As the roar of the engine turned into a kitten’s 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,” painted lazily on a signpost stuck in the sand, makes a mark. 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 for a quick taste of 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 sightings, cave tubing, Mayan ruins and mountain bike hikes. Where would it end? The equatorial heat was on. We needed a place to lay low for a couple of days. Somewhere a man might find a secluded beach and lie back and think of England, or some other place 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 Maritime Terminal Ticket Booth Boy.”
So we paid for our boat passes in small, unmarked bills, hopped aboard the first ship bound for the islands, and left the spoils of continental adventure in our wake. Not that the warm blue waters off the coast were fooling us. Home to more than one hundred and seventy islands, or cays, and the second largest barrier reef in the world, it wouldn’t be easy to keep our hands off a host of aquatic fun that has tempted travelers since Blackbeard and his Buccaneer gang sailed these waters. way back in the 1600s. However, as we stood on this unassuming dock and watched our getaway ship pull out of the dock, the captain addressed us with a few reassuring words: “Relax, buddy. Now it’s Gaius time.” Caulker”.
If Gilligan had ever been in real estate development, the city of Caye Caulker would have been his Big Apple. Snoozing peacefully on this piece of island, the brightly painted cluster of 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 am in the morning, makes for the perfect getaway retreat.
Caye Caulker’s crown jewels are minimalist delights. There are no international resorts, no flashy nightclubs, and no rush hour traffic. Do you remember the motto? Go slow. Our mission, and yes, we chose to accept it, was to find a bungalow for as little as forty dollars a night on a quiet stretch of squeaky white sand, delight our palates with a variety of seafood delicacies, and then report back with a drink. in a beach bar watching the sun slide under a blanket of blue Caribbean sea. This message will deliver itself in five seconds.
Before long, we’re slipping into the “no shoes, no shirt, no problem” and “pareo, swimsuit, smile” dress code, and are immersed among the welcome band of eclectic castaways. It soon became clear that the local concoction of Creoles, Central Americans, and Europeans posed little threat to our relaxation plans. However, we would have to watch out for American retirees who swerve through the streets in rickety old golf carts, sending marauding dogs, children and tourists running for shelter.
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-rise pantyhose 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 on a snorkeling tour.
While experienced divers prefer the more exciting spots in the waters off Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker’s beautiful, calm reefs provided the ideal setting for first-time divers like my nervous Canadian mountaineering partner much more comfortable on a pair of skis. than a couple of pinball machines.
After the initial disappointment that this was not my chance to wear a tight rubber suit in public, the reef snorkel 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 zooming in for a closer look, and southern rays swept their expansive wings over our bodies. They both proved to be fairly harmless, though maybe a little new to a first date.
For the rest of the day hardly a word was spoken. The mountain girl and I moved to our secluded beachfront paradise, basking in the afternoon sun and flipping through back issues of Mexican celebrity gossip magazines found discarded in our bedroom, anything to keep our minds up. away from the fact that our lazy days were numbered. . Back at the bungalow we hatch our plan. We weren’t giving up our life of leisure so easily. We would party down. Ambergris Caye was waiting for me and I had a birthday to celebrate.
As the largest, most developed, and most expensive of Belize’s islands, Ambergris Caye caters well to first-class vacation seekers, with a variety of villas, luxury home stays, and resorts to choose from. To prepare for our final 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 beer garden, and internationally flavored restaurant were a world away from the Gilliganism of Caye Caulker, but only $125 a night, my inner Thurston Howell was calling.
Pleased, indulged, and fed in ways only money can buy, we climb to the gazebo above the hotel bar. Slipping 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 could really appreciate how deliciously far removed we were from anything resembling an office cubicle. Contemplation over, I made my final charge for the night. Crazy Canucks Bar, crazy Canadian in tow, we drank, laughed and danced embarrassingly to reggae music until dawn.
The following days we stuffed ourselves with 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-kissed beaches. Oh how we party!
Our hunger for aquatic adventures finally sated, we cruised through town, slapped our butts on the nearest rental bikes, and pedaled to the far reaches of the island. Crossing a small river on a high-powered rope-pull ferry to the less populated North Island, we pedal along remote palm-fringed dirt roads. Emerging from the brush to the beach at the edge of the Caribbean blue, it was a leisurely stroll along long stretches of squeaky white sand to the “money” end of town.
The north beach is home to luxurious bungalows and private beach villas. I mused ambitiously on the For Sale sign outside a particularly hedonistic abode. Apparently the former owner wasn’t happy about driving his 80 foot cruiser around all that coral nonsense to moor up in front of his beach palace. Being the enterprising type, he used a few sticks of dynamite to blow up a small driveway that cut through the reef. Unfortunately, the government didn’t see it that way and sent him a fine big enough to pay off Belize’s national debt. He was last seen paddling a canoe towards Cuba.
A little further on we came across Captain Morgan’s Retreat, the scene of the original Temptation Island show. As we stood outside the Mecca of televised drama, many poignant memories came to 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 at ‘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 a smile so beautiful it could almost pass as cosmetically enhanced.
Riding 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 waters, the hammocks swaying in the breeze, the friendly faces, the plastic whale and dolphin fountain splashing water on Jesus outside the Witnesses’ pink mansion of Jehovah… 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 are right. But then again, they’ve probably never been to the Belize Keys.