Closer to Paradise
Caye Caulker, Belize
Caye Caulker, Belize Caye Caulker, Belize – 29th July – 1st Aug Leaving Havana, I arrived back in Mexico and returned to Playa Del Carmen, checking into the same hostel as before mainly as it was close to the bus station, and I thought “better the devil you know”. I was in a different room and I ended up having the worse night`s sleep I`ve had for a long while. The air con was so loud, it was like sleeping on a helicopter! I thought I was only sharing with 2 Israeli girls, but when I came back from an e-mail fest at Starbucks, there was a couple snogging on the top bunk above mine! I wanted to get undressed and go to bed only to discover the bloke was actually sharing the room with us – oh joy! I think I scared them off for a while, and got to bed with my earplugs in around midnight. The girls came back and were very quiet and got ready by torchlight so as not to disturb me, but the couple came back around 1am, threw all the lights on and proceeded to chat away for the next 40 minutes. He then asked me if he could unplug my laptop which was charging, so he could plug in his mobile phone! I refrained from suggesting exactly where I would like to plug his mobile, but did tell him how inconsiderate I thought he was and could they go back upstairs if they wanted to talk and let the rest of us get to sleep. Grrrr! I was so wound up and what with the noise I don`t think I got to sleep until around 3am and then woke at 6am freezing cold. Gave up and decided to get up to catch my bus to Campeche, on the border with Belize. I went from feeling very pleased with myself, as my research had paid off, and I managed to get from the bus station to the ferry terminal and bought my ticket for the 4.30pm (it should have been 3.30, but was told it operated on Belize time…which was an hour behind… eh???) ferry to San Pedro in Ambergris Caye and then on to Caye Caulker. I had a few pesos left to get something to eat and then made my way to the most laid back departure lounge I`ve ever seen – two desks – one for immigration and one for customs, and a dozen deckchairs at the end of the pier! Everything went very smoothly apart from the ferry, which felt like you were in a tumble drier each time it hit a wave. Still, being greeted on our arrival at San Pedro by a stingray swimming about under the pier, and one of the most amazing sunsets, more than made up for the rough crossing. My smugness quickly vaporised as I started speaking my pigeon Spanish to the guys on the pier, only to remember (I did know, really I did), that Belize is the only English speaking country in Latin America. They even have a picture of a very young-looking Queen on their bank notes – she would be flattered, although she does appear to have been having a bad hair day. I was totally taken aback by Caye Caulker – it really is a piece of barefoot paradise. The island is only one mile wide (and that only in parts) and five miles long and is made entirely of sand – even the roads. It is strange walking down the main street and being able to see the sea on both sides of you. It has a very Caribbean feel to it and their motto, “no shirt, no shoes, no problem” sums the place up perfectly. There are also “no cars” – but they do have internet (albeit painfully slow and Belize telecom have blocked Skype), an ATM and several small guesthouses. I was accosted by a dodgy looking Rasta called Gilbert as soon as the ferry arrived who ushered us to a golf buggy which serve as taxis here. Ended up at the first guest house he took me to, as it was dark by then and I couldn`t be bothered looking around for somewhere else. I moved the next morning so somewhere a bit better with sea views (it`s quite rare not to get a sea view on this island) and free wifi. All life on the island is centred on the main street where the police station, post office, library and social security office occupy lovely shacks next to the beach. Along with a few restaurants, bars and supermarkets plus a dozen dive tour operators, this pretty makes up the place. Tourism is obviously the main trade here, but surprisingly the only hassle you get is pretty good natured (they obviously haven`t heard about Playa Del Carmen). Once I had moved into my new hotel, I decided to take a stroll down to The Split, a gap between two parts of the island where most people seem to hang out, have a drink and sunbathe. I borrowed some snorkeling gear from the hotel and spent a happy hour or so studying the amazing variety sea life just in this little spot. I must admit, sitting on the dock, I had a moment where I actually pinched myself to make sure I was really here – the views were so stunningly beautiful and I think this is as relaxed as it is possible to be without actually being in a coma! Unfortunately, my mood was spoilt when I got back to the hotel and had a heated debate with the awful woman next door who had collected several star fish and bits of coral which were in the process of dying a slow death outside their hotel room. Her only defense was that they were for her children and that she didn`t come to Belize very often (thank goodness) – unbelievable! The worst part is that they will be smelling rotten within the next few days, so they won`t want to take them home anyway. Preferring to see my wildlife in it`s natural environment, I booked a morning`s diving – I was really looking forward to discovering the second largest barrier reef in the world. Just avoiding the torrential downpour, I finished the day with a bike ride around the island (which didn`t take long) and in the process realized that I was cycling amongst mangrove swamps, in a malarial country at the worst time of the day, with no insect repellant on. I decided the best tactic would be to try to out-run the little buggers, so instead of the leisurely pace I had anticipated, I proceeded to cycle around the island like a maniac – it looked lovely though, and I escaped with only a couple of bites. An early start the following morning, I joined my fellow divers to sail out to our first dive at St George`s Caye. It was one of the most comfortable dives I had ever done and although we didn`t see any big fish or turtles, the corals were fabulous. The second dive at Hangman`s Bay was also excellent and we saw barracuda and lion fish. Had a last stroll through town, and booked my ferry for 7am tomorrow morning, for my long day ahead travelling though Belize to Flores, in Guatemala.


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