We had heard a lot about Caye Caulker before we even got to Belize, so it had been in our crosshairs for a while. It is an island off the coast, one mile inside the barrier reef (the second largest in the world after the Great Barrier Reef off Australia) and only about a mile and a half long itself.
Given the water taxi schedules where we were, our choices were either to drive all the way to Belize City or take a plane. We opted for a Cessna 172, four seats squeezed into a tiny passenger compartment with a pilot pretty enough to compensate for any discomfort.
We flew out over the many islands and lagoons which separate the major cayes from the mainland and had our first real sense of how beautiful the sea is in this part of the Caribbean.
We arrived at San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, walked two blocks through town to the water taxi dock and in short order were speeding toward Caye Caulker, about a twenty-five minute ride.
Now there are a lot of differences between San Pedro and the caye it sits upon and Caye Caulker. San Pedro is filled with cars on paved streets and the island is crowded with upscale resorts, restaurants and shops. Caye Caulker has no cars, no upscale resorts, and the restaurants and shops serve up very good but humbler fare. The streets are sand and one either walks, rides a bicycle or rents a golf cart to get around. The pace is slow, the music is reggae, and the natives are principally African in origin and speak their own version of Pidgin English. Caye Caulker is beautiful, charming, restful and fun.
We stayed out near the south end of the island on the fringe of town at Shirley’s Guesthouse. She came from Canada to Caye Caulker 43 years ago and settled, and has stories recounting virtually the entirety of the island’s history since then.
If there is a spot where ‘the action’ is on Caye Caulker it is at The Split, a narrow passage across the island created by a hurricane in the 1950’s and splitting the larger island into two. The South Island is where everyone stays; the North Island is only now getting electricity and has but a few residents. At The Split the music lasts all afternoon and well into the night, the drinks are cold and strong, and both islanders and tourists gather to swim and party.
Now in addition to all of this, the absolute highlight of our stay on Caye Caulker was our snorkeling trip with Juni on the 24 foot sailboat ‘La Merced’ that he built himself.
Juni grew up on the island and has been snorkeling the barrier reef since childhood. Though he hates the term, there are those who call him “The Fish Whisperer” because there are rays, sharks and fish who absolutely know him, trust him, and followed him as we swam the channels in the coral. They even allow him to wrap his arms around them and hold them while we petted them.
All of this is absolutely impossible to capture without underwater photos, and we were just really angry with ourselves for not somehow finding a waterproof camera to use. But what we can tell you is that we saw over 100 varieties of fish and over 50 kinds of coral, both of every size, shape and color. It was certainly the best snorkeling experience we have ever had, and Dave, who used to scuba a lot, says it was his best underwater experience ever.
After five days we regretfully took a water taxi and then plane back to the mainland. This was in effect the turnaround point for us; we are now heading north toward The States and specifically Santa Fe, and expect to have Dan the Van back there before mid May with a number of stops along the way.
Even now we have crossed the border back into Mexico and are on the outskirts of Chetumal, a city of 150,000 people. We’re in a lovely large park-like campground on the sea that has cabanas on its fringe and a wonderful pool with even a waterfall. Saturday and Sunday brought lots of Mexican families to enjoy it for the weekend and it has been fun to be here, particularly with a collection of European travelers as well from France (3), Germany (2), Switzerland (2) and even another van from the ol’ US of A.