Monday, November 11, 2013

Belize 2007 - Part 2

From where I left off in my last post the hotel drove us back into Belize City where we caught a water taxi to Caye Caulker.

Many tourists head over to Ambergris Caye, but we were looking for a slightly less touristy feel and thought Caye Caulker would be just our speed. My friend's parents had been on the island for a day and mentioned that they thought Mara's looked like a good place to stay so we booked the rest of our vacation there. We had every intention of taking a water taxi over to Ambergris for a day, but that never came about as there was plenty to keep us occupied on Caye Caulker.

Hurricane Hattie hit Caye Caulker in 1961 causing damage that you can still see today at The Split. The hurricane opened up a passage way and then islanders hand dredged it to make a waterway between the east and the west sides of the island. At The Split you can still see concrete and re-bar that was twisted from the hurricane. This is also the only 'beach' - it's certainly nothing glamorous, but a good place to cool off. Our hotel was right near The Split which I found to be an ideal spot.

Mara's Place was nice and had it's own private dock, but I think I might try one of the other establishments if I were to ever go back - not because there was really anything wrong with Mara's, but some of the other places looked a little nicer. There wasn't an air conditioner, but there were a couple fans and I don't remember it being too miserable anyway. Also, at the time they only took cash so if you go make sure you are prepared for that.

The Split.

Our plan was to check out the coral reefs and do some relaxing while on this island and we got just what we were looking for - actually more. Again, there wasn't really a typical tropical island beach here, so if that's your thing this probably isn't your island (I hear Ambergris Caye or the Placencia have pretty good beaches). We did do some snorkeling right off The Split and it gave me a little more confidence about snorkeling and being in the ocean. I actually found myself swimming here. Well, it was probably more like floating (thank you salt in the ocean), but I was moving along and navigating so I call that swimming.

At any rate, the coral reef isn't right off the beach so you have to go on 'excursions'. We went on a half day one and then a full day one. Both were fantastic, but the full day one was OUTSTANDING. Seriously, fantastic.

We went on the half day one first and I have to admit I was totally nervous. Again, I can't swim... or can barely swim so to know that I would be swimming in an area where I couldn't put my feet down freaked me out. Big time. But I knew my husband would be there, and I was given a life jacket to wear around my waist. Plus, our guides were super professional and helpful. They knew the ocean and only put us in areas they deemed safe. We explored a number of areas including Shark Ray Alley. Being the trusting individual I am I seemed to think it was ok to jump in the ocean where there were a TON of sharks and sting rays... and it was ok. I guess this was an area where a lot of fisherman clean the fish they catch so the sharks and stingrays hang out here and are super open to human interaction... or something like that. Anyway, it was a very cool experience.

Super freaky eel. I did not take this picture (I think our guide might have) - no way I was getting close to this thing. 

Anyone remember the Rake magazine? They used to feature people who took pictures of themselves with their magazine. I'm a dork so I actually laminated one of their magazine covers and took it on vacation with us. Yes, this was pre-planned. And no, I never made it into the magazine.

Hard to miss me with that big orange life jacket around my waist.

We took a morning break and ate some fresh pineapple which I remember being the best pineapple I've ever eaten. I'm not sure if it was because of it's tropical freshness or that I was just hungry, but it was wonderful.

Since the half day adventure was a success I agreed to a full day trip. We booked it with a different company, but I'm not sure why. They might have had a better price, or maybe they just had openings, but I'm glad we went with them as they were a superb company. I'm fairly certain the company was Raggamuffin Tours, but I can't remember the first company's name.

For the full day trip we had three guides and  about seven of us travelers, I think. One of the couples were on their honeymoon and were living in Colorado, but were from Minnesota so we had a little bonding moment. Our main guide was super passionate about his job and about the ocean while the other two guides were slightly more reserved (I really wish I remembered their names), but still super nice. They took us to a number of locations during the day and made sure to let us know where the hot spots were and where to avoid. I felt really safe with these guys.

Our guide and the woman originally from Minnesota. I think her name was Val.

During the late morning we made a stop to catch our lunch. Yup, we had a chance to catch our lunch of conch and barracuda. The main guide ended up catching all the conch for some reason, but he and the other guides made a couple of homemade fishing poles and some of our fellow travelers were able to catch the barracuda.

We headed off to a tiny little island called something like 'Little Cockroach Island' which I think was owned by someone that our guide knew. There wasn't really much to it - a shack, some sand and some grass, but our guide had dreams of one day opening a restaurant out there. I kinda got the feeling that there were some after hour parties out here. We dropped off one of the guides to start cooking and we headed out to one more snorkeling location before lunch.

Whenever in the water I stayed close to Jesse and this time was no different. He headed off in a different area than the others. At one point it got a little close to a rough area we were told to avoid so we headed back. The water was deep here so we weren't really close to any coral, but then we saw the most amazing thing ever - two huge stingrays. I think they were Spotted Eagle Rays as they had spots on them. This picture doesn't do any justice, but these things were beautiful, and intimidating and the world stopped as Jesse and I just floated above them as they swam by. Seriously, amazing, but I have to admit that I sort of wanted to get back in the boat after this. It was a reminder that the ocean is a huge, foreign place and that I was a measly visitor. Plus, this was right after The Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, was killed by a stingray. Um, get me out of the ocean please.

Soon, we all headed back to the boat where the group good naturedly teased me about wearing the orange life vest around my waist. They said it was really helpful because they could look up and make sure I was near so they knew they hadn't wandered too far. Glad I could be of some help to others.

Once all in the boat we went back to Little Cockroach Island where the food was still cooking. We basically hung out and took pictures and anxiously wondered what sort of lunch was going to come out of that shack.

That shack that was in shambles and our three young guides provided us with one of the best meals I've ever eaten. No joke. Fish, potatoes... and I don't even remember anymore, but it was goooood. I hope these guys have opened a restaurant and are spreading the joy.

After a rest, we spent some more time snorkeling. Yes, I got back into the ocean and got a little too close to some coral, but luckily didn't cut myself. That might have been more scary than the stingrays. Again, this was a fabulous trip and I am so glad I conquered my fears of swimming in the ocean. It's still a huge beast that I will carefully navigate, but having Jesse there and guides that knew their stuff really helped.

When we weren't snorkeling we were walking around town and eating. Apparently, there is a three month period where lobster wasn't available and we went during this time. I was so bummed, but we made up for it by eating ceviche as much as we could. I'd go back for the ceviche alone. In fact, Jesse and I often talk about the ceviche we had when we were here.

Lobster traps taunting me - just sitting there.

I tried to remember all the places we ate here, but wasn't successful. I did recall some so I wanted to mention them. The Rainbow Grill had great food, but bad music. If you can sit through the music make sure to check it out. We ate here a couple times. 

I don't remember this place being called Enjoy (but honestly can't remember the name so maybe...), but I can tell it's the same place by pictures on the web. This place was right off the beach, had sand for much of the floor and swings for some of the seats. We came here multiple times for ceviche. Loved the atmosphere and the ceviche was the best.

We ate breakfast at the Happy Lobster Restaurant and Grill one morning which is where I discovered it wasn't lobster season and where I took the above picture of the lob. I remember their breakfast being pretty good even if I was a little disappointed.

I'm beginning to think that there may have been some changes since 2007 (go figure), because I don't recall this place being called Soba Las Olas (but it totally could have been). This was right down the road from our hotel and a place we visited a couple times for breakfast and lunch. Both times were enjoyable.

Oh, and we ate at Habanero's Restuarant as well. This place was a little more upscale and so worth it. We sat out on the balcony and watch the locals play basketball across the street. 

I guess it doesn't matter where you eat, because they really were all good here. I do have a slight regret of not eating at a particular street vendor here so if you go please check the street vendors out and let me know what you think.

One other thing to check out is the sunsets down at The Split. They were especially beautiful there even with the destruction of the hurricane still apparent nearby. 

Oh, and one more thing if you go. Don't be like my husband who read up about some of the bugs here. Yes, there are some rather disturbing ones and they almost turned my husband off from this vacation. Luckily, he asked some questions on a forum and multiple people assured him he had nothing to worry about. And once they found out he was from Minnesota many of them stated that he had nothing to worry about as he had it far worse with Minnesota Mosquitoes.

Anyhoo, I'm not one to do repeat vacations (unless they are local weekend getaways), but I would totally go back to Belize in a heartbeat. There is so much more to Belize than what we experienced - perhaps next time we could go canoeing, or hiking, or stay in these awesome tree houses. The weather was great, the country was easy to navigate, and the people were wonderful. Thank you Belize for a wonderful adventure.

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