I had trouble deciding which direction to head after leaving San Ignacio, but Kenny G had said that Caye Caulker was not to be missed so I jumped on a chicken bus and started east. Arron and Caro got off in Belmopan but I continued on to Belize City. The place has a bad reputation so I didn’t plan to spend much time there. A chicken bus, for those who don’t know, is the main means of public transportation in Belize. They are old school buses sent down from the United States to serve a second life. Painted up in bright colours and rigged with luggage racks, they only cost a few Belizean dollars and run just about everywhere in the country. My 2.5 hour journey cost me the equivalent of $3.50 Canadian.
From the bus I caught a taxi to the ferry terminal and then boarded the water taxi to Caye Caulker. An Australian-Belizean woman was sitting across from me (the strangest accent I have ever heard, by the way), and gave me a tip on where to stay once I got to the island. A place called Ignacio’s Beach Cabanas, it was a bit removed from the main strip of town but for 30 Belizean dollars I got a view of the Caribbean Sea and my own place, though no hot water. A few iguanas also shared the space, camping out on the tin roof in the sun. Caye Caulker is a small sandy island with a total population under 3000 people. The island was split in 2 during a hurricane in the 60s so is even smaller than it used to be. There are no cars allowed and everyone travels by bicycle or golf cart. Best of all there are no resorts and few hard core tourists.
It was Friday night so I went for a wander and after watching the sun set at the Split, where the two islands used to be one, I ran into some drunk Americans from North Carolina who offered me some beer. I sat with them for a while, but they were not really my style so I went back to my cabana. There I found some more Americans: a young couple from Oregon and an older fellow named Darren from Georgia who had been living on the caye for the last 5 years. He was going to take the Oregon folks out on his sail boat for the price of a case of beer and offered to let me join. I, of course, accepted the offer. We were to leave the next day at 10am but departure was a bit delayed due to the fact that Darren accidentally smashed into the front gate of Ignacio’s with his golf cart after too many of those beers we had supplied in payment and had to fix the damage before we shoved off. He originally ended up in Belize after losing his license in the US for a DUI, so I guess old habits died hard.
We left the rickety dock in front of Ignacio’s at around 11am , with Rob and Jasmine from Oregon, myself, and Cecilia from Italy. Captain Darren was clad in cut off jeans held up by a rope around his waist; his 23ft boat, he proudly claimed, was the 3rd oldest in Belize. If anyone has seen the movie “Captain Ron”, Kurt Russell’s character is pretty much a spot-on match for Darren. He let Rob from Oregon do much of the sailing as Rob had recently started learning on a catamaran back home. The weather was on and off through the day with small squalls and a steady wind from the north. We stopped at a few places along the barrier reef to snorkel and in between enjoyed some rum and… pipe tobacco. Darren wanted me to check out some odd coral formations he had found and tell him whether they were perhaps remnants from a ship or just coral. As far as I could tell they were nothing special but he was really happy that he had a “professional opinion” on it. I tried to tell him that geologists don’t really work with living coral, but he remained convinced that I was an expert. He didn’t have any fins to fit me for snorkelling so cut open a life-jacket and stuffed the empty spaces with buoyant foam. It worked amazingly well. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, since his boat motor had been jerry-rigged out of an old pressure washer after his outboard had been stolen.
The winds started to pick up at our last snorkelling stop so we decided to head back. As we tried to pull out from the reef we had anchored by, the wind shifted slightly and we started drifting toward the coral. In a matter of seconds there was a loud scrapping sound as we ground up along some rocks. Darren dove in to try and unwedge the boat, as did Rob. After a few seconds, Darren poked his head up above the gunwale and says “Umm, y’all are gonna have to get out and push”. The poor Italian girl looked so confused- she had enough trouble understanding Darren’s southern drawl to begin with, I don’t think she could quite comprehend what was happening right away. She figured it out once Jasmine and I stripped off our shoes and shirts, getting ready to jump in. We were quite a way out from land and the winds were picking up but the boat only had about a 4ft draft when empty so we had it off the rocks after some frantic shoving. The hard part was getting back in as I had used all my body strength pushing the damn thing off the rocks. Once everyone was safely back aboard, Darren dove back in to check the damage. Since it was a wooden boat, there was little to show for our misadventure other than a few scrapes on the bow. If it had been a fiberglass vessel, things would have been a lot different. All I could think of was how many Canadians at that moment might have been pushing their car out of a snow bank, and here I was pushing a sailboat off some rocks in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. Crazy.
We putted back to shore with the motor since the wind was against us and made it safely back by around 6 o’clock. I had a nasty sunburn on the tops of my thighs from sitting in the boat all day, but I was otherwise no worse for wear. Today I am taking it easy and not doing much other than sitting in a hammock. I think I have had enough of the sea for a little while.