The bus to Caye Caulker was entirely by public transport rather than the much more expensive but very simple shuttle option. We sat by the side of the road until a big colourful bus turned up and paid our pittance to jump aboard to make our way to Belize City.
I found out that the chicken busses used all around Central America are sold after they have completed their 100,000 miles in the US. It’s a hard retirement, going from carting children and derelicts around the smooth tarmac of America to being jacked up on suspension, modified to within an inch of recognisability, and then hammered on redline revs around roads that look like they have been subject to carpet bombing.
Our first bus was uneventful, but it gave the five of us time to chat away and enjoy the little adventure we were taking. It was a nice group of people, with nobody mooching and everyone having contributed at least something to the planning and organisation. Too many times have I met travellers who just rely on everyone else to make their plans for them. However, this time, everyone had some pocket of knowledge, and the journey was going to be a smooth one.
Until we got to Belize City anyway. As we jumped off the bus, I left the women cueing for the loos to sort out a Taxi to the seaport. I haggled a price I thought was fair before finding out that one of us had left their bag containing their wallet on the bus, which had already left the station. We had come this far together. It wasn’t going to be right to leave one person behind, so we figured it out together. Nothing bonds quite like trauma.
I spoke to the taxi man, and he knew exactly what to do. For no extra cost, he would take us all to the bus depot. This is where the buses and drivers go to refuel, and the drivers take a nap and a take piss before they drive back to where they came from. He said that, eventually, our bus would turn up. All hands were on deck in the bus station too. Calls were made, directions given, and off we went through the derelict streets of a city visibly forgotten.
It was only when we got to the dry car park of the bus depot did I realise that we had somehow piled someone else into the car. A French woman had joined the troupe and was looking a little put out that she was now roped into the whole situation. It may have just been her French demeanour, though.
It didn’t take long before the bus we had ridden rolled into the station. He blew his horn and handed Lisa’s bag out the window. The situation was under control.
The growing group of women and I made our way to the ferry port, paid our fees, and blasted across the crystal clear, perfectly flat Caribbean Sea. I was about to experience my first Caribbean Island, not knowing what to expect bar the roaring praise everyone I had met going the other direction had given it.
Stepping off the boat into the glorious sun and white sandy beaches confirmed everything I had been expecting almost immediately. Palm trees swung lazily on the beaches, coconuts littered the ground, and smiling Belizean faces greeted us. Nobody looked stressed, and everyone seemed happy for us to be there. This is something that, even after so long of being around it, is still novel to me.
In all my years travelling around Europe, be it Spain, Holland, or Germany, it was rare I was ever welcomed with an attitude other than that of unwilling acceptance. Nobody wants you in their space in Europe. There is a hostility and suspicion of people that aren’t their own. People of Europe want their country to be theirs and do not want to share.
As I have made my way slowly south through Mexico, Guatemala, and now Belize, I have been welcomed with an attitude that is warm and excited. Excited to share cultures, open to teach, and it still feels foreign.
At first, I thought this attitude was false. Put on in the same way some poor broken cashier in your local Primark does. Forced to smile because they’ll lose their income and be forced to sleep in the streets otherwise. Maybe the people I met in these countries welcome me because I have money, and they see me as an income. But this cynicism was misplaced, and I feel unkind knowing that it marred something that is actually much purer than I was willing to accept.
The welcome was warm and only paved the way for how my interactions with the rest of the residents of the tiny but wild island would play out.
The walk to the hostel took us down the main, and only, road running down the length of the island. It is hard to understand just how small a place is without seeing it, but Caye Caulker really is tiny. There are no cars on the Island, only golf carts. There are no hospitals but three cemeteries. You can walk the length of the south island, the mainly inhabited one, in about 25 minutes. It is possible to stand on one side of the island with your feet in the sea and look over to the opposite coast.
However, they manage to fit a whole lot of fun on this tiny spit of land. I had planned to stay five days, but a fortnight was about to be invested without a single regret. I would have happily stayed longer had I had the time.
A few of us from Yellow Belly Hostel made our way to the next place we had booked. It was called Go Slow and advertised as having air conditioning, which in the oppressive heat of the island, was calling like a sweet lover. The hostel was named after the motto of Caye Caulker, pasted everywhere you cared to look. Go Slow was a credo taken seriously by the residents and one that was very, very quickly ingrained into all visitors’ lives.
As expected, the welcome to the hostel was warm, and my room, with only 4 beds and an en-suite, was clean and cool. For only my second hostel in this whole trip, I had gotten pretty lucky. After my long day travelling with 4 fantastic women, I was now introduced to my sleeping arrangement. Another room with three young women.
If I hadn’t become such a sexless virgin in my old age, this whole day would have been a maddening fantasy. Arriving on a Caribbean island surrounded by tanned and happy women. However, being todays me, I politely introduced myself and proceeded to check the speeds of the Wi-Fi to make sure I could download video games. 25-year-old me would probably find a way to perform inter-dimensional self-divorce if he could witness my behaviour. The only wit and charm I have these days are equipment buffs in role-playing games.
I had heard from multiple sources that the problem with Belize is that it is expensive. I guess, in comparison to some other places, it is. My hostel was £15 a night and didn’t come with drinking water. Food in the supermarkets was significantly more expensive than in Guatemala, and that was about it. However, anyone who thinks that Belize is actually expensive in comparison to, say, literally any first-world country is in for a horrible shock when they finally get off their mother’s tit and have to buy their first broccoli in their own country.
Belize is a little pricier, but it is still third-world, and I get a semi every time I get to use the queen’s pretty little face to pay for goods. I obviously immediately found somewhere I could swap her cheeky little smile for a rum punch for around a pound a glass. It feels right. However, I was going to start actually having to cook for myself again, and the groceries here were pretty shit. It’s to be expected for an island way out in the ocean, I guess. There wasn’t even any good fish. I presume the restaurants and the mainland take it all.
I took a walk around the island to acquaint myself and jumped into the sea. It was as warm, clear, and relaxing as it had looked. It was everything I wanted in that moment. Finally, being back in the sea, after so long of only swimming in lakes, was a welcome change. As I surfaced, the special brand of dancehall Belize loves filled my ears, and the hot Caribbean sun already started work on tanning my body. This was going to be the perfect place to pass my time waiting for James.