from August 2012...
I had been looking forward to visiting Belize’s cayes for a long time. When I first started researching suitable locations to live overseas, Belize immediately caught my attention. Since I live in Guatemala, making the trek was both a necessity, and an opportunity.
After our great stay in San Ignacio, we were ready to hit the beach. Guatemala is not particularly blessed with typical beaches, so I was looking forward to strolling through Belize’s white-sand beaches.
Except Belize doesn’t have those either, a fact I learned after I was already in Belize. More on that later.
Heading to Caye Caulker
The ferry ride to Belize was pleasant and fast, taking only 45 minutes from Belize City to Caye Caulker. The weather was great and the ride afforded great views of Belize City, which admittedly looks way better from the water than the sketchy and rundown atmosphere one senses while driving in to the ferry’s dock.
The Baron Bliss
Below is “The Bliss”, a performing arts center/museum/library built by Belize’s government using funds from a trust created by Baron Bliss, a rather strange character. Belize honors Bliss with a holiday cleverly named “Baron Bliss Day.”
A more apt name would’ve been “Free Money Day.”
Mr. Bliss, as I’ve said, is a mysterious character. Besides being born in England as Henry Edward Ernest Victor Barretts, little else is known about his private life there. In the early 1900′s, Barretts became an Engineer.
Somehow, nobody knows for sure, he became filthy rich. And acquired the title of Baron. And changed his last name to Bliss.
After making his huge fortune, Double B fell ill, became paralyzed, and retired from… something. Since England is too cold and overcast 362 days of the year, he thought better than to stick around and be miserable AND cold.
The Baron bought a yacht, loaded his wheelchair on it, and set out to enjoy a life of fishing in the islands near the Caribbean Sea. He lived in the Bahamas for about 5 years, after which time he got sick of the people there and set out to Trinidad.
Shortly after arriving to Trinidad, he had a bad meal, became ill with food poisoning, and left that island too. After a brief stopover in Jamaica, he came over to British Honduras, what is now Belize, at the request of his friend, the Attorney General.
Bliss set anchor in Belize’s harbor and for two months, just bobbed there, never once setting foot on Belize. He was only near Belize for two months because he promptly fell ill and died.
But not before absolutely falling in love with the Belizean people and donating almost his entire fortune, about $2 Million dollars, to the Belizean people. I guess Belizeans were very enthusiastic wavers to have made such an impression from ashore.
In any case, Bliss left a very detailed will specifying on what the money could be used. For one, no American could ever touch the money or be a trustee and no funds could go towards building churches, dance halls, or schools. No explanation was given.
For the Baron’s generosity, March 9th is now known as Baron Bliss Day in Belize. A day in which everyone is reminded that there’s a pile of money sitting in a trust fund which no one is allowed to know the balance except the Trustees.
The ride offered a welcome respite from the oppressive heat at the dock.
We arrived to Caye Caulker without incident.
Caye Caulker is much sleepier than it’s big, much more commercialized sister, Ambergris Caye. Caulker is loved by its authentic, beachy feel.
The streets of Caulker are hard-packed sand, and most everybody moves around on foot, bicycles, and golf carts.
Since the weather was great, and we had only packed clothes for two days, we opted not to take the golf cart taxi. The hotel was located a mostly pleasant 10-15 minute walk from the dock.
At last, we arrived at Colinda Cabanas, a completely remodeled property on the quieter side of Caulker.
We were assigned the cabana right behind the main office (good WiFi signal!)
The rooms were super-clean and lovely.
Beaches in Belize
Something I mentioned before is the peculiarity of Belize’s beaches.
The first 100-200 feet of beachfront water are covered by government-protected sea-grass. If you’re not squeamish, then it won’t bother you. But there are fish, crabs, and other sea creatures living in the midst of said sea-grass. Once you get beyond it, the beach floor is sandy and not deep at all.
What most hotels do is build long piers that stretch from the property and out past the sea-grass. Below is the long pier belonging to the hotel we stayed in.
Right next to Colinda is Ignacio’s, a well-known, if somewhat rundown option for budget travelers.
Their cabins were cute, though I couldn’t get a peek at one on the inside.
Their pier is nowhere as well-constructed as Colinda’s. Nor did I see anyone coming or going from the place the whole time we were there.
These chairs saw use as observation points for the beautiful skies at night, which were filled with stars.
We made use of the free snorkel gear provided by Colinda (first-come, first-served).
It was a great, low-cost way to introduce my daughter to snorkeling.
For dinner, we strolled into the part of town were the restaurants were. Dinner was great, and after some stargazing, we retired to bed.
The next morning, it was time to explore the island a little further. We dodged some crazy iguanas (not really… they’re super-shy and will scamper off at the first sign you’re moving towards them), and grabbed a couple bikes to hit the town.
Doing The Split
At the end of the island, there’s a sandy beach in a place calles “The Split”. It is so-called because the island was literally split in half by a passing hurricane in 1961.
There’s a nice area by The Split to sit, relax, and have some ice cream.
Collecting seashells was a favorite activity.
The beach is further protected from the waves, making it a popular spot for children.
This would be an interesting place to have lunch.
Even though The Split is a family-friendly zone, boats do pass through there. Sometimes with fatal consequences.
I wasn’t sure if the boat was an actual restaurant or not. It seemed like it was, although no one was on it as far as I could see.
At last, we found the white-sand beaches we originally came looking for.
After getting thoroughly sunburned, we returned to our cabana and stopped by a bakery. They had super-delicious cinnamon rolls, which were so good, I didn’t have time to take a pic before they had disappeared.
Change of Plans
We had heard that Tropical Storm Ernesto, later turned Hurricane Ernesto, would be coming our way soon. Which was a bummer, as we intended to continue on to Ambergris Caye the next morning.
In the end, we decided to just head back home the next morning, away from the storm, and avoid a potentially nasty situation.
The sky was ominously dark, even though it made for great pics.
We were out on the pier barely five minutes, when it started raining. Lightly at first.
We decided to head back inside.
What followed next was a hellacious thunderstorm that lasted nearly all night. Rain was so hard, and lightning so loud, I was almost positive the cabanas right behind ours were getting zapped with bolts. I’ll never forget that night.
Heading For The Hills
The next morning, we decided to catch the first boat out at 7am. Turns out we weren’t the only ones with that idea, as there were people there at 6:30a.m. already in line.
It seemed not everyone was ready to be potentially stranded in Caulker with a possible hurricane heading that way.
By 7:00 a.m., the line stretched half-way out to the pier.
By 7:30 a.m., the line was almost all the way out to the shore, and Police made an appearance. The first boat was late and some people thought they had the right to be the first ones off the island, regardless of their original time of arrival and place in line.
A little bit of light shoulder-shoving and jockeying for position ensued, which only grew more tense when the first boat arrived, near capacity, from Ambergris Caye.
A few children were let on the boat first, which led early risers to loudly grumble that they were in line first, children and women be damned.
That’s when a worker from the boat company made the announcement that there would be enough boats coming for everybody and that no one should panic or be alarmed. People calmed down somewhat, though I’m sure that those at the back of the line were not exactly reassured.
Thankfully, the second boat came by 15 minutes later, much emptier than the first. By virtue of being early-risers also, we were near the front of the line and were able to leave Caye Caulker.
Other passenger that made it onto the boat seemed relieved to be getting off the island as well.
On the way back, I wondered how the “house”??? below would fare during a storm.
I later found out that winds and heavy rains did not leave a lasting damage.
I was disappointed I couldn’t see more of Belize and had to cut my visit short.
But I saw enough of it to make me come back for more.