Sunday, May 11, 2014

Caye Caulker, Belize

A 4 day weekend = let's go somewhere far away
So we went to Belize with some friends

The ridiculous thing about travel in Central America is that plane tickets to adjacent countries are extremely expensive. The price of a round-trip to Belize City from Guatemala City? $700. What?! The flight is probably less than an hour! But I guess that's how supply and demand works, not enough demand for that route, Guatemalans would much rather fly to Miami for $400. So instead of flying we chose to bus it on the Guatemalan bus line called Fuente del Norte who uses retired Greyhound buses and only charges $60 one-way to get to Belize City. The only catch is the bus ride takes 15 hours. Okay, no problem, just because we're grownups now doesn't mean we can't hang with the 20-something backpacker crowd and be able to not only live through it but enjoy an overnight bus ride. Turns out it was totally fine, we didn't get robbed, we didn't die in a fiery collision with a sketchy cargo truck, and we even got enough sleep to be totally functional the next day.

Our journey began at the Zona 1 bus station in Guatemala City. The bus left at 7pm and we had reserved seats in the back so we could keep an eye on all that was going on in front of us. The bus's bathroom was out of service and padlocked, we made a ton of stops, people were standing in the aisle and sitting on upside-down buckets, and there was a sketchy character pretending to shuffle through his plastic bag of personal belongings which was right next to our stuff a little too often to be normal. We made one long rest stop for a bathroom break and to fill up on gas at 2am at a bustling little cafeteria and bus rest station in Morales and finally arrived in Santa Elena at 5am. Our next bus to Belize City had already left one minute before we arrived so we hurriedly flagged down a taxi cab to chase down our bus at its next stop in Flores. We made it! AND after watching the sunrise over the jungle in Peten, a bumpy section of dirt road, and a stop at the border we arrived in Belize City at the water taxi terminal at 11am.

An hour-long water taxi ride with about 25 other tourists took us over turquoise waters, past little mangrove islands and ended at Caye Caulker, a tiny sandy island that is 5 miles long by a 1/2  mile wide, our home for the next 3 days. What a cute little island! Very laid back and mellow, their motto is "Go Slow". No cars on the island, every one gets around by walking, biking or driving a golf cart. There were 5 of us so it ended up being cheaper to rent a house than 3 hotel rooms, we found "Casa Carinosa" for $200 a night. It had a kitchen a rooftop patio with a hammock, a pool, super nice sheets and towels, tasteful decor, AND AC, which was super nice for sleeping.

Everyone speaks English in Belize, except for the ladies selling breakfast tacos and burritos in the streets every morning who spoke Spanish, so that was strange and actually really nice once we got used to it. We also heard lots of creole in the streets (and German, French, Hebrew and Japanese from fellow travelers).

Belizean cuisine? A lot spicier than Guatemalan! They have Marie Sharps, a habanero hot sauce, on every table. We ate lots of conch, fish and shrimp, they love fried chicken too, flour tortillas instead of corn, and these delicious triangles of deep fried dough called Fry Jacks, which are a lot like New Mexican sopapillas.

The snorkeling was amazing! To get to the the good reefs you need to hire a boat to take you out there so we went with French Angel Dive Shop who got some good reviews. They were great! Marph was our guide for both trips and he really knew his fish and coral. They outfitted us with wet suits, masks, snorkels and fins and brought an ice chest with water and fresh fruit. The Hol Chan Marine Reserve is 30 years old so had lots of big coral and big fish with the most diversity. We saw several sea turtles and tons of gorgeous fish and coral including an eel. We stopped at Shark and Ray Village where we swam with nurse sharks and manta rays, feeling a little uncomfortable at first but eventually getting used to being close to such big creatures. At Coral Garden we saw a manatee, they leave the fresh water creeks and estuaries to go out to sea to look for mates this time of year. Our manatee friend was as peaceful as could be, just laying on the sandy bottom looking asleep, and eventually swimming up to the surface for some air before floating back down to the bottom. Good luck finding a mate with that routine...  I was really impressed with the guides for making sure everyone gave the manatee plenty of space and did not follow it when it swam away.

We did snorkel trips both mornings we were there which was perfect so we could relax and do other fun stuff in the afternoons, like rent cruisers for a spin around the island, lounge on the porch around the pool, swim at The Split, take a sunset yoga class on the roof of a hotel, enjoy some Belikins (the local beer) with lime, and do lots of eating.

On Friday night we found a Garifuna band playing at a bar a block away from our house so we kicked off our flip flops to dance in the sand and learned proper hip circle technique from the locals. Such fun music! It's like a mix of merengue, reggae, samba and African drums with a Caribbean twist.

Sunburned, sandy and extremely relaxed, we left Sunday morning for another all-nighter on the bus back to Guate, arriving at 3am on Monday morning with just enough time to get a couple more hours of sleep in our own beds before work.

Must dos on Caye Caulker:
- snorkel as much as you can, it's amazing!
- snorkel at Hol Chan Marine Reserve with French Angel Expedition
- swim with the sharks and rays at Shark and Ray Village
- take a yoga class with Jessie at Random Yoga, she's the only yoga teacher on the island, it's by donation and she has plenty of mats to borrow
- rent bikes for a ride down past the tiny airport landing strip to the south end of the island
- eat some spicy, sweet, coconutty conch soup
- go during lobster season June-Feb, we missed it so there were no lobsters to be found
- eat the street food, especially the breakfast burritos on homemade flour tortillas for 50 cents each
- eat the key lime pie at Habaneros, the BEST key lime pie ever
- eat Fry Jacks, eggs and beans for breakfast at any of the beach-side restaurants
- do some barhopping, no matter where you go you can always walk home
- Go Slow my brother

Must Don'ts on Caye Caulker:
- have a rigid schedule
- run or hurry anywhere
- go to The Split after dark or say yes to the drugs from the sketchy Rasta dudes on bikes
- forget to reapply sunscreen at least 5 times a day

Dolphin fence, painted in a favorite island color 

 Local Rum and Green Stripe right next to it flavored with anise and mint

Tropical fruit plate for breakfast 

Trying on wet suits 

 The wall of snorkels at French Angel Expeditions

Breakfast with our toes in the sand 

 Getting outfitted at French Angel

Our snorkel boat 

Cute little sea turtle eating eel grass 

Chops looking like a frog 


Big Beautiful Fishies 

The manatee chillin' on the bottom 

Our guide Marph showing us a cool island boy trick, he went down the the bottom, blew some bubble rings and then swam up through them 

Waiting for takeout lunch at Pirate's 

Eating takeout lunch in our house 

Coconut Conch soup with rice and a whole habanero that I thought was a tomato, the hot juices filled my mouth and I wanted to die for about 20 minutes

Chops, chillin' on the porch  

Our friend, chillin' on the porch 

Flowers in the yard 

Our little island house 

Everyone drives golf carts 

The local beer is Belikin, a nice light lager perfect for hot weather and hot food 

Nightlife on Caye Caulker 

Palm tree on the beach 

A pre-sunset walk on the pier 

 A Stuffed Fry Jack with eggs and cheese

 Dancing in the sand to a local Garifuna band

The Split, a deeper channel that divides the island in half, it got scooped out by a big hurricane a while back 

Barricuda, he was a regular around Shark and Ray Village, his name was Silver Dollar 

Gorgeous little fishies 

School of snorkelers 

Shark and Ray Village 

Nurse shark 

Chopsy on his bike 

Group shot! 

 I take on the boardwalk on my rental cruiser

Awwwww, such a fun trip.