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    Is This the Isthmus? Tour – Belize Part 1

    Sunday, September 24, 2017
    Flores, Guatemala to Caye Caulker, Belize

    Leaving Guatemala, entering Belize.
    Leaving Guatemala, entering Belize.

    This morning, I woke up at around 6:30 am to get ready to board a shuttle van heading for Caye Caulker, Belize at 8:00 am. At 7:12, I realized that the van was due at 7:00, not 8:00, so I really had to scramble to finish packing. As I was walking down the stairs, the front desk clerk was walking up to tell me the bus driver was outside. Whew! Perfect timing. So, I followed him down the street to the van, where I was stoked to get a front row seat with plenty of leg room, for once. After sitting for a short while, we took off with a few seats empty.

    Arriving at the ferry terminal in Belize City.
    Arriving at the ferry terminal in Belize City.

    The ride over to the border between Guatemala and Belize was pleasant enough, passing through farmland, jungles and several small towns. Exiting Guatemala was super easy, with just a short line to wait in and a passport stamp. No photo, fingerprinting or luggage inspection required! I wish it was like that at every border. Then, on the street, I changed 199 Guatemalan quetzales into 55 Belize dollars, which is $28 United States dollars. At first, I thought the guy ripped me off to the tune of 50%, but later, to my relief, figured out that he didn’t.

    The Belize Express Water Taxi in Belize City.
    The Belize Express Water Taxi in Belize City.

    “Belize, formerly British Honduras, is an independent country on the eastern coast of Central America. It is a Commonwealth realm, with Queen Elizabeth II as its monarch and head of state. The country is considered a Central American and Caribbean nation with strong ties to both the Latin American and Caribbean regions. Belize is bordered on the north by Mexico, on the south and west by Guatemala, and on the east by the Caribbean Sea. Its mainland is about 290 kilometers (180 miles) long and 110 kilometers (68 miles) wide. As of 2017, Belize has a population of 387,879, which is the lowest population density in Central America. Belize’s abundance of terrestrial and marine species and its diversity of ecosystems–including the longest barrier reef in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia–gives it a key place in the globally significant Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.

    A clapboard house at sunset in Caye Caulker, Belize.
    A clapboard house at sunset in Caye Caulker, Belize.

    “Belize boasts a diverse, multi-ethnic society, composed of many cultures and languages that reflect its rich history. People of African, Amerindian, European and Asian descent or any combination of those groups are prevalent. The Creoles, Garinagu, Maya and Mestizos make up a significant portion of the ethnicity, while on the religious front, most people identify as Roman Catholic or Protestant. English is the official language, while Belizean Creole is an unofficial native language. Over half the population is multi-lingual, with Spanish being the second most common spoken language.”–Wikipedia

    Palm trees sway at sunset in Caye Caulker, Belize.
    Palm trees sway at sunset in Caye Caulker, Belize.

    Entering Belize was really easy. I just had to fill out a customs form, have my photo taken and get my passport stamped. No fingerprinting or luggage inspection required. One thing I noticed as we traversed the 68 miles across the width of Belize was that all of the signs are written in English, and that much of the population (in that region, at least) is black. Right after we got dumped off at the docks in Belize City, I noticed that there was a boat getting ready to leave for Caye Caulker at 12:00 noon.

    Before I could board it, I had to exchange a voucher for a ticket, which was unfortunate, because there was a couple in front of me taking forever to make a decision on where they wanted to go. They took so long, the 12:00 noon boat ended up a leaving, with the deck hand yelling out that the next boat would depart at 1:30 pm. At least I had plenty of time to enjoy a good meal consisting of a veggie club sandwich and some nachos with melted cheese, sour cream, Japapeno peppers and salsa fresco. Yum!

    Welcome to the Split in Caye Caulker, Belize.
    Welcome to the Split in Caye Caulker, Belize.

    At 1:30 pm, I finally boarded a big water taxi bound for Caye Caulker. Luckily, the large engines were hidden down inside the boat, so they weren’t so loud that they would really tax my tinnitus. After a fast and smooth 45-minute ride, we pulled up to the docks in Caye Caulker. This small, tropical island is completely awash with intense sunshine beating down upon white coral sand that makes up the beaches and the streets, too. In fact, there’s no pavement anywhere.

    The Split in Caye Caulker, Belize.
    The Split in Caye Caulker, Belize.

    The whole place is chock-full of weathered clapboard houses set amid myriad hotels, restaurants, and shops. Indeed, tourism is now the main driver of the local economy. Signs everywhere request that everyone “go slow,” which is easy since there are no cars or tuk-tuks, and few motorcycles on the island. The only traffic is comprised of the occasional quiet golf cart or a bicycle. The place is seriously nice, quiet and relaxed. Not surprisingly, the most common music wafting through the air is reggae, and there is no shortage of dreadlocks on display. Oh, and there’s also a lot of people laying around in hammocks sipping tropical drinks, too.

    Come relax at the Split in Caye Caulker, Belize.
    Come relax at the Split in Caye Caulker, Belize.

    “Caye Caulker is a small limestone coral island off the coast of Belize in the Caribbean Sea measuring about five miles (eight kilometers) north to south by less than one mile (1.6 kilometer) east to west. Caye Caulker is located approximately 20 miles (32 kilometers) northeast of Belize City, and is accessible by high-speed water taxi or small plane. In recent years, the island has become a popular destination for backpackers and other tourists.

    Sunset in Caye Caulker, Belize.
    Sunset in Caye Caulker, Belize.

    “A narrow waterway known as the Split divides the island in two. Some people state that the Split was created by Hurricane Hattie in 1961, which devastated Belize City, however that is a myth. The Village Council Chairman at the time, Ramon Reyes, recounts that he and others dredged the waterway by hand after Hurricane Hattie opened a passage a few inches deep. This opened up a practical waterway between the west and east sides of the island, which was at first intended for dugout canoes. The increased flow of tidal water has naturally dredged the opening to 20 feet (6.1 meters) deep, so now larger boats can easily pass through. The natural erosion continues to this day and threatens the soft sand banks of the waterway.”–Wikipedia

    Sunset over a pier in Caye Caulker, Belize.
    Sunset over a pier in Caye Caulker, Belize.

    After walking up and down the white hot sandy lanes and circling around a few blocks in the south part of town, I finally found Juan’s Guest Rooms, a funky and cramped little place where I checked into an air conditioned dorm room, with the usual fan-only rule in effect in the daytime, and air con-only in the evening and at night. After a short nap, I went out on a sunset photo mission and to find some grub. Later that night, I booked an all-day snorkeling trip for the following day with Caveman Snorkeling Tours, headed up by the Caveman himself–a large, charismatic and gregarious man with short dreads and an easy-going manner.

    Words and photos ©2017 Arcane Candy.

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