Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Un-Belize-able: Caye Caulker

The main purpose of our trip to Caye Caulker was the 3 day sailing trip due to start on Tuesday. We hadn't been able to confirm our places while at Tikal or Flores, but I was particularly keen to go through Belize anyway (CP less so as we knew it was an expensive country, particularly when compared to Guatemala), so we booked our transport and made contingency plans in case we couldn't get onto the sailing tour.

About an hour after paying for the bus & boat we got word that there was no room on the sailing tour that we wanted with Raggamufiin tours, but we were on a waiting list... as above, I'm still keen to go but CP takes some convincing, but since we've paid for the buses there's really no discussion... although whenever CP is concerned, there is always some discussion! We ready ourselves for some quality beach time instead.

Picked up from our hostel at 5am we do the usual drive round every hostel in the area picking up randoms until we're finally on the highway and powering towards the Guat/Belize border. There's a French guy on the bus who insists on practicing his Spanish by talking shite to the bus driver, who slows down every time he has to respond, but we still make good progress and arrive at the border on schedule.

The first "proper" border crossing of our travels is slightly odd (but apparently completely normal) -  the bus parks up about 50metres short, we each take all of our bags and carry them to the Guat immigration control where we pay 20Q (£1.50) for the pleasure of leaving the country, then walk 100metres with our bags across the border into the Belize immigration to get our passports stamped and get back on the bus, which has now parked up 50metres inside Belize.

Then another hour of driving with the Frenchie asking all manner of irrelevant questions and relaying this information to his friends ("he says his son is 8 years old!" - fascinating, now please let the man drive). There's one unscheduled stop for our driver to buy an industrial sized pack of toilet roll, which we can only assume is significantly better than the recycled newspaper that is used in much of Guat, and then we arrive in Belize City. By all accounts, BC is a dive but we make no attempt to find out and get on the first boat to Caye Caulker.

Caye Caulker is a little bit of paradise, 5 miles long, everyone gets around on rickety old bikes or the occasional pimped out golf buggy. It was bigger until a huge hurricane hit in 1961 which shifted enough sand and other stuff to cause a 50metre wide split, which is now imaginatively called "The Split".

We're greeted as we get off the boat by an older gent, Paul, who asks if we have accommodation booked, which we don't but we have a couple of places in mind. He explains that he gets a dollar referral fee if he places us in a room at a variety of places and is confident he can find something to suit us, so off we go. On the way he gives us a little tour (it's pretty simple, there's Front Street running down one side of the island, Back Street on the other, and in between, Middle Street - again, very imaginative), and we chat about our intended sailing trip. He tells us that he's never heard of anyone dropping out of these tours (so our hopes of the waiting list option bringing us any joy were very limited), BUT, he knew of a locally run company that runs a very similar trip, leaving on Wednesdays. Result - now we get to spend a day and a half chillaxing in Caye Caulker, before doing our sailing trip! Couldn't have worked out better as we loved CC!

Having found suitable accommodation and booked our boat trip, we invite Paul to join us for a beer. We pick a nice bar in view of the boat arrivals so that Paul can see when the next one arrives in the hope of securing another couple of $ for booking someone into a room and Rich heads in to order the bucket of beers.

Paul's a nice guy, he's had a few a few bad breaks over the years (lost contact with his daughter, lived in the US for 10 years but then had his sailing boat stolen that he'd taken 7 years to save up for which was not insured, had his canoe stolen which he had used to get across The Split each day, apparently his sister managed to write him out of their mums will before she died), all in all enough bad turns for him to be feeling pretty hard done by - but he doesn't, he just gets on with his life, getting a few $ each day and hopefully meeting some nice people to buy him beers I'm the beach. We were happy to oblige...

So what is there to do in Caye Caulker? It mostly involves a lot of lying around, a lot of eating, and some drinking. Breakfast was a fryjack (a cross between a pitta bread and a doughnut) that was filled with egg, chicken, beans, ham, onion, tomato) which filled us up enough to attempt a walk to the non-tourist parts, including their airport (a short landing strip, a turning area, and a large shed), and a series of private jetties for boats to moor up on together with an very increasing in size population of iguanas. These wooden private jetties also served the purpose of being a place to go for a very uncomfortable lie down for a bit of sun tanning, as they are fashioned from a mishmash of wooden planks. In CPs view, our little "relax" on one was heaven, isolated, local and totally unique. For me, it was just uncomfortable! At least we built on our tans....

More relaxing followed, lounging around in hammocks, visiting Pizza Caulker (recently voted the best pizza on the island, although the competition is severely limited), trying some amazing ice creams, the freshest juices we've ever had (served by a guy who could hardly walk because his knee was so bad but her couldn't afford an operation), some pretty good coffees (with free mini hot donuts, CP was a happy little vegemite... both for getting a donut and it being free!), eating fresh fish on the beach from a roadside stall (with a couple of free cocktails thrown in for good measure) and a couple of trips to the Lazy Lizard, a bar that has been set up at The Split which sells a fruity rum cocktail ("The Panty Ripper"), which you can order as a double during happy hour and sip while watching partially inebriated tourists attempting to swim across The Split at sunset.

The Split was also the scene of the weirdest thing I've seen to date: a guy walking thru the bar in speedos stuffing extra cans of beer down his pants like a cycling domestique. That cannot be comfortable, or the easiest way to carry 5 cans of beer, and surely none of his friends will want them if they see how they've been carried?! Perhaps that was his plan...

All of which was very enjoyable (except the speedos) and gave us a lovely feel for the Caribbean Coast of Belize... and a bit of an insight into the only English speaking country of South America, a country that is belied in irony, being one of the most expensive Latin American counties to live in but entirely reliant in tourism and tainted by corruption and poverty...we really only saw the tourist side of things but got a feel for the rest...anyways, our time in CC set us up nicely for our 3 day sailing trip...

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