As some of my friends already know, I spent my Thanksgiving in Belize. Well, on an island off of the coast called Caye Caulker. It was, by far, the best family vacation we have ever had.
We arrive in the late afternoon on the Friday the week before Thanksgiving. For somebody from Colorado, in the late fall, it was a huge shock when it came to the weather. High humidity and moderate temps (mid 80ís most of the time in the day) can be stifling when you are used to 40-60 degrees during the day and almost no humidity in the Denver area.
We made our plans months ago. We rented a house on the island of Cay Caulker, called the Reef House. It is a nice place with two bedrooms that have AC and a third bedroom on the upper level that had some great breezes passing through it. It also has a nice kitchen and family area along with great decks. As a geek, I was glad to hear that it had WiFi as well. Broadband is far from broad. From my understanding, Internet access on the island is provided via a cellular system to the mainland. Speed tests gave me about .9 mb down and .09 mb up. It was pathetically slow, but what can you expect from a small island?
We flew into Houston and then from Houston to Belize City, Belize. Kim, the guy from Caye Caulker Rentals, set up a driver to meet us at the airport that took us to the water taxi port. The water taxi then took us to the island. An option would have been to fly from the Belize City airport to the small airstrip on Caye Caulker, but it was $60-75 USD/person. The water taxi was less than $20 BZE per person. Once we arrived on the island, Kim met us at the dock and got us a taxi (they are all golf carts) that took us to a hotel, the Caye Caulker Plaza, for the night because the Reef House wasnít available until Saturday.
Once we got settled in, we went for a walk around and found several interesting places to eat. We selected Roseís, which had some great options for dinner, including extremely large lobsters for $60 BZE with all the fixings, too. Our first meal was a fantastic one with our toes in the sand while seated in the bar. After dinner, we walked around town a bit more.
By the way, the conversion rate was $2 BZE to $1 USD. That HUGE lobster was $30 USD, and I have never had such a big lobster before.
Recommendation Ė Sara Warner is a local Realtor from Austin Texas and is a great person to show you homes and condos if you are interested. What is really nice is that Sara has started a business that will provision houses and condos with all of the food items and such that you will want when you first get to the island. While there are many convenience and grocery stores, finding simple things like fresh milk can be a huge challenge. I recommend contacting Sara.
We met Kim at his office and made arrangements to get over to the Reef House. Kim recommended getting some bikes and had them dropped off at the house. The bikes are absolutely horrible junk. However, all of the bikes on the island are the same junk. Single gear, back pedal brakes, and just poor condition. Of course, this is the norm for the island as anything nicer would probably be stolen (although crime on the island is extremely low) or would rust away in the high heat and humidity.
Once we were all set in the house, we tried to ride the bikes to the local convenience store. Well, we succeeded, but it was at a major cost. I was exhausted, sweaty, and my knees were killing me. It took several attempts to find the closest convenience store, and then we found that it really wasnít convenient as it didnít have much selection at all. We discovered that the better stores were all down at the other end of the island.
While Kim said that it wasnít worth renting a golf cart, I decided that the heat had gotten to Kimís brain, and I promptly went and got a golf cart. It was expensive, but it was just what we needed to fully explore the island and to go back and forth between the beach front areas and the house. It was vacation, after all, and it was meant to be enjoyed. I decided that it was more important to have fun, and I didnít find it fun to sweat like crazy trying to get around on those bikes.
The golf cart was fun as we could get back and forth anywhere on the island in 10 minutes or less. Since it was an electric golf cart, we just dropped by every couple of days and swapped it out for another cart that was fully charged.
Sunday through Thursday:
The days were all a blur as we would visit stores, visit the Split, and just drive around exploring the island. I had a great time with the family, and we really just played it all by ear. Each day, we tried to take advantage of a different place for dinner, but we tried to always get some nice slices of cake or brownies from the cake lady and her cart after each dinner. When it came to lunch, we always tried to get lunch from Charles, the self titled Budget Man. Charles always had something different each day, and his meals usually included a nice portion of different rice dishes each day (ginger one day, coconut milk flavored another, and curry yet another), a chicken dish and a lobster or whole fish (wonderful whole Red Snapper) dish, some stewed vegetables, and some plantains for $12 BZE/$6 USD. His food was fabulous and reasonably priced. We made sure to thank him each day as we really enjoyed his meals. Not only is he a great cook, he is a great guy. His lobster dishes were just amazing, and I loved his jerk chicken that he had one of the days we were there. He constantly mixes up his dishes each day.
For dinner, we hit a different place each night. One night, we had pork from a whole roasted pig that they had slow roasted over an open pit for several hours. Each night, we drove around and found the cake lady after dinner. We also stopped at the bakery on the rare nights when we couldnít find the cake lady to get a nice treat.
We spent a couple of hours during a couple of days and looked at some houses and condos. Sara showed us around and explained the features of the different places, and we even looked at some lots to get an idea of all of our options. It was nice to see what the options are for the future if we decide to buy a place on the island. I have to say that there are some great options, and I can certainly see myself enjoying spending time on the island on a regular basis.
The only drawback to the trip were the sand flea bites that I suffered. Damn, they itched, and it took a few days after we got back for them to heal up. The natives, and those that had moved there from the United States, all said that after a week or so, you develop an immunity to the bites. The sand fleas still bite, but after you build up immunity to their bites (like mosquitos, which I never saw there), then their bites donít get inflamed and donít itch.
Technology and This Trip:
As I previously mentioned, the islandís Internet connectivity was horrible, but it was still possible to keep in touch with the rest of the world. I tried to not go online, but I did every day to keep up on email and to post a couple of pictures to Facebook. I took lots of great pictures, and I used Microsoftís ICE to generate some great panoramic shots like the ones below. Click on each pic to see a larger version. I hope you like them.
Inside the Reef House
The view of the Split from the Bar
The view from one of the Condos that we are considering as a vacation/retirement home
The view from the bank, the only bank, on the island
View from the dock while waiting for the water taxi