Caribbean English Accents, Tropical Paradise & Forward People.
Belize is located on the Northeastern coast of Central America. Bordered on the north by Mexico, to the south and west by Guatemala and to the east by the Caribbean Sea. It is a small, tropical country with just over 300 000 people, the lowest population density in Central America. 60% of the landscape is untouched and the key attraction is it’s 1000km reef. This Belizean reef is the 2nd largest in the world with an archipelago of 300 tropical islands dispersed along it.
Belize is the only Central American country where English is the official language, along with Kriol, Spanish and pockets of others. There’s a high Chinese population and they naturally own most of the supermarkets. This mixed population makes for an interesting (and confusing) mix of people with a fusion of cultures. I did love the Caribbean English accents and felt like I was in a Bob Marley music video everyday. Their friendliness was often overbearing and on occasion even seemed confrontational. Completely contrasting to the mind-your-own-business Mexicans and the humble Guatemalans. A highly sexed nation, it was impossible to take a morning walk without several loud, suggestive comments. Locals greeted passers by on the street and expected to be greeted back. They had no issue in calling out that you were rude should you not respond appropriately. Drugs are frequent in this go-reallllly-slow culture so everything is tailored to taking it easy and chilling. I nearly died.
Caye Caulker is a small limestone coral island off the coast of Belize. A popular Caribbean island reached by boat from San Pedro or Belize City. There are no cars on the island so transport is simply by foot or golf cart. No shoes are needed as there are only 2 sand roads. A walk across the main part of the island takes 20 or so minutes. The beaches are narrow and not great for tanning. The economy of the village is fishing, marihuana and tourists. With 190 species of birds it is worth looking up to the sky, as much as down to the turquoise Caribbean Sea. Each day I woke up at 5:30 in time to watch the sunrise over the ocean. Although setting an alarm seemed like sacrilege in this idyllic setting, sleeping in the humid heat was impossibility anyway. Don’t jog or the locals will tell you to “take it easy ma’an”.
A must do on the island is a snorkeling cruise. We went with Raggamuffins Tours. We left mid morning on a sailboat and visited 3 different, fairly similar snorkeling spots. Jumping off the side of the boat into warm, clear water we saw a variety of sea critters. Within minutes we’d explored more than you could hope to see on any scuba diving trip. At one point we had nine, 2m long Nurse Sharks around us as the captain threw fish into the sea. They were only interested in the fish and didn’t even notice we were there. We swam with Green and Loggerhead turtles, Southern and Whiptail stingrays and an array of large and small colorful fish. While traveling between snorkeling spots, our boat played reggae tunes as we lazily lay on deck in the sun. We were served seafood for lunch and in the afternoon we had prawn ceviche and fair amount of rum punch. Seagulls followed the boat as we sailed home. The more taco chips I threw at them the more they swarmed us. A great game after several plastic cups of rum punch.
The islands famous cake lady comes out around 3pm on her bicycle and although the banana bread is what she is renowned for, the chocolate and coconut cake is to die for. We met her aunt’s husband too (clearly a tiny island), who sold us delicious meat pies (here’s hoping they really were beef). At the Split is a bar called ‘Lazy Lizard’ and that’s the best place on the island to have cocktails and watch the sunset over the tranquil Caribbean Sea. ‘Roses’ serves a relaxed seafood dinner where you choose your fish straight from the grill. Fran’s on the beach is the best for her special honey glazed BBQ chicken. The main local bar is I&I and thereafter everyone goes to Oceanside. By the end of a night all locals and visitors get well acquainted over ‘panty ripper’ cocktails and Beklin Beer. One could spend a full week enjoying thea festive bars and tasty local treats. Caye Caulker is an island where there are as many tourists as locals. There are more palm trees than people. Everybody knows everybody, is related to somebody, and has a secret recipe they want to share.
Leaving the island the express ferry takes about 40 minutes to get to Belize City. I couldn’t get out of Belize City fast enough. Hardly a polite or pretty city, it is industrial, cold and dirty. We took local busses, which made Mexican busses seem like limos. All the windows were open to act as natural, gale-force, air conditioning. The driver speeding was expected and obviously there were no seatbelts or any regard for safely. We passed uneventful Belmont with nothing notable to report. The towns in Belize look like random homes scattered along sandy roads. There must have been paint sanctions in the country for at least the last 94 years as everything was dusty and shabby. The houses were wooden and built on stilts. I assume this was to enable better ventilation due to the humid heat, which was impossible to escape.
At one point, a brash lady jumped on the bus to sell sandwiches and told the tourists to enjoy her country and make love on all the beaches. Her loud sales pitch seemed quite typical for the forward people of Belize. We peeled our sweaty selves off the plastic seats as we arrived in San Ignacio. This is the second largest town in Belize with about 20 000 residents and half as many rogue dogs wondering the streets. Out hotel room was like walking into a sauna and even the rain later that night didn’t seem to cool us down. (Note to self – stop complaining about the aircon at work being too cold).
The main activities in the area are the adventurous Indiana Jones style exploring of the ‘ATM Caves’ or wondering around various ruins. My roomie and I bunked the activities as we were ‘ruined out’ still from Mexico & Guatemala. We chose had a relaxed day wondering around the sweltering, uneventful town. We had a late breakfast at Hannah’s, visited an iguana sanctuary at San Ignacio Hotel and then spent an afternoon drinking cocktails at the Cahal Pech Resort pool. Tough life indeed.
Besides the pace, impressive marine life, Caribbean accents, rum punch and fresh fruit, not much else impressed me wildly with Belize. Their food wasn’t particularity interesting as the only traditional dish we came across was rice and black beans. I did have an amazing chicken with BBQ sauce pizza. The country just felt unloved and unappreciated. The people work hard and are louder than their more culturally rich Spanish neighbours. Their population was a mix of races, languages and cultures, which didn’t feel comparatively harmonious or singular. A Belize Bank billboard showed bubbles of large assets and stated “bundling = saving” which made me cringe at such an irresponsible message. I think I have spent too much time reading the CPA back home to have any appreciation for the manipulative advertising in Belize (yes I did realize how nerdy that sentence was). I did love a Coke billboard though, which said ‘ the best souvenir is happiness’.
The laid back culture of Belize can be summarized by what Captain Ish said to me when I asked him If I should fear for my life, as we climbed onto boat in gale force wind conditions. He smiled calmly and said…
“It’s only a problem, if you make it a problem.”