We exited the plane directly onto the tarmac of the tiny international airport in Belize City on May 1. We were greeted by live reggae music as we walked into the building toward Customs and Immigration. We stood in line for no more than 15 minutes and smiled broadly at one another when the official said, “Enjoy your stay!” in a thick Caribbean accent. Operation Get This Party Started had officially begun.
We were shocked when we walked out of the terminal to find a taxi and not a single person asked us where we were going or if we needed a ride. We ended up walking straight past the nondescript taxi pick up area and asked an older man for a ride. He let us that there was an order for the drivers and showed us to the man that would take us to the water taxi. Honesty and hassle free; it was a great way to start.
Our first stop was Caye Caulker, a small island with a population of around 1,300 made up of Belizean, Creole, Garifuna and Chinese people. Though we only planned to stay for a few days, we ended up staying for a full week. We have a tendency of doing this. In 2011 we went to the Philippines with intentions of staying only three weeks and ended up staying for three months! On our first night we met a local 22 year old named Leroy who ended up being our unofficial tour guide for the first two days. We learned quickly that Belizeans aren’t pushy and don’t constantly try to sell you on the different activities like in Mexico and SE Asia, however, they offer to show you where certain things are (regardless of if you’re already on your way there) and then ask for money after the fact. We’ve had to get creative when it comes to saying no, but remaining respectful and friendly.
We did share plentifully with Leroy and in return he showed us the places on the island that made our time there so amazing. Most importantly he showed us where we could fish in the mangroves with just a line, hook and sardines for bait. We fished for all but maybe two days and caught our dinner every time! I caught a fish for the first time in my life – it was a small, but tasty sea bass. Generally we caught grunt fish, but Jordan did manage to get red snapper once which was delicious!
Leroy introduced us to a Guatemalan family that ran a restaurant of sorts on their front porch. Two tables with six chairs total and a washing machine were crammed onto the porch under a dim florescent light bulb and the watchful eye of a faded painting of Virgin Mary. We always brought our catch of the day here and the women fried the fish and gave us rice, beans and freshly made corn tortillas for $1.50 USD each!!
On the days we didn’t spend fishing, we hung out on a long dock on the east side of the island where locals go to chill out and swim. Sea grass surrounds the island, so docks are the best way to avoid having to wade through it. We met an awesome expat couple, Dan and Kari, who relocated from Pittsburgh to the Caye at the beginning of the year and spent hours drinking Belikins and rum and chatting. (If you two read this, we found out how to renew your passport here so contact us via email or Facebook!)
After much deliberation (we’re on a shoestringer budget afterall), we decided to pay the $35 USD each to go fishing and snorkeling on the second largest barrier reef in the world. Little did we know that it also included fresh conch sashimi, fruit, booze and various other Caribbean party favors. We went fishing first and then to shark ray alley where we got to swim with nurse sharks and manta rays. Jordan grabbed the largest shark he could find by the tail and went for a short ride and I came face to face with a couple of curious rays. It was a great experience! We went snorkeling on the reef at Hol Chan, but to be honest we didn’t find it to be all that impressive. That evening the staff at Dirty McNasty’s Hostel fried up the catch and we had another feast of fresh fish!
I could write so much more, but those were really the highlights for us. We’re on the mainland in the south of Belize now and plan to stay for one more week before heading to Honduras. Stay tuned for more posts about our experiences on the mainland of Belize soon!