Friday, August 05, 2011

Caye Caulker, Belize

It was late afternoon by the time we got settled at the Caye Caulker Plaza Hotel, and we found it difficult to tear ourselves away from the excellent a/c, so we didn't leave again until dinner time. After it cooled down a bit, we ventured out and ended up at Rose's Grill, where we had a variety of grilled seafood and meat. We started to get used to topping everything off with Marie Sharp's hot sauce, which they had everywhere in Belize.

Our objective for the next day was to go on a snorkelling tour. The receptionist at front desk was extremely helpful in calling around to get information and pricing for us, and in the end we ended up booking a trip to Hol Chan and "Shark and Ray Alley" with the well-recommended Carlos Tours. The cost was about 50 USD per person, which seemed pretty good for an all-day tour.

The next morning we walked over to the Carlos Tours headquarters to get geared up. After we were fitted, we headed over to the pier, where we were divided into two boats, one guided by Carlos, and the other by Romeo. Our group of eight were assigned to go with Romeo, along with one other guy who said he was from England.

The tour was advertised as having three stops, but Carlos spotted some fishermen hunting conch, so we made a "bonus" stop where we saw tons of rays:

We spent about half an hour there, and then proceeded to the Hol Chan Reserve. In the Coral Gardens, we saw sea turtles (we couldn't wait to jump out of the boat to see them up close!), eels, and schools and schools of fish:

For lunch we went to a restaurant called Celi's in San Pedro, on Ambergris Caye. They served a variety of fishes/meats with rice and beans, and also had burgers and sandwiches. I liked the food pretty well, but couldn't tell if it was due to being super hungry from snorkelling or because the food was actually good. Ambergris Caye was certainly much more built up and crowded than Caye Caulker.

We didn't have much time to digest our lunch before we headed back out, this time to Shark and Ray Alley. There were again tons of rays, and this time we saw nurse sharks too! The largest ones were over six feet long:

Our last stop wasn't at a specific location; instead the goal was to find and swim with manatees. We were very successful; Carlos managed to drop us in an area with three manatees, and we were able to get to maybe 30 or 40 feet away from them:

After all four exciting stops, we were all quite tired and ready to head home. On the way back, Romeo served us a giant plate of fresh tropical fruits. The mangoes were my favorite, but there was pineapple, watermelon, banana, and more. Between the ten of us (eight in our group plus the English guy and Romeo) we eventually managed to polish it all off before we arrived back in Caye Caulker.

We were very happy with both Carlos and Romeo, and gave them a nice tip, as well as buying the DVD (15 USD) of the photos that they had taken during the day with their underwater camera. (All of the snorkelling photos posted above were taken by them.)

It felt really good to shower and change, and soon afterwards we went out looking for dinner. Unfortunately, several of the restaurants that we were looking for were closed, so we ended up at the Rainbow Grill. I was not too fond of the food there; it was overpriced and pretty bland. It seemed quite popular with all the other tourists, though.

The next day, four of us started the long trip back to California, to attend a Memorial Day wedding. The other four stayed another two days to do some diving.

First, we caught the noon water taxi back to Belize City. I took this as we were waiting for our boat; it was our last glimpse of tranquil Caye Caulker.

We arrived in Belize City a little bit after 1pm, and then negotiated a taxi ride to the airport. Most of the taxi drivers wanted to charge us 30 USD since we had four people, but one agreed to take us for 25 USD, so we went with him. His taxi was not in great shape, and he stopped to put 0.8 gallons of gas into his nearly empty tank, but we didn't start to get really worried until the car started slowing down and finally stopped on the side of the road, a few miles from the airport.

The driver got out and fiddled around with the engine for awhile, and finally put in a new battery, which seemed to fix the problem. I remember thinking that I was going to be pretty pissed if we ended up having to walk the last couple of miles.

From there it was a pretty smooth trip back; we checked in, grabbed a quick lunch after security, and then sat around waiting for our flight to San Salvador. In San Salvador, we had a 40 minute connection, and two of our friends had to go through secondary screening, which involved removing their checked luggage from the airplane for a complete search, but we still made it onto our connecting flight to San Francisco, and then back home.

Overall I think we all had a great time. It was hard to say which part was my favorite; the snorkelling tour was amazing and rivalled our experience at the Great Barrier Reef, but the ATM cave excursion was also an unforgettable experience, and I really enjoyed our time in Guatemala learning about Mayan culture and seeing all the wildlife and ruins as well. Before the trip, we'd heard a lot about dangerous conditions in Guatemala, so we were careful with booking our tours and activities. In the end we were fortunate that everything went very smoothly, including all of our shuttle pickups, the border crossing, and even our very short international connections. I hope we'll get to do another fun group trip again soon!

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