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Published: November 13th 2013
After so long in the Spanish speaking world, Belize came as a bit of a shock – a small English speaking enclave on the shores of the Caribbean!! The language comes from the country's pre-independence history as British Honduras and the fact that apparently a good proportion of its population are descended from the pirates and buccaneers that used to frequent these parts!!
I say that the language spoken is English – but not quite as we know it!! When the locals are speaking with native English speakers they have an amazing caribbean lilt that makes you want to break out into a big grin just on hearing it. But when they embark on a conversation amongst themselves the creole becomes a familiar yet indecipherable stream of words that you think might be English, but you're never quite sure!
I also felt a bit sorry for Belize as (like Honduras) its a country where people enter, head to the one big highlight, and then leave again quicksmart!! I did exactly that in both Belize and Honduras so I join the many that have barely scratched the surface!! Belize does suffer from a reputation of being expensive – but in
my experience it was like Costa Rica where the basic cost of living wasn't too much – but if you wanted to do any sort of trip or tour that needed a guide or was in a national park, the price started increasing like Zimbabwean inflation!
However, with the big highlight being Caye Caulker – a small island nestling about an hour by boat from the mainland – there wasn't that much need to do a tour if you didn't want. Relaxing in the hammocks at the wonderful “Yuma's house” guesthouse (http://yumashousebelize.com/
), wandering the island and speaking to Erika on Skype through the surprisingly fast wi-fi were all I needed!!
The reason for my more relaxed (I.e penny pinching!!) days was that after doing the cheapest snorkelling tour on the island – which was a lot of fun as we got to see dozens of rays and small sharks in the shallow waters of the aptly named “shark and ray alley” - I had set my mind on diving the Blue Hole – probably the most famous individual dive site in the world. At US$225 for a full day including 2 other dives it certainly didn't come
cheap – hence the need to “take it Belizeasy!” on the other days I was there!!
The Blue Hole is a 400 metre wide, 200 metre deep cave located in an otherwise shallow, aquamarine reef. The roof of the cave has collapsed, feeling it with water and leaving the aptly named and very dark “blue hole” in the middle. Obviously, when you're on the boat it just looks like you're in the middle of a bit of blue ocean, but if you happen to be flying above it and taking a photograph like the fine person on the internet from whom I stole this photo, it just looks incredible!!
But its not just from above that it looks impressive From below it is nothing short of spectacular! The best was I can describe it is to say: imagine the biggest cave you've ever been in, then fill it with water, descend to 41 metres from the former roof (don't tell the PADI instructors!!!) where there are stalactites and stalagmites the size of double decker buses. Weave in and out of the stalactites enjoying the narcotic effect of the nitrogen narcossis created by the extreme depth and then come
Half moon caye
Our lunch stop after the blue hole dive
face to face with dozens of sharks that call the blue hole “home”!! I don't know what type they were, but in my zoology dictionary they were “BIG sharks, very big sharks!!”.
That in a nutshell was my incredible day in the blue hole, a fantastic and unique experience that got reasonably close to converting this non-diver into a believer!! It says a lot about the quality of the Blue Hole dive that I was pretty underwhelmed by the remaining two dives of the day – but a glance back at my log book shows that we saw 3 turtles, sharks, lobster and had a giant barracuda circling us for about ten minutes as we surfaced!!
From Belize it was an overnight bus up to Mexico, and given the improvement in my Spanish the accents now presented hardly any challenge at all compared with previous visits!! One challenge however was the very unhelpful 3.30a.m. Arrival in the town of Tulum – a problem I thought I had cunningly sidestepped by prepaying online for the biggest hostel in town, handily located only half a block's walk from the bus terminal, and then sending them an e-mail to warn of
Finally a chance to use the mini tripod I had been lugging around. How about that Chris Alger!!
my nocturnal arrival! The plan unravelled as soon as I arrived when it turned out the hostel had closed down – but had handily kept both its website and paypal based booking service fully functional!! Thus I was left with the unwelcome proposition of being in the middle of a Mexican town at 3.30a.m. With all my stuff, no accommodation and not a Mexican peso to my name!!! Luckily, in Belize I had picked up a flyer for a different Tulum hostel simply because it had a small map of the town. I arrived and for 5 or 10 minutes banged on the door and tried to rouse someone!! Eventually my spirits soared when someone came to the door, only for them to plummet again like an Arsenal fan's dream of silverware when he told me they were fully booked!!!
But luckily a combination of my stubbornness and the certainly hopeless look on my face, meant that when I asked for a sofa, a hammock or perhaps a plank of wood with rusty nails sticking out of it to allow me to sleep there until first light, he pointed me to a hammock in the corner of the garden
and I collapsed there to grab a few hours of very welcome sleep!!
With only 1 day in Mexico I needed to cram in quite a lot. I managed to get myself down the coast to Akumal to meet up with a group from the hostel that had headed there while I had been having my last long conversation with Erika on Skype before the wi-fi black hole of Cuba!! The beach is famed for the turtles that feed there less than 30 metres off shore, and so armed with the world's most basic mask and snorkel which I had hired from the hostel, I set off into the water. I didn't see quite as many turtles as others had reported, but swimming quietly and alone meant I didn't startle them and was able to observe them going about their business in a really natural manner. It was a very cool experience to just walk out from the beach and start swimming with them!
After a beer with the hostel group (the incredibly refreshing Pacifico which I remember from my last trip to Mexico!) I left them to get myself into the Mayan ruins of Tulum before they closed for the night. These ruins were constructed in the 12th
century and unlike the huge complex of Tikal in Guatemala, the site was almost fully excavated and on a much smaller scale, so an hour or two of wandering was enough. This allowed me plenty of time to enjoy their spectacular location on the clifftops, where the contrast of the grey stones with the aquamarine Caribbean was very impressive.
Despite being there only a day, Tulum left a very positive impression on me. There would be lots more to see and do and the views and coastlines seemed pretty fantastic. But there's no regrets about the short time I was there as I was off to my to my final Latin American destination quicksmart!! The land of rum, cigars and Castro awaited!!
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