We were idling a few hundred yards off Ambergris Caye late Sunday morning, passing out beers and waters from the cooler and pouring wine into little plastic cups.
The Newt rocked back and forth in the choppy, brilliant blue waters.
Captain Carl Sawazo pointed the bow south, toward LobsterFest on Caye Caulker and threw the throttle wide open. The Newt leaped across a couple of low rollers and then the bow launched up like a rocket, crashing down on the backside of a wave.
All of us rose involuntarily in our seats,and abruptly followed the downward trajectory of the the boat. We were all greeted — not so much by a brisk salty sea spray as by a hefty serving of Chardonnay.
And that, my friends, is what you call a tropical ice breaker.
Once baptized, the mood shifted up a notch as we made a beeline for the Caye Caulker LobsterFest.
Our trip to Caulker actually started the day before at Zen Arcade after yoga. A group of us were talking about spending Sunday on the nearby island. I mentioned that Rose and I were taking the water taxi over.
Jackie and Adam Feldman had a better idea. “Come with us.”
The Casa Picasso restaurant owners put together a group with Carl and Lynn Sawazo, owners of the Newt and Imagine Tours Belize, that included San Pedro Scoop author Rebecca Coutant, who was on her third LobsterFest in two weeks, and Coco Loco bar owner Steve Blair.
Perfect. Some of our favorite people on Ambergris Caye.
(By the way, Rebecca, Carl and Lynn slipped away in The Newt and went swimming with a manatee at the north end of Caye Caulker. As if fresh lobster weren’t enough … Read Rebecca’s blog on LobsterFest and the manatee here. Of course I’m jealous. A manatee!)
Carl eased us into Caye Caulker by way of the western, calmer, side of the island, through the waterway known as the Split, and into a dock in almost no time at all. Moments after stepping off the boat we ran into our neighbors, Ed and Shirley who tipped us off to a great shop with French-press coffee, Ice ‘n’ Beans.
Actually we were primed for this tip, as Rebecca raves about their mini-donuts every time she visits the island!
And with good reason!
I know this is supposed to be day of lobster but I had to start off with a bag of mini-D’s and a cup of dark roast. And it was heaven. All of it. Every last cinnamon sugar-coated morsel. And the French Press coffee? If it were a bottomless cup, I’d sit on Walter and Peg’s porch and drink it all day — let the lobster live a few hours more ….
But there were things to do, like watch the end of the Mexico-Netherlands World Cup game at a nearby bar, and then walk to the south end of the island along the tranquil beach path. Rose and I could see the crowd building up north, gathering like a voracious cloud of locusts around the lobster-filled barbecue grills. We were in no hurry to join in.
Besides, there were some serious donuts to walk off first.
If you have read anything about Caye Caulker, you probably have heard that is it like San Pedro twenty years ago. Well, it is (usually) quieter, cleaner, prettier and has thousands fewer people, and no paved roads, only hard packed sand. The island’s ad hoc motto is “Go slow” and there is a Reggae-Rasta Mon spin to just about everything. It the island had a flag its colors would be red-green-yellow-black.
San Pedro is more like a mad sprawling frontier city — by comparison. Actually, neither is a city and both are, in their own ways, beautiful and charming Caribbean island towns.
It seems that no matter what your plans on Caye Caulker, visitors are inevitably drawn north to the area known as the Split and the two-story bar that anchors this spot, the Lazy Lizard.
That’s where we ultimately found our companions and a few other friends from San Pedro. Everyone was relaxing on the dock that runs parallel to the channel (created in the early 1960’s by a ferocious hurricane) that divides the island into two pieces.
You could tell who had already tried the Lazy Lizard’s signature drink by the green tongues. But mostly it was periodic rounds of cold Belikin beers and rum drinks in the hot sun, interspersed with periodic leaps into the cool blue-green water to be whisked eastward by the moderately strong current.
It was all pretty, well, relaxing. I guess all the crazy stuff we’d heard about the Caye Caulker LobsterFest went on the day before. Oh, the Split was packed with people but they were all — young and old — doing what we were doing: digging on the music, enjoying some refreshing drinks, soaking us some sun and saltwater and privately asking themselves, “Can you freaking believe that we are here?”
Well, we were — and we even ended up eating our share of the lobster. For Rose and I, that meant a couple of lobster-veggie kebabs and some long skewers of garlic-buttered lobster pieces.
That was plenty.
We got back to Ambergris Caye just in time to see the penalty-kick shootout between Costa Rica and Greece at the Corona Del Mar resort’s beach bar. Afterward, Rose and I walked up the beach to Crazy Canuck’s where our LobsterFest companions had reassembled and a live band was keeping the dance floor full.
Eventually, though, you have to tell yourself that enough is enough. Even a day that you never want to end.
So Rose and I got on our bikes and began pedaling home.
We were loving it.
Right up until the moment the golf cart swerved across the road and ran into me head-on
That was somewhere near Super Buy, our go-to market for most packaged foods and drygoods. I think she was trying to get in there just before they closed the doors.
I didn’t exactly end up like a bug on her windshield. In fact, my big old beach tires kind of bounced off the front of her cart and I managed to stay upright. Her eyes, as I recall were the biggest that I’ve ever seen on the island.
“Are you OK?” I asked.
“Everyone else OK?” I added, looking at the child and young man in the passenger seats.
They nodded. I started to laugh.
“Have a good night, then.” We pedaled away.
Nothing, not even a homicidal golf cart was going to spoil this day.
*** *** ***
AND ALL THE REST
Three times I have visited Caye Caulker, each offering an entirely different and equally satisfying experience.
The first was last September, on our first visit to the country of Belize. I made a solo trip by water taxi as Rose went in search the best massage in San Pedro and some shopping.
The second was in April, a birthday sailing and snorkeling trip aboard the catamaran Lady Leslie with our friends Chunky and Ruthie.
And now, with Carl and Linda aboard The Newt, with a whole bunch of great friends.
So here are some more photos from Caye Caulker.
They are more about the quirky and lovely island than the big crowds we saw there Sunday. Those crowds are long gone and Caye Caulker is back to doing what it does best: Go slow, man. Go slow.