I have finally recuperated from a wonderful two weeks in Caye Caulker. I had been following the ‘goings on’ in Belize, and especially Caye Caulker, for the last several years. I was first in the Caribbean in 1966 on St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. The lure of the Caribbean has been in my mind for all of these years. Now, in my latter years, I finally had the opportunity to return, perhaps for good. Since I am a Gringo and only speak one language, and because I’m ‘cheap’, I chose Belize as a destination.
Everything I encountered on the Internet convinced me that Caye Caulker is the place I would like to be. Their motto of Go Slow fits me exactly. As I researched further, I found out about Ocean Academy high school. A group of locals and expats worked hard to form a high school so the kids would not have to go to the mainland. I followed the progress as the actual building was built, the start of the first classes, and the first graduation of 10 students. I found the schools website (www.cayecaulkerschool.com) and was able help a little by sending some school supplies. I was also able to send some laptop computers for their computer lab.
On the last day of May, I finally headed to Caye Caulker! Waiting in line at immigration reminded me of my days in the army. ‘Hurry up and wait.’ Going through customs, they asked about all the school supplies in my bag. When they found they were for Ocean Academy, they passed me through. After a quick 10 minute flight on Tropic Air, I was finally there. A 5 minute taxi (golf cart) ride later, I was at my home for two weeks.
One of the things that had delayed my going to Caye Caulker was the cost of accommodations. Remember, I am CHEAP! Prices of $40 or $50 or $65 a night scare the hell out of me. I was finally able to find a place in my price range. On the back of the island near the airstrip, I found a 1-bedroom apartment complete with tiled floors, wireless internet, a hot water shower, a kitchen with all appliances and cooking/eating utensils for only $20 a night. Since it was a long walk to town, a bicycle came with the apartment. When I found it belonged to the principal at the high school (hildamarin@gmail.com), I immediately emailed her for a reservation. (This poor old man hadn’t been on a bicycle in 45 years. My legs were sore but I didn’t fall off.)
Since I had been in contact with the school for over a year, I scheduled my trip to be there for their for graduation. I knew I would spend most of my time at the school helping in their computer lab. What I didn’t know was that I would be a judge at their Science Fair. While I was there, a group of teachers from the US came down to help with their summer school. I got to spend a lot of time with several of the students and the teaching staff and enjoyed every minute.
During my second week in the computer lab, Joni Valencia (one of the founders of the high school) asked me to come into the next room (staff room) for a moment. I thought “Oh S..t! I’m in trouble.” As I entered, the whole staff sang Happy Birthday to me and presented me with an Ocean Academy T-shirt. That is when I really felt appreciated.
My last two days on the island were spent with their top student. On a one-to-one basis, I presented him with a laptop computer. We talked about his dreams for the future and what he needed to do to fulfill them. He also introduced me to his parents. Then we headed off on our bicycles to Southpoint (the south most end of the island), sat at the end of the dock with our feet in the water, and talked some more. When we got back, he gave me a big hug that left tears in my eyes.
What more can I say. The island, the school, and most importantly the people, far exceeded my fondest expectations. Now, I have to save my pennies so I can return.
To all who read this, I will ask the following. Please help support Ocean Academy in any way you are able. It can be as simple as volunteering to carry school supplies, volunteering to help expand the school building, or just sending money. We in the US and Canada don’t realize that families in Belize have to pay for their kids to attend high school. For this reason, most of the kids end their education after primary school. You can find their needs listed on their website. Thank you.