Ambergris Caye, Belize

We landed in Belize in the tiny Philip Goldson Airport. It was four of us graduate students excited about the prospect of an exotic spring break adventure. We planned to spend the first couple of days in Amergris Caye, the largest island off the coast of Belize. Set in the Caribbean, it houses the town of San Pedro and is about a mile away from the second largest reefs in the world. After a 30USD cab ride to the water taxi terminal where we depart for the island, we realized we had about an hour to kill. So we deposited our luggage at the terminal and walked around the area in Belize City. When people warned that there wasn’t much to do or see in Belize City, they weren’t kidding. The area was impoverished and lacked anything spectacular. Finally, we boarded the water taxi and two hours later, we were docked at the beautiful island of Ambergris Caye. We made our way to our “budget lodging” called Conch Shell Inn. It’s located in the middle of the island; a walk to the south end of the island showed us that that’s where the fancy resorts were, but in retrospect we were glad we stayed in the middle where it was mostly locals and less touristy.

Conch Shell Inn was like a large pink barbie doll house. They clearly took their name seriously while decorating the place, conch shells adorned the exterior and interior of the room. The room itself was much better than I expected. It had a little kichnette, a double bed, a single and a tiny bathroom with translucent glass walls!And it definitely helped that the hotel was right on the beach. After cleaning up, we walked around the island in search of a mouth-watering dinner. The streets were littered with mom and pop shops and the main mode of transportation was golf carts. An observation that I would confirm later was that the locals are extremely friendly and laidback. Clearly, the culture on this tiny island was not fast moving or intense. I felt the worries of classes and the blur of New York life wash away as we walked around. Finally, we decided upon a restaurant with a beach front view called Mangoes. It’s owned by a North American man and was a little pricier than other joints but the food was phenomenal. The stuffed poblano peppers totally hit the spot!
I also discovered what is now my favorite drink- Michelada!
The Belizean version of the bloody mary is made with Belikin, the local beer, and assorted spices and sauces that give it quite the kick. Apparently, a great hangover cure! After dinner, we headed over to explore the night scene. We stopped for some shots at Big Daddy’s and grabbed a couple of beers at Fido’s. Then, exhausted from the travels, we decided to call it a night.

We woke up the next morning to cloudy skies, a little apprehensive about the impending rain. Since it was our last full day on the island before heading back to the mainland, we knew we had to maximize our time! We decided on a snorkeling tour with Ecological Tour which cost us about 40USD. A speed boat took up to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, about 4 miles off the southern tip of the island. Hol Chan is Mayan for “Little Channel”. The channel was established about two decades ago as a sanctuary for the marine life and it definitely did not disappoint! The corals and other marine life were absolutely breathtaking! It’s surreal to imagine a world under the sea, as elaborate and beautiful as the world we live in. My friend took some pictures with a waterproof camera that I hope to post soon. To read more about the inhabitants of Hol Chan and how to get there, you can go to http://www.holchanbelize.org/.

After swimming around with our guide for a couple of hours, we made our way to Shark Ray Alley with the hopes of swimming with real nurse sharks! Unfortunately, the weather was not agreeable as it was cold and rainy. We did catch a glimpse of one nurse shark, but were otherwise disappointed. The boat ride back to the San Pedro had to be the bumpiest and most painful boat ride I have ever experienced! However, the Hol Chan experience made the entire morning totally worth it despite the rain.

We grabbed lunch at Waraguma, one of the hole in the wall restaurants that is renowned for their enormous burriots. And they did not disappoint! The burritos were freshly made and served steaming hot. The veggie burrito was surprisingly flavorful and inspite of the enormity of it, I managed to eat almost all of it. Then we grabbed some ice cream at a little joint that showcased a picture of President Obama and his girls eating ice cream at the same store when they were in Belize! Who knew we were in such great company?! Next we decided that we wanted to rent out some paddle boats and race each other. After about an hour of intense leg workout racing our paddle boats, we decided to grab drinks at a local bar called Takklebox. I resorted to my favorite Michelada and reveled in the relaxing atmosphere. It was hard to believe that just two days ago, I was cranking out papers in frigid NYC. The bartender told us that we had to check out the world-famous “chicken drop” that was going to be taking place in a few hours. Decidedly curious, we headed over to Pier House, where this event was to take place.

It seemed like everyone from our part of the island was there along with a live band belting out some punta rock. Festivity was in the air, as we chatted with some other tourists, waiting for the event to start. So in case, you are unfamiliar with the chicken drop, as I was, let me explain it to you. Essentially, everyone buys raffle tickets with a number on it. Then everyone gathers around a fenced in area with numbered tiles. Then the VIP arrives, a chicken that is released into the fenced area. Before releasing him, you have to blow on him. Apparently, that causes the bird to want to poop. And yes, that is the intent of the event, the person who has a raffle ticket with the number of the tile the chicken poops on is the glorious winner! The event was conducted by this older North American lady who seemed to know everyone. A little bit of asking around informed us that she owned the bar and had brought the tradition of the “chicken drop” by Louisiana where she was from. It always gets me thinking when I hear about people like her, from the continental USA who move to a place like Belize and decide to never go back. I often wonder what makes one decide to abandon their “real life” and whether they are trying to escape something. Or maybe the lightness you felt in your heart from being in a small town like San Pedro was something they decided they always wanted to have. I wonder if I could ever leave everything and just move to an island…

We were ready to experience some Belizean nightlife, so we headed to Fido’s for dinner and drinks. Our waiter Julio gave us the best service in the house and also informed us that ladies’ night at Wet Willy’s was the place to be that night. After a few more drinks, we headed over to Wet Willy’s which was packed with people- both tourists and locals! What was common was everyone’s desire to have a blast! Good old top 40 music served as a backdrop for some dancing and mingling with the locals. In fact, our waiter Julio joined us after he got off work! After a wild night that involved some skinny dipping (shh!) we headed home.

The next morning was absolutely gorgeous! Unfortunately, we had to leave around noon to head back to mainland, but we tried to get some sun in before we had to leave. We grabbed brunch at Lily’s…my huevos rancheros and papaya shake totally hit the spot! Finally, sad to leave the beautiful island on such a gorgeous day but excited about the next leg of the trip, we headed to the water taxi terminal back to to Belize City. Next up…the quaint town of San Ignacio and a rustic jungle lodge and lots of Mayan history!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: