Belize Part 1 (Tobacco Caye) – May 2009

– After eight hours of waiting and sailing, we arrived at the port in Dangriga. At this point we were wondering what we do with immigration, but at that moment, the Belize immigration got on to do our passports. I was hoping I wouldn’t have any problems with my Canadian passport and the “switch a roo” I did in Honduras. The funny part was the immigration officer didn’t care about my passport and just asked me a few questions like, “Why are you traveling alone?”, “Where are you going all alone?”, “How long to do plan to stay in Belize all alone?”. I really wasn’t sure about how long, so I said two weeks as it really hasn’t ever mattered. He then asked if I was sure if that was all since I was “all alone” (why was he so concerned that I was so all alone?). In the end, he said he would give me a month entrance in case I needed it, which was perfect.

– I got off the boat to get my bags, and while I was waiting for my friends to get through immigration questioning, I met Charlie. He was a local guy that was trying to see where I was going and if I needed help. I hate when people come up to me and start to offer services as I didn’t even have my bags and my friends were still on the boat. In the end, I chatted with Charlie, and he spoke great English. Ends up that he used to lead tours in Belize and was trying to help us get to where we wanted. So I told him we were off to Tobacco Caye, and he said he has a boat and takes people there. So we were set and heading off with him. He even let us store our bags at his mom’s house by the dock, walked us to the ATM to get cash, took us to the only Internet place in town (which we wanted since there wasn’t any on Tobacco Caye and we would be gone for a few days), and then finally to the grocery store. Since Tobacco Caye is a tiny isolated island about 45 minutes from the mainland, he said we should bring any snacks we want and beers since its very expensive there. Sounded like a good plan so we stocked up at the store. In the end, Charlie didn’t take us to the island as another boat was leaving earlier, so we tipped Charlie and said goodbye. My friend Adam had been to Tobacco Caye a few years ago and told us he remembers Charlie helping him that time too. Charlie was hard to forget as he was very tall and super skinny and just had that way about him that you don’t forget. Nice and friendly and helpful to us.

– The fun really started when we got on this small fishing boat. I was holding 12 bottles of beer and Lindsey had another 12 bottles in her lap. We were told to hold them as the water may be rough at this time of the day. Rough was a complete understatement. This boat was jumping and pounding hard against the water. There were times were my bottom was completely off the bench and then came crashing down with a thud…and it hurt! All this plus, I had 12 glass bottles clanking against each other and I just didn’t want them to break all over me. I mean that would have been a waste of beer, money and effort to bring them and also would make a mess. I was more worried about losing the beer vs the mess, so I guess I have my priorities right!

– After 45 minutes of rough and bouncing waters, we made it to Tobacco Caye and it really was a tiny place. We could see around the whole island as it was that small. We had to unload our bags and all the groceries, which was a task in itself as everything had slid out of the bags and was loose on the boat. We found some snacks here and drinks there. While Kirsty was looking for her stuff, she hit her head so hard on the boat or a bottle or something, that she was in seriously pain. We were worried she was going to going fall over as she was quite woozy. In the end, she was hurting but ok and had a nasty bump for a few days.

– When we got off the boat, we had to find a place to stay at and knew there were only five places on the island. We didn’t want to lug all our bags around, so Adam and I went out together to try to find something with Lindsey and Kirsty stayed with our stuff. At first Adam and I came to a lot of run down looking cabanas and I was a little worried about what sort of accommodations we were in store for. The first place we went, was fully booked as they had a large group there. The next place was nice, but more expensive, next one was cheaper but already had a family with kids in it (that were on our boat) and we didn’t want to be around kids. We finally settled on the Reef’s End Lodge which was right on the water. It looked to be the nicest of them all at for $45 US a night with 3 meals, it was the best option. We even got a private bathroom and a huge room with a balcony right over the water. So after a long day of travel, it was nice to be settled and we were off to the bar for happy hour.

– Since we arrived and it was about 6pm, we didn’t want to pay $45 a night for meals, when we missed all the meals that day. So I negotiated with the owner a price for the room for the first night and we said we would go elsewhere for dinner as there was a snack shop. I asked the group and they were happy with this as Lindsey said she wanted to eat elsewhere at least once. So save some money and eat elsewhere and we all win. Only problem is Adam and I went out snorkeling and swimming while Kirsty and Lindsey had more cocktails. We didn’t think it was that late, and was only 7:30pm when we got out of the water. We figured we could change and get dinner by 8pm What we found out was the snack shop closed early that night and there was no where for dinner. I didn’t personally care as I always have snacks on me, but the others wanted dinner. So we had to eat our words and go back to our owner and see if they could make us some dinner. She was a little upset as dinner was already cooked and served and she said we should try the snack shop and we told her it was closed (and she was surprised). So they told us it would take some time, but they ended up cooking us an amazing chicken and mashed potato dinner and we were happy campers. Plus I found a Chinese Checker board and taught the group how to play Chinese Checkers. It was all fun and games until Adam got mean as he realized I was getting close to winning, so he purposely blocked all my spaces so I couldn’t move at all. Not nice, but I ended up winning anyway.

– My time on Tobacco Caye was quite relaxing…I read a lot, drank at sunset and really spent our days relaxing in hammocks around the island. The first day had a nice tropical breeze so it was cool enough and when we got hot, we just went swimming off our dock. There were fans in our rooms at nice, so that kept us cool enough. It was perfect, well until breakfast the next morning that is.

Things got a little worse…

– After breakfast, I didn’t feel great. Thought maybe something in the food didn’t agree with me and left it alone. Then again with lunch and again with dinner. Now dinner was conch, which I have never had, so I thought maybe it didn’t agree with me as it was a strange sea creature, but quite a local treat. Adam and Lindsey were telling me to take Imodium as they take it at home all the time. I haven’t ever taken it, even after a year traveling I haven’t needed it. But I thought I would wait through the night to see what happened. The four of us went out after dinner for more drinks and fun including playing the drums and turtle shell drums at the main bar on the island. It ended up being a really fun night.

– As I walked back to the room with Kirsty, the owner of our hotel came out to tell us the generator broke and there would be no electricity (which meant no fans that night). We weren’t thrilled, but hoped for a breeze. Of course, that was the one night that was the hottest and all the locals said it was the hottest night on record for the year. To say we didn’t sleep at all and were sweating all night is an under statement. It was one of the worst nights ever! Plus my stomach still wasn’t feeling good and it was a sad morning for me. I couldn’t even get out of bed and down for breakfast and just curled up on my bed in pain. Not the way you want to spend a day on a beautiful tropical island. But Lindsey brought me all these magazines she had and I read in bed and started to feel better by lunch time. Not great, but better and was moving around. That was a slow day for me, and food still was going right through me. I wasn’t sure if I could leave the island the next day as I planned as the thought of a rough boat ride and 4 hour chicken bus to Belize City and then another boat to the next island…sounded horrible in my condition. But I gave myself the day to see how it all went and by dinner time, I was feeling a little better and my body was being good to me finally.

– So I was packed and planning to leave when I went to bed, but our night was more interesting. That night I was awoken at 2:24am as the whole room was shaking so violently. At first I thought there was a lot of wind or something, but it was so strong, I knew it had to be an earthquake. I know I should have gotten out of bed and into a doorway, but I just sat in my bed and watched everything shake and move. Kirsty woke up, we were talking about all the shaking and how I thought it was an earthquake, but she didn’t believe me. Funny as in the morning, she didn’t remember talking to me about it. The earthquake did hit off the coast of Honduras, and was 7.1 in magnitude. The epicenter was about 30 km from where I spent 2 weeks in Utila. There was no damage where we were, but we heard about 6 people were killed in Honduras. Overall not too much damage as the epicenter was in the middle of the sea. But it did make for an interesting night for us.

– My final morning, I decided to go snorkeling before breakfast. I was up at 6am, as the generator broke again and the fans went off at 5am and it was so hot in our room. So better cool off in the water. Since Tobacco Caye is known for great snorkeling, I had to go. The island sits right on the middle of the reef. I had’t been up to snorkel yet and had to get one day in. Guess I choose the best time as we saw so many bright colored fish, a giant sting ray and huge mori eel. So all in all, amazing to snorkel so close to our room and see so much. Once I got that snorkel in and my stomach was feeling better, I knew I could leave the island.

– Kirsty and I were heading off on the boat at 9am. I was ready to leave and have a little more choices and conveniences, but glad I had a couple days where I was forced to do nothing but relax. Lucky for us, the return boat ride was quick and painless as the water was smooth. We made it to Dangriga, walked to the bus station in about 10 minutes (covered in sweat as it was already so hot at 9:30am) and waited for our bus at 10:30. We knew we had a chicken bus and it would take a while, but in the end, it was a quick ride to Belize City in 3.5 hours and we met a local on the last bus that was heading to the port as well. He knew the next boat to Caye Caulker left at 1:30 and we had 10 minutes to hop in a cab and get there and it worked. We got to the ferry as it was boarding and were able to get on and out to the next island relatively smoothly. It was one of the rare travel days when everything just worked well.

Tobacco Caye – Reef End Lodge – great place on the water for $45 US a person with 3 meals. The food was great, regardless of my stomach issues, and the generator issue happens to everyone. So even though those issues happened, I would still recommend the place and stay again.

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