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 Margaritaville Revisited

The American Princesses

After our incredible cave tour, I said goodbye to my three amigas at the trailhead and we parted ways.  During the previous week I had formed a close connection with each of them and knew that I would miss them all (and I was right).  The three women headed west in the minivan, back to San Ignacio, while I took a taxi that I had arranged to pick me up, and the driver and I drove east towards Belize City.  I was going to catch a plane from the Belize City municipal airport out to Caye Caulker, which lay several miles offshore in the Caribbean, where I was planning to spend the next few days soaking up the sun.

 

While we were exploring the ATM Cave, Kelsey had handed me her underwater camera and asked me to take some pictures of her.  I obliged and shot a few dozen pictures of her and our group wading through the stream -- though sometimes without looking where I was going.  As I was taking a picture of her in the river, I stumbled over a submerged rock and gashed my leg pretty badly.  It was a deep puncture wound but it didn't hurt, so after I got in the taxi at the trailhead, I hadn't realized that it was still slowly bleeding. 

 

The driver and I reached the airport, I paid him the fare and walked into the small terminal, then I checked into my flight for Caye Caulker and took a seat in the crowded waiting room.  The small, comfortably-furnished room was filled mostly with Anglos who had recently arrived in Belize from America and were bound for the keys.  As I sat there, an attractive young American woman sitting across from me who was wearing tight jeans, make-up and high heels said to me, "I don't mean to pry, but what happened to your leg?"  That's when I looked down and saw a stream of sticky blood slowly oozing from my shin down to my boot, staining my white sock red. 

 

Above:  Waiting in the Belize Air Terminal for the plane to Caye Caulker, shortly before I grossed out the princesses. 

Sitting there fresh from my ATM cave trip while wearing damp swim trunks and sopping wet hiking boots, with my hair wind-strewn from the cab ride down to the airport, and with two splotchy legs from dozens of bug bites the previous week and now one of those legs oozing blood into my boot, I realized that I didn't quite fit in with the American princesses (and princes) who were bound for the posh Caribbean resorts.  After her comment, I glanced down at my leg and noticed the wound, then said, "Darn it," (or something more colorful).  I licked my index finger and "washed," I suppose you could say, the small wound, then I licked my now bloody finger again to remove the blood.  This immediately grossed out the princesses, who erupted in unison with a loud chorus of, "Ewww!"

 

I laughed to myself when I realized how out-of-place I looked in the air terminal.  But that's Belize.  My leg, by the way, continued to bleed from the deep puncture wound for the next week while I was in Abu Dhabi on the other side of the globe.  In fact, after several days in Abu Dhabi, I became so concerned about the oozing wound not healing that I went to a hospital to have it examined.  A bearded Arab doctor looked at it and, in a heavy accent, said, "You're fine, you're fine. "  Then he quickly swabbed it, put a band-aid on it and promptly charged me $70.  This, and oil, are the two ways that Abu Dhabi makes its money.  The wound finally healed after I returned to America, over a week after the cave incident.

 

Above:  Boarding the short flight to Caye Caulker.

My plane -- with me, the princesses and their princes, all of them dressed in the requisite stylish shorts, Tevas and designer sunglasses draped around their necks --  touched down at the Caye Caulker airstrip late that afternoon.  Not surprisingly, I was the only one who got off there; the others were bound for the more upscale Ambergris Caye, a ten-minute flight north.

 

Carrying two large duffel bags and my heavy daypack, I walked (well, staggered) to a nearby guesthouse called Picololo, where I had stayed the year before.  It's a well-kept triplex run by a Canadian couple, who live on the top floor while they rent out two, cozy one-bedroom units on the bottom.  After checking in and dropping the heavy bags in my room, I walked over to a pharmacy and bought some Neosporin and a big box of bandages for my battered leg.

 

 

This is One Love, a classic Caribbean reggae tune by Bob Marley.

   

Caye Caulker -- Caye is pronounced "Key" and the Caulker part refers to caulking that was frequently done here to sailing ships back in the 1700s -- is a laid-back tropical paradise, the closest place to Jimmy Buffett's fictional "Margaritaville" as I've ever seen.  I described it in detail after my first visit here, last February, but briefly stated it's a small, flat island with a population of a few thousand, lots of palm trees, no cars, and only three streets:  Front Street, Middle Street and Back Street (remember the Back Street Boys?  Well, this has nothing to do with them).  Caye Caulker is one of my favorite places in Belize and is a world apart from the mountains and villages of western Belize, where I had worked earlier that week.  The island's motto, "Go Slow," is heartily embraced by those who visit. 

 

Above:  I had a pleasant stay at Picololo, a triplex on the quiet side of the island.

I spent much of Sunday walking around Caye Caulker and as I was strolling down the beach, I met a pleasant American couple in their 30s, Ken and Amber, who invited me to join them at their picnic table as they ate lunch.  We talked for a half-hour and they mentioned they were going diving the next morning, so later that afternoon I signed up for the same morning dive.  I met them at the dock the next morning and went snorkeling in the keys in a 30-foot open powerboat, which was packed to the gills with about 20 other folks.  We all had fun though, and afterwards we cruised over to Ambergris Caye, better known as San Pedro, where we spent the afternoon sightseeing before piling back into the boat, then we headed home.  While San Pedro is upscale and caters to rich Americans, Caye Caulker is decidedly downscale and much more modest, and caters more to Belizeans.  Needless to say, I much prefer Caye Caulker. 

 

We returned to Caye Caulker late in the afternoon and, after ambling ashore, I walked into a mostly-empty open-air restaurant that overlooked the water and ordered a lobster dinner, something I had looked forward to doing for many months while in rainy Portland.  The waitress offered me a choice of flavorings on my lobster and I chose "jerk" -- no reflection on the lobster, I'm sure (nor, hopefully, of the patron).  Instead, jerk, as the waitress had explained to me, was a unique Caribbean mixture of about 15 spices, including cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne and cloves. 

 

Above:  Front Street on laid-back Caye Caulker.

Thirsty from the dive, I downed most of a cold Belikin beer, a large glass of ice water and half a Fanta grape soda -- Fanta is very popular in Belize for some reason, though it's now mostly extinct in the U.S.  In a short while my freshly-caught lobster arrived at my table and after taking one tasty bite of it, I decided that only a jerk wouldn't like jerk.  The dinner was delicious and afterwards I strolled along lively Front Street, where I bumped into several ladies from my PCC group, including Barbara and Judy, who had followed my advice and were visiting the keys.  It was great to see them all again and we had a nice mini-reunion. 

 

The next morning I said goodbye to Caye Caulker and took a small plane back to Belize City.  My flight to America wasn't leaving for several hours, so I hired a taxi driver -- a friendly fellow named Howell Pandy -- to take me to the renown Belize Zoo, several miles up the road. 

 

Above:  Heading out to the reef to do some snorkeling.

I'm generally not a big fan of most zoos, but the Belize Zoo is interesting and is the only place where I've seen a jaguar up close and personal.  To get even more personal, you can feed the jaguar for $50 US.  You walk into a cage in the middle of his pen and feed him dinner -- or lunch or breakfast (I declined).  Howell and I returned to the airport and, late in the afternoon, I hopped on a Continental jet at the Belize International Airport and flew to Houston.  After a three-hour stopover there, I returned home to Portland late at night. 

 

It had been a great trip.  I enjoyed working with and getting to know everyone in the PCC group, we got a lot of work done in the villages, it was nice to see my Belizean friends again, and I had a fun time out in the keys.  But now I had to get ready to visit another amazing country.  One day after returning to Portland, I flew 22 hours to the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) in the Middle East, where I spent the next week working on a big mapping project, followed by a three-day, thousand-mile solo road trip around the neighboring country of Oman.  But you'll have to wait until my next update to read that story!

 

       

Above left:  Ken and Amber enjoying ceviche after a dive.

Above center:  Downtown San Pedro on Ambergris Caye.  San Pedro is very popular with Americans, while Caye Caulker caters more to Belizeans.

Above right:  Kicking back on the beach at Ambergris Caye.  This and Caye Caulker are Margaritaville personified.

 

   

Above left:  I could get used to this lifestyle.

Above right:  I bumped into Barbara and Judy in Caye Caulker.  No grilled barracuda for me, however.  I'd already eaten dinner -- freshly caught lobster -- so I felt like a "jerk" (har, har).

 

       

Above left:  Then I bumped into Chris and the others, and we had a ProBelize mini-reunion on the beach.

Above center:  Anthony is a master woodcarver.  I talked to him for a half-hour, asking him about his carvings, then I bought several pieces including the heart-shaped bowl.  He threw in a wooden dolphin for free because I think he enjoyed talking to an inquisitive tourist who admired his craftsmanship.

Above right:  Here's my cozy room at Picololo.  A friendly cat who likes to be petted is complimentary.

 

   

Above left:  Leaving Caye Caulker on Tuesday morning, heading back to Belize City.

Above right:  I had a few hours before my flight to Portland, so I hired a taxi driver, Howell Pandy, and he took me to the Belize Zoo.  Here's my friendly driver with a feathered friend. 

 

       

Above left:  Froot Loops, anyone? 

Above center:  Driving through downtown Belize City on the way to the airport.  It's a pretty rough place.    

Above right:  After 10 days in the tropics, it was time to fly home.  So long, Belize!

 


 

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