Exotic Caye Beach Resort

We’ve got a lot of talking to do

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Here's a last glimpse of part of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye as we took the air taxi back to the mainland of Belize for our flight home.
Here’s a last glimpse of part of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye as we took the air taxi back to the mainland of Belize for our flight home.

It is Sunday morning and I hear the sound of splashing water outside as I slowly grope toward consciousness. It is a sound I’ve heard a lot these past few weeks, the warm night rains falling on broad leafed palms and tropical growth, trickling off tin and reed-covered palapa roofs all over Belize.

But, wait. It’s Sunday morning.

And this isn’t Belize.

It’s … it’s California. We got home at 1 a.m. this morning.

I remember now.

Oh, damn.

It’s a broken sprinkler head, outside our bedroom window.

After dinner on Thursday evening, as we walked home along the beach, we encountered a fairly large crowd outside a bar. They were waiting for the beginning of the Thursday night weekly chicken drop. Yes, you know the rules, the holder of the first number on which a chicken poops wins a cash prize. They say that during high season, the crowd is so thick you can't get close to this "drop" site." Can you spot Rose in the crowd?
After dinner on Thursday evening, as we walked home along the beach, we encountered a fairly large crowd outside a bar. They were waiting for the beginning of the Thursday night weekly chicken drop. Yes, you know the rules, the holder of the first number on which a chicken poops wins a cash prize. They say that during high season, the crowd is so thick you can’t get close to this “drop” site.” Can you spot Rose in the crowd?

I fall back on my pillow and close my eyes and try as hard as I might to wish my body back to a nice tropical storm in San Ignacio, or Placencia or San Pedro and for an extra 10 minutes or so, as the lawn sprinklers finish their cycle, I am walking the white sand beach with my face up to the rain, a steady wind blowing on shore,  and the distant crash of waves against the  barrier reef fills me up with joy.

You said it, Madonna:

Last night I dreamt of San Pedro
Just like I’d never gone, I knew the song
A young girl with eyes like the desert
It all seems like yesterday, not far away

But right now, there’s a broken sprinkler head that is calling louder than “La Isla Bonita.”

Rose and I sat down at Peete’s Coffee with a couple of tall black ones and a legal pad this morning and began to draw up a list of everything we must do in order to move by February to Isla Bonita — or maybe inland to San Ignacio; no doors are closed just yet.

It is a long and slightly daunting list.  (Wanna buy some Glasshof sculptures? A piano? A house? Some furniture?  A Mercedes?)

But it will get done, item by item, day by day. It will get done.

This is Caye Caulker, just south of Ambergris Caye. It is about a 20 minute water taxi ride between the two islands. The whole population is nestled at the back end of the "C" portion of the island. A very small and very laid-back bunch of people.
This is Caye Caulker, just south of Ambergris Caye. It is about a 20 minute water taxi ride between the two islands. The whole population is nestled at the back end of the “C” portion of the island. A very small and very laid-back bunch of people.

The last few days in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye are a too fast-forward blur. We went snorkeling in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley. Rose went off to yoga and a massage while I took the water taxi over to Caye Caulker for a few hours. Our friends John and Rose East picked us up in their golf cart and gave us a tour of the gorgeous house they are building north of San Pedro.

Then there was a dinner out, at Fido’s on the beach in downtown San Pedro. A waiter called Squeaky greeted us as we walked in, “Bob and Rose! Chargers and 49ers, right?”

Yeah, I was stunned. Squeaky had waited on us for a late lunch a few days earlier and we’d had a brief, casual, banter about California and our respective football teams but for him to remember us several days later?

This is one of the water taxis on a regular route between San Pedro, Caye Caulker and Belize City.
This is one of the water taxis on a regular route between San Pedro, Caye Caulker and Belize City.

Pretty wild, but honestly, we’ve come to appreciate the uncommon friendliness of the people we’ve met. A day or two after we went snorkeling the head of maintenance and a maid at the Exotic Caye Beach Resort, where we were staying, came up to me to ask about our adventure. Was the water choppy? Were the currents strong? What were you able to see? Did you have a good time?

They really wanted to know and dropped everything to talk abut the snorkeling.

When we first came here, I kept telling myself I’m not buying the tourism line about how caring and friendly the Belizeans are. But you know what? It is true. Not everybody you meet has  a smile and warm greeting but enough do to call it the norm.

Caye Caulker from the water taxi dock.
Caye Caulker from the water taxi dock.

Walking home from dinner along the beach late one evening,so many people who passed us said simply, “Good night.” Like the whole village was seeing us off to bed.

Contrast that with the table of guys my age who sat near us in Peet’s this morning and sounded like a bunch of Facebook flamethrowers — abrupt, insulting, aggressive, nasty, condescending, rude — and I think they were friends.

Well, for better or worse, we’re home. And we really are glad to be back. We missed friends, family and one funeral of a dear friend.

Have we found a place to live in Belize? Yes and no. Rose and I have narrowed it down to San Ignacio, near the western border with Guatemala and San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. Both hold very different attractions to us.

Like I said, we’ve got a lot of talking to do.

Some more photos from Caye Caulker:

The view long the main street of Caye Caulker. It seemed busier than these pictures show. The modes of transportation along the packed-sand boulevard are bicycle , golf cart and walking -- mostly walking.
The view along the main street of Caye Caulker. It seemed busier than these pictures show. The modes of transportation along the packed-sand boulevard are bicycle , golf cart and walking — mostly walking.

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More scenes from the main street, Caye Caulker.
More scenes from the main street, Caye Caulker.

 

This is Andy. He sits in an alley next to La Cubana restaurant and slowly turns the pig on the spit. He says it takes 4-5 hours of slow turning to cook the pig just right.
This is Andy. He sits in an alley next to La Cubana restaurant and slowly turns the pig on the spit. He says it takes 4-5 hours of slow turning to cook the pig just right.

At La Cubana, where Andy's roasting pig will end up, here is the evening buffet menu. Notice the all-you-can-eat price is $25BZ, or $12.50 in U.S. dollars. The same meal for lunch is $10US. Yum.
At La Cubana, where Andy’s roasting pig will end up, here is the evening buffet menu. Notice the all-you-can-eat price is $25BZ, or $12.50 in U.S. dollars. The same meal for lunch is $10US. Yum.

 
 

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Foot-dragging from village to village through Belize

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Heading north on the Hummingbird Highway, bracing for the rain.
Heading north on the Hummingbird Highway, bracing for the rain.

There’s one phrase we’ve learned to toss out, here in Belize: “We’ll get an early start.”

Each place where we have spent a few days manages to find its own way of undermining our Western “go-go-gotta-go” mindset.

And so we linger.

Heading north on the Hummingbird Highway.
Heading north on the Hummingbird Highway.

For just another view of the beautiful flowers and plantings around Orchid Bay in Corozal; and we travel more slowly down the rutted Chunox and San Estevan roads  that runs beside Progresso Lagoon and leads back to the paved Northern Highway.

In San Ignacio, we pause for one more view of mist rising above the rainforest across the valley; and we drop into the New French Bakery for another delicious cup of coffee and pastries. All the time hoping someone would appear and say, “Wait! You don’t have to go. Stay and join us. Make your new life here.” (Perhaps our car and its stone-dead battery were also trying to tell us something on that morning ….)

Banana plantations and rainforest contribute to the Hummingbird Highway's  reputation as the most beautiful road in Belize.
Banana plantations and rainforest contribute to the Hummingbird Highway’s reputation as the most beautiful road in Belize.

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But they are only imaginary voices. Nobody appears. In our heads, many Belizean voices in so many Belizean places clamor for our attention. Picking a home will not be easy.

At Turtle Bay in Placencia there were more reasons to linger yesterday than I can begin to recount. Certainly the breathtaking beauty of the place, especially after a long night’s rain, keeps us in our seats. The complimentary breakfast overlooking the Caribbean Sea definitely demands our attention for longer than it needs to.

And the people who make Turtle Inn the preternaturally charming oasis that it is — how hard it is to say goodbye to them.

Front office manager Terryann Emmanuel and I must share one last passionate conversation about Belize and conservation. We must make sure that our waiter and friend Victor gives us a call when he visits the Coppola winery in Napa later this month, so that we can share a drink and hear about his first commercial airplane ride.

We search in vain for Ivan, the beach captain, who has also been a terrific guide through the many layers of Belizean culture and who patiently drew a map in the sand to objectively show me how the proposed cruise ship terminal on Harvest Caye would fit, or not fit, into the local ecosystem.

On board the Belize Express water taxi to Caye Cauker and San Pedro. The 4:30 pm boat, second last of the day was jam-packed. The young man to Rose's left is a student who commutes from San Pedro to Belize City by boat every day to attend school.
On board the Belize Express water taxi to Caye Cauker and San Pedro. The 4:30 pm boat, second last of the day was jam-packed. The young man to Rose’s left is a student who commutes from San Pedro to Belize City by boat every day to attend school.

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And of course, how can we leave without saying thank you to our host, the dashing general manager Martin Krediet, who sent Rose an excellent bottle of Coppola’s Diamond Collection Pavilion Chardonnay for her birthday dinner?

Eventually we exhaust all excuses to linger, knowing that we have a long drive to Belize City to drop off the Suzuki Jimny. The rain pours down and we press on through the day. Our only stop is in the Stann Creek Valley for fresh pineapple and grapefruit drinks from the front of the citrus factory  in Pomona, just off the Hummingbird Highway; and for lunch in Belmopan.

The ride up the 53-mile-long Hummingbird Highway is a feast for the eyes. We join it just north of Placencia, in Dangriga, and travel through coastal pine and scrub, through the heart of banana plantations and citrus orchards, and through lush and hilly rainforest before reaching the capital Belmopan.

From there, a sharp right turn on to the east-west George Price Highway puts us 60 miles from Belize City in a flat and nearly straight blur of farmland and scattered forest growth. We take a shortcut through Hattieville, past the sprawling Belize Central Prison, just missing Burrel Boom as we aim for Ladyville and the International Airport.

At the airport, the rental agent tells us it will be a $25 US taxi ride to the water taxi in Belize City – or we can drive the car to their Belize City office (less than five miles away) and pick up a free shuttle to the water taxi.

Done.

Except that as we are driving to Belize City from the airport, the shuttle driver, Giles,  is en route to the airport to drop off a customer.

Giles is worth the short wait. Belize City is a bewildering maze of small and very crowded streets and even more crowded thoroughfares. School is getting out and the streets are jammed with parents picking up their kids at the many public and religion-based schools in the city.

There is a shoulder-to-shoulder festive air to it all. Every student wears a school uniform of prescribed colors and every school has its own colors, so the sidewalks are an undulating rainbow of energetic children with classes behind them and a national holiday ahead.

All the streets, traffic circles and parks are decked out in Belize national flags and red, white and blue triangle flag bunting. (The Belizean red, white and blue are softer, less-aggressive shades than the red, white and blue of the US.) September is Independence Month in Belize, Giles explains, and Sept. 10 celebrates the Battle of St. George’s Caye, in which slaves on the island defeated the Spanish.  There are celebrations all over this young nation this month, and we seem to be missing every single one of them.

Our home in San Pedro for the rest of this week, the Exotic Caye Beach Resort. This is the view from the front porch, looking toward the Caribbean Sea. Rose takes yoga 100 feet from here and I take coffee directly under the yoga studio. Works really well.
Our home in San Pedro for the rest of this week, the Exotic Caye Beach Resort. This is the view from the front porch, looking toward the Caribbean Sea. Rose takes yoga 100 feet from here and I take coffee directly under the yoga studio. Works really well.

At the moment though, we are concerned about missing our 4:30 pm boat but Giles smoothly guides his Ford Explorer down alleyways that seem to materialize only for him, and like a Harry Potter porthole, we pop out right in front of the entrance to Belize Express with five minute to spare before boarding.

The porter tags and stows our backpacks, the clerk takes our $60BZ/$30US for the watertaxi and we join the last remnants of a line of people entering the craft that looks slightly like a Buck Rogers rocketship.

We think we’re the last. People keep boarding after us … and keep boarding … and keep boarding … and then the crew asks all of us seated on the center bench to stand so they can add more baggage into the hold. And then they keep boarding … until every square inch is filled with tropic-warmed flesh. I counted close to 100 people in the belly of the rocket, including one brightly colored and feathered Carnival costume for a lady getting off at Caye Cauker.

What a relief when the taxi finally hits the open water, rises up on hydrofoils and sprints across the blue-green surface to Caye Caulker and its citrus-colored fishing and party town. About half the passengers get off here and only a few board, so the balance of the trip to San Pedro is – dare I say it? – a breeze.

It is dusk when we dock in San Pedro and Rose and I take a leisurely hike down the beach to our new digs – the Exotic Caye Beach Resort. The front desk is already closed but the security guard is expecting us and leads us to our room where we find handwritten greeting from Alfredo and some vouchers for dinner and breakfast. Dinner is fish and chips at a place upstairs from  Crazy Cannuck’s, a legendary San Pedro beach bar.

But we’re as sleepy as off-season San Pedro tonight, so there’ll be no late-night carousing for us. It is home to read and to bed. In the morning Rose has yoga only steps from our front door and I know I have a cup of hot coffee and a WiFi connection waiting for me at Melt’s, the café just below her yoga studio.

In some ways it is beginning to feel like we’re coming home to San Pedro, where our Belizean adventure began, seemingly ages ago.