CAYE CAULKER, Belize, April 9, 2011 — It is early December. A quick trip from the mainland and the twin-engine propjet is landing on Caye Caulker. Stepping onto the sand, you feel the ocean breeze just slightly cooling beneath the warming sun.
It feels, somehow, right. Not a word has been said and yet you know this place will live in your heart, and soul, forever. This place, whose motto is ‘go slow’ will settle within you, calling you back for the rest of your days.
Islands dot the Belize coastline (Photo: Jacquie Kubin)
Caye Caulker is one of the islands that sits off the coast of Belize, a small nation located in Central America whose coastline is entirely on the Caribbean Sea; the only nation in Central America that does not have land along the North Pacific Ocean to the west.
But that is more than OK.
Belize has numerous cays and islands that dot along her coast. Some, like Caye Caulker, are small and intimate. Others, like San Pedro, boast a much livelier commercial center and larger population.
Others are uninhabited spots of nature gone wild.
At only five miles in length, more than half being largely undeveloped natural land that attracts eco-tourists, Caye Caulker has a population of less than 1,500 permanent residents. Cultures are mainly Mestizo, however there are Garifuna, Creole and the indigenous Maya.
Surprisingly, there is also a countable Mennonite population. Mostly farmers, the Mennonites provide Belize with much of the vegetables, dairy and poultry sold in Caye Caulker.
Belize also claims the second longest barrier reef in the world. The Belize Barrier Reef measure 200 miles, making it the longest in the western hemisphere and from the shallows to the depths, it supports a vast and fascinating ecological system.
With warm waters and incredible diversity, Belize is a diver’s paradise. It is simply a perfect destination for spending long, languorous days in the water or simply sitting along side, whether on the beach, the end of a pier, or one of the eateries dotting the cost.
But for now we are above the water with warm sand at our feet and ocean breezes gently caressing skin that invigorates from the winter sun.
Though a tourist paradise, just before Christmas, Caye Caulker is blissfully quiet with few tourists walking the sand streets. There are no cars with the preferred transportation being your feet followed by a golf cart or, for many residents, a bicycle.
It does not take long to realize that one reason for the island’s de-stressing calm is that it is void of the constant rumble of car and truck engines, as well as the smell and dirt of the exhaust.
There are no cars or trucks on Caye Caulker. Just bikes, golf carts and feet!
Dogs proliferate on the island; many “belong” to people, while others belong to whoever chooses to care and feed them for the day.
During my visit, a beautiful mother brindle Pit would wait for me to return, knowing I brought a gift of food from one of the many restaurants on the island.
The water, tropical breezes, laid back living and sand beneath our feet aside, Caye Caulker boasts some incredible restaurants – from local cuisines to that great little “Italian” place down the beach.
Habeneros is one of the island’s most popular restaurant stops where quality cuisine is created by internationally trained chefs and served on the wide veranda like porch that offers views of the people and dogs below, all seeming to be busy not doing much at all.
Habeneros menu is rich with seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables and colorful cocktails that enhance the island vibe.
A fully satisfying meal, followed by an evening walk where you are continually greeted with cheery good evenings and implores to visit any number of fine establishments and it is time for rest before you enjoy your first full day on Caye Caulker.
Sleep comes easy at the Seaside Cabanas, one of the larger hotels on an island where most accommodations are smaller guesthouses that feature comfortable beds and welcoming environs.
The rooms at the Seaside Cabanas are unique in that they are fully formed of concrete, being rebuilt after a fire that destroyed the original property. However, far from being cold, creative lighting and bright orange blankets lend a cozy and festive feeling to the room.
Here, like elsewhere on the island, the people are warm and generous. The property has a small, intimate bar perfect for a late afternoon, or early evening cocktail, that is manned by Kib Jubalus, an indigenous Mayan with broad smile and deft cocktail shaker skill.
Jubalus introduces me to island rums including Barrel 5, which has a smoky, caramelized flavor and clean aftertaste. It is quickly pronounced the favorite rum shot of the evening. Home, its’ distinct taste instantly whisks me back to the Seaside Cabanas and palm thatched roofs.
The Seaside Cabana rooms look out to the ocean, and closing the slatted blinds but leaving the window open means waking to island’s morning sounds the ocean and the mocking birds, terns and flycatchers that can be seen dotting the sky.
Read Part Two: Caye Caulker: Caribbean Sea – Intimate Island.