Tobacco Caye – A little piece of paradise
So we headed out of the jungle to our final destination in Belize, Tobacco Caye. This is a small island, about 2 football fields, off the coast of southern Belize. We got in a small speedboat that headed directly out into the ocean from the small city of Dangriga. After about 30 minutes, we saw a small island, ala Gilligan’s Island, coming over the horizon. With small buildings and about thirty palm trees, we could tell this was going to be a good 4 days.
Upon arrival, we found our place, Tobacco Caye Paradise, and that’s what it was. Our small cabana had a bedroom and bathroom, but walking out onto our patio turned our place priceless. The patio opened our over the coral gardens and looked onto the reef break. After settling down, we walked around the island, an adventure of only about 15 minutes, and realized we truly were isolated. There were only 2 open ‘resorts,’ both with cabanas, a tiki bar, snack shack and marine reserve station, that’s it!
We decided we were going to dive for a day, and found the dive shop located on in a building on the end of dock, with the customary sea eagle nest adorning the roof. The travel time to the dive sites was 5 minutes, as the Divemaster pointed out, were right behind the island. Our dives had many of our underwater friends, from schools of lionfish, to the odd turtle and various other critters. The experience of diving a reef that sees less than 5 divers a week was a special one.
The remaining days were spent doing what we do, snorkelling, hanging out, sampling the local rums. Mornings were spent sitting on our patio, reading, as the odd stingray floated by, searching out its next meal. In the afternoon, we cruised over to the opposite side of the island for some of the best snorkelling we’ve ever witnessed. In our three days, we saw large grey stingrays, plenty of fish, small spotted stingrays and the elusive eagle ray, something we’ve never seen. After dinner drinks were taken on our patio, ‘bug-less’ from the warm ocean breeze, as the full moon gave the water a shimmering appearance. After a couple of rums, we headed off to the tiki bar. This bar is straight out of the movies, set in the sand, made of local timber, local rums and cool vibes coming out of the old speakers. All the residents, maybe 30 people, hanging out, talking to the few tourists and reminding us about how they’re ‘living the life.’
Few countries catch my imagination like Belize did, and for a second time. Tobacco Caye was the perfect ending to a brief but needed break…..until next time
Caye Caulker - breaking my one rule
The world is too big, so I have made a life rule that I do not travel to the same place twice, unless we’re talking Caye Caulker. The moment I left CC 2 years ago, I knew I’d be back and the when we stepped off the water taxi, I remembered why.
We were greeted by the locals as we walked down the street, and by street I mean sandy path with a smattering of a few golf carts, with words of welcome from “enjoy paradise” to “welcome to our beautiful island.” It was exactly as I remembered.
We got situated at our cabana that faced out into the water and the distant reef break, catching the ocean breeze before setting off on our 4 day adventure. It consisted of roaming up and down the main ‘street,’ sipping cold beers, chatting with locals and tourists alike and finding the best fresh cooked meals on the cheap, Bob Marley never far from our ears. Dinners were taken at places that ranged from a kitchen in a shack and food on a picnic table to tables set in the sand with the restaurant at our back and views for miles.
Our nights began to become repetitive as we found a hangout in the back streets called ‘Wish Willy’s.’ An island man had turned his backyard into a gathering ground for the hungry and thirsty. Originally we were lured in by the $1 mixed drinks but returned night after night to hang with the owner and soak up the vibe. He would sit out with us and chill, always ready to bring us a new cold island rum and coke, while telling stories of the US, the island and anything else he thought of. The visits culminated in a final night where we bartered our left over tequila for free rum after the place had closed down, and sat around with his buddies and heard them roundtable about island politics and life in general, which seemed pretty great to me.
As always, the ocean beckoned us and we listened. A day on the boat brought us one of our most perfect days ever. Our first stop was on the edge of the reef break where we climbed into the water, swam about 30 ft and glimpsed the graceful ocean manatee. After the experience, we quickly moved to the Hol Chan marine reserve that offers unbelievable snorkeling. We saw a phenomenal array of underwater friends from moray eels to large groupers, schools of large jacks and giant coral. The preservation effort was in full effect. The final stop was shark and ray alley, which delivered just that. Boats pull up to a designated area and with a small amount of food. They chum the waters; this brings in the local sting ray and nurse shark population. We were able to have these beautiful creatures gracefully swim around us, close enough that we could touch the mild sand-papery skin of the sharks and smooth wings of the 5 foot stingray. Our day was completed by one more swim with the wild manatees.
So, for 2 years I had always looked back to CC as a magically perfect place that I could break my #1 travel rule, and after a second visit I’m glad I did.
Mexico - our own way
So we’re sitting on an air conditioned coach bus going toward the Mexican-Belize border and it gives me a chance to reflect on my week in the Yucatan. Having travelled through many countries in southeast Asia, some of which have legitimate terrorist organizations, I was more scared of my brief foray into our NAFTA partner. But I must say I was pleasantly surprised. Our version of traveling consists of local transport and off the beaten path destinations. It’s nearly impossible to go somewhere no one else is as this place was packed, however we did get to do it OUR way.
We rented a car and left super early to travel to the ancient ruins of Ek’ Balam, a lesser known Mayan city, but were greeted with beautiful temples and buildings that peeked through the jungle canopy. With these ruins, guests are still allowed to climb to the top and we were witness to fantastic views of the surrounding forest, and we pretty much had the place to ourselves, of which our pictures can attest. After a second day of ruins, the ocean-side city of Tulum, we were ready to see some natural sights. Our travels took us to a cenote, a fresh water spring that forms caves and swimming holes. The crystal clear water, fading darkness of underwater caves and huddling bats above us gave quite the experience. We also signed up to swim with whale sharks! This would be our second time, having done it once before in the Philippines. Our experience was made all the more special as this time we were swimming through water with limitless visibility. With our strong swimming skills, we were able to cruise along beside the giant fish and watch them feed and look directly into their eyes. The experience was amazing!
Our brush with nature wasn’t complete as we took the local ‘collectivo’ to Akumal beach. This is a famous beach where turtles come to feed on the seagrass. With fins and snorkel in hand, we submerged into the beautiful blue water and found ourselves surrounded by feeding turtles. It was quite the sight to be able to dive down the 4 or 5 feet to the bottom and watch these gentle creatures chomping away. There was also a coral reef that held a wary spotted eel, large parrotfish, squid, stingrays and a variety of other reef inhabitants.
Mexico was a wonderful place to visit and beyond the sneaky gas attendant trying to overcharge us for gas, a completely safe country. We spent our days eating at local restaurants, having authentic food, cervezas and margaritas, meeting locals who had even visited Canada, diving the beautiful coral reefs and relaxing to people-watch the hoards of visitors from a rooftop Rasta bar. Mexico has so much to offer and I can definitely see ourselves coming back, but only if we can do it our way again.