Caye Caulker

I live slow already, and the effect Caye Caulker had made me almost glacial. The people I had arrived on the island with only had a few days to do all the activities, so I let them scope out the best spots while I sat back and cracked on with some writing.

The island itself has a wealth of things to do for somewhere the size of a postage stamp. There is the second largest barrier reef in the world to dive, lots of spots to see weird fish, and a million little parties to enjoy. This is all on top of the most important way to spend time: lying in the sun or sitting in the sea with a rum punch.

Despite my endless fear of money, I know when I should splash out and treat myself. Spending seventy dollars to wade through a cave to see some bones wasn’t worth my money. However, getting a speedboat out into the Caribbean Sea to swim with sharks, rays, coral, and turtles absolutely was. The trip also came with as much rum punch as I could drink.

My thinking, and the eternal justification I now use for anything that comes with free drinks advertised, is this: I work out how much I can reasonably buy the drink they give for free in a bar. I then work out just how many of them I would need to drink to equate to the price of the tour. This tour was $60, down from $95, and I could get a rum punch for about $3. This meant I had to drink 23 rum punches on that boat before I was beginning to profit.

The diving was great. I swam with sharks, free-dived through coral caves, and cruised alongside turtles. I met some wonderful friends on board from back in San Ignacio, and the day was fantastic. However, they didn’t start dishing out the Rum Punch until the journey back to the island, so I had limited time to earn my dollars. I guess they didn’t want me drinking too much, getting sick in my snorkel, and choking to death on my own pineapple-flavoured vomit.

Needless to say, I got my money’s worth. Those cups go down fast, and snorkelling is a thirsty business. The boys on the boat were more than happy to oblige too. The other folks on the boat were either dead-eyed Scandinavians or brain-dead, hungover Americans. The whole bucket of punch was mine. Ez-Boy Tours held it down.

Drinking aside, the snorkelling was phenomenal and by far the best I have seen, even now. The reefs were teaming with life that had absolutely no qualms with sharing their space with us. It was possible to drift around above the forests of beautifully coloured coral, sometimes only a foot or two distant, and then take a deep breath in and weightlessly float through the various stunning formations.

The coral itself grows enormous and has been wonderfully cared for. The Belizeans have noted the reefs’ importance, not just naturally but also defensively, and care for them. Our guide took us to about seven different spots, each one a different underwater experience in itself. At one point, after throwing chum overboard, we all piled into the water and were immediately surrounded by reef sharks. These funny-looking sharks have no interesting in biting humans, but in their efforts to get to the food, their huge, strong bodies surrounded us and tussled us like we were part of the shoal.

We were able to explore the various locations at our leisure, and with the beautiful blue skies and crystal clear waters it was like swimming through warm liquid glass. It was so easy to drift among the colours, and allow the water to push you where it would. Occasionally I would take a deep breath and dive deeper into the formations to get a longer look at something. My barrel chest has one big advantage, and that’s how much oxygen I an hold in there. At one point I swam through a cave, admittedly loosing a flipper half way through, but a satisfying challenge none the less. Retrieving the flipper less so.

We all returned drunk, phenomenally sunburnt, and in awe of what lies just a few feet below the surface of an already beautiful sea. I was more ready than ever to get to Honduras and learn how to scuba dive.

While I was on the island, the festival of Belizean independence came around. September 21st marks the day in which the country finally got it hard won independence from the tendrils of British colonisation. They celebrated it in pretty much the same way they did the previous festival, but this time with a Go Slow island flavour. Golf carts rather than truck, endless free rum punch, and just as much music filled every corner. The day was a blast from beginning to end, and by the end my legs ached from dancing, my shorts had a hole burnt into the front from grinding, and I am pretty sure I developed diabetes from the sheer amount of juice and rum I ingested.

Lisa and I spent the day together shooting pictures of the whole event. She is a talented portrait photographer and had spent a little time teaching me how to shoot someone quickly, but properly. The crowd was more than happy to pose and get involved in the shots, and their outfits, paired with the stunning backdrops, reignited my love for taking pictures.

However, I still don’t love something about this camera. It may be the body itself, with it’s damming lack of viewfinder, or perhaps the glass. Sadly, with the disgusting cost of Sony E Mount lenses, there is little chance of me forking out for a different one. I would prefer to get an older body and cheaper lenses.

On the subject of shooting, Lisa took me out for an evening to teach me portrait photography. She suffers the same issue I do, of being the one behind the camera rather than in front of it, so has few photos of herself. It’s a shame because she is wonderfully photogenic. The trip out, into the golden hours of the afternoon, was mutually beneficial. She let me use her camera, and I quickly realised the many flaws of my own.

We found a number of locations, some in the island, on the dusty roads amongst the palms and colourful wooden houses, and others on the coast as the sun began to set to make the most of the sea. The beach we went to was famous, not just for the view, but also for the 20 or 30 stingrays that come right into the shallows to nibble on your toes and eat the fish fed to them by the local hotel.

However, this evening we were there for the photography. The evening was stunning, and the sunset cast the perfect golden light. There was a slight low cloud cover, and the sea was perfectly calm. Lisa is very natural in front of the lens, and she made me feel comfortable giving direction and suggestion to how she should pose and where she should stand. I have always felt a self-consciousness about giving direction when working with a model due to it’s slightly voyeuristic nature, but being with Lisa made it feel very natural.

I took a collection of beautiful pictures and enjoyed the evening with her. The sun set and the stars came out. We spent the evening taking in the rich sky of stars and watched the fish trying to reach the moon. As with every evening on Caye Caulker, no matter where we decided to spend our time, music and laughter could be heard floating across the warm air.

Lying back and taking in the vast wealth of the night, we laid the world to rights and enjoyed the comfort of conversation between two people who have nothing to fear from one another’s opinions or ideas. I was able to speak freely, listen with interest, and float around in company that feels as natural as swimming through the gently tidal coral ocean of Caye Caulker.

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