Caye Caulker, Belize, January 2008

I got the bus up from Flores in Guatemala. As we got close to the border, a money changer got on board. He told everyone that they'd run out of money in the islands and as the next day was New Year's Day, we should change all our money with him including US dollars as we would only get B$1.85 to the US dollar rather than the official rate of $2. He looked like a criminal out of Miami Vice. I assumed he was lying just because his lips were moving. However, quetzales aren't worth anything outside of the country, so I changed the few I had. He tried to short change me.

The contrast at the border is striking. The Guatemalan side is an unmade road and you hand your departure tax to a guy with no uniform, get no receipt and end up paying more because apparently he had no change. However, it is only 15 quetzales. Then you walk past a couple of security guards with the ubiquitous pump action shotgun and over the border into Belize.

The Belizean side is modern building. The staff have uniforms but no guns and they give you a receipt for your entry tax. Unfortunately, it's also a lot more expensive than leaving Guatemala was. I climbed back on the bus and we headed towards Belize City. I found it amazing that crossing a line on the map and I was now in the Caribbean. The houses were made out of clapperboard. It didn't look like at all like the rest of Central America that I'd visited on this trip.

Stormy Caye Caulker
Stormy Caye Caulker
Eventually, the bus dropped us at the Caye Caulker water taxi building. There was an ATM there and I successfully got out some proper currency with Queen Elizabeth's face plastered all over it. After a bit of a wait, I got on the boat and joined the locals at the front where there was some shelter from the spray. It takes just over an hour to get out to Caye Caulker. When you arrive, you walk down the quay and the island's logo is inset in the ground. It's “Go Slow”. The island isn't very big and is quite narrow, so it's only 3 or 4 streets wide. There aren't many cars on the island. Most people either walk, cycle or use electric golf carts to get around.

I'd booked to stay in Lena's Guesthouse via the internet. I'd forwarded my deposit via Western Union which was a first. It was a wooden building directly on the beach. I had a double room with a private bathroom and it cost me B$60 a night. There are several supermarkets, mostly Chinese owned, several restaurants including Chinese, seafood and American style food. Prices were more expensive that the rest of Central America, but still cheap by European standards. There were also several bars and even a couple of nightclubs.

I'd heard from a couple of people about the Big Fish Dive Center, though this wasn't the main reason I chose them. Their main selling points for me was that they were about 20 feet from my room. So I arranged to go diving the following day, on New Year's Day. Everyone voted for a later than normal start, though I went to bed quite soon after midnight after the day's long travel.

My regs were set up for doubles, so I needed to borrow a spanner as my one had mysteriously disappeared somewhere enroute from London to Costa Rica via Miami International airport. After about 20 mins, they found the man with the key to the tool box and I set my regs up properly. The boat was pretty good and the guys on it knew what they were doing. We sailed out to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and our first dive was Eagle Ray Canyon. The coral was nice but there weren't a lot of fish. However, the guide soon spotted a nurse shark, which was nice. Then he pointed out a turtle just as an eagle ray swam past, so the dive was livened up in the space of a couple of minutes. I went down to almost 23m, I think I was supposed to stay a bit shallower than that, but no-one cared and the dive time was 45 mins. A somewhat short surface interval of just over fifty minutes and we re-entered the water at a site called Pillar Coral. This was shallower at around 17m and I did a 48 mins dive. Again there wasn't much fish life, though the viz was good at around 30m and it was nice and warm at 27°C.

Now the plan was to dive a nearby site the following day and then go down to the Blue Hole on the final day. As I lay in bed that night, I suspected this wasn't going to happen as I could hear the wind whistling. The next two days were completely blown out by a storm. None of the boats except the water taxis were going anywhere. The only person who seemed to be happy was a rather competent windsurfer who seemed to be having a whale of a time.

Unfortunately, Caye Caulker is one of those places where there isn't a lot to do if you can't get in the sea. So my next two days were spent eating, drinking beer and watching college American football in the sports bar. There are worse ways to spend a couple of days, but it was a shame not to see the Blue Hole. I did enjoy the place though. It has a nice, laid back Caribbean feel and it contrasted completely with Guatemala where the people were very friendly, but not exactly the quietest in the world. They seem to have a passion for firecrackers at 3am on a Tuesday for no apparent reason.

I got the water taxi back to the mainland and then got the bus up to the Mexico border, ready for my stay in Playa Del Carmen.