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Belize Cayes – A World Away From Reality
As the roar of the engine melted into a kitten purr and our boat bumped up to the Caye Caulker dock, we did a quick inventory check. Dancing palms, tick. Beach bleached in the sun, teak. The island’s motto, “Go Slow”, is drawn lazily on a sign stuck in the sand, tick. I gave my partner in crime a private smile. This was the place. We ran away… for now.
Running up and down in front of a tiny Belizean island in the Caribbean was not in the original script. The plan was to fly to Belize for a quick taste of eco-adventure before slipping over the Guatemalan border. But we got greedy, and four days later, we were still there with our hands trapped in the action jar. Jungle trips, ecological tours, jaguar spotting, tubing in caves, Mayan ruins and mountain bike treks. Where will it end? The equatorial heat is on. We needed a place to lay down for a few days. Somewhere a man can find a secluded beach and lie down and think of England, or any other place he would rather not be. After making some discreet inquiries we knew there was only one place to hide, and only one person strong enough to help us get there. The man known only as, “The Marine Terminal Ticket Man.”
So we paid for our boat tickets with small, unmarked bills, hopped on the first ship to the islands, and left the host of mainland adventures in our wake. It wasn’t the warm blue coastal sky that fooled us. Home to more than one hundred and seventy islands, OK, and the second largest barrier reef in the world, it won’t be easy to keep our hands off the abundance of nautical fun that has enticed travelers since Blackbird and his buccaneer navigated these waters back in the 1600s. However, as we stood on this unassuming dock and watched our getaway ship leave the dock, the captain addressed us with some reassuring words of advice, “Take it easy B. You’re on Caye Caulker time now.”
If Gilligan ever got into real estate development, the town of Caye Caulker would be his big apple. Dozing peacefully on this patch of island, a cluster of brightly painted beach hideaways, deserted beach lots, scattered fishing boats, palm trees, sand-floor restaurants, dive shacks , and salty old sailors setting up bars at 11 a.m. For the perfect getaway haven.
Kay Kolker’s crown jewels are minimalist delights. No international resorts, flashy nightclubs or peak traffic. Remember the motto? go slow Our mission, and yes we chose to accept it, was to find a forty-dollar-a-night bungalow on a quiet stretch of squeaky white sand, treat our palates to a selection of seafood delights, then settle down over a drink at a beach bar watching the sun slide under a Caribbean blue sail . This message will sell itself in five seconds.
Before long, we entered the dress code of “no shoes, no shirt, no problem” and “sarong, bathing suit, smile,” and settled in among the welcoming band of eclectic seculars. It soon became clear that the local brew of Creoles, Central Americans and Europeans posed little threat to our pacification plans. However, we will have to follow the North American retirees roaming the streets in rickety old golf carts, sending dogs, children and tourists scurrying for cover.
For three perfect days we hid behind sunglasses, cocktail umbrellas and lobster menus, wondering if maybe, just maybe, there wouldn’t be more calls to action, and life really was a beach after all. Then one night, while we were minding our own business in a pair of high-waisted panties at Popeye’s Bar and Restaurant, the bartender told us that a man had been asking questions. “Did he know anyone who might want to explore the reef?” “Did he see tourists so dancing to the reggae band that they couldn’t show their faces around the island?” The next morning, we went to see a man on a snorkeling tour.
While experienced divers prefer the more exciting sites in the water near Ambergris Caye, the beautiful, calm reefs of Caye Caulker offered the ideal setting for first-time divers like my nervous partner, a Canadian mountain girl far more at ease in a set of skis than a pair of fins.
After the initial disappointment of finding out it wasn’t my chance to wear a tight rubber bodysuit in public, the reef snorkeling trip turned out to be a fantastic experience. We looked into the glasses and looked at the amazing array of fish, eels and spectacular coral formations. The highlight of the three-hour tour was Shark Ray Alley, where nurse sharks circled our fearful group from afar before weaving in for a closer look, and southern tip stingrays glided their broad wings over our bodies. Both came across as fairly harmless, if perhaps a little fresh for a first date.
For the rest of the day hardly a word was said. Mountain Girl and I lingered in our secluded piece of paradise on the water’s edge, soaking up the afternoon sun and flipping through the back issues of famous Mexican gossip magazines found littered in our room—anything to distract us from the fact that our lazy days were numbered. . Back at the bungalow we formulated our plan. We didn’t give up our leisure life so easily. We would go down to the party. Kay Ambergris was waiting and I had a birthday to celebrate.
As the largest, most developed and most expensive of Belize’s islands, Caye Ambergris caters to first class vacation seekers, with a variety of villas, luxury homestays and resorts to choose from. To prepare for our final stand, we checked into the mysteriously named Sun Breeze Beach Hotel, close to the main town of San Pedro, for some pampering and creature comforts. The spacious rooms, resort-style swimming pool, hot tub, massage studio, indulgent outdoor bar, and international-flavored restaurant were a world away from Kay Colker’s Galliganism, but for just $125 a night, my inner Thurston Howell came calling.
We rocked, enjoyed and ate in ways that only money can buy, climbed to the observation deck of the hotel bar. Gliding in a hammock, we witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets the Caribbean has to offer. Rocking back and forth with a birthday cocktail in hand, I could really appreciate how delightfully far removed we are from anything resembling an office cubicle. Pondering over, I made my final charge into the night. Crazy Canucks Bar, crazy Canadian in drag, we drank, laughed and awkwardly danced to reggae music until sunrise.
For the next few days we ate water sports as fast as Kay Ambergris could taste them. There was diving among some of the world’s most beautiful coral reefs, boat tours around the island, deep sea fishing for sailfish and barracuda, jet skiing and paragliding from the sun tickled beaches. Oh how we celebrated!
Our hunger for aqua adventure finally satisfied, we wandered into town, swapped our backs for the nearest rental bike, and peddled to the far reaches of the island. We crossed a small river on a tug-of-war ferry to the less populated North Island, cycled along remote dirt paths lined with sweeping palm trees. Emerging from the bush onto the beach at the edge of the folding blue Caribbean, it was a leisurely ride along long stretches of squeaky white sand to the “silver” edge of town.
The north shore hosts luxurious resort bungalows and private beach villas. I pondered ambitiously about the for sale sign outside a particularly hedonistic abode. Apparently the former owner wasn’t happy with driving his 80 foot cruiser around all this coral nonsense to dock outside his beach palace. Being the enterprising type, he used a few sticks of dynamite to blast a neat little driveway right through the reef. Unfortunately, the government didn’t see it that way and sent him a fine big enough to clear Belize’s national debt. He was last seen rowing a canoe toward Cuba.
A little further on we came across Captain Morgan’s Retreat, the setting for the original Temptation Island show. As we stood outside the mecca of the aired drama, so many touching memories came flooding back. Amber and Troy are whispering under a palm tree, probably discussing the effects of global warming. Shawna has left Gary and confesses to Chad ‘Are these things real?’ At that moment, I couldn’t help but appreciate the truly important things in life. I turned to the ski bunny and told her that she had such a beautiful smile that it could almost pass for cosmetic surgery.
We peddled the beach towards town one last time before heading back to the mainland, waving goodbye to all the things we loved about Cayce. The lazy palm trees, the ivory white sands, the blue waters, the hammocks swaying in the breeze, the friendly faces, the whale fountain and the plastic dolphins splashing water over Jesus outside the pink Jehovah’s Witnesses mansion…what? Anyway, for some repeat adventure travel offenders, it definitely made a nice place for a day pass or two.
Some have said that I spend too much time living in a fantasy world, that I need to get a grip on reality. Sometimes I think they are right. But then again, they’ve probably never been to Cayce Belize.
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