with his fin and showing its true nastiness it tries to take a bite out of the fin!!
I don’t think the snorkeler is even aware and I discover later that no one else in my group saw the incident! I can’t replay my video until I get home and I only hope I captured it clearly.
We head off next to Shark Ray Alley aptley named as it is where fishermen from past times cleaned their fish, attracting the sharks and stingrays. Now the tour operators feed them so we can get a close up show.
I’ve swam with them already off Caye Caulker and there we were in the midst of them while they swam around us and brushed up against us. Here we have to stay back in the water and watch them being fed from a distance. I’m soon bored with this lack of involvement and climb back into the boat leaving the others to watch!
After my snorkel trip I take another walk around San Pedro. I decide that, as Tourism is still quite new to Belize having not really been an option before Independence in 1981, the problem and the reason I can’t find the vibe is, in my opinion, that San Pedro is still in a transition period and has perhaps lost its soul.
Sadly, the island has lost the innocense that Caye Caulker still has, due to the rapid growth in Tourism. However it hasn’t quite embraced its new role as a primary Tourism Destination, thefore the individual businesses still do not engage with the tourists as perhaps they could and there is a certain apathy.
It is a pity that it needed to change at all from its innocent island ways, but unfortunately we are now a global civilisation and visitors to any country have an expectation for things to be a certain familiar way. But San Pedro is evolving and I’m sure it will soon be a buzzing favourite destination.
My second night in San Pedro is spent watching more re runs of the Golden Girls but at least it is Sunday and the streets are quiet. I’ve enjoyed resting and hanging out with the Golden Girls, but I am really looking forward to leaving San Pedro tomorrow.