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Caye Caulker Moments

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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?

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Tulum, you had me at Hola!

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Probably one of the most anticipated snippets of our trip, Tulum exceeded all expectations. If it wasn’t the straw-roofed mud bungalow, the cream white crocheted hammocks, or the constant feeling of zen surrounding the place…what’s not to love? Staying at one of the Design Hotel creations, Papaya Playa Project has sprawled itself 1 kilometre along Mexico’s East Coast, claiming from what we’ve seen, the whitest sand, the bluest water and more palm trees than Hawaii’s North Shore. Sadly, it’s a double sided coin, looking around at the sheer emptiness of the town with a strong urge to spread the word- boasting of it’s quaint wonders and all this place as to offer. However with this, comes the downside, seen in Bali’s over-consumed and tourist ridden coastline, where the lack of crass language and sites, Super Clubs and what would be “Corona” singlets, is rather refreshing.

Papaya Playa Project

It’s a postcard destination, as each photograph captured resembles that of a professional, as little skill is required, rather it’s beauty speaks for itself. We were lucky enough to stay at PPP, an eco-hotel which embodies Tulum’s overall respect for it’s natural surrounding. As the electricity is shut off throughout the night, limited hot water is offered, and candles are the preferred mood lighting, luxury isn’t in the form of man-made pleasures but rather, it’s the simplicity which visitors escape to stay after stay. The thatched roofs and wooden bungalows attract Yogis, meditators and (health) foodies alike, bringing together a group of people who obviously enjoy the raw, but no less comfortable, things in life. Although not complete fanatics ourselves, we’ve found it hard not to assimilate into this lifestyle, doing Yoga at sunrise, swapping our cheesy-nachos to wholemeal tacos and paddle-boarding whenever we have the chance. It reminds me a lot of the place we visit each year, Tavarua, where Island life brings you back down to earth and escaping the hustle and bustle of a city truly does relax the mind and body.

Tulum Archaeological Park

Yesterday we hired bikes from a small shop up the road, and backpacks in baskets, hair tied up, we were on our way. We had no real destination in mind, rather following the one road running parallel to the sea for as far as we could go, rearing each corner with no expectation but enjoying every second. As we passed each hammock shop, local vegan cafe or boutique hotel, there was never a point in which we were left disappointed. A lot like Canggu in Bali, young locals keep the town alive, where live music starts early and happy hour runs all afternoon. As we took advantage of the bikes, we rode the 1.5km North into the Tulum Archaeological Park, where ruins are sprawled across paddocks of grass, buffered by the local flora and fauna, and perched above the Caribbean Sea itself. We spent most of the day wandering around the stone forms amidst hundreds of other tourists, escaping the crowds (and heat) briefly when finding an enclave on one of the beaches. Tigerlily bikini’s on and GoPro ready, we jumped yet again into water which looked surreal to the naked eye, only to be emphasised through photos. It was a special thing seeing the ruins meet the sea, where the Mayans civilisation advanced, epitomised by their prime real estate which still exists today.

The Grand Cenote

It wasn’t until our second day that we took advantage of more of Mexico’s natural beauty. Offering a banquet of cenotes to choose from, we settled with the Grand Cenote- with a reputation of attracting the most crowds, but amazing nevertheless. We arrived by taxi from town after having breakfast at the vegan and veg cafe La Hojos Verde, where we showered off and jumped into the clearest water we had ever seen. It was almost like the water didn’t exist at all, but rather only the colours were changing beneath the caves. The light played with the rocks and enclaves, creating reflections into the fresh water pool’s surface, but remaining completely still and silent beneath. Long-necked turtles protruded their heads and fish swam around our ankles, making us realise we were in fact swimming in an entire ecosystem, something the earth had created so naturally but seemed so bizarre to us visitors.

Having left Tulum now and moved onto Belize, I keep reflecting on the beauty and calm energy that it cemented in us. It’s one of those places that I want to bring my family and friends back to one day, a place that I hope won’t be hindered and exploited in the future. If you’re down in that neck of the woods, visit Tulum- even just for a day trip, because it’s a really unique place which I feel is so perfectly balanced by the tourist’s support and local presence that it won’t take much for this equilibrium to be ruined- so get there quick.

Sleep
Papaya Playa Project
Posada del Sol

Shop
We Love
La Llorona
Caravana Monteacristo

Eat
La Hojos Verde (a vegan cafe in the middle of town)
Puro Corazon
Il Barino (vegan cafe)

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Playa Del Carmen

Stepping into a mini Europe, almost as if you’re walking down the promenade of Nice or stepping out of the hustle and bustle of La Ramblas to be greeted by the crystal clear water that these beachside towns have to offer. We stayed in Playa Del Carmen for three nights, a perfect amount of time to embrace all that this tiny town has to offer. From paddle boarding out to the docked boats to walking the white-sand shores, passing each beach club umbrella and local fishing boats.

As Mexicans flock to this drinking hole and holiday oasis themselves, don’t except a cultural shock as it mimics other destinations inspired by mediterranean fever. We took advantage of Playa’s convenient location, joining a tour to visit the infamous Chichen Itza site, where we learnt the Mayan rituals and saw for ourselves our civilised they were thousands of years ago. We had a great guide, being Mayan himself, giving us an insight into why Chichen Itza has cemented itself as the top ruins along the Mexican East Coast.

Only a ten minute drive down the road, we entered the Ik Kil Cenote- a 25 metre natural sink hole which boasts through endless photos. It was only last year, scrolling through Tuula Vintage’s Instagram feed, that a screen shot was sent my friend’s way, cementing Ik Kil as top of my list. Despite the lighting not doing it’s job properly, its hard to comprehend how nature runs it’s course. Yet don’t be too fooled, this Cenote doesn’t sit untampered with, existing amongst hotels and tour buses alike. After showering off any given creams or oils, we walked three flights of stairs underground, only stopped by an arched opening at the bottom, where people lined the stairs and kids screamed as they jumped off into their parent’s arms. It was hard to believe we were starring into that exact pool that I had a cyber love affair with last year, but as H. Miller puts so poignantly himself, “one’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things”.

Between lying on the beach and pleasing our tourist cravings, the town offers a party nightlife similar to that of the Greek Islands, where kids wander from Super Club to shot bar, at times leaving their dignity at home but nothing to leave you feeling unsafe or unnerved. The main strip, dubbed 10th Avenue, ran the entire length of the beach, and we soon learnt that amongst the influx of Mexican memorabilia existed little boutiques lined with enough crocheted bikinis and lace tops to fill another suitcase.

Enchanting the Taste Buds

Diablito Cha Cha Cha
Beach Club

Sur

La Casa del Agua

Getting Some Sleep

Seeing the Town

Chichen Itza
Cozumel
Ik Kil Cenote
Paddle Boarding
Snorkelling and Fishing

Shopping

La Bikineria

Seashell Lights By Shawna Coronado
Maya Xek Sea Shell Shop

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