The Belize in my imagination existed in the form of white sands, straw thatched roofs and enough jungle to mimic its neighbour- the Amazon.
While our time on Caye Caulker didn’t leave an all-sour taste on my travel buds, it rather brought us a completely new and unexpected experience to what we had in mind. I reflect on our time spent in Belize, as I sit on the flight from Belize City to Panama City (via El Salvador). It’s here, in hindsight, that we can look back on the moments and details which left the biggest impression, provided the best experiences and the few small things that let us down the most.
Four days ago we jumped on the bus from Tulum to Chetumal, a tiny town at the southern most tip of Mexico’s East Coast, and a town lucky for it’s convenient location- otherwise offering nothing more than a Walmart shopping centre bursting at it’s seams, and a small university culture across the road. We passed through the notorious Mexican immigration- handing over money where asked and stamping our passports on demand, feeling somewhat like a herd of sheep being pushed from one station to the next. It was a few hours later that we were on board the Belize Express Water Taxi, and as night fell we were unsure whether the mangrove lined waterways were part of the agenda or in fact something off the beaten track entirely. Lucky for us we met fellow-travelers, whether it be from America, Switzerland or England, each represented a sense of security for us three girls, and more so, some extra company along the way. After stopping on the neighbouring island San Pedro for passport control, some more cash dealings and yet another stamp, we were herded onto the final stop- Caye Caulker Island.
We were greeted by a group of island locals, all optimising the Caribbean lifestyle- dreadlocks, rasta shirts and barefoot, as they lifted our bags and directed us to each Hostel. We were staying in the renowned Dirty McNastie’s, and while the name speaks for itself we were glad of it’s central location, backpacking vibe…and free rum punch. It was here we called Home for the next four nights, making this mozzy-infested, house-on-stilts our base for the various activities the island had to offer.
It was our last day that we took part in a Black Hawks Sailing adventure, a local company run by Steve, known more famously as ‘Big Steve’, whose yacht has sailed the Carribean seas for the last 15 years, taking tourists to the famous Shark Ray Alley, Cay Caulker Marine Reserve and the Hol Chan Reef. We started off early morning, reggae music gracing the air and fresh pineapple being passed around. The day’s trip provided us with a banquet of marine life, all on show for us GoPro clad snorkelers. It seemed the world beneath the water’s surface was a buzz that day, being lucky enough to drop by to witness rush hour as sharks and turtles alike swam around us without a worry in the world. Being a Nemo fan myself, the ‘Drop Off’ was a necessary site, where we swam up the main channel of the marine reserve, diving down to get a closer look, or lingering back with that slight fear at the sight of a huge ray.
With pink rum punch in hand and some more freckles proof of the sun’s effort for the day, we sailed back to Caye Caulker. If it weren’t for the experience we had on the reef and all it’s beauty it offered us that day, my opinions of Belize would have been a lot different. During the sun soaked hours, Caye Caulker stands amidst the bluest water the Carribean Sea has to offer, basking in all it’s glory and welcoming tourists, families and locals alike. Most take advantage of boarded edges of ‘The Split’, a channel created by a hurricane which literally cut the Island in half in the 60’s. Today it is the epicentre of the Island, where the locals cut coconuts for travellers to drink, and the Rasta boat sits half sunken and graffitied- a constant reminder that Bob Marley was and still is, their King. Once night falls, the crazies come out to play, as the locals ride their bikes hustling the visitor’s and the stray dogs bark at each passer by. While we personally didn’t run into any real trouble, the stories and traveller tales are enough to keep your head on straight. While the loved-up reggae vibe is preached during the day, something entirely different is practiced overnight. While its sadly apparent that Belize is drowned by crime, poverty and social challenges, it’s easy to let your fear overwhelm your time you have to enjoy the place.
Because at the end of the day, amongst staying safe and keeping out of trouble, I took advantage of all the island had to offer, ate more lobster tails than one could only dream of, and shared the Caribbean sunlight with my two best friends- what more could a girl want?