Thursday, March 23, 2006

Caye Caulker – Better than Magaritaville

As our boat pulled up to the dock at Caye Caulker, a tiny island lying 21 miles off the coast of Belize City, a skinny, toothless smiling man straight out of central casting picked me out from the dozen or so people disembarking. “ I can tell from the look in your eyes that you are Katherine Hedges and that you want to go to the Iguana Reef Inn. I am Frederick and I will take you there.” Frederick then hoisted our backpacks into the basket of his bicycle and off we went. “Here you can eat – very economical, there you can wash your clothes. This lady will do your hair. Where are you from? My favourite book is I Buried My Heart at Wounded Knee. I have read it many, many times but I lost it. Have a nice time on Caye Caulker. See you around.”

Indeed, Frederick was the perfect introduction to this care free island. With the decline of the fishing industry over the years, islanders have come to depend more and more on tourism, but the place still feels relaxed and un-commercial. Most accommodations consist of guest houses, there are no cars but a comfortable amount of aging golf carts, no golf courses, but easy access to spectacular snorkelling, fishing and diving and plenty of laid-back restaurants serving super fresh seafood. On Caye Caulker, dressing for dinner means putting on a shirt.

Knowing that Jeff’s tolerance for rediscovering his non-existent hippie past was limited, I booked us into the only truly grown-up hotel on the island, the Iguana Reef Inn which has beautifully decorated rooms, air conditioning (important), a delightful sandy beach on the water, good swimming and a first class bar. While the Iguana Reef does not have a restaurant, they serve an ocean-side breakfast with homemade yoghurt, fresh tropical fruit, cinnamon rolls and pots and pots of steaming and very good coffee. Probably the best place on the island to watch sunsets is from the beach at Iguana Reef where the photo above was taken.

There are plenty of very informal places to eat on Caye Caulker. Our favourite was The Sand Box by the front dock where tables are set in the sand, both inside and out. The portions are generous and service friendly, although Jeff did rather shock our waiter when he asked him where he could buy one of those great Haile Selassie shirts he was wearing. Really cheap, really deeply fried and really good take-away food can be found at Pirates. We almost ate at Rasta Pasta based on its cool name, location and reputation, but they had had a big party there the night before, en-route to resupply them the drinks distributor was hijacked and so there was nothing to drink. We went elsewhere.

There are lots of great things to do on the island: snorkeling, diving, wind surfing, fishing, boating, you name it. We did none of that. We did manage to rent bikes and ride around, we walked on the beach, but mostly we dozed on the beach, read books and drank beer. Occasionally, Jeff would wander off to check his email at the internet bar. We took leisurely lunches. It was perfect. Go quick before tourism or a hurricane or both wash this laid-back idyll away.

Iguana Reef Inn
PO Box 31
Caye Caulker, Belize
Tel: 501-226-0213
Fax: 501-226-0087

The Sand Box
on the beach, near Front Dock
Tel: 501-226-0097

Rasta Pasta Rainforest Café
Front Street
Tel: 501 226 0358 or 501 206 0356

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