8th-12th November 2015
After Tulum, it was goodbye Mexico and onto our first new country since arriving: Belize. It wasn’t going to be a long stop, our only planned location being the island village of Caye Caulker, a popular island for backpackers in the Caribbean. This was an easy bus + water taxi ride from Mexico, and despite a lot of waiting around in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye (where we went through immigration, and also La Isla Bonita of Madonna song fame), all went smoothly.
Belize is expensive. Although things like seafood are super cheap, because it is an island and relies a lot on imports, plus because the belizean dollar is on a fixed exchange rate with the dollar and relatively strong, our money went much less far than it did in Mexico. Our beds were therefore more expensive than we were used to, but our hostel was great so definitely worth it. Literally right next to the water taxis, clean, colourful, and plenty of hammocks to relax in with a sea view. We felt like we were on holiday from what is essentially already a very long holiday.
Another bonus in Belize was that the official language is English. We didn’t realise how mentally tired we were from trying to speak Spanish until being back somewhere where everyone understands you. Not that we understood everyone else all the time – the accent and slang are heavy and it can easily sound like another language.
A lot of our time on Caye Caulker was pretty lazy. The slogan of the island is ‘Go Slow’ (on signs all over the place) and we largely did just that. There are no cars on the island, so people get about by golf cart or bike. Not that either or these are even really necessary; with three main streets called ‘front street’, ‘middle street’ and (surprisingly enough) ‘back street’, nothing is ever more than a few minutes walk away.
The island was split in two by a hurricane in 1961, and this gap was dug through by locals to create a navigable channel around the developed south part of the caye. The main social activity of the day seems to focus around the split, where you can swim or kayak, or drink some beers and meet people. We saw a nice sunset from here, and watched as locals paddle boarded around with their dogs.
Cheap (relatively, still expensive compared to Mexico) food is best found from people who have set themselves up with a barbecue and a chalk board, and offer food deals which tend to include a main (during our stay we had lobster curry, jerk chicken, and snapper), a couple of sides, and a couple of cups of rum punch, usually for about $10.
Real life Finding Nemo
The number one excursion from the island is a snorkelling tour, as Caye Caulker is right next to the second biggest barrier reef in the world. They weren’t cheap, but given that we were only going to be in Belize a short time we didn’t want to miss out on it. After walking around the tour agencies and deciding they mainly offered something quite similar, we picked our boat and signed up to go out the next day.
Since the island is so small, it turned out that our boat captain, Shane, was actually a guy we’d bumped into a couple of times the day before (he’d caught Rav doing some impromptu salsa moves on the split and wanted teaching).
The tour was unbelievable and pretty much a must do if you’re on Caye Caulker. With our tour you spent the entire day on the sailboat (including a big lunch, drinks and fruit all day, and ceviche and unlimited rum punch on the way back), and had three guided stops for snorkelling. These included a coral garden full of colourful little fish, a place called ‘shark and ray alley’ where we were mobbed by dozens of nurse sharks and stingrays as well as a huge school of tuna, and finally the longest stop in Ho Chan, the nature reserve where we saw a turtle, Moray eel, and countless other fish. Well worth the expense, and really felt like real life Finding Nemo.
More island life
It’s hard to categorise our time on Caye Caulker into activities because, other than the snorkelling, it was a much more chilled time. Due to the small size of the island and the sociable layout of our hostel, we did meet and chat to some great people. After indulging in our free rum punch on the boat we found ourselves going out for dinner with two couples, one from the UK as well and one from Germany. It’s clear that the ‘gringo trail’ is what most travellers stick to here, and we all had a vaguely similar itinerary for our next few places, so it’s useful to swap tips and recommendations we’d heard. Unfortunately having had all the rum and some of our new friend Becky’s ‘backpack bar’ tequila, we did spend a little much on dinner, which we regretted the next day when we were trying to find food for as few Belize dollars as possible… (food was great though).
We also tried going to the local reggae bar. However since we’ve been getting up early and been busy during the day, we feel like it’s later at night in the evenings than it is. Turns out 9pm is way too early to be in the reggae bar and although they are very keen to keep you there with free chocolate drinks and continually asking you what music you want them to play, it’s not that fun to be pretty much the only people in a bar who aren’t local men, and we left pretty soon after we arrived.
The last thing to say about island life is no matter how great it is (which most of the time it was), there is suddenly nothing to do when it rains. The last day bucketed all day and although we could technically have gone and sat in the sports bar, we were trying to save money so did lots of hanging out in the hostel playing board games. The rain tends to kill the wifi in most places, so we were glad we’d already booked our onward transport/hostel in the morning before it cut out
So that’s Belize, not a long stay but a happy one, and something a bit different. On the 12th we packed our bags, hopped on a water taxi to Belize City, and then onto an only slightly beaten up looking shuttle bus for the 5 hour trip over to Guatemala. Next update should be from Flores, I’m a bit behind with these due to a serious lack of wifi which can deal with uploads so depending on how long that keeps up these may come in random bunches!