BELIZE: A welcoming day filled with island pleasantries lays ahead with an exhaustive list of things to do, and while choices can take you back to the mainland for tree top zip-lining or exploring Mayan temples, this island is my home for the next twenty-four hours.
Breakfast is Amor Y Café where freshly baked grain bread is thickly cut and grilled while cheeses and ham lie nestled within in. Served with a healthy fruit plate and rich coffee, your island day begins.
A trip to the Belize Barrier Reef is on the schedule as is time just sitting at the “split.”
The “split” is a spot designed to inspire and one can easily imagine one of the beat generation poets enjoying the romantic view of the shallow, turquoise waters that intersects the island.
The split is also the perfect place to laze the day, scuba, kayak or just swim around. Water trapped inside a concrete barrier creates a shallow eco-system where you can stand and watch the tube fish swim around your ankles, or take a seat on the picnic table set like an island in the water, then just leaning back and soaking in the peace.
Taking ones time to talk to the artisans and vendors along the way is a multicultural experiences. Before heading to Front Street is a stop at Tortilleria La Asuncion, where corn is ground in an ancient machine, the corn meal being made into a large, balls of dough.
Those larger balls are divided into golf ball sized portions which are slapped into rounds and the baked on an ancient looking, wood oven with rotating stone baking surface. And then purchased later in the day from the restaurants and food vendors that dot the island.
Walking up Front Street the island’s easterly side toward the split there are plenty of places to stop, interact with the island population and eat. From restaurants to industrious entrepreneurs who navigate the island with freshly made delicacies, such as chicken tamales made with freshly ground corn and wrapped in banana leaves before being sequestered in warming “coolers.”
Selling brightly embroidered purses, blankets and table runners as well as multi-colored beads are young woman from Guatemala; a talented Rastafarian man creates bowls, walking sticks and leaping dolphin statues our of native hardwoods.
There are various trinket sellers – necklaces, blouses, knick-knacks and bric-a-bracs to help you remember your island sojourn. Most fun is the men selling freshly opened coconuts that allow walkers to sip the refreshing juice through long straws.
Luncheon choices are numerous however we opt to stop at the Rainbow Grill, perched over the waters next to a long pier that beckons one to walk its uneven planks for a moment alone with the sun and sparkling waves.
While not the most special of island choices, the Rainbow allows for wonderful views from their covered porch. With it being slightly cool we choose to sit where the clear vinyl shades help to stop some of the breeze.
Here at the Rainbow the conch ceviche tastes fresh with nice lime tones. However don’t come here looking for warm, or quick, service. But the view is incredible.
You will, if you take the time, meet many an interesting person along Front Street, including Mr. Chocolate, a septuagenarian whose passion as steward of the manatees is strong. Those lucky enough to get on one of his tours to Swallow Caye will learn so much more than facts and figures as this life long island resident speaks of his beloved manatees, ocean and the need to protect all that lives in the water and on the land.
A frequent spokesperson for environmental awareness, Mr. Chocolate has appeared on Planet Earth and Discovery nature shows to spread his love for the sea, the marine park and all the creatures, great and small, that live there. You can contact him for tours based on decades of watching his beloved country most bountiful resource.
A choice for dinner following a full day of moving slow is the Italian joint, Don Corleone’s Caribbean Trattoria, where an island much farther north, Manhattan, inspires wonderful pasts and classic dishes.
A bountiful and rich, but moderately priced wine list is the best on the island.
An incredible treat was the Cestini di Gamberi, a puff pastry filled with finely diced shrimp, carrots and celery, topped with capers and just the lightest touch of honey.
Not to be missed are the bountiful stuffed Portobello mushrooms topped with breadcrumbs, garlic, mozzarella and Parmigianino reggiano cheeses or the whole lobster thermidor, served with a Caribbean sea lobster split open and filled to overflowing with large chunks of lobster delicately seasoned in a double cream sauce to create a rich, luxurious feast.
Our repast was filled with incredible tastes some of my favorite including the Watermelon Salad, chunks or sweet red melon tossed with feta cheese, black olives, red onion, fresh mint and basil leaves, drizzled with lime juice and extra virgin olive oil.
People, sun, water, sand and incredible foods, from freshly made fry jacks and rich yellow eggs in the morning to incredible cuisines served with festive island cocktails at night, Caye Caulker is a destination that will come home with you in your heart, always a reminder that its time go back, to go slow.