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.
We were in Caye Calker in 2001 and in 2003. At the time, Caye Calker was backpacker’s heaven, a cheap and laid back island where you could walk around bare feet and enjoy some good snorkeling close to the barrier reef.
But Caye Calker changed. We knew it would. Yet it was a shock.
The boat from Belize City zipped to the island in less than 40 minutes. I could barely recognize it from the pier with its several story-high constructions and dozens of wooden piers parallel to each other. The boat was unloaded in a quasi-military fashion. Almost efficiently. Did the German take over the place?
Finding an affordable hotel wasn’t easy. Back in the days (I’m old enough to say that, right?) you just walked around and spot the “guesthouse” signs. But this time, we weren’t sure what we could afford and what was out of our price range. And a lot of hotels close to the shore clearly were.
While I was prepared for some changes (we had seen a few pictures of the brand new hotels), I hadn’t expected the island to be crowded. Caye Calker is tiny: it’s flat and you can walk around it in about 30 minutes. The only good place to swim is the “Split”: a dock that split the island in two during a hurricane. But of course, the split was jam packed. Not exactly enjoyable. It was the same in the small street, people kept on bumping into each other’s.
And that’s exactly the issue. There is nothing unique in Caye Calker: the beach is fairly small, you can see the barrier reef elsewhere, there is not viewpoint or local attraction. Backpackers used to like Caye Calker because it was cheap and laid back. But that laid back attitude is gone. Back then (again!), a snorkeling trip to the reef meant sharing a boat with a stoned captain and a few other backpackers. To hell with safety rules—everyone smoked on board and the trip was a total impro. I’m not sure how it works now but there are so many tour operators and tourists that I doubt it’s as enjoyable.
Caye Calker is a small island. It is not supposed to be covered with pricey hotels and restaurants. It’s simply not sustainable in the long run and it completely lost its charm.
To top it all, we had the hotel from hell, complete with mosquitoes (the screen was broken), bed bugs (fortunately on the spare bed in the room but bugs were crawling on the sheet) and noisy lovemaking next door (mercifully quick—thanks to copious amount of alcohol probably).
We had planned to stay a few days. We left the following morning. We can do better.