Published: April 10th 2008February 10th 2008
¨Baby, you gonna be dancing with me later, you better Belize it¨- said the enormous rastafarian who´d accosted me by the dance floor of Caye Caulkers infamous karaoke joint. I´ve heard some pretty amusing pick-up lines in my time, but this one was stolen from Belize´s most popular souvenir t-shirt. Classy!
Still on a Cuban high, I decided to head to Belize on a whim. Belize being one of those places that a lot of backpackers skip. Mostly because it´s quite expensive versus the rest of Central America, it´s English speaking and it doesn´t offer the same cultural diversity as its Guatemalan neighbour. Home to the hammock, unbelievably blue Caribbean waters and the second biggest barrier reef in the world (after Australia) - Belize is just too good to miss! Previously a British Colony, Belize was granted independence in 1981. I´ve got to be honest, I didn´t even know where Belize was before this trip ... it´s such a small country, jammed between Mexico and Guatemala. But apparently Madonna does ... ´last night I dreamt of San Pedro ...´ (one of Belize´s Caribbean islands) from her 1987 hit ´La Isla Bonita´. This being perhaps the most played song in Belize
after ´Get up, stand up´, ´No woman, no cry´, ´Buffalo soldier´and various other Bob Marley hits!
Everyone tells me I can´t get from Playa del Carmen, Mexico to Caye Caulker, Belize in one day. The problem being, you´ve got to catch one bus to the bordertown, change buses to Belize City, then make the last ferry to Caye Caulker at 6pm and the buses are notoriously unreliable. Unfortunately, the night before my 7am bus, Junior and I catch up for a night in Playa del Carmen and knock over a bottle of rum. I make it to the bus clutching a 1.5 litre bottle of water and hoping for the best. I make it to the border town and realize I´m not quite sure what to do next. I´m not alone, neither do Calum and Sarah, two Scottish backpackers I meet at the station. A bus tout tracks us down and promises to get me to Belize City just in time for the 6pm ferry ... he has contacts and can ´hold the ferry´ if necessary. I´m slightly dubious - but have no other option. By quarter to 6pm, the bus still hasn´t arrived in Belize City, so I
accost the driver. In a move that secures my happiness and respect for Belize´s transport system, he pulls the bus over, hails a taxi, negotiates a fair price and demands the driver get me to the Caye Caulker ferry by 6pm. Impressive!
So by 7pm I find myself stranded on Caye Caulker - a spectacular Caribbean island - with no hostel accommodation available. So I lash out on a hotel room and realize for the first time in ages I´ve got no friends! I step out of my hotel room, planning to grab some dinner and bump into a bunch of Sydney-siders, one of whom I met in Playa del Carmen. My dinner plans are put on the backburner, as I find a rum and pino in my hand, we end up eating a seafood dinner from Jolly Roger´s BBQ on the beach later and singing karaoke at the notorious Oceanside bar. A bar where the floor is sand, locals and tourists happily mix and the music is poor to average, but nobody cares!
The Belizean locals I encounter on Caye Caulker and the rest of the coastline are mostly Creole - tall rastafarians, grooving to the reggae
beat. The people here are so chilled and moving so slowly, they are practically walking backwards. There are no cars on Caye Caulkers sandy streets - just a few golf buggies and there´s prolific bougainvillea growing over fences in front of timber houses on stilts. These homes are absolutely not hurricane proof, despite the devastation caused approximately every 7 years when they get a really bad one that wipes out the island. I end up spending a week on the island after moving to Tina´s hostel and catching up with Creagh and Lisa - friends I met in Cuba. Tina´s hostel is a relaxed, waterfront hostel, with great travellers who spend their time hanging out on the wide verandas or on hammocks under the palm trees swapping travel stories. One morning, I wake with a sore neck, and a fellow traveller turns out to be a chiropractor and is able to quickly adjust my neck. It´s amazing how when travelling with only the bare necessities, things you need seem to fortuitously materialise through the great backpacker network.
Life is very simple on Caye Caulker ... the daily routine involves morning yoga, swimming every day off the concrete pylons called
´the split´ at the tip of the island, spending quality time in a hammock and indulging in cheap, but delicious seafood each night for dinner. My favourite eateries include Pirates - the local haunt offering cheap fish and salad takeaway and Wish Willies. Maurice more commonly known as Wish Willy, could well be the rasta dude with the bad pick up line from my first night on Caye Caulker. He has a long-suffering western partner, but LOVES the ladies. He cooks up a culinary feast every night in the front yard of his house ... there´s no menu, he just makes what he feels like .... lobster, followed by dessert if you´re lucky (but watch the brownies, they´re notoriously lethal!).
Whilst in Caye Caulker, the Belizean elections are well underway with both parties involved in a fanfare of dirty tactics including free beer and a much talked about pay-for-votes scheme. The current leader PUP (the blue team) were up against UDP (the red team). The powerful PUP were notorious for their empty promises, including a water purification plant on Caye Caulker. Another big event whilst on Caye Caulker is the Superbowl - Patriots Versus Giants. I´m roped into supporting
the Giants by New Yorker Lisa and we have a great afternoon involving a drinking competition, lots of cheering, local beer and laughter. Especially after the Giants win!
Next I jumped on board a sailing trip down the coast to Placencia. Raggamuffin
3 day/2 night boat cruise-camping trips came highly recommended from everyone I speak to (and of course the LP). Creagh and his Irish friend Sarah join me for the journey. Despite a few hitches ... motor failed before we left the island, the Captain Kim and his deckhand were stoned out of their brain and couldn´t care less about us and a squall day two which had us huddled under the tiny deck for an hour or so, waiting for visibility and calm .... it was great! Ten of us were on board the small boat - all exceptional people, plus the useless two crew members. The experience was great - delicious meals, ample supplies of rum and great snorkelling and swimming off the boat. The reggae-ton 24/7 was not so great! The two islands we camped on were postcard perfect. The first was no larger than a footy field - with only 6 trees!
Here we pitched our tents with difficulty, had dinner on the boat and a bonfire back on our little deserted island. The second island - Tobacco Caye - was a real highlight - very small, but big enough for about twenty homes, some accommodation, a beach bar and bunch of other backpackers ... including the Sydney-siders and a few people from our hostel On Caye Caulker. Whilst on Tobacco Caye we tried our hand at snorkelling, the UDP party had an upset win in the elections and someone spotted a croc by the beach bar.
Happy to land on dry land after cabin fever began to set in (and the rum supply dried up), we discover there´s an arts festival happening in Placencia and accommodation is in tight supply. The Raggamuffin gang parted ways to find accommodation and meet in the evening for drinks at the barefoot bar - with their famous banana coladas. By day, Placencia had plenty to do ... palm tree lined beaches for swimming and sunbaking, festival stalls selling arts and crafts along the narrow concrete footpath cum main road, that holds the title of the worlds narrowest street according to the Guiness Book of
Raggamuffin Captain Kim
Note rum in one hand, joint in the other ...
Records. Here we meet Sally, Fong and Toni - from Tina´s Hostel in Caye Caulker - so there´s plenty of people to hang out with. By night, bands strike up in the various bars and cafes and I whilst we have a brilliant time, I soon grow tired of the exhausting attention of the local men. Their women glare at me, like it´s my fault their men are so sleazy ...!
It´s time to hit Guatemala, so Sarah, Creagh, Sally, Fong and I book ourselves on the tiniest ferry on record ... really a small boat, to take us across to Livingston, Guatemala. The motor boat gets thrown over massive two metre waves and all on board are wet, but relieved on arrival. It´s not quite pirates of the Caribbean, but it´s a damn good adventure!
There are more photos below