Saying adios to Mexico for the last time was hard, but nothing a final dose of Corona, guac and nachos couldn’t fix! We spent a couple of nights in the coastal town of Chetumal recovering from Cuba, and doing fun stuff like laundry. There is actually nothing better than picking up your freshly laundered goods, still warm from the dryer and smelling like too much Cold Power. Chetumal was a sleepy port town so our stay was pretty uneventful, save for the Mexican family restaurant we went to (Cobb & Co, but with nachos!) where the staff pounced on us shortly after arrival, slapped cowboy hats on our heads, took a photo of us and then repeatedly put our mugs on the big projector screen saying ‘Bienvenidos amigos de Nueva Zelanda!’ before we had time to say dos cervezas, por favor.
The reason we were here was to catch a water taxi straight to Caye Caulker, an island off the coast of Belize, so backpacks on we were down to the ferry terminal. The army contingent was waiting for us – full digital camo kevlar helmeted kits on display, 50 cal atop their combat wagon, drug dog ready for a sniff. Anything potentially naughty we had was saved by the dude who packed a whole saus of salami in his backpack. Good work sniffy!
All bags on board, (and a washing machine strapped on, because why wouldn’t you?) and we were off. The seas weren’t too bumpy, but we were pleased with our seats at the back when we saw those at the front bouncing all over the show. No vomming though, whew. A couple of hours later and we pulled into San Pedro for Immigration fun. What a contrast to Cuba! Super chilled, like the rest of Belize as we would soon discover. A couple of the lads including the skipper sitting around drinking beers while telling us where to put our bags (there’s a shop if you want to buy your own Belkins while you wait, yus please!). Stamps collected, a few beers in and we were back on the boat for the last short jaunt to Caye Caulker.
What a place. Beautiful white sandy beaches, big ol’ palm trees swaying in the breeze, and plenty more skeletal dogs foraging for snacks. It’s not a big island, and primary means of transport are on foot, bicycles and golf carts. The unofficial motto of this island = ‘go slow.’ Many a local will stop you if your step is too quick or your pace filled with too much purpose and direction… ‘Yo mon, why yo go so quick, eh? Slow down, go slow, yah?’ Don’t mind if we do. We have an inkling on what aids the speed (or lack of) on the island – a friendly chap on a bicycle who does the rounds each night, a special triple chocolate brownie for sale in his basket. ‘Only available once a day mon!’
Lots of little crafty jewellery wares and artists are dotted down the main street (dirt path) amidst hostels and guesthouses and tour peeps – the island is definitely geared towards the tourists. Belize is also the only Central American country with English as the official language (what a treat!) though it turned out the Rasta ‘English’ is actually sometimes harder to understand than Spanish.
We spent four glorious days on Caye Caulker. Luckily not too much longer, because to be honest, the Belizian dollar was spendier than we were used to! Plenty of sunbathing at the divide between the two islands, aka The Split, the Lazy Lizard hangout providing opportunity for bombs (of the water variety, ‘Manu’s’ for the discerning jumpers among us), sunset beers and rum punch to keep us occupied.
Local cuisine included seafood coconut curries, fish burgers and tacos, aforementioned rum punch (dangerously good and often free), and the infamous Jerk Chicken (not chicken jerk as Kim often asked for…’I’ll have the chicken, jerk’. Possibly offensive? Awkies). Smokey 40 gallon drum BBQs would grill up your meat of choice, the jerk variety with a delicious spicy sauce on top, and a plate of rice and coleslaw (questionable mayo but we lived to tell the tale). And who can forget Marie Sharp’s hot sauce! The hottest lady on the island, or so they say. A dinner at Wish Willy’s ‘restaurant’, or the back yard of a local, proving to be a recommendable experience – take your seat, help yourself to anything from the chilly bin, watch out for the obstacles on the way to the dunny, we’ll acknowledge your order in the next hour or so. But the meal was well worth the wait. We also found the supermarkets to be hilarious and full of weird old stuff. Being really dusty we were unsure if noone shopped there or the sand gets in from the undivided division between street and shop floor. Either way you can still purchase a packaged PC from circa pre-2000 for your island entertainment or your Commander Keen fix.
On our second day we took a snorkelling trip with the infamous Raggamuffin yacht. Our captains three hilarious locals, dreadlocks rustling in the seabreeze, reggae music blaring and their loud exchanges of what sounded like their own secret language as we sailed the seas! Apparently if you can’t understand them it’s because they’re talking about you, girls. We sailed to a couple of stops at various snorkel spots, exploring the coral gardens and sea creatures that lurked within.
No mermaids (or turtles and manatees, boo) but a plethora of nurse sharks, stingrays, jackfish, sparkly fish, spotty fish, many fish, eels, and general sealife awesomeness! We definitely had a ‘this is the life’ moment as the crew served us fresh seafood curry followed by ceviche – a beautiful cold seafood salad – as we basked in the sunshine listening to Mr. Marley telling us what is up. As per the island way, plenty of free rum punch ensued, and the skipper had a hard time getting us off the boat at the end of the evening, having far too good of a time dancing on the roof with a posse of Irish nurses.
The night escalated from there as we met up and reminisced the night away with a uni era friend of Jim’s who was just as keen for a rum or eleven as us, moving to an air conditioned room at a new hostel the next day being a welcome blessing. A great night Rach! Set amongst a graveyard which was quite cool, albeit creepy this hostel provided the required ailments to hammering head – AC, hot shower and King Kong viewable from our bed. Luxury.
Another day of relaxation, aimless island meandering, giant black gull watching, some art and jewellery perusal, and the purchase of a Mandala from our newly acquired Mexican amigo Martin (the purchase of souvenirs on our travels has been minimal, but this one we had to get!) smoothies, bagels, frozen Twix (stale, and probably the same era as the PC in the corner, ew) and fried churros-style donuts oozing with Hersheys chocolate sauce kept us going, along with more chicken, jerks! And a couple of rum punches for the road.
It was a brief but gloriously relaxing trip to the island. But well recommended nonetheless if you have the dollars and the time. Next morning, we were up for an early boat ride to Belize City, for a snack of banana bread (New Zealand butter alongside, only the best!) and onto a bus to venture into the Guatemala!