Chilling on the Cayes

Don’t bother. Too American. Bit of a shithole. These were some of the things I had been told about Belize before I arrived. In truth I was hesitant about spending too much time there. However, after spending a good two weeks there I can now only conclude that the people who had told me this were either a) blind or b) never saw the cayes.

Our first stop was Caye Caulker, a tiny island which in parts is less than 100m wide. It’s not the prettiest island I’ve seen –  it had the ubiquitous swaying palm trees and blue waters however the beaches left something to be desired – but there was just something about this place.

It’s a place where shoes and shirts are optional, swimming substitutes for showering, Bob Marley is compulsory, lobster tail is an affordable menu staple and rum is stupidly, stupidly cheap. In all seriousness, 1.75L of rum costs around $12. That would explain my pathetic attempt at “The Worm” in the Oceanside (the best and only nightclub on the island). Probably would also explain the Kylie karaoke and crashed bicycle.

Incidentally, here’s another for the “It’s a small world” file. On our first night at the hostel, one of the guys tells me he’s a second year medical student at Notre Dame University, and given I know a little bit about the medical school system, we start chatting. And then I remember something:

“You know, I once had a personal trainer who was studying medicine at Notre Dame, but at the same time he was also looking into becoming a jet-fighter pilot. I wonder if you know of him?”
“Yeah. He’s in the kitchen drinking rum.”
“Yeah. He’s my mate, he’s in the kitchen drinking rum.”

And so he was. To top things off these two med students were also best mates with my physiotherapist back in Sydney.

Caye Caulker is a lazy lazy place – there’s not much to do other than drink rum and make friends, which was just fine with us. It took us six days to decide we should probably leave or risk becoming part of the furniture at Bellas, our hostel.

A and I hopped on a Raggamuffin three-day sailing and snorkelling tour. Twenty of us piled on to the Ragga Queen which took us along the Belize Barrier Reef – the second biggest reef in the world. Snorkelling, storms and story-telling by the bonfire – this trip had it all.

The first snorkel stop was a dream. We anchored just metres from the reef and within seconds of plunging into the water I found myself casually swimming among hundreds and hundreds of fish. And beautiful fish at that; they shimmered in silvers, yellows and blues as they darted around rocks and delicate fan corals.

That night we camped on Rendezvous Caye, an island no bigger than your average suburban block. Entirely formed from sand and reinforced with some cleverly placed retaining walls, there are exactly three palm trees on this island.

The next day was more swimming and more snorkelling. However at the second snorkel point, off Tobacco Caye, I had to face my newest fear. A stingray. A big bloody stingray that was patrolling the inlet. But I am proud to say I did it – I got in the water after only 10 minutes of minor hysterics, and then proceeded to explore the surrounding reef for the next half hour. It was here we saw the fabulous Lion Fish, and made friends with a tiny yellow fish that seemed intent on swimming alongside us for the entire time.

Our last day however, was no so great. A tropical storm had whipped in overnight, and the sea was quite rough. For me this meant several hours battling sea sickness – but I managed to make it to shore without disgracing myself, thankfully.

So, Belize. Too American? Not yet. Bit of a shithole? Not one bit. Don’t bother? That would be a huge mistake.

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