Published: February 27th 2010December 10th 2009
Dec 9, 2009
Another early morning flight meant that we'd be waking up in the middle of the night to get to the airport. But we didn’t care because we were on our way to Belize! We usually have great success with having free wifi at the airport, but this time we weren't as lucky. We flew from Managua, Nicaragua (with a layover in El Salvador) to Belize City, Belize!
The Belize currency was exactly half of the US currency ($2 BZD = $1 US) so calculations were easy to make. We weren't exactly ecstatic to hear that the only way to get into town was by taxi but $40 BZD later, we found ourselves in the taxi with Carlos, a very nice local who drove us to the water taxi in no time.
It was very strange to both Justin and I that we were able to speak in English with the locals. The official languages in Belize were English and Creole (English on speed!) and I'd say that most knew Spanish as well. While we were in the taxi, Justin and I were talking in English, (forgetting that our taxi driver could understand us!) so we
were pretty surprised to hear him butt into our conversation when we weren't directly talking to him... oops! Justin had noticed that there were a lot of signs in Chinese and we both saw a number of Asians. Then our taxi driver mentioned that there were 30,000 of them living in Belize. He wasn't joking when he said they were everywhere because on Caye Caulker, we found a lot of grocery stores and hotels owned by Chinese people....Chow's Meats, Chen's Grocery Store, China Hotel, Wong's Seafood...the list went on.
As soon as the taxi driver drove us to into town, we went to the Water Taxi Station to catch a boat leaving for Caye Caulker. We were pleasantly surprised to hear that there was at least one leaving every one or two hours but we just caught one that was leaving 10 minutes after we got there! The timing couldn't have been more perfect!
We bought a return ticket for the water taxi and were on our way to Caye Caulker! Caye Caulker was a small island in the Caribbean, just one hour by speed boat from Belize City. Their laid back atmosphere was what attracted many backpackers
and they really did live up to their “Go Slow” motto.
During our boat ride over, we couldn’t help but smile seeing the beautiful turquoise water with the sun beaming. We knew it was going to be a great day.
We first stopped at Caye Chapel before arriving to Caye Caulker. Caye Chapel was a small island and best known for its golf resort. The entire island was an 18-hole golf resort, and probably ideal for someone like Ben (Justin’s bro) who loves the beach and loves to golf.
Not too much longer, we made it off the boat and were welcomed by many “taxi drivers” (aka golf cart drivers). We were offered a deal by one of them about a nice, affordable hotel with its own beach property and we took him up on it. We decided to stay there after we realized how far it was from the main attraction but we didn’t mind.
Caye Caulker had three streets: Front Street, Middle Street and Back Street, all parallel to each other. How original eh? Anyway, most of the restaurants, hotels and tours were on Front and Middle Street. The location of our hotel was
at the far far end of Back Street....so far out that Back Street turned into a dirt path leading to our hotel.
As usual, Justin tried to play with the animals that roamed around our hotel but this time it was a huge iguana. Maybe it would’ve been okay to play with it but it wasn’t a slow moving, sluggish thing. It was definitely quick and agile for its size and just the thought of Justin
trying to grab it made me cringe a little. In the end, the iguana got away before Justin tried to catch him. Iguana 1, Justin 0.
Our hotel had a little beach area with a dock so we went out and sat at the end of our dock. Where we were, the water wasn’t as clear as at “the split”, located on the other side of the island and the end of Front Street. So when Justin dove off the dock with his goggles, he saw nothing.
All around us, we saw giant pelicans! They were probably the biggest pelicans Justin’s ever seen before and they weren’t afraid to swoop down into the water (even if it was right by the
dock) to catch their prey and swallow them whole. We both thought this one crazy pelican was going to dive into the dock because he was so close but he repeatedly kept diving into one little spot and always missed the dock. We also saw some white crane-looking birds with long necks in the water.
After relaxing on the dock and catching up on some sun, we booked a snorkeling tour for Hol Chan, a marine reserve just off of Ambergris Caye and temporarily booked a diving tour at the Great Blue Hole, a large sinkhole that was a part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System. We even contemplated about taking a 3-day sailing trip from Caye Caulker to Placencia, Belize...but we definitely didn't have enough time or money for that...or so we thought.
Watching the sunset at the split was highly recommended by all of the locals so that was where most of the tourists were. We sat on the broken end of the cement dock and watched a beautiful sunset. Afterwards we went to dinner at The Bamboo Grill where we sat on swings and had dinner with giant bowls of margaritas!
back to our dock by our hotel and sat outside for hours just looking at the stars. Since there was very little light, we could see practically every star in the sky. We even saw a few shooting stars!
Dec 10, 2009
Getting excited for our snorkeling tour, we walked along Front Street to a little waffle shop that was conveniently located right by the snorkeling agency. We knew it was a small waffle shop, but we didn't realize it was THAT small. As soon as we walked in, there was a small table with two chairs and a little opening that led toward the counter for orders. Behind us were three students from Holland who were also going on the exact same snorkeling tour. With five of us in there waiting for our orders, it was tight but cozy to say the least...anymore and we would've had to squeeze a little closer to each other. Justin had ham on his waffles, while I went for the traditional butter and syrup waffles!
Arriving a little early, we got our masks and fins fitted. Justin and I sat on the dock. While he was writing postcards, I was
snapping photos. It was time to go and we all hopped into a speedboat. Our snorkeling guide was super nice and regrettably, we both forgot his name. Our boat consisted of a nice couple from the UK, the three students from Holland (met at the waffle shop), and a girl who had never been snorkeling before. Our guide was going to take us to three sites today near the Hol Chan Reserve.
At our first site we were to explore an unprotected coral garden. We were told that since the area was unprotected, we'd expect to see a variety of smaller fish because fisherman fished for all of the larger ones. Our guide told us that we would see lots of larger fish at other sites we were going to visit that day. He also mentioned that there were sea turtles spotted in the area the day before, so Justin and I were really excited about that.
After our pep talk, we all jumped into the clear water. For a second, I forgot to breathe through my mouth instead of my nose...a little problematic but I learned quickly.
While we were in the water, Justin pointed to
the ocean floor (only a couple of meters below us) and picked up what looked like a big moss-covered rock. When we got back up to the surface, he flipped the “rock” over to expose the beautiful pink inner surface of a conch shell. Since Justin had been diving numerous times before, he knew what to look out for when trying to find a conch shell. He definitely thought it was rare to find them but in Belize, they were everywhere.
He quickly found two and brought them up to the boat. We asked our guide if it would be okay to keep one and although he said it was okay, he also said that it was not encouraged. We felt a little bad so we decided to put them back in the water before realizing that one of them had a little sea creature in it: a baby octopus!
Diving back into the water, we saw lots of fish in schools, nemo-look-a-likes, bright blue tiny fish, baby turquoise fish, lots of yellow and blue stripped fish, hard to find starfish on the sandy floor, giant rainbow coloured fish, sword-like fish…so maybe I didn’t know/remember the names of
the fish but I definitely remembered what they looked like. As for the coral, they were a vast variety. Some were very delicate, fanning with the current, some were thicker, shaped in a fan, others were big ball shaped coral with maze-like pattern etched on them, and many were tall, long and skinny corals, housing many tiny fish.
The coolest thing we saw at our first site was the moray eel. Think back to the Disney movie, The Little Mermaid. Ursula’s scary looking eel friends were moray eels. The cartoon version was scary enough but seeing the real thing underwater was even scarier, especially since we were swimming a couple of meters over it… we didn’t know if it was going to swim up and bite us!
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see a sea turtle at this site but we were hopeful of seeing one at a different site.
The water was a bright blue from the surface but amazingly clear underwater. I will admit that the water was very salty...so salty that it stung my eyes and nose whenever water rushed into my mask. But just being there was indescribably beautiful.
We all went
back on the boat, looked at the charts to see what types of fish we saw and were off to our second location before making a bonus stop close to shark ray alley.
At the bonus round, we were told that we had to watch and follow the guide. As soon as we jumped in, we realized that we were in a much shallower are and saw a few conch shells at the bottom of the ocean, which was only a couple of meters below us. As we followed our guide who was very easy to spot in his bright yellow and orange swimming trunks, we saw more conch shells. The more we swam, the more we saw. There were so many conch shells that we couldn’t even see the ocean floor anymore. Instead, it was a conch shell graveyard and they were amazingly large in size.
We were headed toward a fisherman’s boat where it was chumming the water. We instantly saw about 30 Caribbean sting rays all together in one area and freely swimming around. They were gray in colour, had large sockets that looked like eyes (but they weren’t...their eyes were really tiny and on
either side of the sockets) and their movements were slow.
I couldn’t help but think of Steve Irwin, the crazy Australian Crocodile Hunter, who out of all things died because of a sting ray. Our guide told us that Caribbean sting rays were gentile, which was lucky for us because Justin almost stepped on one as he was trying to take a picture of me underwater...oops!
Another type of sting ray caught our eye. It was the Eagle-spotted sting ray, which was brown with white polka dots and moved more elegantly and soared through the water. There was only one of its kind but it was much more beautiful than the other ones.
As Justin was snapping photos, I saw a huge green creature from the far distance. It was what Justin and I had been looking forward to seeing the most: a sea turtle. It was a Loggerhead sea turtle and was 1.5 meters in diameter...impressively big! I was so excited to see it that when I was frantically trying to get Justin’s attention underwater, I choked and was speechless. As soon as Justin realized that there was a sea turtle, he swam after it and
got some awesome photos. The turtle was definitely not afraid of people since he was swimming with all 9 of us in the water. However, when Justin got less than a meter away from it, the sea turtle started to swim away and Justin decided to chase it. Of course, it was too quick for him. Sea Turtle 1, Justin 0.
We were so preoccupied with the sea turtle that none of us tourists noticed our guide swim back to the boat. We talked about how amazing it was to see a sea turtle so up close and were on our way to our third site, Hol Chan Channel.
Zone A of Hol Chan Marine Reserve had a natural break in the reef and was abundant in marine life. Since the area was protected, we were expected to see a lot of larger fish. Our guide led us all around the 10 meter deep area, pointed to a fish, and resurfaced to tell us the name of the fish. Justin and I tried to stay near the front of the pack in order to hear him tell us the names of the fish we saw. Aside from Nemo,
my favorite was probably the Princess Parrotfish (I like the name!) but we saw some Black Groupers, Green Angel Fish, Barracudas and tons more. As the guide swam around, we noticed that several large fish that were white with yellow tails swam with our guide.
The coolest part about our time at our third site was the battle between our guide and a moray eel. It was a little dangerous but proved that moray eels were quite scary. Our brave guide picked up a conch shell, and held it fairly close to a moray eel we spotted a couple of meters down. As the moray eel slipped out of his hiding place, it shot out toward our guide and crunched down on the conch shell. It could’ve taken out our guide’s hand! But instead, our guide was fine. As Justin decided to take a picture of it, he daringly tried to get so close to it that the moray eel crept out toward Justin. Of course, I freaked out! I really couldn’t do anything about it while we were underwater but Justin was smart enough to back away. Moray Eel 1, Justin 0.
Our last site was at
Shark Ray Alley. Apparently, nurse sharks and sting rays were attracted to the sound of motor boats so as we sat on our boat, waiting for the sharks to come, we saw the water around us darken. We were literally surrounded by sting rays, which were swimming all below us. As soon as we saw a glimpse of the nurse sharks, Justin and the husband of the UK couple jumped into the water and were practically beside the sharks as they were getting fed! Silly boys! Justin was grabbing their tails, trying to get good pictures. Lucky for him, the nurse sharks in the area were so used to human interaction that they were completely docile. Nurse Shark 0, Justin 1.
After a while, of being in the water, we were allowed to swim in the area. Justin and I took off and immediately saw an Eagle-spotted sting ray. As we tried to chase it, it decided to have a little fun with us before completely leaving us in the dark by swimming around in circles until we got tired. Smart cookie. Eagle-spotted sting ray 1, Justin and Rumi 0.
We even saw more nurse sharks...but they were
circling around us this time. The largest nurse shark we saw was around 8 feet long and Justin decided to chase after it. At first I followed along too, but it did seem like we were swimming farther away from the boat (plus I was getting tired) so I stopped following it. To think that I was the one chasing a SHARK seemed like a silly idea, but Justin continued to chase it until he lost it, then realized that I was no where near him. Nurse Shark 1, Justin 1.
When he got to the boat, he found that I was already there and sunbathing on the deck.
Our snorkeling tour in Belize was amazing and well worth the money. It was definitely one of the most memorable things we did on our travels and we were so glad that we did it.
We had planned to scuba dive at The Great Blue Hole the next day but since Justin didn’t have his scuba card with him, we decided that we’d save that for another trip and started seriously considering the 3-day sailing cruise with Raggamuffin Tours.
We had dinner at the Herbal Tribe. They
had excellent seafood, and we had their special, which was whole grilled red snapper fish with garlic sauce with garlic bread, rice and beans on the side. We also took advantage of their drink special, which was get 4 for the price of 3 caiprinahas! They also had free wifi access.
At night, we did some stargazing on the dock at our hotel and saw some more shooting stars!
Dec 11, 2009
Since we wanted to be closer to the split, we decided to change hotels and literally got a different hotel at the split. It was a decent location since we were so close to all of the main attraction and we were so happy to switch.
We spent the majority of our day at the split. We sat on the concrete dock and while I sunbathed and wrote some postcards (finally!), Justin snorkeled. We were pretty spoiled from yesterday’s snorkeling adventure but Justin had tons of fun in the water and found some pretty shells for me!
We were so torn about the sailing cruise that we had thought about it all day. Then, we decided to sign up for it and literally
found out that we were departing the next day. We had a group meeting that night and met the other backpackers who would be enjoying our glorious cruise with us. Taking this cruise meant that we’d cut back our time in Guatemala...but it only gave us an excuse to make a trip back to Central America.
Since we loved the food at Herbal Tribe, we went back...and ordered the exact same thing! Getting ready for our Raggamuffin Sailing trip, we went to bed fairly early.
There are more photos below