Some of the first people to inhabit the region were the Mayans. There is so much to say about the Mayans, so I will hold off until my post about my trip into Guatemala. Fast forward to 1506 and the Spanish began exploring the region. They claimed the area as a colony, but did not settle it due to its lack of resources. In the 17th and 18th centuries some European settlers and pirates (known as Baymen) established a settlement which was driven by slave labor (which is one reason why today a large portion of the population is of African descent) and the logwood trade (used for dying fabrics). The pirates used the area as a safe haven from which to attack Spanish merchants. As time went on instead of fighting the residents of what was known as the Belize District the Spanish granted them permission to stay and to participate in the logwood trade with the hopes that piracy would hault. Since most of the settlers were from England the area fell under British control, but the British government was hesitant to declare ownership in fear of creating problems with Spain. In 1786 the British government assigned a superintendent over the region. There were a few minor battles with Spain over the region, but in the end Britain won. From 1862 to 1981, Belize was officially part of the British Empire. Even now that they are independent, they still belong to the Common Wealth and have Queen Elizabeth II as their monarch.
There were a few things I noticed instantly on arrival. One the people are extremely laid back. Laid back to a humorous degree. I tried to buy fish from a group of fishermen and even with US dollars in hand they couldn’t be bothered to sell it. Secondly, it is a very small place. In the keys the only form of transit is by golf cart. The banks actually have signs advertising multiple year loans for golf carts. As you can see in the picture above, even their police officers drive around in golf carts.
I spent the first five days hanging around Caye Caulker. I swam across the split (a waterway with a rather strong current that separates the two parts of Caye Caulker), rented a kayak, sat in one specific hammock I deemed mine, and cooked almost every meal at home. Most meals consisted of vegetable curry, but I did manage to buy a Hogfish directly from some fishermen and grilled it at night with the mosquitoes on a rather dirty grill by headlamp light. The only thing out of the norm that happened was the owner of one of the many Chinese markets noticed my jade bracelet and inquired if I had any Chinese ancestors since it is only common to see the older Chinese/Taiwanese generation wearing them.
On the sixth day I dove the Caulker Reef and snorkeled in Sting Ray/Shark alley. The two dives weren’t anything to write home about or in this case post about. We did see two sea turtles, but the reef wasn’t in a healthy condition and the current was pretty strong, so I went through oxygen faster than what is normal for my body size. I saw way more marine life snorkeling. There were nurse sharks, reef sharks, and lots of stingrays.
On the seventh day, I was given the treat of flying over the Blue Hole in honor of my birthday. The Great Blue Hole is a deep sinkhole near the Lighthouse Reef off the coast of Belize. It takes roughly 2.5 hours to reach it by boat and about 20 minutes by plane. It was created during a series of glacial events when sea levels were far lower. It is assumed the stalactites began to form around 150,000 years ago. The sea levels then rose and filled in the huge cave. It is roughly 985 feet in diameter and 407 feet deep. People are drawn to it for the beautiful change in color and for its perfect circular shape. Divers have to go to the recreational diving max depth of 40 m in order to see the stalactites and any shallower the really is nothing to see except darkness below you. The flight took an hour and 10 minutes. The pilot, Charles, did several fly bys and at one point got extremely close to a boat to the joy of both the passengers of the boat and the plane. It was an incredibly special experience and one I will never forget.
For the actual day of my birthday I was given the gift of diving the Blue Hole. The trip included a dive in the hole itself, a dive at Half Moon Caye, and a dive spot called the Aquarium. The seas were smooth to my glee and the weather was perfect. There were a few issues with the Dive Masters demanding all divers go to 40m regardless of their comfort level. In the end, it all worked out. There wasn’t much to see in the hole, but the next two dive sites were underwater playgrounds. The Half Moon Caye dive lead us through very tight canyons (with only room for one diver at a time) between massive coral ecosystems. It was definitely one of my favorite dives I have ever done. The third dive was along a massive wall which had a lot of marine life. I saw a Spotted Eagle Ray and several Blowfish. For lunch the boat stopped at an island, Half Moon Caye, that I don’t even want to describe. It was like a scene from Castaway. I felt like I should be talking to Wilson as I wandered around. The sand was perfectly white, the water clear, and all that stands on the island is a ranger station. I would love to go back there and camp out for a few nights. It is home to the Red-Footed Boobies. The only other place they are found is in the Galapagos Islands! There was a viewing platform from which you could see them nesting. I also spotted many Wishing Willies (a huge type of lizard). This is an interesting species. The guide said that usually one male will live in a tree with a harem of 100-150 females. WOW!
My last day was spent sneaking onto a resort’s dock in San Pedro, reading, and walking around the town. I ran into two of the girls who were on the same flight over the Blue Hole. We had a drink and laughed the night away.
The next day I took the ferry to Belize City. I had been advised to avoid Belize City as much as possible. It has an incredibly high crime rate and is just not worth messing with. So m options for buses to San Ignacio were 10 USD in a hand me down US school bus with no A/C, 20 USD for a spacious van with A/C, or 40 USD for a private cab. I decided to allow my Scottish side and my humane side compromise and I went with the 20 dollar van. The problem wasn’t so much the close calls on making my connections, it was finding my hosts house. The van dropped me off in San Ignacio, but my host’s house was across the river in Santa Elena. So I hauled my stuff across the river and up a steep hill. I wandered up another huge hill to the chagrin of many locals. One man was nice enough to call my host’s number several times. I finally decided to go back down to the main street and to plop down at a restaurant before I came up with more ideas of what to do. As fate should have it the owner of the establishment was also a town official and enjoys performing good acts in the name of town tranquility. I sat in the back of his pick-up and he headed off in the direction he believed to be correct. We didn’t find it. My host, Sandra, was still not answering her phone. He stopped a passing vehicle and asked the driver if he knew where a foreigner lived that had a pool. It is a small community and sure enough the guy knew Sandra’s house. Once there I was greeted by Sandra and her husband, Don. They are from Alberta, Canada. Their house has a nice yard with a pool they exercise in daily. They bought it 6 years ago for retirement and are now itching to hit the road and hope to sell it soon. It was incredibly hot in their house and difficult to sleep, but everything else about it was great. She provides breakfast for her guests by the pool every morning and likes to chat in the events. They were a funny couple because she basically told him, “I am moving to Belize whether you come or not!” He had never left Canada and had recently broken his back at work (industrial painter). So for four years they lived apart and only two years ago was he able to move down to live with her. He spends his time overly exposing his skin to the sun and painting in the yard.
My next post will cover my day trips from their house. I hope you have good weather wherever you are reading from because right now I am learning what rainy season is like in Costa Rica...