Originally, Caye Calker was the backpacker hangout while Ambergris Caye, more developed and bigger, catered to richer people. We shrugged the stereotype off and hopped on the boat.
Take a chicken bus, one of these old U.S. school buses painted blue, purple, red or any bright colour. Listen to reggae music blasting through the loudspeakers—by the end of the trip, you will know the lyrics to every Bob Marley songs, resistance is futile. Observe the people as the hail the bus on the side of the road or as they get off in the middle of nowhere. That’s Belize for you.
Sometimes, going back to places you love isn’t such a good idea. It’s like seeing an old crush again—you know you probably changed, that he probably changed, and that nothing good can come out of it.
Yet I was looking forward to our trip to Caye Calker, one of the small islands off the shore of Belize City.
Belize City, like a lot of cities in Central America, doesn’t have a good reputation. It is much less laid-back than the rest of the country and few find it charming.
Yet it changed.
The ride turned out to be surprisingly pleasant. Sure, my legs are always too long to fit comfortably in buses originally designed to shuttle North American kids to and back from school, but the road was good and the scenery quite relaxing. Reggae music blasted through the loudspeakers for the entire 2.5 hour long trip but this too was relaxing.
Our first stop in Belize is Placencia, a small town somewhat popular with British, Canadian and American tourists. It’s quiet, picturesque and the pace of life is Caribbean-slow. Rows and rows of colourful wooden houses, more or less damaged by the humidity or the rain, kids in oh-so-British school uniforms and cluster of tourists at the bars.
I’m usually very comfortable on boats. I’d take a boat ride over a bus ride anytime and I’m not scared of water. So I was feeling pretty good about our 2.5 hour long trip to Belize.
That said, the boat did look small.
We all climbed aboard and off we went. I quickly felt like we were a cork jerked around in the huge waves. A tiny boat in deep open water.
A lot of you are curious about the food in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. Rest assured: there is some and we are not starving. Quite the opposite actually.
This is what you hear when you get to any frontera in Central America. Here, borders invariably feature a lot of police and military, chaotic crowds, more or less zealous passport checks and a lot of walking. Indeed, the actual border—usually a gate in the middle of the road—is often located a few kilometers from the nearest border towns, hence the need to walk or take a taxi.
Riding the chicken bus is never boring. Like this morning, a cow escaped from God knows where and slowed the traffic down. I also love how locals use pickup trucks: the back is really handy to carry entire families.
The bus was going fast, way too fast for an old school bus turned long distance transportation. I closed my eyes and focused on listening to the reggae music blaring through the loudspeakers. When you travel, you can’t control everything. You just have to let it go and hope for the best.
As soon as we exited the zona libre, the bus sped up. All the windows were wide open and the wind was crazy: it was like riding a convertible for two hours. After a few minutes, I gave up on trying to hold my hair back and simply put on a pair of sunglasses to avoid being blinded by the dust.