24. Caye Caulker
On our last morning in Belize City we skipped breakfast and made a mad dash away from the crazy hostel, vowing never to return. Onto bigger and better things: Caye Caulker.
As soon as I set foot on the island, all memories of the previous town vanished. Caye Caulker was made up of dirt roads (a whole three of them), had almost no cars, restaurants and tour offices were everywhere, and it exuded the most laid back atmosphere we had experienced since Fiji. It was over-the-top touristy, but we loved it. We immediately decided to stay longer than planned.
We found a hostel with a spare room, all the way up on the 4th floor. This wasn't as simple as walking up a few flights of stairs. There were only steps to the second floor; after that, it was ladders and manholes. To achieve this with our giant backpacks on our backs, I was sure we were ready for the army. The place was as cheap as you could get, with mattresses pushed in to every crevice and basically no doors. This meant walking within inches of people's faces and using the beds to climb up to our room. I felt like I was a student again.
As we arrived so early on the island we had time to join a day tour. With the longest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere lying just off the coast, how could we not go snorkeling? We jumped in a boat with four others for an incredible adventure that I would happily do all over again. The water was warm, shallow and full of wildlife, including giant turtles, stingrays and sharks. I was used to swimming with tiny, colourful fish, but this was a whole different ball game. They were so close we could almost touch them. Eels poked their heads out of rocks but would turn shy when we came near (must be related to the crabs in Belize City). Whole schools of massive tarpon would calmly swim by, oblivious to our presence. The small fish and coral were also abundant, turning the site into one giant, beautiful aquarium. Later in the afternoon we also spotted some dolphins, surfacing sporadically near our boat.
Our guide was hilarious but also informative, teaching us a lot about the animals and the region. He pointed out little seahorses living in the mangroves, showed us upside-down jellyfish that looked like seagrass until they were flipped over, and named more fish than I could ever remember. He invited a few people to feed the birds flying overhead. This involved someone standing on the front of the boat with a fish in their hand and holding it up in the air, waiting for the birds to snatch it away. I didn't really want any part of this but Danny joined in the party, looking ridiculous waving a fish above his head. In the end he had to throw it skywards, as the birds didn't want to come anywhere near him. They must know he's a chef.
Danny: king of the fishes.
Back on dry land again we wanted to wind down with some select beverages. We found a few small bars and downed a couple of cheap cocktails, but we soon discovered that most people drink back at their hostels. So, not wanting to stand out like losers, we followed the custom and bought a local white spirit in an unmarked plastic bottle from the supermarket, plus a mixer each. I had one sip and threw the rest away, convinced the moonshine was trying to kill me through my taste buds. Danny swapped his for a beer. I would say lesson learned, but it probably wasn't.
The next day was all about getting in the swing of island life and taking it easy. I walked down the south end of the island, where there was the odd guesthouse perched on the beach but generally there was nothing around. And for one good reason: the place stank. I don't know if it was the water or the plant life (maybe a mix of both) but the stench of sulphur was intoxicating. Even the crabs couldn't handle it, passing many deceased ones on my travels. Now I know why the town was concentrated to just the tip of the island.
The remainder of our stay consisted mostly of lots of eating (veggie jerk rocks), lots of playing cards while we waited out the rain, and lots of drinking. It was this last activity that led us to our favourite Belizean drink: the cranbarrel. Barrel-aged rum with cranberry juice. So simple yet so good. Definitely better than the bluebarrel: rum, ginger beer, blue curacao (gross). Really we just spent our time bar-hopping and enjoying the chilled out vibe. Island life definitely agrees with us.
"No working during drinking hours". How could we say no to a street bar as cute as this?