Friday, May 9, 2008

Belize


After the early morning trip to Tikal we caught a van over to the Belize border. It was a very easy border crossing, in that there was little harassment, honest money changers, and the immigration stations were reasonably close together. The first people we talked to were cab drivers looking to take us down the road to the nearest town...the taxi drivers didn't look much different from the people we'd been seeing in the rest of Central America, and for that reason it was a little strange at first to be speaking English - something we got used to very quickly.

Sadly, by the time we got to Belize City it was too late to get a boat or plane out to the Cayes. Our plan was to spend most of our time in Belize on the Cayes, which is where most tourists in Belize go...for good reason, as Belize City was not the kind of place you really wanted to walk around in the dark. At the recommended restaurant (recommended not only by our hotel desk clerk but also my tour book) I saw two different cockroaches scurrying around. At least we managed to get something to eat and get back to the hotel without getting mugged.

Took the hour-long water taxi out to Caye Caulker the next morning. The 'water taxi' is a large speedboat that makes pretty good time on the trip. As for Caye Caulker...after finding the first hotel we walked into suitable, we decided to take a look around the island and investigate another hotel that was recommended by my tourbook. After buying a beer at their bar we took a little walk out to the pool area and started hob-nobing with the small group of people hanging out and drinking around the pool. Didn't take long to find out that we wouldn't be getting a room at the hotel since the 16 rooms of the hotel were all rented out to the same wedding party.

Long story short, we ended up partying with the wedding party for the next three days, and even attended the wedding. The wedding had about 40 guests and I have to say I was proud to be one of them. The people you meet make the difference in the experiences you have...we spent 3 nights each on two different tourist-oriented islands, Roatan and Caulker. We really enjoyed one experience and not so much the other...precisely due to the great people we met on Caulker as opposed to the more locals' oriented circle on Roatan that we weren't welcome in.

As for Caye Caulker itself, it has a Caribbean atmosphere and is indeed very laid-back. The island has perhaps 1500 people, no paved roads, and no cars...although plenty of golf carts. The island is probably 45% African descendant (speaking Creole, or English when they need to, and providing any number of entrepreneurial services from tours to illegal drugs), 30% Central American immigrant (speaking Spanish and/or English and working in more traditional ventures like food and drink service, 20% tourist (speaking English more often than not and providing the currency lubrication keeping the island afloat), with the other 5% made up of Mayans (speaking broken English and/or Spanish - selling selling arts and crafts), and Chinese shopkeepers (speaking English...at least the numbers anyway, and selling everything else).

We took a fishing trip out to the famous reef, the second longest in the world, located about a mile offshore, and people were reeling in fish one right after another. I'm not much of a fisherman, but I enjoyed snorkeling and watching the weighted lines hit the water, sink to the bottom, get nibbled on by a school of fish, and then reeled in with a fish on the hook more often than not. We ate the fish on a deserted island, about as large as a basketball court, that's for sale for $60,000 apparently. video

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