Thursday, March 12, 2015

Caye Caulker, Belize.

0720 Wednesday 11 Mar 2015
Dave: "Too bad you have your party Friday night, cheap tickets to Belize for the weekend! You could test out your gear!" 
1920 Thursday 12 Mar 2015
Sitting at the Split on Caye Caulker (pronounced Key caulk-uh) in Belize. 

I've had friends tell me that the week before leaving for my first trip overseas I would be sick with anxiety. The fact that I had less than 24 hours to prepare for this hop to Belize probably helped with that. I wasn't anxious about the trip itself, I was anxious that we wouldn't get on our flights since we were flying standby. I'll be honest, I needed this trip a lot. I don't cope well with boredom, so this was the perfect getaway. And to those of you who had been planning on making it to my going away party, I'm sorry I missed you, but if I get back tonight we can try again. 

Belize was my first trip outside of the United States, and I didn't have a clue about the country.. Or customs processes or anything of that sort. I do know that when we were on approach to land I caught a glimpse of the jungle, and I'll definitely be going back to peruse through there and hopefully make it to some ruins! Once we landed, much to my surprise, everything in Belize was written in English. The taxi driver that took us and an American couple to the water taxi said that everyone in Belize learns English from day one. They speak Creole, but since it isn't a written language, they read and write in English because Belize is a British colony. As a result, most people, especially around the touristy spots, speak pretty good English. 

Once we finally got to Caye Caulker we met a guy who was the cousin of our Air BNB hosts, Rosie and Basilo, and he gave us a ride to the apartment we rented. I honestly would have preferred to have stayed in a hostel, but they were all booked. But! If anyone wants to grab a clean two bedroom apartment with a deck, full kitchen and living room with hot running water, check out Axios Sun with the Blue Sky Apartments. It was a nice place, and they have an adorable puppy that stays in their yard downstairs from where the apartment is. 

After we dropped off our stuff we changed and headed straight for the split. A few decades ago fisherman made a small canal through the island so they didn't have to go all the way around. Over the years with hurricanes and a strong steady current, the canal eroded and got bigger and deeper until it finally turned into what it is today. I wouldn't trust my eye on the distance too much, but my guess is that it's about thirty meters across. And you can definitely see the current through there. We chilled out and had a Belikin (the only beer they offer on the island, since it's brewed in Belize City) on the dock at the bar while the sun went down. That bar is basically the bar on the island. There were a ton of travelers hanging out there and we met a few cool people. Also, while we were sitting on the dock we saw some weird sights. At least, they were weird for me since I'm not really a water or beach person. There was some kind of huge fish that kept leaping out of the water to eat stuff, and some kind of bioluminescent snake swimming around. The tour guide we talked to later said it was probably algae, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't. That thing was definitely swimming. 

Later we went to have dinner and while we were waiting on our food to arrive the power went out. And stayed out. It didn't really matter though because all the stoves there run off natural gas, so we still got our food and ate by candle light. Apparently, the power on the island isn't the most reliable thing in the world, but the locals told us that it's usually only one end of the island that goes out at a time and only for a short time, and they usually still have running water when it goes out. There was intermittent running water and the power stayed out most of the next day. After the power went out you could see every star in the sky. They were everywhere and it was awesome! I love the stars. I can only spot Orion's Belt, and idk crap about any other constellations, but I love to look at them. 

If you're an early riser, there's not a better scene on the whole island than the sunrise. I went and checked it out, then went for a run and made it around the whole island. It's really not very big. The southern end of the island is more secluded, which is neither good nor bad in this place. It probably only takes an hour and a half to walk around the whole island. There's a little forest nature reserve that is unfortunately filled with trash near the ocean. I can honestly say that I never gave pollution much of a thought before seeing that. I've always made it a point not to litter, but after that, I think I might kick someone if I catch them doing it.

There are a ton of stray dogs on the island but they're all pretty friendly. If you're really missing your own dog, you can go to the pet shelter that takes in some strays and mistreated dogs and rent one for the day. It's free and they give you whatever dog you want to take for a walk or a run around the island. Kind of neat if you ask me. 

Dave and I did a half day snorkeling tour. It only cost $35 US, so it was pretty cheap! For those of you who don't know, I have a healthy fear of the open water. I was almost ready to vomit when our guide finally anchored the boat and told us to hop in the water and swim with the nurse sharks. Once I got in, I was fine. Our guide chummed the water and about 10 nurse sharks swam around and we got to pet them. And some manta rays. The Rays are like the cats of the ocean. You'll be standing around and they'll just swim right up and rub on you. Kinda scared the shit out of me the first couple times they did it. Our guide Juan told us that the biggest Ray out there us named Steve after Steve Irwin. We decided not to get kayaks to paddle around the ocean and went to the split instead. I chatted it up with a British fellow named Sebastien for a while. There were some dark clouds starting to move in, but they were at least as far as the reef. I asked Dave and Seb if they thought I could swim the split and back before the storm got there. They both assured me that it was plenty far away.. They were wrong. I dove off the dock and made it to the other side in no time. I didn't realize that the current was helping me out a little bit. I walked up the deep shoreline back to the east to try and counteract the current that I thought was only flowing west. It took everything out of me to get halfway back across the split against the current. When I realized that I was pretty much spent and only halfway there the thought of being swept out to sea (and in a tempest no less) gave me a new fervor and I switched from freestyle to the side stroke. Since the current was flowing west, it would have been ideal to be facing east for this part of the swim so I swam more up the current and didn't pass the dock. But the storm was getting close and the small waves I hadn't even noticed before were throwing tons of water into my eyes and mouth, so I turned around. Then about fifteen feet from the dock the rain started pelting me and the wind was blowing harder. I did finally make it to the dock, but the stairs to get up were a good forty feet up current. An older American man had apparently seen me and came over to pull me up from the water. Thank God for him. He said that he had gotten stuck out in the middle of the split a few days prior and a local had had to come save him. Apparently, they're used to less than intelligent travelers who think they're good swimmers. By the time we made it five feet inland the real rain began. It absolutely poured and a few kayakers got stuck out in it. They were on the west side of the island though, so they didn't have to fight with the current. Still, I was quite glad that we decided not to rent kayaks to go to crocodile alley. 

It was a short trip, but it was much needed and we met some pretty cool people. I can't wait until I get to Europe and get to meet a lot more folks! I'll have to make it home first though. Since im flying standby and separately from Dave, I may wind up spending the night in the airport tonight. As long as I make it home in enough time to get to the other airport to go to Spain, I'll be happy. 

Traveler tip: Money. Make sure you get plenty of cash (US or Belize, they will take both) as soon as you land or when you get to the island. I waited a little too long to get any, and Dave wound up having to pay for more than one of my meals because I kept running out. Most places can take a card, but not when the power is out! Everywhere that takes cash will take US dollars, but I want to accrue pirate money from everywhere I go. Note that prices are all posted with a $, but it's Belize dollars. Since Belize currency is pegged to US currency, it will always be exactly half of the price you see. So if it's $70 BZE to do a snorkeling trip, it's only $35 US. 

Traveler tip: Food. Honestly, everything here is pretty good! I suggest trying conch at least once in any form that it comes in. The seafood is fresh, and there's a pretty good selection at a lot of places. If you want hookah or top shelf liquor, the only place to get it is at the Hookah bar and restaurant. They also have a little dance floor where you can rave out until late at night. It's a little yellow building kind north of "town" but probably at least 100 yards south of the split. Don't eat the food there though. I like middle eastern food, but theirs was anything but tasty. 

Traveler tip: Timing. One thing I noticed about Belize (and Dave says a lot of the world is like this) is that nothing happens on time. The $25us taxi from the airport to the water taxi sped and wove through traffic. But from that point on, everything was slow. The water taxi didn't load until ten minutes after it was supposed to leave. Once we got to the island we were quickly informed that Caye Caulker is "the go slow island" and we needed to not be in a hurry. Your food will take forever to be prepared, so find someone to have a good conversation with. You won't be on time, but you'll get to where you're going. If you look like you're in a hurry, the locals will talk at you from their kiosks along the road, "why are you in a hurry? Slow down." That was really difficult for me seeing as I consider myself late if I'm less than fifteen minutes early, and if I'm running an errand, I always do it as quickly as I can. It was nice to slow down though. While you're on vacation here, just chill out.