A pretty smooth ferry journey from Chetumal took us out of Mexican waters, our first stop finding us in San Pedro on the Belizean island of Amberis Caye.
Although only a brief stop on our journey to Caye Caulker, it was also a speedy introduction to how island life and island time worked, as on arrival the boat was advised that we couldn’t proceed through customs, as the officer had not yet arrived!
Eventually he arrived and as we were amongst the first few through, we had time enough before our boat departed, that I took a quick walk to grab some money from an ATM (as we’d heard that the Caye Caulker banks can be unreliable).
It was a cute little place and after walking all the way across the island and back to get the cash (about a 15 minute round trip), we discovered the boat wasn’t leaving for about an hour.
Fortunately, an entrepreneurial Belizean had a small kiosk he’d set up on the dock, and lured everybody back around with the promise of cold beer.
Unfortunately this promised beer wasn’t free, and although he sounded a real hustler, it was still enjoyable (trying our first Belizean beer), especially with his charm and very Caribbean accent!
For the next 40 minutes or so that we were required to wait, his cry of “Da weathers gettin’ hotter n’ da beers gettin’ colder” was an ever constant, as well as his promise of 4 free beers for anybody that could answer his riddle of “What is the biggest nation in the world.”
This sparked all sorts of answers from the obvious (Russia), the United Nations, or a couple of suggestions that I threw out there (The Federated States of Micronesia and Indoctrination), with none being correct.
With no ‘correct’ answers forthcoming, when we finally boarded the ferry to travel onwards to Caye Caulker, he revealed his answer to a couple of jeers, “The underworld nation.”
By the time we were close to Caye Caulker, the sun had set so we were a little unsure how difficult it would be for us to find and secure accommodations for the night (and possibly our whole time here).
Much to our surprise and delight, as we made our way from the water taxi dock to the sandy shore, only a few metres away sat Rikki and Chris, the great Australian couple we’d met up in Tulum.
We shared a few quick laughs, told them to wait whilst we went to find a room, and wandered off into the night.
It wasn’t a case of us walking completely blind, as we had done a little bit of research in advance, so actually had a destination in mind, Jeremiah’s Inn.
We found the place with ease, negotiated a good price on a room for several nights before dumping our bags and heading out to meet our Australian friends.
The island vibe felt good, and it was great to relax with a few friendly faces from the get go.
Rising to a sunny morning, our first order of business was to head over to Frenchies, one of the islands many dive centres, to see if we could secure ourselves a place in a PADI Open Water (diving) course in the next day or so.
It proved so easy, we booked a place and they advised that we could even come back at 9am (in an hours’ time) if we wanted to start the same day.
So until about 2 in the afternoon for next four days, this was what occupied us for the majority of our time on the island (you can read about these experiences in a future post).
This worked out extremely well for us, as the middle of the day tended to be the hottest time of the day (although it did mean a lot of late lunches) and by the afternoons as the sun dipped and the breeze of the sea kicked in, it was at least a little bit cooler.
Caye Caulker possesses not a single paved road (the closest it gets is compacted sand) and the few islanders with vehicles get around by either bicycle or golf cart.
It also meant that our entire time on the island was spent not only without shoes, but not even with our flip flops (that’s right, it was barefoot all the way)!
Relaxed afternoons and evenings were spent either by the water at the ‘Split’ (a popular hangout where the two halves of Caulker are divided by a narrow channel), with dinner at one of the many local grills where lobster or jerk chicken rule the menus, and often in the local sports bar (where we were able to enjoy a few San Francisco Giants matches, Karaoke and other activities).
On our second or third day when we sat in the sandy courtyard of our inn (everywhere is sandy in Caye Caulker, including the floors of most shops and restaurants), when I heard an Irish accented voice behind me saying “I tort I recognised dat voice!”
It was Dave and his girlfriend Tara, an Irish couple we’d met back up in Puerto Escondido (over a month ago) at the Spanish School where we’d studied and stayed.
We’d had no contact with them since, and here they were staying at the same place!
Obviously this meant we had another couple to carouse with of an evening, but in an odd twist of fate, we never managed to enjoy the company of both Rikki and Chris as well as Tara and Dave at the same time…
So we could explore the island a little more, as well as just relax, we opted to stay an extra day and night after our diving course had concluded.
We wandered a bit more of the islands shore, even had a peek at the islands tiny airport, before an assault from mosquitoes as well as some light drizzle (our only touch of bad weather on the island) drove us back to the town and our room.
It was the evening of this same day that we became participants in the sports bars trivia night.
We had quite a posse and the bar was light on numbers for teams, so we paired with another couple we’d met, whilst the Irish formed a team with a few other couples they’d met along the journey.
It was a valiant effort, with our small team of 4 in a tie for 3rd, whilst the other group came in outright 2nd.
For the record, I lost the tiebreaker for our team in a sculling competition amidst a little controversy (there were claims my opponent cheated) however in the spirit of the event, we took our defeat gracefully.
The following morning we left for the mainland on a water taxi, wondering if we’d regret our decision not to stay a little longer again and dive ‘The Blue Hole’, possibly the most famous location/sight in all of Belize…
* There was a $2.50 BZ fee per person on arrival, payable as we were being processed through customs (they seemed quite willing to let people who did not have the amount in Belizean currency, duck across to the ATM to get some).
* Something else we found helpful was to put aside the necessary $75.00 BZ ($37.50 BZ per person) for our departure taxes and PACT (Protected Areas Conservation Tax) so that we were not scrambling for the money later when it came time for us to leave the country.
* When making the journey from Caye Caulker to Belize City, we found it cheaper to travel with Caye Caulker Water Taxi ($20.00 BZ per person) as opposed to San Pedro Belize Express who had a more frequent service, but charged $25.00 BZ per person.