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Life’s that much better in Belize

I have often experienced a concept that I like to refer to as the “new city blues.”  It is a phrase that as far as I know I made up, and it deals with the time it takes to settle into a new location upon arrival.  The story goes a bit like this: after a long tiring day of travel from place X, the arrival in place Y is always a traumatic one.  One is tired, one is unfamiliar with the new place, and one has yet to make friends in the new surroundings.  A snapshot of the same scene 2 (give or take) days later often paints a totally different picture as the new city blues are gone.  One has become acquainted with the twists and turns of the cities grid.  One is not threatened anymore by the swearing bum on the corner who is now an endearing fixture of the local scene and one has had a chance to break out of the shell and meet new people.  So anyway because of the new city blues I almost never enjoy a city or place right away, it takes a bit to grow on me.   

Looking back at my journal entry about Caye Caulker is evidence enough that this was a place where the new city blues had no effect on me.  They could not touch me, I was immune.  “Been here about 24 hours and I think my last Central American destination is the place I have been looking for all along,” is what my journal will tell you about my early impressions of the place.  A shame that I couldn’t have found my way there before the money was gone, before the plane ticket was changed to go home, before the next set of plans had been laid.  Yet such is life, and maybe I avoided having too much of a good thing, which you can you know.

A quick pace through the streets of Belize City brought me to the dock where I was to catch a boat to Caulker.  One left turn, one right turn, another left, over the bridge and another right was enough to show me that I would be glad to leave this particular city behind for the sanctuary of the Island.  With a little bit of confusion (although things were in English) I found the price, the time, and the place to buy the ticket of my chariot to paradise.  I was pleased to see that the boats heading out were less of the old run down over crowded steam ferry that one might expect to find in the third world and closer to the sleek Miami Vice style drug runner.  I was looking forward to the ride.  Sun on my face, wind in my mangy hair, blue (not just any blue, but that uniquely tropical ocean blue) water surrounding me and palm tree studded bits of sand dotting the horizon, what was not to look forward to.

After I had figured out the low-down on the boat ride (can’t remember why it seemed confusing) I gave a helping hand to Brendan (South Africa) and Sam (UK) a couple that I had been on my bus into the city.  On the boat ride over we shared the familiar stories of where we had been, where we were going and where we were from, the usual globe-trotters mantra.  Some say they grow tired of this perpetual conversation (same conversation, different face), but I rather like it.  I like it because you have something to say to start a conversation with almost any traveller, and then you can decide if like that person enough to finish the conversation, in the hours or days or (sometimes even) months to come.  I hung out with Brendan and Sam over the next five days off and on, so I suppose we finished that conversation. 

The boat zipped us past the tree studded bits of sand I have already mentioned, as sea birds playfully dipped in and out of our view.  We made one stop before arriving at the Caye to let a woman off who worked at a resort on one of the neighbouring Islands.  After that we steered past the all golf course Island. It is a golfers paradise, with a nothing on the Island but a full service hotel, and eighteen beautifully manicured holes backed up to an amazingly scenic turquoise sea.  Yet, I couldn’t help but think that it must have been a conservationist’s nightmare, the same eighteen beautifully manicured holes, requiring the absence of indigenous vegetation, and all begging to be watered.  I’ll let you decide which one of the two you are, golfer or conservationist, I don’t golf myself.

When the boat pulled up to the little dock my very first thought was; “THIS is it?”  Yet quickly, a few steps onto the Island, and my tune was changed to “this is IT!”  Not really sure if it is possible to show my quickly changing levels of joy with just a change in punctuation and letter case but I was pleased with what I saw, that’s the point.  So I suppose the new city blues did take hold of me for those few steps, but that’s it.  The walk from the dock suggests that one should take off their shoes and leave them off.  I didn’t do so right at that point, but I got to it as quick as possible.  The roads, if you can call them that are all made of sand.  They are soft white sand streets that invite you to stroll (not walk) along them.  They are narrow, well narrow by my Southern California raised mind.  Little wooden buildings line the streets, almost none more than two stories high.  Bright colors are in fashion, bright pastel colors, and they are ever so charming.

As I rounded the second corner of the Island, a familiar face came out to greet me.  The first of many that were about to adorn my lazy days on Caulker.  Celiny and I looked at each other and with a brief pause for disbelief (although after as many times as it has happened that I bumped into a former travel companion, I’m not sure why) we approached each other for a boisterous greeting.  Of course it was one of those misfire half hug half kiss on the cheek, neither sure which country’s (France or America in this case) custom to follow for greetings.  It was nice to see her just the same.  The last time I saw here was when she and Anne-Sophie (her travelling companion, since moved on) had motored by on a chicken bus. They yelled at me out the window as I stood waiting for my own bus from somewhere in Guatemala to somewhere else in Guatemala. She quickly told me her life (Caye Caulker life) story, that she had arrived two months before, and had yet to leave, settling in nicely, even shacking up with a local boyfriend named Rambo.  She told me about the place she was staying, called Sandy Lane, and that she thought there was a vacancy or two.  With Sam and Brendan in tow we found our sandy lanes and we were home, for the time being at least, pleasantly home.

The Sandy Lane was a charming little complex, with no frills added, but wonderful nonetheless.  When I travel I usually do so on a small budget, and for sleeping, no frills (without being downright shitty) is what I look for.    The entire lot was about a fourth of an American football field by my estimate, although it’s been a while since I stood on one.  It consisted of about six rooms all in a row, facing the middle, all with porches, in one single story block.  These were all painted white, with a yellow interior, and were inclusive of bathrooms.  Then there was a double story block facing away from the first one, six rooms again, three on top of three.  These were painted blue; interior was the same, but minus the bathrooms.  Towards the other end of the complex were three or four small (one room, plus bathroom, maybe a mini kitchen) houses.  My details of these options are scant because they lean towards the more expensive side.  Not the side I like to do my leaning towards.  A few feet from the double-decker building was the shower/bathroom block.  It included two outhouses and two showers for the bathroom-less room dwellers to use.  

Next to the shower block was an outdoor kitchen. It consisted of a bench, a small wooden roof, a grill, access to the woodpile, several pots, and often a cooking utensil or two.  I’m not sure where the utensils were when not there, perhaps they were migratory creatures.  It was a minimalist kitchen, and I never actually cooked anything there.  I wanted to; I just never got around to buying the goods, working my way around the utensil dilemma, and stoking the fire.  Once I sat around and looked on excitedly (beer in hand) as two other patrons, stoked said fire, skinned (un)said recently caught barracuda and ate heartily.

A few shuffles in the sand past the kitchen was a gap in the fence that lead to the other part of the compound, the house of the family who own the Sandy Lane.  I can’t remember seeing any children around, but I got the impression they were there, maybe grandchildren.  Attached to the house was a sand yard, filled with lines of white swaying laundry for her, and a shed with boat engines, tools, and rusting un-useable,  un-describable,  un-desirable parts for him.  He seemed to like to do more than his share of tinkering.  That’s fine by me, because I like to do less than my share, and the world needs balance.  There was also a giant wood pile made up mostly of roof shingles. The stack was too neat to have been put there by the last hurricane, although they probably were a now firewood as a result of it.  

My room of course was in the (cheapest) two story block.  When the four of us arrived, two of the downstairs rooms, were available, but unmade, having been vacated that morning.  Celiny was in the third.  The rooms were simple as I said, but all I needed really, to be comfortable in paradise.  After all, there was a bed, sink (with indescribably foul smelling water, but I didn’t drink tap water anyway), a ceiling fan, a chair, a table.  The floors were concrete, although I wouldn’t have minded had they been sand like the rest of the Island.  We could not find the Mrs. at the time, but at Celiny’s go ahead, I plopped my stuff down in one of the vacant rooms, Sam and Brendan in doing the same next to me.  There was a padlock on the door, but as is so common in Central America, I felt more comfortable putting my own in place.  I felt a little odd leaving the go-ahead to occupy the room until (finding the owner) later, but the beach was calling me, and Celiny assured me it would be fine.  She also told me the key
factor, which was what I was to be charged for a night of laying my weary (for weary read: drunken) head.  Only fifteen dollars BZE, seven and a half US.  The cheapest I had found in Belize and I had the quintessential fan, so I was set.

Bed secured (sort of), it was time to head out on the town, check things out, and get my bearings.   This task in Caye Caulker would take all of an hour or so.  Yet I would do well to heed the warning sign along the road that says “go slow.”  A traffic law or a philosophical life lesson, hard to tell, but if it’s the latter it seems appropriate because Caulker almost seems to have invented this concept.  The walk from my dwelling leads me past the dilapidated soccer field that still gets its share of use, often as the sun goes down.  A left onto the main road takes you past the stacks of lobster traps, awaiting their call to duty.  It takes you past wall with some profit’s scrawl that claims in a black letters that “The nations that forsake the Law of God shall surely be turn into Hell” –Jah Se So.  It also takes you for a view of Chocolate’s (a well known resident) shop and his work in progress manatee signs, letting people know that they are part of the national heritage.  Finally that left onto the main road brings you to the Split, and the Lazy Lizard.  All roads on Caye Caulker (not that there are many) lead to the Lazy Lizard, which is truly a blessing. 

The Split is the main (albeit small) beach area for the Island that has a cement walkway used for endless days of lounging.  It has Crystal aqua blue water that I am so fond of, and bleached white sand for more lounging space.  Thirty feet across the small channel is the other (sparsely inhabited I believe) part of the Island that used to be connected, but contact was lost during a hurricane.  Snorkelling in the area looks prime, but the current is fiercer than would be expected, and so most visitors decide to just lounge here.

Lounging at the split is never far removed from the Lazy Lizard.  As a matter of fact I believe the Lizard was a part of every day I spent on the Caye.  The Lizard is the place on the Island to go for afternoon (happy hour style) libations.  The Lizard is the place to take in the sunset, turning the sky orange and the palm trees into silhouettes. The Lizard is (most importantly) a place to join with friends, and to make new ones.  I spent five happy evenings at the Lizard, all of them in bliss.  Picture this, and you will picture paradise.  A semi-circle bar surrounded by a semi-circle of sand, surrounded by yet one more semi-circle of water.  You can relax at the Lizard in nothing more than a bathing suit.  Sitting at the bar stool sipping a beer or tropical umbrella style rum drink (called panty removers), shirtless and shoeless (and still no problem), sun shinning down on your back.  People happily chat away all around you about this and that.  You get too hot so you step off the stool, off the deck and toe up to the roots of the palm that stick out of the sand at the waters edge.  The water looks cool and inviting so you take a dive and paddle around a bit.  Refreshed you exit the water and hop back on the stool.  The Lizard doesn’t care if you drip on its floor, the sun will shortly take care of that.  It’s a place were if you feel like attempting a bout of beer bottle juggling, The Lizard won’t mind.  Just step out onto the sand with four bottles and join the hackie sack gang.  I can only juggle three, but need four as I also like to pause for refreshment now and again.  I tried it a few times, but need a bit of work before my busking career take off.  Reggae music (almost mandatory in this type of setting) wafts in and out, keeping everyone bathed in mellowness.  After another few sips of beer and its time to order one (well, for now) more. Soon being upright starts to take its toll.  The hammock slung between two palms beckons.  I can not resist the sirens call.  Night after night people gather at the Lizard between those magic hours of three and five (well I suppose in reality those hours are too confining) to partake in the joys that stress free Belizean afternoons have to offer. 

While I was there I knew quite a few people on the Island.  It was a small place and you couldn’t go for more than a few hours (if that) without running into someone you knew.  It was like being in college all over again, the good part, not those pesky classes.  It was nice feeling to so quickly feel like a part of the community, even if part of the temporary community.  A temporary community of travelers has its place in any country after all.  As I said I hung out with Sam and Brendan off and on, they even accompanied me on my manatee search.  I had also met Toni and Ian (an Australian couple) at my previous stop, and they showed up the same day I did with their tour group of about ten in tow.  With them and their group I instantly had a gang load of new people to excite (or bore) with my stories.  I met a couple people through Celiny as well.

But the meeting that takes the cake is Emily.  Emily is the tip of the iceberg for my lifetime of it’s a small world travel stories.  About two years before my trip to Belize, I sold Emily a ticket to go to Australia, when I was working for a travel agency.  A year after that, Emily and I met in Cinque Terre, Italy.  We got to talking and soon realized that I had sold her the ticket a year prior.  Well my second day in Caulker, who should come up to me on the beach in a state of disbelief, none other than Emily.  I suppose I am not a huge follower of the belief in fate, because Emily and I are currently not married.  I do wonder when and where I will see her next though.  So Caye Caulker is a small world in more ways than one.

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