Belize Cayes – A World Far From Reality

Belize Cayes – A World Far From Reality

As the roar of the engine turned to a kitten purr and our boat approached the Caye Caulker dock, we did a quick inventory check. Dancing palms, ticking. Sun-bleached beach, tick. The island’s motto, “Go Slow,” lazily painted on a signpost stuck into the sand, marks. I gave my partner in crime a private smile. This was the place. We had escaped…for now.

Going up and down against a small Belizean island in the Caribbean Sea was not in the original script. The plan had been to fly to Belize to quickly try out the eco-adventure before crossing the border into Guatemala. But we got greedy, and four days later, we were still there with our hands stuck in the action jar. Jungle walks, ecological tours, jaguar watching, cave tubing, Mayan ruins and mountain bike hikes. Where would it end? The equatorial heat was on. We needed a place to go unnoticed for a couple of days. Somewhere a man might find a secluded beach and lie back and think of England, or anywhere he would rather not be. After asking a few discreet questions, we learned there was only one place to hide, and only one man powerful enough to help us get there. The man known only as “The boy from the ticket office of the Maritime Terminal”.

So we paid for our boat passes in small, unmarked bills, hopped aboard the first island-bound ship, leaving the spoils of continental adventure in our wake. Not that the warm blue waters off the coast were fooling us. Home to more than 170 islands, or cays, and the world’s second-longest barrier reef, it wouldn’t be easy to keep our hands off the plethora of aquatic fun that has tempted travelers since Blackbeard and his Buccaneer gang crossed these waters in the 17th century. However, as we stood on this unassuming pier and watched our getaway ship leave the dock, the captain addressed us with a few reassuring words: “Relax, mate. It’s Caye Caulker time now.”

If Gilligan had ever been in real estate development, the city of Caye Caulker would have been his Big Apple. Dozing peacefully on this piece of island, the cluster of brightly painted ramshackle beach hideaways, deserted beach lots, scattered fishing boats, palm trees, sand-floored restaurants, dive shacks, and salty old sailors propping up bars at 11 a.m. in the morning, makes for the perfect getaway haven.

The crown jewels of Caye Caulker are minimalist delights. There are no international resorts, flashy nightclubs, or rush-hour traffic. Do you remember the motto? Go slow. Our mission—and yes, we chose to embrace it—was to find a bungalow for as little as forty dollars a night on a quiet stretch of creaky white sand, indulge our palates with an array of seafood delicacies, and then educate ourselves over drinks at a beach bar watching the sun slide under a sheet of blue Caribbean sea. This message will deliver itself in five seconds.

Before long, we slipped into the “no shoes, no shirt, no problem” and “scaro, bathing suit, smile” dress code, and dove into the welcoming band of eclectic castaways. It soon became clear that the local brew of Creoles, Central Americans, and Europeans posed little threat to our relaxation plans. Yet we would have to keep an eye out for American retirees who swerve through the streets in rickety old golf carts, sending dogs, children, and marauding tourists running 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 tall panty rippers at Popeye’s Bar and Restaurant, the bartender told us that a man had been asking questions. “Did you know someone who would like to explore the reef?” “Have you ever seen any tourists dance so badly with the reggae band that they couldn’t possibly show their faces around the island?” The next morning, we went to see a man about a snorkeling tour.

While experienced divers prefer the more exciting spots in the waters off Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker’s beautiful and calm reefs provided the ideal setting for first-time divers like my nervous partner, a Canadian mountaineer, much more comfortable with a set of skis than a pair of fins.

After the initial disappointment of learning that this was not my chance to wear a tight-fitting rubber suit in public, the reef snorkeling trip turned out to be a fantastic experience. Our jaws dropped at the incredible variety of fish, eels and spectacular coral formations. The highlight of the three-hour tour was Shark Ray Alley, where nurse sharks circled our wary group from a distance before swooping in for a closer look, and southern stingrays swiping their expansive wings over our bodies. Both proved harmless enough, though perhaps a bit new for a first date.

For the rest of the day hardly a word was spoken. The mountain girl and I moved into our secluded beachfront paradise, basking in the afternoon sun and flipping through the back issues of the Mexican celebrity gossip magazines found discarded in our bedroom, anything to keep our minds off the fact that our lazy days were numbered. Back in the bungalow we hatched our plan. We weren’t giving up our life of leisure so easily. We would go down to party. Ambergris Caye was waiting for me and I had a birthday to celebrate.

As the largest, most developed, and most expensive of the Belizean islands, Ambergris Caye caters well to world-class vacation seekers, with a variety of villas, luxury home stays, and resorts to choose from. To prepare for our last stop, we checked into the mysteriously named Sun Breeze Beach Hotel near the main town of San Pedro to pamper ourselves and enjoy the amenities. The spacious rooms, resort-style pool, hot tub, massage studio, chic outdoor bar, and internationally flavored restaurant were a world away from Caye Caulker’s Gilliganism, but at just $125 a night, my inner Thurston Howell third party was calling.

Pleased, indulged, and fed in ways only money can buy, we climbed up to the gazebo above the hotel bar. Sliding into the 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 really appreciated how deliciously far we were from anything resembling an office cubicle. Contemplation over, I did my final charge at night. Crazy Canucks Bar, crazy Canadian in tow, we drank, laughed and danced embarrassingly to reggae music until dawn.

The next few days we gorged ourselves on water sports as fast as Ambergris Caye could serve them. There was scuba diving among some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world, sailing around the island, deep sea fishing for sailfish and barracuda, water skiing and parasailing on sun drenched beaches. Oh how we party!

Our hunger for aquatic adventures finally sated, we ride around town, smack our butts on the nearest rental bikes, and pedal to the far reaches of the island. Crossing a small river on a high-powered ferry pulling a rope to the less-populated north island, we pedal along remote palm-fringed dirt roads. Emerging from the undergrowth onto the beach at the edge of the blue Caribbean, it was a leisurely walk along long stretches of creaky white sand to the “money” end of town.

The north beach is home to luxurious bungalows and private beach villas. I pondered greedily on the For Sale sign outside a particularly hedonistic abode. Apparently, the former owner wasn’t happy about steering his 80-foot cruiser around all that coral nonsense to moor in front of his beach palace. Being the enterprising type, he used a few sticks of dynamite to blow up a small driveway that ran through the reef. Unfortunately, the government didn’t see it that way and sent him a fine large enough to pay off Belize’s national debt. He was last seen paddling a canoe towards Cuba.

A little further on we come across Captain Morgan’s Retreat, the setting for the original Temptation Island show. As we stood outside the televised drama Mecca, many moving memories came to my mind. Amber and Troy whispering under a palm tree, probably discussing the effects of global warming. Shawana tells Gary and confesses to Chad ‘you had me on ‘are those things real?” In that moment, I couldn’t help but appreciate the truly important things in life. I turned to the ski bunny and told her she had such a beautiful smile it could almost pass as cosmetically enhanced.

Pedaling down the beach toward town one last time before heading back to the mainland, we said goodbye to all the things we loved about the keys. The lazy palm trees, the ivory-white sands, the aquamarine blue waters, the hammocks swaying in the breeze, the friendly faces, the plastic whale-and-dolphin fountain that splashes water on Jesus outside the Jehovah’s Witness pink mansion…the what? Anyway, for a couple of repeat adventure travel offenders, it sure was a good 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 control reality. Sometimes I think they’re right. But then again, they’ve probably never been to the Belize Cayes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *