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Published: January 9th 2016
R : Happy new year! We have landed in Belize which is our first new country for a while now. Our flight from New Orleans was via Houston which looked grotty and miserable from the plane. Once we got to Belize, and passed through the extremely grumpy immigration step, we transferred to a 12 seater airplane for onward transfer to Caye Caulker (pronounced Key) which is a small barrier island in the Carribean. It was all a bit chaotic - our flight being at 14.40 we happily wandered off in the airport at about 13.30 and suddenly we got paged to return to the desk. Within 10 mins we had been rushed* across the Tarmac and were seated in an aircraft that had agreed to divert to Caye Caulker to take us there. There seems to be a very flexible system here, like everything else in Belize.
*under the Belizen definition of rushing!
The flight was about 15 minutes over the edge of Belize. We could see down to the palm trees and mangroves below and various little islands and gorgeous azure sea before the landing strip appeared in sight. After a slightly bumpy landing we were de-planed to
a small hut, and asked to wait next to the sign that said "Baggage Claim". A man went to the plane, pulled out our bags from the hull of the plane and wheeled them over to us on a cart. It was just us there, but they did inspect our baggage receipts, just to be sure.
Having got up at 4am and been kept awake till 1am, we decided to take it easy for the rest of the day, but we did book in with Carlos tours for full day snorkelling the next day.
At our 10am start, we headed out to the Hol Chan marine reserve which took about 30 mins by boat. Here we got our first taste of the coral reef (which is the 2nd biggest in the world). The area has pretty coral and many varieties of tropical fish. We snorkelled for about an hour here - seeing angelfish, goatfish, grunts, horse eyed Jack (a shoal of which followed us the entire time), Green moray eels (which Cate wasn't too keen on), parrotfish and more. Just as we were about to leave, a green sea turtle appeared below us, and then quickly fled when
we surrounded it! Our next stop was Ambergris Caye, for some lunch, which is much larger than Caye Caulker, so we stopped for some lunch. Cate loved it so much, that I think we may be changing our plans a little.
Then it was on to shark-Ray alley, where, as promised there were giant Nurse sharks and sting rays. The guys from the boat obviously had some food on them as they swarmed around the boat as we stopped (not sure about whether this practice is strictly kosher - but it did get results). Nurse sharks, we were promised, are pretty docile, but there was more than one person on the boat who was nervous about getting in with them. They are as docile as promised! They are also pretty used to tourists and are happy to be petted. The Rays were cool too - we didn't approach these but they were gliding effortlessly over the sea bed. Great to see them in their natural environment, but couldn't help but think of Steve Irwin while I was watching their arched barbed tails going back and forth below us...
Next was on to the coral garden, a nice area
This is the only mode of transport on Caye Caulker, and the primary mode on Amergris Caye
of impressive colourful coral and swarms of brightly coloured tropical fish. I am definitely reinstating my fish tank when I get back (though I think this every time I snorkel). Cate still thinks that the coral isn't as impressive as that at the Great Barrier Reef but we are on our way there, so will be able to compare. After a snack of fresh fruit we were on our way back to Caye Caulker. I would love to take credit for the photos you see, but our guide, Carlos, is an accomplished underwater photographer and provides guests with a CD of photos he takes on each trip as a souvenir.
C: We really enjoyed Caye Caulker, it was incredibly laid back and very different to the US in so many ways. This was extremely evident during the second night's dinner. We wandered along the sandy main street scouting out the options before settling on a place called Bambooze which we mainly chose because the seats were colourful swings. The place was pretty busy which we thought was a good sign but realised it might not be after we werent able to order until about forty five minutes later (in
the states dinner was usually over within that time!) Our waiter, when he did appear, was incredibly nice and apologetic so we settled down with a drink to wait it out. I think in the end the mains took about an hour and a half to come but after several (very cheap) rum and cokes we didn't mind too much. He even refused the tip as it had been so slow, very refreshing after being hounded in the states if you tipped less than 15%!
Everything here runs on Belize time which is fine once you get used to it. The next day we decided to explore the island which is very small but still seems fairly authentic. There are only 3 streets, helpfully named Front, Middle and Back, and none of them are paved. The only transport on the island is golf buggies and everything is in walking distance anyway. There are piers you can swim off and we enjoyed a traditional lunch grilled by the side of the road where the fish had clearly been freshly caught and were being taken out of a bucket by the water's edge as they were ordered.
On the third
day we got the water taxi over to the next island, Ambergris Caye, which is bigger and more developed. Still very laid back though and we had a nice hotel with a pool on the beachfront which was great. We just had the two nights there but there's not a lot to see on the island so we just enjoyed a day of sunbathing and swimming. Roger, who can't sit still for a whole day, decided we should hire a kayak so we did that too and enjoyed paddling around the very clear water. We finished the day walking along the palm tree lined beach and drinking cocktails under the remarkably bright. All in all, Amergris Caye was a lovely and relaxing introduction to the Caribbean.
R: One day when I was out on Caye Caulker, I had the bad manners to be walking faster than a local, who stopped me and told me "no overtaking". We got chatting and he told me "England is Belize, Belize is England", referring to the years spent under colonial rule as British Honduras. I asked what he thought of this, and made a typical British joke about our colonial heritage, and he
said that the worst thing about being in the commonwealth was the abolition of the death penalty - which he says is leading to a rise in crime in Belize city, from which he had fled to the islands. We chatted to a waiter who regaled us with stories about Royal state visits to Belize, in which Harry partied with all the ladies ("He's our boy" said the waiter, repeatedly) and the time the queen was served rodent for dinner. A young version of the queen is present on all the money. Overall, the monarchy clearly still seems oddly relevant here.
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