My new home is such a wonderfully quirky place. If you come here with preconceived notions of how things “should” be, you will be highly frustrated and disappointed. However, if you come here with the Caribbean vibe of “It’s All Good Mon” (pronounced like a soft ‘on’) you will be delighted by all the fun and interesting surprises that can show up—even in the midst of the more frustrating experiences.
I took a water taxi to Caye Caulker and San Pedro/Ambergris Caye. The boat is packed to overflowing with people, and the driver of the boat sits on top of 4 plastic chairs stacked on top of one another so that he can be up high enough to see. On the way to Caye Caulker, I am at the very back of the boat and proceed to get completely drenched by the sea spray flying up from the boat. I am laughing at the situation and myself. Luckily, it is the tropics, so getting wet is actually not so bad. Thankfully I was not wearing anything see-through-ish!
On a plane the other day, I am the last passenger to squeeze onto the very tiny single-prop plane, and am told by the pilot to go sit in the last seat in the front—it is the co-pilot’s seat! I have to squeeze my way through an almost non-existent aisle, to the front of the plane doing my best not to step on anyone’s toes and apologizing for having to stick my butt right into people’s faces as I try to squeeze through. Oh my—there is no dignity in these moments—only laughter and humility.
The pilot of the plane begins to chat with me after we are well on our way, and I tell him I am going to Caye Caulker. He told me if I was going to Caye Caulker then I should go to Ambergris Caye because that is where he is from and he said I should check it out too. I told him that I don’t like San Pedro, which is the main part of the island. He tells me there is a lot more to the island and gives me his number and told me to call him if I wanted a guide around Ambergris.
On Caye Caulker, I met some wonderful people—some islanders, some tourists. I went to a lovely spot called Coco Plum Spa and Restaurant and had an incredibly delicious lunch of hummus, greens, tomatoes, olives, and wheat toast. Maybe that sounds like nothing to you, but trust me… in Belize, real greens are RARE and I almost passed out at the incredibly delicious meal! I chatted with the owner for a couple hours over lunch and then coffee—Belizian, Organic of course!
I stayed in a wonderful place right next to the sea. I rented it in part because it had a kitchenette, so I could make my own food because being vegan in Belize can be challenging. First time that I go to use the electric hot plate, I get electrocuted! Then, a little later, I go to plug in my computer and get electrocuted again! Ah… the joys of island life!
I share the building with a couple from England, a man from Georgia, and a wonderful couple from Kansas. The husband has just returned from a six-month stint in Afghanistan. He is so ready to play, enjoy life, and see friends and family. His wife is wild, funny, and larger than life in the best possible way. The two together are fabulous, and on my second day, as the husband is coming down the stairs, he sees me inside my place with the door open to the delicious breeze, and he says, “We are going on a night snorkel in about thirty minutes and you need to come with us!” I thought to myself, “That sounds like a fun idea. Why not?” So I go with them and we proceed to have such a fun and wonderful experience. The crew consisted of the husband and wife power-duo team, the young woman who manages and cleans the place who they have paid to come with us as she has never even snorkeled in all her years of living there, their friend Mike whom they met who is a neighbor to us hailing from the San Francisco Bay Area, a young guy from France and another from Argentina, as well as the guy who is our guide and boat driver.
We were behaving like a bunch of unruly rabbits free from a cage as he was trying to give us our safety instructions. I finally clapped my hands together and said, “Hey Team! This gentleman is trying to give us the information we need to have a safe and fun experience. Can we please get quiet and give him our attention please? Thank You!” And as the group quieted down, I turned to our guide and said, “Please Sir, go ahead. Thank you so much for taking such good care of us!” He beamed a beautiful smile and proceeded to give us the information we needed both for safety as well as for what we could expect to see at night time in the sea.
Then we all jumped into the water and had the most magical of journeys. There is something so beautiful and magical swimming in the great big sea at night! We saw squid, octopus, sting rays, electric rays, lobster, HUGE sea urchins, various fish, the largest crab I have ever seen in my life, and nurse shark. Being such visually oriented people, there is something otherworldly and wonderful about swimming in the sea at night. Hearing takes over, compensating for the lack of visibility and the sounds become so much more pure and acute. And to top it off, away from the lights, the stars were unbelievably beautiful.
When we got back onto the boat, I opened the cooler and got out the cups and rum punch and proceeded to serve everyone. Everyone started laughing at how I became bar tender. I told them serving—especially food and drinks—is in my blood; I can’t help myself. Even on a boat at sea! We hung out on the boat for close to an hour laughing, swapping stories and drinking spiked punch. We were so nutty, we had the guide laughing so hard that he had to wipe tears out of his eyes more than once. I asked him if he has many groups as crazy as ours, and laughing, he told us that never, in all his years of guiding trips had he ever had a group like ours. We all started laughing and took his comment as a badge of honor for our wild and eclectic group.
After the trip, we went home, cleaned up, went out for a few drinks and dancing. By the end of the night, I felt like I had new best friends for life. I love it when I meet people whom I would not normally meet in my work life, who live such completely different lives than mine, and yet we instantly bond and have such a great time together. That has happened a lot to me already in my time in Belize, and it is one of the many, many reasons I love this place.
After 3 days on Caye Caulker I had enough and was ready to go, but I was sad to leave my new friends. I decided to follow my new pilot friend’s invitation and go to Ambergris since I was in the area after all.
I called a yoga retreat hotel on the island that has cheap dorm-style rooms and good veggie food options on the island to see if they had availability in the rooms. The owner said they did, and I told him I would be there the next day. I arrive via boat to the retreat space because it is on the north side of the island and the boat is the cheapest and fastest way to get to that part of the island. I walk up to the hotel bar and ask where I check in. The owner, sitting at the bar said, “Here. But do you have a reservation?” I told him I was the girl who called him the day before about the dorm rooms. He said, “Oh, well, I don’t have anyone else in those rooms, so I am trying to get people to stay in the cabanas so I don’t have to turn on the whole building for one person.” I told him I was not going to pay those prices, and that I had specifically talked to him the day before about the dorm rooms and he told me they were available, and that is why I had come to his establishment. We haggled back and forth, and I ended up staying in one of the cabanas, even though it was nearly double what the dorm room would have cost, it was still a lot cheaper then they are normally rented for. I was a little frustrated at first, but then I just laughed inside because this is just the way it is in Belize. Even in an establishment owned and run by Americans, the Belizian Way is everywhere. So I stayed for the evening and enjoyed being in an incredible piece of Paradise! Absolutely exquisite sea and lush, cooling breeze along with delicious smoothies and veggie food.
I called my new pilot friend who showed up on a motorcycle, and we ended up spending the next 8 hours together. We had such a great time that time flew by and before I knew it the evening was late. I wasn’t ready for the evening to end, but I behaved myself and went to my cabana to get some sleep.
I awoke at six in the morning and enjoyed the breeze, smells, and sounds all around me as I lay luxuriously taking my time in greeting the day. I eventually got up, went for breakfast, chatting for a while with the owner and the super cute boy behind the bar who got me my coffee and food. I went for a swim in the incredibly beautiful and cooling sea and again thought how incredibly blessed I am to have finally found such a beautiful place to call home. I wished I had the money to buy land in the north of Ambergris Caye and could build solar run and water-catchment home. That would be a dream beyond a dream. One can always dream.
The owner of the establishment promised to get me to the water taxi in time for 1pm taxi and then promptly lost track of time. Luckily, I spoke up at the last minute saying I was concerned about missing the boat, and everyone shot up and hustled to get me to the boat in time. And I got to have the cute guy behind the bar to be the driver of the boat to get me from the hotel to the water taxi, which was another bonus! I made it just in the nick of time, laughing at the Belize of it all. I called my pilot friend thanking him for a wonderful evening and sketching out plans for the next time we would hang out. The water taxi was the slower boat and took so long getting back to Belize City, that I missed the flight I had hoped to catch. I texted my pilot friend, letting him know the situation. He texted me back a few minutes later saying he had called the airline and had me booked on the next (and last) flight out, and that all I needed to do was go to the airport and give them my name and everything was ready to go. Now THAT is some customer service!!!!! I had an hour and a half to spend in Belize City (not an exciting prospect) but one of the guys at the water taxi when he found out, took my bag, stored it in a safe place and said, “When you get back, let me know, and I will make sure you and your luggage get safely to the airport. And that is exactly what happened.
And now I sit here next to the sea in a bar in my town where I live now, drinking a cold Belikin beer, listening to a fun and eclectic music list as the Garifuna drummers and dancers prepare for their Wednesday evening ritual here, laughing and musing at the wild ride of it all. Not always perfect, organized, or smooth. But fun and unexpected delights and surprises because I remain open to the journey and not so worried about the destination. I know that can sound cliché, but my experiences in my life continue to reinforce the beauty of enjoying the gift of the present moment, going where the wind blows, and laughing when things go “wrong.” So much of it really is about the state of mind. And for me, Belize is more than just a country; it is a state of mind.
Enjoy the ride!