Caye Caulker: It Was Unbelizeable

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One last stop at a panaderia before we get this tourist show Whohn the bus to Chetumal.

People often like to share the most glamorous aspects of their traveling experiences, which can make it particularly difficult when you’re right in the thick of some less than favorable moments. Take, for instance, our time getting from the Chetumal bus terminal to the marina, en route to our next stop in Belize.

Whit, being the generous and naive soul she is, got pushed into a taxi scam situation that saw Whohn Brose pay $100 pesos for a ride to the marina as opposed to the recommended $15. Obviously this didn’t go over so well, with John being the more savvy and money-conscious of the pair.

We aren’t going to sugarcoat it: Whohn Brose got into a bit of a kerfuffle regarding the incident, right there on the marina. Once we had cooled off enough to chat, it became clear that both of us could use some food therapy to get us back on track. Of course, that doesn’t mean we were ready to agree.

Where’s a Sub-Away when you need one? Oh, that’s right, it’s on Caye Caulker. Special shout out to all of Whit’s fellow former sandwich artists.

John wanted to walk outside the marina gates in search of some more authentic fare, while Whit thought it might be better to stay near the dock where there would certainly be a place to plug in her phone and charge it in case they needed it to communicate with their Caye Caulker Airbnb host.

It’s not exactly clear how we ended up walking around the not-so-walkable streets of Chetumal in 95 degree heat with 55 liter backpacks in tow, searching for this so-called authentic Mexican cuisine. But alas, there we were. Whit was making sarcastic cracks about how much more enjoyable it might be if we were already eating at the marina, while John persisted about how great this elusive street food might be.

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Little did we know in those trying hours that we’d spend every morning on Caye Caulker feasting on an abundance of tropical fruits, fresh-baked coconut bread, locally-made banana jam, and Belizean hot sauces for our hard-boiled eggs.

Remember a few posts ago when we discussed Whit’s insecurity issues while speaking Spanish on the fly? Well, this wasn’t quite the same, but it felt equally as disastrous. Whohn Brose did eventually end up at a small restaurant with a wholly authentic feel. And in broken Spanish, Whit communicated that we are both vegetarians and that we don’t eat beef, chicken, ham, etc.

Not everyone understands the word “vegetariano” down here, so sometimes it feels safer to list all of the kinds of meat we don’t eat, just for safe measure. After laying it all out, we settled on some queso relleno tacos, which seemed like a good direction considering cheese and chillies and none of all the meats Whit listed are all totally okay for our diet.

To make a long story short, we ended up being served queso relleno tacos that were imbued with chicken in every sense of the word. The stock, the meat, the everything. Whit was the first casualty in the situation, and took a huge bite and swallowed animal flesh that is not fish for the first time in roughly nine years of vegetarianism. For fear of being rude, we fumbled through an awkward request for a to-go box and bailed as soon as we got the tacos into the box.

Fortunately for us, there was a spot called OK Bar on top of the boat terminal with killer views, tasty guacamole, and $1 Sols for Whohn Brose to make a mends over.

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Whohn Brose meets Caye Caulker for the first time from the water taxi dock.

Once we arrived to Caye Caulker, we completely put everything—annoying water taxi passengers included—behind us. Pulling up to the island, it’s hard not to feel totally enchanted by the tranquil island setting and vibrant natural colors. (Especially when, after debarking the boat, the most annoying passenger of our three-hour journey got knocked around by a 90-pound dog trying to hump her.) The island’s motto is “Go Slow,” and you can feel that ethos in everything from walking the sandy streets to finishing your Belize-brewed Belikin beer.

We didn’t have an exact idea of where our Airbnb was located, but as soon as we passed it, our host popped out the front door and asked, “Whitney? Airbnb?” Whit responded, “How did you know? Do we look lost?” to which she replied, “No, you just look like you could use a home.” It was the perfect start to six slow-going days on the island, and it would exemplify our time on Caye Caulker to a T.

Our Airbnb was made infinitely more enjoyable with the presence of our host’s large and loveable dog. If you have seen the movie Sandlot, then picture “the beast” in all of his slobbery cuteness. His name is Magnum, and he would let us pet him and play fetch all day long if we could. In fact, he was such a lover that our host told us he tried to cuddle with a friend of hers and ended up sitting on her toe and breaking it! Magnum, although quite heavy, doesn’t possess a mean bone in his body.

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Wolf print or baby Magnum paw?

Caye Caulker is an island with three main streets (Front Street, Back Street, and Middle Street) and three-to-five cars at best—most of which are used for construction purposes. The majority of people on this small island get around via scooter, bike, golf cart, or good ol’ fashioned walking. In our experience, you can easily walk from one end of the island to the other in under a half hour.

If it wasn’t for the beautiful white sand beaches and reggae music being pumped through the speakers almost everywhere, we could have sworn we had taken a ferry to Florida—or Arizona for you West Coast people. Golf cart life is something to behold, and golf cart taxis are a thing. In fact, there’s only one garage on the island, and it works solely on golf carts. Quite a sight to see when there’s an intimidating skull painted on the garage’s front gate.

Before we get too carried away describing all the enchanting quirks that make the island of Caye Caulker a place you want to never come back from, let’s discuss the highlights.

Kayaking it up.

While much of our time on Caye Caulker was spent going slow and enjoying the pace of island life (John read an entire crappy mystery romance novel from cover to cover in three days), there was plenty to see and do. Between kayaking to the northern mangrove reserve—while also supporting a local high school education program!—and spending a day snorkeling along the Belize Barrier Reef, Whohn Brose caught their fair share of sunrays and blissful exhaustion.

Preliminary internet research had led us to discover that Carlos’ Snorkeling Tours were the most highly recommended on the island. It was a great sign, upon arriving to the dock, when we discovered that an awesome couple from Alberta was doing the tour for the second time during their week-long stay on Caye Caulker.

Whohn Brose saw everything from a manatee to nurse sharks and stingrays, as well as brightly colored fish with pointy noses. Carlos Sr., Carlos, Jr., and Juan were perfect hosts, taking turns to guide our small group along the Belize Barrier Reef, Shark Ray Alley, and the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. They pointed out the various sea creatures, caught and held a shark for us to touch, coaxed an eel out of its hiding spot, and fed the birds as they circled around us.

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*Jaws theme music on repeat*
*Switches to The Little Mermaid‘s “Under the Sea”*
That moment when Carlos Jr. pushes John’s hand away from the nurse shark because he approached it from the wrong side.
Carlos Sr. holding a nurse shark with more ease than either half of Whohn Brose can hold our cat Molly.

When we weren’t busy doing sunset yoga or searching for delicious fry jacks—island time means things are open whenever they’re open, and the fry jack place was not open whenever we wanted fry jacks—we were appreciating the sunset views and tasty seafood fare. Well, when we could catch a spot to watch the sun do its thing.

One night we went to the top of the famed I&I Reggae bar, which just so happened to be in our backyard, only to discover that it was not open for sunset despite the sign that said it was open at 4 p.m. We came back later and enjoyed the entire roof to ourselves in the light of the nearly full moon, sitting atop the very highest platform and looking out over the island with rum panty rippers in hand.

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We had the entire I&I to ourselves! Things turn up around 10 p.m. and also we are old now.
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Fortunately, Maggie’s Sunset Grill was open the next evening so we could watch the sun go down and eat some tasty conch fritters.

When it comes to food, the cake—or BBQ seafood, rather—has got to go to Wish Willy’s. Whit had read in blog after blog that Wish Willy’s was a must-try while staying on Caye Caulker, but when we arrived to the restaurant, we were admittedly intimidated by the fact that it felt like someone’s backyard. “Are we allowed to be here?” we asked one another. Fortunately, we took a chance and fumbled with the gate to get in.

Wish Willy’s feels like your friend’s backyard BBQ. After 10 minutes of sitting at a communal picnic table waiting for service, Wish Willy himself, actual name Maurice, came out and asked if anyone had bothered to bring us beers. When we said no, he replied, “That’s fucked up,” and returned to the kitchen for a couple of Belikins. Later, he came back to the table and asked, “What do you want?” To which we replied with puzzled expressions, “What are you serving?”

There are no menus at Wish Willy’s, and there’s no official opening or closing time either. Wish Willy’s is open a) when Maurice feels like firing up the grill, and b) when customers begin to show up. There are roughly four dishes he offers every night, and it’s up to whatever he has available and/or feels inspired to make.

We were lucky to share our table with a really cool couple from Maryland, who just so happened to be staying in an Airbnb on the same property that Wish Willy’s is located. After scarfing a delicious meal of BBQ shrimp and conch, Maurice came by with a ¾-full bottle of Jim Beam and said, “Drink it all, don’t be shy!” He even took a break to take a shot with us. Lucky for the four of us, it was watered down, which made it much more manageable to appreciate and make good on the gesture.

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We don’t have any photos of our BBQ deliciousness from Wish Willy’s, so here’s a photo of this glorious seahorse we saw. John, feeling inspired by the crappy mystery romance novel he devoured during our stay, will set the seahorse scene for you.

John sat on a dock, far away from the crowded group of tourists that demanded pretty seahorses from a helpful local guide. He was stubbornly determined to spot a seahorse without the help of anyone else—including Whit, who was chatting with a new friend about the rum-punch special that would be served at sunset.

John peered around in an excited manner for the better half of Whohn Brose, when his keen eye gazed upon the most beautiful creature he had seen since last gazing upon said better half (Whit, if that wasn’t clear). A magnificent yellow seahorse had its long tail wrapped around a piece of rope. Triumphantly, he pointed to the wondrous creature sitting just below the water.

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Portrait of the seahorse scene excerpt’s author, titled Little John, Big Chair.

As luck would have it, we ended up being on Caye Caulker during a full moon. Everyone we met throughout our activities and lazing about would ask before parting, “See you at the Full Moon Party?” Seemed like the entire island was set to spend Tuesday evening together at the Split for this shindig—the Split being the north end of the inhabited part of Caye Caulker, where hurricanes ripped the island in half during the ‘90s.

It was cool to grab a couple beers, see the friends we had made throughout our stay on the island, and watch the fireworks display, but once the colored powder started making an appearance, Whohn Brose had to bail because they both liked the shirts they were wearing too much. Joke’s on everyone who stayed at the Split, though, because as soon as we got back to our Airbnb we scoped a late-night munchies walk-up window. Nachos and garlic fries felt like a very Whohn Brose way to celebrate the full moon energy.

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Shout out to our favorite pizza aficionado, Peter Kramer: We can’t wait to make these for you when we get back!

For our last night on the island, we followed a tip from some fellow snorkelers who recommended a place called Southside Pizza. Photos may have done snorkeling justice, but no camera could ever touch the deliciousness that was these pizza spinners.

We ordered a medium when a small would have been just fine. Did we finish? Um yeah, no need to ask for a to-go box like we did in Chetumal. Sure, the waitress shamed us after we finished, saying, “Wow, that was fast!” Of course, we felt no shame. We were too full to be offended and too close to the truth to care.

Caye Caulker, it’s been real. Next stop: Flores, Guatemala!

3 thoughts on “Caye Caulker: It Was Unbelizeable

  1. Continuing to LOVE your blog! How fortunate that at least one of you is near-native-Spanish-speaker! Are you enjoying the challenge?! Each encounter you have in Spanish gets to that much closer to native-Spanish-speaker!!!


    1. So glad you are enjoying our journey with us! It is unbelievably stressful in quick communication situations, but there have also been some really patient people who let me speak and help get me on the right track. We signed up for some Spanish lessons on Lake Atitlan at the start of next month, so that should help a lot! Practicing and speaking are two totally different beasts, I am learning.


  2. That was fun, Juan and Whit! Gpa and I really appreciate your pictures, descriptive narrative and chuckles! What an experience1
    The food looks fantastic! Enjoy!


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