You better Belize it!

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve written a blog! Here it is, almost June of 2014, and I’m finished with my first semester of grad school and have been back in the U.S. for about a year and a half! Crazily enough, I was actually a bit nervous about taking my first jaunt abroad since THE jaunt abroad. And with a full-time job and grad school, I really didn’t have much time to plan this one out, so I pretty much just booked a ticket to Belize and did about an hour of research… seriously!

Why Belize, a few people asked me? Well, it was the only country in Central America that I had failed to visit and I had heard from friends that had visited that it was relaxing, beautiful and there were beaches… and that was about enough for me.

After finishing finals on Wednesday and working a full week last week, I hopped on the overnight flight to Belize City on Friday night and got there at about 11:00 am on Saturday. After taking a plethora of overnight flights (and deeming them the best option for optimizing time), I’ve finally realized the power of the sleeping pill. Now, don’t judge me, flying is really the only time I take them (just over the counter gel pills from CVS or Walgreen’s) and they work like a charm, especially alongside a little glass of airport cabernet…

Anyway, I actually slept most of the flight and felt pretty amazing when I got to Belize City. Upon arriving, there was a slightly longer than usual line at customs, but I made it through and hit up the ATM, acquired some Belizean dollars and quickly got in a shared cab with some rowdy older travelers from Denver. We chatted a bit and then I got off at the Caye Caulker water taxi terminal, and after some arguing with the driver about how much I should pay (a solo taxi from Belize City should be $25 USD, but with others you should split that cost at least a bit), I bought my ticket for the water taxi and was waiting in the incredibly humid heat to go to Caye Caulker.

After about a 50 minute ride, we were there! A beautiful little island in off the coast of Belize, in the clear as lenses waters of the Caribbean Sea. I checked into my little hotel and after trying to speak Spanish to the woman who worked there, I realized that pretty much everyone on the island spoke English and Creole (a local dialect) and there wasn’t much Spanish spoken at all! A bit of a bummer as I wanted to use my rusty Spanish a bit more, but it forced me to use less brain power while relaxing, I suppose. After that, I spent the day wandering around the island, had an amazing rum and coke and fish and chips lunch and then laid on the dock and tanned until sunset. I was out there for maybe 2 hours and it made me realize how impatient I’ve become as I was anxiously waiting for the sunset!

That night, I went out to a local restaurant and grabbed a few more drinks and dinner while chatting with a retiree who was on his last night out and gave me some tips about things to potentially see while in Belize. As I was getting tired and the check took a long time to come, I got a bit grumpy and apparently was walking too quickly home, as a local man told me to slow down and he did not seem happy… Important to note that the motto of the island is literally “slow down”, so I was committing a grave mistake by walking hurriedly!

As I laid in bed sweating that night, I decided that the man’s warning was something I needed to hear. I’m constantly on the go and really wanted to take some time to decompress, so I decided it was just what I needed for my little vacation and decided to try my best to relax… something actually quite difficult for me. I had initially planned to visit another region of Belize while there and do some cave tubing, but with only about 4 ½ days, decided to chill and slow down!!!

On Sunday, I slept in, felt great, showered, and decided to look for a new hotel as the one I was currently in was clean and nice enough, but I was sweating profusely every second I was in my room. I found a little place in my guidebook called Popeye’s Beach resort (fancy!) and went crazy and opted for AC and a beach view – hey, you have to treat yourself sometimes (especially in Central America, where it’s cheaper!). While there, I chatted with a nice German man named Richard who is looking to retire in Belize but is working at the hotel in the meantime. I then wandered around the island some more, walked a few miles and found the airstrip where flights come and go from the mainland (mostly bringing tourists as locals opt for the way cheaper water taxis). I saw a beautiful cemetery right on the beach, an iguana hanging out in the shade of a tree and giant lizards running around my feet. I also found the areas of town where the locals actually live, as there is a large part of the island pretty much dedicated to the tourists with restaurants, bars, and a lot of little hotels. I definitely became enchanted with the locals in my time on the little island – an interesting mix of transplants from other countries in Central America, a mix of English, Creole and Spanish, and so many beautiful people in all shades working and enjoying their peaceful little island.

And when I say little… I mean it. Caye Caulker is only about 5 miles by less than 1 mile. On the thinner part, you can literally see one side of the island from the other and the 5 mile stretch includes some swampy land as well (read more about Caye Caulker here)!

The rest of the day Sunday, I spent some time swimming, laying by the water some more, drank beer at a party bar by the “split” and then, of course, continued my daily ritual of watching the sunset. I spent a lot of time laying on a little dock by my hotel where I could actually see schools of fish swimming underneath me in the clear water – amazing! I also met a woman that day named Kyrie from England, also traveling alone so we went to dinner and drinks together, exchanging life and traveling stories. Oh, also important to note, the fish on the island was INCREDIBLE!!! I’m not often a pescatarian but this whole week was a definite exception. That night, Kyrie and I both ordered the Belizean special, which included an amazing piece of fish with fresh salsa, beans, rice and plantains – absolutely amazing!

On Monday, Kyrie and I met up for breakfast and then I went back to my new hotel and cooled off and relaxed in the AC of the hotel room for a bit. I then made my way back down to the split, drank a beer and laid out for a while. Then I headed back to the room again, napped (rough life, huh?!) and then went out to find food. I was feeling quite indecisive so I wandered around for quite a bit until settling on a place with giant frozen drink options. I ordered a banana colada and some food, chatted with an Australian for a bit who was heading to Chetumal, Mexico the next day and then headed back to my room and read and watched TV! I somehow stayed up pretty late and finally fell asleep hearing the loud wind beating against the building.

On Tuesday, I woke up in the morning to loud wind and pouring rain and felt a bit bummed as I had booked a snorkeling adventure for that morning. Honestly though, after my last snorkeling debacle in Honduras (read my blog about it here) after I went out in a stormy sea in a small and very bumpy boat and repeatedly threw up a peanut butter sandwich (until it was no more), I was a bit reluctant. But still, I was sad that the weather was so crappy! It had finally stopped raining, so I decided to still venture out in hopes that the snorkeling tour would indeed happen.

As I stopped to grab a little breakfast and coffee, miraculously the weather cleared up and the sun came out – snorkeling was happening! I walked by the water and started to feel much better and eventually hopped in my tour boat with a family and an older gentleman from Australia. We went out to the first spot only about a 5 minute boat ride from the mainland, where you could see giant sting rays and sharks swimming around. We even saw a lone barracuda! I was still pretty apprehensive (what a wiener) and thankfully the tour guide Major was very patient and even gave me his better goggles/mask to use. After a few minutes, I was snorkeling along with the rest of them! We went to two other spots after that and saw a lot of coral and every color of fish imaginable – a great experience. Then I chatted for a while with Major and the Australian before hopping out on the shore.

Again, the locals are so friendly and chatty here! It probably helps that I’m a female traveling alone, but they always said hi, asked me my name and made sure I was having a good time. I got to know quite a few of them by name and profession and would always say hi when I saw them. I stopped to buy some earrings from a guy I thought was a local but he ended up being an artist from Colombia and we ended up chatting for a bit in Spanish – hooray! After that I headed back to the hotel, cleaned myself up and went to talk to Richard and Chris about staying another night and ended up chatting with them about marketing, craigslist and various other dorky tech topics.

Afterwards, I headed off with the intention of going to lunch but ended up back at Lazy Lizard’s… ordering a banana daiquiri and soaking up the sun. After that I went for an epic walk around the island – it is seriously sooo beautiful on Caye Caulker – the sunsets, the water and just everything about it is postcard-worthy. I grabbed a beer at a little bar and sat outside to watch yet another sunset and then walked around some more with my beer and caught a part of a local soccer game. Then I headed to the restaurant I went on the first day and ordered some amazing white fish with coconut sauce. After that, I headed back to shower and relax a bit as I planned on heading to the nearby island of San Pedro in the morning.

On Wednesday, I woke up early and headed off via yet another amazing water taxi to the island called Ambergis Caye, often referred to as “San Pedro” as that’s the name of the main town on the island. When doing my minimal research, I discovered that San Pedro was actually the song that Madonna sings about in the song “La Isla Bonita” and that Ambergis Caye is the larger, more touristy destination and after visiting, was glad that I opted for Caye Caulker.

It was still incredibly beautiful – crystal blue water, white sand, a cute, happening downtown and there was even a local school event going on in the town center. But it was definitely busier, a bit more hectic (if you can call an island hectic) and was overrun with tourists driving around in their rented golf carts. I wandered around, shopped and grabbed a rum and coke at a little bar on the water and chatted with a local named Josh who said that San Pedro was definitely the place to party at night if I ever decided to come back and stay there. After that, I had an incredible lunch at a place called Wild Mangos that, for good reason, is highly recommended in all the guide books. I had a fish wrap that I ate so much of that I felt slightly sick afterwards… I also tried a local drink called the “Panty Ripper” but I never got around to asking the exact reasoning for the ridiculous name…

After that, I trekked further along the beach, realizing that Ambergis Caye is definitely a lot bigger than the tiny island I was used to and it was HOT! I made it a good ways down, but decided I was a bit drunk and too tired to go any further and plopped down on the beach and read and enjoyed the rays. After gallivanting around a bit more, I was missing my little island, and hopped aboard another water taxi and got to sit on the top deck, enjoying the amazing view, fierce wind in my hair and gorgeous water all around me.

After getting back to Caye Caulker, I stopped at a local iced coffee shop I’d been wanting to check out and chatted with the owners there about their business. They, a woman from Germany and her partner from Belize, had opened last November and said business was good! I drank an amazing iced coffee with locally grown coffee and they even gave me some free freshly made donuts!

As it was already my last day, I spent the rest of the night walking by my favorite locals, watching the sunset and ate dinner at what is known as the best restaurant (for tourists) in town – Habaneros. As I was actually a bit “fished-out”, I opted for the veggie coconut curry, which was still amazing… and then headed back to my room to pack and drink some rum in my room.

The next morning I woke up quite early, caught a glimpse of the sunset and then headed off on my water taxi back to Belize City to catch my flight. On the taxi ride back to the airport, I finally got a chance to use my Spanish again as I talked to the sweet taxi driver, Ernesto, who was originally from El Salvador but came to Belize as a refugee with his family when he was very little to escape the civil war in El Salvador – a great conversation and ride and now, here I am already back in my bed in Oakland, after getting in last night!

A few takeaways from this solo trip to Belize…

Belize is seemingly a safe place to go for solo travelers, but you’ll be in the minority. It could have just been the places I went or the time of year… but, there was an overwhelming majority of tourist couples, retired old men, a few groups of friends, and then little, old me. While I wouldn’t take it back for a second, I did at times feel a little lonely (unlike my trip to Argentina and Uruguay where I meet a barrage of solo travelers). However, being alone definitely forced me to talk to interesting strangers all day long and I ended up getting lots of deals and free shots and food (go figure)!

It also reinforced my love for traveling and my hope of once again being able to be a bit of a nomad, even if only for short stints at a time. Seeing new, incredible places and conversing with people from all walks of life absolutely enriches your soul and I won’t stop doing it until I can’t do it anymore. I may be a bit more constrained now, with work and school, but I will definitely still be sure to pencil in some travel time as often as possible.

But honestly, in thinking about the fairly chaotic, social and fast-paced life that I currently live, the little island of Caye Caulker was likely just the thing I needed for a little soulful rejuvenation. I was forced to “go slow” and dammit, I did enjoy it. Although, after all that relaxing, I think I’m now ready for another 3 days off of potentially a little more action in the city by the Bay… 🙂IMG_2385

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