‘Cos it’s hotta anda di wata! – We’ve reached Belize! After this, there’s only 2 more countries left on our trip! Can you belize it?! (Ok, ok, that joke is old now). We’re waving goodbye to traditional Latin culture and welcoming some ‘Belizean flava’ into our lives – Caye Caulker island is a backpacker haven on the Caribbean coast. Here’s why you need to add it to your bucket list immediately…
We caught a bus to Belize City from Flores in Guatemala. We had to get on and off the bus a few times and the border crossing was slightly confusing (unsure which forms to fill out, which lines to queue in and where to wait for the bus) but luckily we met a kind Guatemalan/American family that helped us out! The craziest part about the border was the number of school buses waiting on the other side. Every day, dozens of Guatemalan children cross the border in order to complete their studies in Belize…
Our bus dropped us off at the Belize City port – perfect timing to catch a ferry to Caye Caulker. Belize is famous for it’s many island cayes but the most popular ones are Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. We chose to visit the latter because we’d heard rave reviews from other backpackers and had been told that it was the slightly cheaper option.
At the port, we immediately noticed that all the locals were speaking English. Belize certainly has more Carribbean influences than Latin ones. Of course, the closer you get to the borders of Mexico and Guatemala the more likely you are to hear Spanish speakers but, on the coast, the most commonly spoken language is Creole.
We handed our bags over, paid $25 for our return tickets and set off on our way – it really was that simple. The ferry journey lasted 1 hour and we only had to wait 10 minutes to receive our luggage in Caye Caulker. It was funny because two of the boat crew were pushing a metal crate on wheels filled with suitcases and backpacks galore down the dock whilst screaming ‘MOVE OUTTA DA WAY. WE GOT NO INSURANCE. WE GOT NO BRAKES’
We weren’t too sure how far our hostel was from the dock, all we could see were signs saying ‘TAKE IT EASY’ and ‘GO SLOW’. It became pretty clear that Caye Caulker was the capital of laid-back, good vibes and we all immediately knew we were in for a treat. We were even happier to be told that our hostel was actually next door to the dock – a 5 second walk away!
The hostel was called ‘Yuma’s House’ – a popular choice amongst backpackers due to it’s location right on the beach front. Unfortunately, it had been destroyed in August due to a hurricane but miraculously they were up and running when we arrived in September – we couldn’t even tell where the damage had been. Turns out that Belize is regularly affected by hurricanes and adverse weather conditions and so the locals have become very good at rebuilding their town as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Once we had checked into our room and taken quick showers, we decided to walk around the island and get to grips with our surroundings. Caye Caulker has such a distinctive character – there are no cars on the roads, just bicycles and golf carts and the locals are always sitting out and about on the streets or by the water. We soon realised that there wasn’t really a ‘beach’ as such. The whole island is like one big beach, covered in sand with the ocean never more than a few footsteps away but there isn’t a specific area where people congregated to sunbathe or swim. The closest thing to a beach is a place called ‘The Split’. It’s located at the top of the island next to the Lazy Lizard bar and marks the spot where Caye Caulker was split in half due to a previous hurricane. The name makes sense now, eh? Tourists and locals love to hang out here but we managed to find a few other more secluded spots to top up our tans.
One of the things that we wanted to do whilst in Belize was a snorkelling tour. The marine wildlife in this part of the world is second to none and the Belize barrier reef is still thriving due to the huge efforts to keep it protected. We refused to be mugged off and pay more than we needed to so we walked round the whole island and asked EVERY SINGLE TOUR COMPANY for their prices. Not kidding, we didn’t miss a single one. It was frustrating because some of them would be cheaper but they wouldn’t offer food/as many dive locations and others would offer the full package but were slightly out of our budget.
We were walking along the beach front when we heard ‘HEY, CHARLIE’S ANGELS. YOU WANA SWIM WITH THE MANANTEE, PEPE GONNA TAKE YOU TO SWIM WITH THE MANANTEE’
This isn’t the first time that we’ve been called Charlie’s Angels on this trip (we roll our eyes but we secretly kind of like it). We turned to see an older black guy, wearing a bandana, marijuana leaf print shorts and a giant chain around his neck. My biggest regret in life is not taking a picture of Pepe because I will never be able to do him justice with a written description. All I can say is that he was larger than life, the coolest of cool dudes, a spokesperson for the chilled out Carribbean way of life. He was just… Pepe.
‘HEY BABIES, I’M PEPE. LET’S TALK ABOUT SNORKLIN’. I SHOW YOU DA SHARKS, DA FISH, DA MANANTEES. YOU GON’ SEE IT ALL IF YOU COME WITH PEPE. PEPE GOT DI BEST PRICE.’
For a guy that couldn’t pronounce the word ‘manatee’ correctly, Pepe did a pretty damn good job of convincing us to buy his tour. We paid a deposit and said that we’d be back in 2 days for our underwater adventure.
That evening we went for dinner at a restaurant called ‘Belizean Flava’. For just $10 each we got a 3 course meal and 3 alcoholic drinks. I had pineapple juice instead… Wild! This restaurant turned out to be our favourite on the whole island – I know they don’t speak Spanish here but it was definitely a ‘bueno, bonito, barato’ situation.
The next day was a day of relaxation for the 3 empanadas. We sunbathed, we ate falafels, we lived the dream. Only downside was that we were joined on the beach by a stoned guy called Lalo. Actually, it wasn’t 100% a downside – our peace was disrupted but we ended up having a giggle at his expense. He only spoke to us in poems, riddles and songs and although his rhymes were pretty impressive he was still just a creepy beach bum asking if we ‘liked the chocolate’. I tried my best to take a sneaky picture of him for this blog:
We managed to escape from Lalo’s grasp eventually and returned to the hostel to relax on the deck, read our books, look at photos and enjoy having absolutely nothing to do.
The next morning we were filled with energy for our snorkelling tour. We went down to Pepe’s shop, paid the rest of our money and got fitted with fins and masks. Turns out that Pepe doesn’t actually go on any of the tours – he just sells them. The company was called ‘Anda Di Wata’ and we were told that a boat would come to pick us up shortly. There was a bit of a kerfuffle regarding our lunches – Alice and I had ordered a vegetarian lunch but they had completely forgotten and one of the workers had to call his Mom and get her to make us something more appropriate. Thank God for Moms, eh?
Our tour guide and boat driver’s name was Chucky. Before we set off, he explained that we were visiting protected areas of the Hol Chan reserve (part of the Belize barrier reef) but he couldn’t promise that we would see marine life. That’s the problem; it’s always more ethical to see wildlife in it’s natural habitat instead of in a zoo or aquarium but you aren’t always guaranteed a sighting – these things are completely down to luck.
Clearly our lucky stars were all aligned that day, though, because we saw marine life at all 4 of our dive spots. There were sharks, stingrays, fish, lobsters, starfish and even MANATEES. Apparently, there hadn’t been any manatee sightings for over a week but, amazingly, we saw 2!
The animals are often attracted to the sound of boat engines because they associate it with their feeding time. It sucks a bit that they’ve become so dependent on humans for their food but it’s also heavily monitored and there are measures in place to only allow a certain number of tourists into the reserve at certain times. I think it can be difficult to find a delicate balance between protection and interference sometimes but Belize sure is doing it’s best to keep the barrier reef thriving.
The first time we saw the nurse sharks, Abbie jumped into Alice’s arms the same way that Scooby-Doo jumps onto Shaggy when he is scared. It didn’t take long for her to realise that they were pretty harmless and we were soon swimming harmoniously alongside of them.
The tour lasted for most of the day and was one of the best activities any of us had ever done! I loved every second but all that swimming does make you tired, so I decided to take a 5 minute break and chill with our guide Chucky on the boat. He started telling me that he loves his job as a tour guide but that he is a fisherman by trade and only manages to get work as a tour guide once or twice a week during low season. I old Chucky that Abbie had been joking about wanting to catch a lobster and before I knew it he was inviting us to come to work with him the next day.
Alice and Abbie were ecstatic at the idea of going fishing but I couldn’t help wonder what the hell I’d signed us up for. A vegan going fishing…. oh, the irony.
That night we bumped into Pepe in town and told him how much fun we’d had on the tour. He was happy we’d been able to see so many animals and we asked him if he’d ever gone swimming with the sharks. His response was too brilliant not to share with you all:
‘YOU THINK PEPE GON’ SWIM WID DA SHARKS? FUCK NO, BABY. PEPE DON’T GON’ GO SWIM WID NO SHARKS. ONE TIME PEPE WAS CLEANIN’ DA BARNACLES FROM ANDA DI BOAT, CUZ YOU KNOW PEPE LIKES HIMSELF SUM EXTRA MONEY AND DIS MADDAFUCKIN’ SHARK START SWIMMIN’ UP TO PEPE. I SHOT OUTTA DI WATER FASTER THAN LIGHTNIN’ AND I SAID TO MY BOSS, I SAID “YOU GON’ HAVE TO GO GET DAT SNORKEL FROM DI BOTTOM OF DI OCEAN CUZ PEPE AINT GOIN’ BACK IN”. AND, BABIES, DAT’S WHY PEPE DON’T SWIM WID NO SHARKS’
Ah Pepe, we love you.
The next morning, bright and early, Chucky picked us up from our hostel and introduced us to his father. He explained that we would be out on the water without shade for a few hours and we needed to take a cover-up and some sunscreen to prevent getting burnt. Abbie never wears sunscreen but she never burns and I douse myself head to toe in factor 30 even when it’s grey and stormy so there were no major worries there. Our only concern was for Alice who, despite performing a sun cream ritual every morning, somehow still ends up with red patches. THANKFULLY, we came back unscathed and victorious from our battle against the mid-day sun.
The lobster fishing…. Oh, where do I start. I’m definitely the not the best person to write about this. It horrified me. I know, I know – it’s how these people make a living and it’s 100x more ethical than mass fishing but I still struggle with the idea of it all. So why did I bother going, then? Because I think it’s vital to know exactly what it is that you’re ‘against’ sometimes. I am so quick to jump on my high horse and say ‘Don’t kill animals. Veganism is the answer!’ but what do I really KNOW? It’s important to understand an argument from every angle – Chucky wouldn’t be able to provide for his family if it weren’t for catching fish and, as of this moment in time, there aren’t many other alternative ways to make a living in Caye Caulker.
It’s not an easy job, catching lobsters! Chucky’s Dad did most of the work, which is crazy cause he was a 60/70 year old man who could still swim long distances and dive down under the water for minutes on end. There were two different techniques: 1) spearing the lobster by hand and 2) collecting and emptying the lobster traps that had been set a week or so beforehand.
When they catch the lobsters, they throw them in a bucket and wait for them to lose consciousness (although, I’m not sure if they actually do because apparently they can live for 2 days out of water and some of them were definitely still moving when they were sliced open for their meat). As they started to catch more and more lobsters, my emotions became more and more unstable. To see the bucket filling up with creatures – watching them scramble over each other, trying to flip themselves back out and into the water again – it just hurt my heart a bit. A lot of people will tell me; ‘It’s okay, they’re meant to be eaten’ etc. etc. and that’s fine because it’s an opinion that I used to share. Sea creatures never seemed to matter to me as much as land animals. When I was first introduced to vegetarianism it was the death of cows and pigs that shocked me the most, not fish. Nowadays, it all makes me feel the same way. We’ve somehow created this hierarchy of which lives on this planet matter more than others. It’s scary because it’s not just between species, we’ve created hierarchies within the human race too (racism, sexism and homophobia, for example) but over the years I’ve stopped allowing myself to justify my actions because I am ‘more intelligent’ or ‘more important’ – a life is a life, regardless. Yes, animals kill other animals. Yes, we get nutrients from meat and fish. Yes, people need to rear cows and spear lobsters to earn money/feed the masses. At the same time, our bodies can’t process raw meat and we can’t catch prey with our bare hands and teeth. We can get just as much protein and calcium from plants and, finally, the amount of food, water and land that it takes to rear animals could be put to better use – like reducing climate change and world hunger levels. Whatever side of this debate you fall on doesn’t really concern me, just so long as you’ve taken the time to understand the other person’s point of view. I went lobster fishing to see it from a local’s point of view despite never having eaten lobster in my life. You can’t just stay ignorant because you don’t agree with something, because you don’t want to hear it or because it makes you feel guilty. In Pepe’s words ‘DAT AINT NO WAY TO LIVE, BABY’
Whoa, that rant came from a LOBSTER. One dead crustacean is all it takes for me to pour my heart and soul out onto the internet. Bloody hell. Moving on…. after the fishing tour we were introduced to Chucky’s son: Antonio.
I’ve made a collage of Antonio because he is my favourite child in the history of the Earth and I think it’ll help to lighten the mood a bit:
We chilled on the beach with him in the afternoon – eating ice cream, playing games and taking pictures before Chucky returned with some cooked lobster from earlier. Although I didn’t try it, Abbie and Alice assured me that it was the tastiest, yummiest treat ever and, once again, Chucky had gone out of his way to make our stay on Caye Caulker as brilliant as possible.
The next morning was our last on the island, so we went for breakfast with Antonio and Chucky to a place called ‘Fry Jacks’. These things weren’t baleadas and they weren’t pupusas either, but they were similar. Fried dough stuffed with cheese, beans, meat or veg = such a tasty breakfast treat. I can kind of understand why most people on this island are overweight though… I mean if I lived here permanently I’d probably want to eat 7 of these a day.
We spent the rest of the afternoon packing before catching a 3pm ferry to Belize City. We waved goodbye to Chucky and his family and the beautiful island of Caye Caulker – it really is one of the coolest places in Central America and yes, it’s on the ‘Gringo Trail’ but why is that so bad? You don’t always have to try so hard to get off the beaten track because sometimes the path well travelled is the most popular for a reason!
At the port in Belize City, we caught a taxi to the bus station. This was the first time we had seen the ‘real Belize’ as we drove through crowded, poverty stricken streets – a guy even tried to sell us drugs through the taxi window!
Alice had done some research beforehand and told us that there were horror stories online about the Belize City bus station. It was a bit seedy, dirty and busy but nothing that we weren’t used to – we certainly weren’t harassed or anything. In fact, we were there for over 3 hours and didn’t experience a single problem. Why we got there so early, I hear you ask? Well, we’d been told that tickets to Mexico would sell out quickly and that the queue would be huge, so was best to buy them in advance. In the end, we didn’t need to worry at all – we were the only people in line and they definitely didn’t sell out… Perhaps we were there on a day when less people wanted to travel, I don’t know, but I’m gonna contradict all the other advice we read and say; don’t bother getting there early. Unless you like the idea of browsing 5 identical mini mart shops and sitting on a bench with no back rest for a few hours, in which case this is definitely the activity for you.
I think that’s just about everything about our time in Belize! Just 2 countries left now….
👋🇧🇿 –> 📍🇨🇺/🇲🇽