Sailboat, don’t mind if I do. Snorkeling with nurse sharks, sting rays, and thousands of other fish, don’t mind if I do. Shrimp ceviche, don’t mind if I do. Free-flowing rum punch, don’t mind if I do. Middle-aged Italian women bumping and grinding to some reggae, not particularly enjoyable, but it’ll do. Stuck on a reef in a sailboat full of drunk Americans, Italians, and a semi-sober Belizean crew, you better Belize it!
Perhaps I should start at the beginning. After an incredible 42 days and 4,730 miles spent in Mexico, we reluctantly crossed into Belize. Mexico had surprised and enthralled us and although we were excited to head into new territory we weren’t looking forward to $6/gallon gas and triple the prices. The border crossing was essentially uneventful (full write-up to follow). After stocking up on some delicious Belikin in Corazol, we headed down the dirt road towards Sarteneja. Ahead, two hotly anticipated hand cranked ferries awaited us. A mere six miles down the road we approached the uncrossable river. On the opposite bank, we spied a wooden boat loaded with two cars slowly making its way towards us. Didn’t look too sturdy to me, but Ken is the boat guru and he was practically salivating waiting to get on the thing, so it must be ok.
We loaded our trucks on with no difficulty, rasta music was blaring from the radio and the the hand cranking began. Of course, Ken and Joe immediately jumped in and asked to take over. What had seemed like a simple task as we watched the ferry approach us, turned out to be a bit more difficult. The opposing bank moved slowly towards us, water visibly rushing underneath the gaping boards. Kylee and I thought we could provide a bit more muscle and took over. Big mistake. The boys wandered off with the cameras, the ferry operators were inspecting our trucks, and me and Kylee were left to crank the rest of the way. As we disembarked, the operator told us that the second ferry was out of commission requiring us to take a longer road, that he assured us would only take 45 minutes longer. Forty five minutes later we were still twenty miles from Sarteneja, faced with the biggest pot-holes we had seen since Baja. Luckily we made it in one piece to Backpacker’s Paradise and enjoyed a laid back evening exploring the town and swinging in some hammocks.
After a night in Sarteneja and a few days relaxing at a family friend’s home in San Ignacio, we were ready for a vacation from our vacation. Along with patagoniaorbust (yep, we are in it for the long haul with them), we parked our trucks in San Ignacio and hopped on our first public transportation of the trip. Big, bad Belize City here we come. Thirty minutes in I was cursing all third world country busses that lacked overhead storage for backpacks that stopped every 20 minutes to off and on load more passengers, and really missed the comfort and convenience of Suzie. We survived an irate bus load full of Belizeans cursing out the gang suppression unit that thought our bus was loaded with gang members and made everyone disembark in order to search all the luggage, and a mere three hours and eighty miles later (but only a $4 USD versus $50USD for gas) we made it to Belize City, purchased our tickets for the water taxi to Caye Caulker, and prepared for our second boat trip in Belize.
Caye Caulker is paradise. Street of white sand, colorful houses and storefronts, unimaginably blue ocean framed with palm trees and mangroves, bikes and golf carts zipping through the minimally crowded streets, with reggae music and ‘hey mons’ wafting through the air. Definitely paradise. We spent a few days wandering the three streets that make up Caye Caulker, lounging in the sun at the Lazy Lizard on the Split (the beach where the middle of Caye Caulker was split in half by Hurricane Hattie) drinking buckets of Belikin, and feasting on conch fritters and fry jacks.
The third day we boarded the Reggae Queen of Ragamuffin Sailing Adventures and headed out to sea. Belize and it’s Cayes are world renowned for their snorkeling and diving, with the world’s second longest barrier reef stretching from Cancun through Belize. Diving here is incredible, everyone has heard of the Blue Hole, unfortunately it is quite expensive and Ken is not dive certified, so we settled for some snorkeling. Our crew consisted of Captain Kimani, Shane, and Dillon, all speaking lilting Creole and doing their best to accommodate the mixed group of gringos they were stuck with for the day. First stop was Coral Gardens, true to its name beautiful coral as far as we could snorkel. Next up, Shark Alley. Not my cup of tea. Snorkeling with whale sharks in Mozambique was a once in a life time experience, one I thought would be literally once in a lifetime. Now I was expected to jump in the water with sharks and stingrays that had been lured around our boat by the sardine chum that the crew had thrown in the water.
Luckily these sharks were merely nurse sharks, completely harmless to humans. For the final snorkel we were split into two groups an followed our guides through the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, up against the barrier reef. We were treated to incredible reef and coral with abundant marine life including moray eels and turtles. As we motor sailed our way back to Caye Caulker, the crew prepared shrimp ceviche and deceptively weak tasting rum punch. It began pouring. No worries, everyone crowded into the cabin around the dreaded-headed captain who was navigating our vessel, and relaxed, out of the downpour.
All was kosher until the sailboat came to an abrupt halt. Ken and Joe sprinted to the top deck to investigate, returning quickly to direct everyone to the bow of the boat. We were stuck on a reef. In normal circumstances, sans four glasses of rum punch, we might all have been slightly panicked. Instead, everyone cheerfully piled from one side of the boat to the other and eventually we drifted free and motored safely back to Caye Caulker. Although we miss Suzie, Caye Caulker has been a welcome vacation from our vacation…I know, we are spoiled.