COMING FULL CIRCLE ON CAYE CAULKER
By Valentino Shal
Every point of contact you make will come back full circle. This is the philosophy of one of my best friends whose wife passed away recently in Caye Caulker. Judging from the wonderful experience I had this weekend on Caye Caulker, it may have just proved him right. I got not only to meet him and catch up but also had the same opportunity with Chairman of Caye Caulker himself. And in the process of doing all that I also made some new friends that am sure I’ll be seeing again very shortly.
I had been to Caye Caulker only once before and stayed only a couple hours. But this time I went prepared to spend an overnight and see what life on Caye Caulker is like. The short boat is awesome. In just a matter of 45 minutes you are away from the rat race of Belize City into a tranquil community where you see the modern and the traditional coexisting in unison. The waters are blue and the breeze fresh. The mood is jovial and the community colorful. Approaching the village from the pier gives one the impression of all business as usual but its not. The grand hotels posturing on the beach are accompanied by small homes. Simply homes.
Personally I am fascinated with the way that Caye Caulker is developing. The growth of the tourism industry has had an impact on the economy of the village which according to many, used to be a fishing village. But changes happen and there is hardly anything we can do to stop it. But Caye Caulker is not about resistance to modernism. It seems to me more like a matter of self-determination. The visitors, the expatriates and our Belizean brothers and sisters all seemed to have bought into this vision for their community. When you think Belize is a unique country you have not yet looked far enough. The uniqueness of the whole is made up from the parts.
I spent Saturday driving around the village with my professor friend in the island mobile – the golf cart. I got to see the entire island. From the broken sea wall of The Split to the new airstrip to the burning dumpsite. I guess I am a different kind of tourist. More like an academic tourist. I want to see everything about what makes up this village. After my tour of the island I went for a little stroll downtown but the downtown is not really where you find everything. Sure area near the dock looks more active with tour operators, gift shops, restaurants, stores, a bank and of course the hotels but it’s not business as usual. You have children playing in the front of their homes or swimming in the sea or people just relaxing on their verandah. Caye Caulker is an eco-cultural experience. It is not custom made to suit the taste of the visitor instead it shares with the visitor what it has. It’s soul.
I spent Sunday on the sea, fishing. This was the first time I actually went fishing in the open sea. The experience of being out there was great. The clear skies above that meet the ocean on a perfect horizon brought out in me an inspiring freedom. The things of nature are therapeutic. Then I imagined what is must be like for the people of Caye Caulker who have this every day. If that’s all you have, you have a reason to be happy. Our visitors surely spend hundreds if not thousands for that single moment that reinvigorates the spirit. We have it whenever we want it.
The village of Caye Caulker has experience tremendous growth in past 10 years. The sociology of the community is quite interesting. The village manages itself like a town but it is not yet considered a town. It is considered a village but it does not look like a village. The villagers on Caye Caulker certainly have a different village experience compared to other villages on the mainland. The Village Council of Caye Caulker has its own budget and hires its own staff. It has its own assets and looks after the infrastructural needs of the village. Caye Caulker has a new airstrip, a small water system, seven staff members, electricity and telecommunication services. There is even a new Atlantic Bank Branch on the island complete with an ATM. The management of the island is solely the responsibility of the village council. From what I observed the affairs of the village are strictly managed and are enforced. I was told that no one is allowed to get away without paying their fare share of the cost of running the village. The streets are in good state and the village is very clean. It is a safe, healthy and welcoming community.
Strangely enough the chairman of the village is a former teacher of mine whom I met at the University of Belize back in 2000. He was explaining to me that very soon his Village Council along with the Ministry of National Development will be building a reverse-osmosis water system to provide potable water for this thriving community.
Caye Caulker now is very autonomous that it makes its own decisions to the point where it might puzzle the usual political brokers. Some people think the Caye Caulker Village Council is UDP while others think that it is PUP. I asked the chairman what he thought of that. He said, “It doesn’t matter what they think, what matters is that we look after ourselves and be self-reliant.”
Caye Caulker is an example of what other villages in the country can be. Of course, the tourism industry is what has allowed Caye Caulker to grow in the way it has. Other villages need to find what they have that they can use for their development. It will be interesting to see what Caye Caulker will be like 20 years from now. I wonder if the points of contact I’ve made on this trip will come back full circle.