Ambergris Caye, Belize
‘Hi there.. Welcome to Belize’
It was a weird, refreshing feeling to not have to focus intently on what a local was saying to us in order to figure out what was being said. Belize, being a fellow commonwealth state (a result of one of the many Spanish-British battles of the late 1700’s) shares the same Queen adoration as our own nation. Look at the currency and there she is, the beautiful, youthful, smiling face with a twinkling crown atop a bountiful crop of hair.
Our hearty welcome was issued by a boat ticket salesman who was actually pretty helpful in providing us with a map of Belize, our immigration cards and an extra pen with which to fill them out. Under no obligation to buy anything, we made a distinct promise, given his chivalrous nature, to purchase his company’s boat tickets in order to get to Ambergris Caye from Belize City. We cleared our border duties, got back in the van with a bunch of other tourist which included a remarkable likeness to Wayne Campbell, a character played by Mike Myers in ‘Waynes World’. But if you could break your eyes from the uncanny doppelgänger and look out the window you’d notice the landscape, nay, the demographic more so, had changed. Garinagu and Kriols, the African contingent of the population are so far most prolific. Houses are elevated on blocks and typically wooden, like the Queenslanders back home. There’s some cool cats around too, gangsta looking guys with oversized baseball caps, long jean shorts and white singlets cruising around on these Caribe style bicycles. We stop for a moment and there’s that heavily accented English again.
We arrive in Belize City some 2 hours after leaving the border. The populations roughly only 70,000 so ‘city’ is subjective in my books. There’s nothing higher than two stories and plenty of unpaved roads. But it seems pleasant enough despite it’s horrible reputation for crime. We get off the bus in a dusty car-park and wanting to get straight onto a boat to Ambergris Caye, we forget all about our welcoming immigration card attendant and book tickets with a rival boat operator. Sorry mate. There’s a wonderful luxury in being able to ask questions that don’t necessarily need to pre-meditated, or pre-constructed and everyones calling me ‘buddy’ here. Our gear is bustled onto a waiting a boat and almost as soon as we’re on the boat it’s twin engines kick to life and we’re flying out of the port. There’s a bunch of tourists on-board but plenty of locals as well. People speaking Spanish, people speaking that weird local English. The sun shines brightly on the ocean, illuminating this amazing rich aqua and jade-green palette. We fly past mangrove islands and run through sandbars and it’s an hour or so before we start seeing resorts and hotels and finally the jetty of Caye Caulker, to which we would return in a week or so. We drop off some passengers, and pick some more up, including a strikingly red-haired guy, so rich in plumage it was almost fluorescent. I hoped he was wearing sunscreen, this part of the world certainly isn’t favorable to his complexion. I really couldn’t stop looking at him, which made the next half hour or so in the boat just fly by. A shame really because the scenery was probably pretty nice.
Ambergris Caye is the popular stop for holiday-makers in Belize. Caye Caulker is too, but it has a much more laid back vibe, probably a little unsettling for those on a 1 or 2 week vacation. San Pedro is the main town. We were told that Madonna’s song ‘La Isla Bonita’ is written about Ambergris Caye but I doubted it at the time and just then looked it up and it’s debatable. She’s never said that, so whoever told us that was lying just to get an enthused response from us. Not that they really needed to, the island speaks for itself. That bright aqua, jade-green water laps up to white sandy beaches at the port. San Pedro town itself is full of people driving around in golf-carts. No cars from what we saw. There’s a nice grid layout to the town and a few nice shops with the kitschy facades and signage selling everything from cigars and rum and various other souvenirs. So first on our list was to get a feed because we’d been at it since sunrise without food so we marched up the street with our backpacks and despite it being busy season, found we had to shrug off offers of accommodation from hostels.
‘No thanks, we’re staying at a resort..’
Jerk Chicken Burrito for lunch.
‘Are you sure, it’s a meal for two people’
‘I’m very hungry.’
And it went. All of it, it was too delicious to leave any last morsel. To make things better, you may have heard of Marie Sharps hot sauce? No? Well go look it up and do yourself a favor and order some. I don’t care what it costs you, trust me, it’s THAT good. Triple-y better was that we could hoe into some Belizian beer called ‘Beliken’.. and thats ripping good stuff too.
We could have sat around all day eating burritos, hot sauce and drinking beer but we had a resort to go to and it was Christmas Eve. Our resort is inconveniently not accessible by road and being backpackers we hadn’t arranged for our free boat pick-up. At the dock, we asked how much it would be to order a private boat service to the hotel.
Nah but we took off up the jetty to find someone who might help us ring the hotel and help arrange for our transportation. We found a snotty little sleaze bag called Tim who owns and runs some kind of banana boat ****.. I dunno. But he was all too accommodating in calling the resort for us to allow Rebecca to negotiate a pick-up; which as it turned out, would arrive and hour and half later. Fine. No problem, at least it was free. Then as we drop lines like..
‘Wow.. thanks so much Tim, I know it’s not your business to be doing stuff like this..’ he says
‘How bout you offer me some money and I’ll tell you if it’s too much..’
I should have offered him a kick up the sphincter but somehow we settled on about $5US bucks for his time. After which he suggested we come back and try his banana boat **** or whatever the hell those things are. No thanks Tim. As we left the dock he sent his boat-lacky across to ask the girls whether they had boyfriends.
Regardless, after a short meal at a nearby restaurant called Fidos; in which they adorably suggest you pronounce it ‘feed-doze’ we were on-board the boat, heading to the resort. We had attempted to drop Tim’s name at the restaurant like he suggested.
‘They’ll give ya a big discount’ .. to which we got a simple..
Anyway, Sueno Del Mar resort is some 20 kilometers or so north along the islands beautiful coastline of palm trees, white sand and perfect water. We received a welcome drink as you do at these places and were escorted along the dock, past a myriad of washed up rubbish to check-in. We were expecting to see a Christmas tree, some lights, a Santa maybe; the best we got was staff in Christmas hats. Cute I suppose but they all looked so bored that it was hardly festive. The pool looked fine if not a little small and neglected and beyond the grounds there was some kind of derelict building in which I’m sure lurked a goblin. But we were shown to a ‘room’ that was nothing short of a mansion. Two private rooms with ensuites. Our shower was big enough to roller skate in. The was a kitchen so we could save some money by cooking a few meals here and there and plenty of provided potable water. Some cable TV completed the picture. We spent Christmas Eve calling home and shared a few quiet drinks. The resort was eerily quiet with only one other table occupying the restaurant. We wa
tched some typical Christmas movies like ‘Home Alone’ and something forgettable with Tim Allen.. and then went to bed.
The next few days can be summed up by the following: sunshine, occasional dips in the pool which was a tad tepid. Lunches and occasional dinners at the restaurant. Short walk to neighboring resort for a look. Shooing sandflies.
We did meet a lovely couple from Sydney who’d been living in London for the past 2 years and were now on their way home. We spent a lovely Christmas Night with them but in our resorty, relaxed state neglected to get contact details or even names so they exist now only as memories to us. Ghosts of a Christmas past.
Though we were expecting a seafood buffet Christmas lunch the resort provided a ‘set menu’ Christmas Night Dinner. It consisted of entree soup, turkey, ham, rice and beans for main and a choice of two cakes for desert. The end product the girls found absolutely revolting but I strangely savored in. Probably because neither of them ate ham so I got triple servings. I told them to stop complaining and ruining Christmas but they could only think of themselves.
We had another resort booked. Hopefully something with a little more life; but it didn’t start well, we could barely pronounce the name. X’Tan Ha. It means something in Mayan but how were we to know and who knew that X’s are pronounced like ‘Shh’. So after a short stop in San Pedro to pick up groceries (rum mainly) we got our pre-arranged (learned our lesson hey) boat transport to the resort; in the same direction, though not as far as Sueno Del Mar. X’Tan Ha had opened only a few days prior. I learned from our maintenance guy (yes.. it felt like he was ‘our’ maintenance guy.. ) that it had been closed for some years before being refurbished and relaunched. And indeed it looked much different that in the photos we’d seen on the website. A few coats of paint, some splashes of colour and there you had it. Our room was much smaller and poor old Belinda was assigned a futon for a bed. Given the television was in the master bed-room she had to peak through the wooden shades to watch that too.. as she had been prohibited from entering the masters domain.
The worst part through was the bathroom. Open the taps and you’d expect to wash your hands in water. Nope. We got sulfuric acid. Or so it smelled like. So bad it was that we couldn’t shower the first night and it became difficult to determine if it was the sulfur smelling up the entire room or our un-showered bodies.
‘Well they’ll certainly be hearing about this in the customer satisfaction survey’ I stoically stated.
But we actually got it sorted out the next day. Our maintenance man ran the taps for half an hour or so until the smell cleared. We also had him fix the fan in the master bedroom, provide us with further linen and towels and make us sandwiches. Nah but we should have.
Oliver was a retired business man from Connecticut who had recently taken over management of the place with his wife and spent most of his time walking around the place with a walkee-talkee but instead shouting at people from across the grounds.
We spent our time there by the pool, trying paddle-boarding in the shallow Caribbean Sea and lounging around. Our drinks were served to us by a guy who looked like the rapper Ice Cube. He told us the crime situation in Belize City is more a bored kid problem than a gang one. He said there really isn’t any notable gangs, just kids, with guns, bored out of their minds, and impressionable by gangsta culture.
Aside from hay-fever suffering American guy who punctuated his chain sneezes with phrases like ‘Hot Dog!’ there wasn’t anything notable to report.
We left X’Tan Ha, bound for Caye Caulker. Disillusioned by the whole resort experience I think somewhat. Perhaps when your expectations are so high you’re easily disappointed by oversights. Quite often with hostels, you know what you’re in for. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, I loved my time by the pool chasing iguanas, but there was just this feeling of underwhelming extracted value I just couldn’t shake, especially when it was costing $500 a night!