Bye Bye Belize

Today we’re leaving the paradise island and on the boat back to the mainland the words “Pass my Aloe Vera to that red guy over there” are heard as a bottle of salvation makes its way to Johan. Back in port we hop on the bus and begin our journey to Guatemala. Before leaving Belize City we pass a somewhat odd graveyard where the graves extend all the way out to the divider in the middle of the road!Lizard The landscape gets interesting as we leave town for the countryside, hardly two trees are the same type and you can see the mountains faintly in the background. Johan is something of a bird guy and since he’s sitting next to me today we keep an eye out for them. I don’t manage to see many but Johan spots both a Parrot and a Toucan on the way.

As we come up on the border we get stopped by a police man for not paying our road tax, as soon as that is settled though we get to go on to the border. At the border there are lots of money changers and I get to get rid of my leftover pesos that I’d almost given up hope exchanging.Humbug I think I get an okay rate since the guy has an ID card and everything showing that he’s a licensed money changer. But next time I go on a trip with lot of currency juggling I’ll bring a note of what exchange rates to expect since the brain tends to not work very well on vacation.

On the other side of the border you need to wait some more and we take the opportunity to get some food. Karina warns us about an ATM in town that people have been skimmed at before. Since Åsa and I are both nerds we decide to use the time we have here to try and find the ATM in question and see if there is any skimming equipment attached to it. After asking the locals, using a lot of gestures, for the location of the ATM (the word is “cajero” by the way, rather useful when you’re a tourist) we head up a hill to a gas station. The ATM turns out to be rather well protected though with a thick piece of plexi glass around the card slot, so there is little risk for skimming.

The Guatemalan currency, the Quetsal (named after the bird), is roughly 1 to 1 with the sek, making it easy for our vacationing brains. Guatemala is the first cheap country we’ve come across so far and we get lunch for two for under 30 Quetsals.My palm leaf hat As we get deeper into Guatemala we also get higher up. The vegetation is thicker and greener and there are lots of cozy little villages to look at on the way. Our goal is a town called Santa Elena (the one in Peten province) and we arrive just before nightfall.

The hotel is really nice but we’re told not to wander around on our own in town since it has happened to other groups that they’ve been robbed. So when it comes to dinner time we’re a rather large group heading out. Too large in fact, we’re so many that we can’t really decide and Åsa and I make a break for it and eat dinner at some food court in a mall nearby. Malls are kind of fun to just wander around in when you’re in a country you don’t know much about so we do just that and look at what the price levels are and so on. It seems for instance, that cameras and other technical goods are about the same level as in Sweden, while food, candy and booze is significantly cheaper.

Exit fee: 40 blz
Sandwich + beer: 30 quet
Snacks and beer: 24 quet
Dinner: 55 quet
Candy: 62 quet

Money Laundering

Johan and I have decided to go diving today so after breakfast we go to the dive shop and try out equipment. Everything is close here in Caye Caulker so there’s just a 200 m walk to the dive boat. We’re going to be diving with two Americans and a Canadian but they’re not very talkative. Going out to the reef takes only about 15 minutes but as we come near to the dive site the waves are pretty high and it’s kind of rough going jumping in. CanyonsI get in okay but Johan who hasn’t dived in a while hasn’t got the right amount of weights and is struggling. All that fiddling with high waves and all has gotten him seasick as well, so he decides to abort the dive. Good call!

Down at the bottom it’s calm though and we make our way through reef canyons while seeing lots of lobsters (the kind without claws that looks like a sissy). They’re bunched up in little caves along the reef wall but you can spot them rather easily since the antennae stick out rather prominently. There are also a lot of large lion fishes and our dive master uses a spear gun to pick them off as we go. Lion fish is having a supremely bad dayThe reason for this isn’t that he’s a sadist, rather that lion fishes aren’t native to the Caribbean but rather the product of an accident during hurricane Andrew when an aquarium in Florida was damaged and a bunch of them was released into the sea. Ever since then they’ve been living the high life since they don’t have any natural predators in this area. So a lot of the divers around here are doing what they can to keep the numbers down by spearing and feeding them to moray eels.

During the dive he spears probably six or seven of them but sadly there aren’t any morays around so he just lets them drop to the bottom. We see more barracuda and interesting corals, but no turtles or rays this time. Between dives we go to shallow and calmer water so we can snorkel for a bit and eat some fruit. This is when I discover that I’ve been doing the entire dive while still wearing my money belt, ooops… Fortunately money is designed to be able to handle stuff like that so they’ll probably be okay.

The second dive is more or less like the first but slightly shallower, which I don’t mind since the first one was really good. The coral landscape is awesome with large coral hills interrupted by sand filled canyons that allows for small caverns on the walls where interesting things hide out. There’s lots of Lion fish this time as well and our dive master even brings a really large one up into the boat to have for dinner later. Johan’s sea sickness hasn’t gone away so he has been lying down on the floor of the boat the entire time, unaware of that his legs has been sticking out into the blazing sun and now the result is showing.Idiots on sticks He’s looking more or less like a cooked lobster and is starting to feel the pain.

Back at the hotel I happen across J1 and J2 who are really excited after today’s snorkling trip where they got to manhandle both sharks and stingrays! Having rested a bit (and hung my money to dry) I hook up with Daniel and Åsa and we start exploring the Caye Caulker by wandering aimlessly. We come across a guy me and Johan spotted this morning sporting a hat he has made out of two palm leaves. I buy one of them and start getting a lot of attention from people wanting pictures or just looking at it, well spent 10 blz. Stopping at the Lazy Lizard for a Baileys Colada we sit down to watch the ocean and dip our feet,Sunset in paradise discussing the fact that we’re probably the three nerdiest people on this trip.

We do some more exploring and manage to capture a beautiful sunset before hooking up with some of the others back at Lazy Lizard where we’re spend some time watching a bunch of douchebags balancing their way across some poles standing in the water. It ends predictably with one of them almost impaling himself on one of the poles. All of them eventually fall off, all of them but one, the guy who started it all, a generously bearded hippie who has been slowly and methodically making his way towards the end and actually makes it just before it gets really dark.

We end up going for dinner at Bamboo, a great place down at the beach featuring chicken bingo (where you bet money on a number and the winner is the one who has the number where the chicken takes its first dump). You sit at giant swings at the tables and the place is packed. When we eventually get the food we understand why though, it’s absolutely fabulous!

Diving: 80 blz
Hat: 10 blz
Baileys Colada: 10 blz
Food: 70 blz

The Great Blue Hole

Half Moon CayePickup is at 6:30 and we manage to be there on time, getting some nice pictures of the sun rising. The boat ride to the Blue Hole is over two hours and the seas are really rough on the way there. The boat isn’t that large either, so most of the passengers are just focusing on surviving the 2.5 m waves. The captain is really competent and since I don’t seem to have any propensity for motion sickness I’m greatly enjoying it. The other passengers are mostly loud Americans, they are really friendly though and we chat a lot on the way.

After about 45 minutes we get inside a stretch of small islands and the seas calm down enough for us to use the bathroom safely. 20 minutes later it is time again for more of the same, this time we get to see some dolphins chasing the boat and jumping high in the air, awesome!Exiting a cave At last we arrive at the hole and the captain gives us a briefing about the hole and how it was discovered by Jacques Cousteau back in the seventies. We’re going to do a deep dive here, all the way down to 40 meters, so we have follow the dive masters closely and be vigilant for nitrogen narcosis. Our dive master Cynthia gives us a run through of the signs we’ll be using and tells us about what to expect down there. The main attraction are the huge stalactites that comes down from the overhang at around 40 m, that’s why we go so deep. The deep dive means that we do no stay down very long, only about 20-25 minutes.

We jump in and check that our weights are okay before descending. The fishes here are huge and you can see the giant rim of the hole just 5 meters down or so. Carefully monitoring our descent rate we go over the edge and down into the hole. Visibility isn’t all that great, but every once in a while we see a shark coming out of the blueness a few meters off. They’re never very close though so there’s no reason for concern. We level out at 40 meters and make our way under the overhang and swim between the almost meter-wide stalactites. The air is really heavy to breathe now since it’s five times thicker than up on land, I also recognize that I’m a bit dull-headed from the nitrogen narcosis so I double-check every reading of the air gauge and dive computer.Triggerfish Before you know it we’re on our way up, again being careful and letting air out so that we don’t ascend too fast. We see a couple of more sharks and as we come back up to the rim the captain has lowered an extra tank of air just in case and a rope to hold on to while we make our decompression stop.

This time it’s a beautiful coral wall that drops off deep and we see turtle, more sharks and a few Barracudas. This dive is much better and since it’s rather shallow we get a nice 45 minutes. Toward the end some people are running low on air and go up with one of the dive masters while the rest of us go with the other dive master through a cool almost-cave and I get a nice picture of Jason just in front of me as we exit the cave. This ends the dive for me and we go up to have lunch at Half Moon Caye.

Half Moon Caye is a real paradise island, taken straight out of a travel magazine with palm trees looking just right, white sand and azure blue ocean outside. There is also a bird watching tower if you walk a couple of hundred meters. On they way you can see Iguanas and we actually do, but I never manage to get a picture of it. The actual tower looks out over the treetops and in each one is at least one nest of young Red Footed Boobies (gotta love that name). The Boobies are that kind of bird where the male has a big red sack under the beak that they inflate in order to make the female birds swoon.

The last dive is done at a site called the aquarium and once again it’s a reef wall disappearing down deep into the blue. As we jump in, one of the dive masters have put some bread into the water, so there’s a feeding frenzy going on with some rather large fish. Really fun in the beginning, but they tag along for the ride and after a while they actually get a bit annoying. Lots of fish and interesting coral, we get to see another Black tip reef shark, a turtle, a huge Moray Eel that was swimming along with us right out in the open instead of just lurking in a cave as they usually do.Dinner Suddenly dive master Cynthia starts banging on her tank and points out into the blue, out there are a gang of Eagle rays, a bit smaller than the rays I saw before but still magnificent.

The way home is much more calm and the crew treats us to some rum punch, basically a smashed watermelon and a three liter bottle of rum, making everyone rather chatty. Back at the hotel I just rest for a bit before hooking up with Isa, Jenny, Lina, Emma, J1, J2 and my room mates Daniel and Johan to go for dinner. We find this place on the beach that for once has excellent service. The evening the is wrapped up at the Lazy Lizard where I discover my new friend the Baileys Colada.

Caye Caulker

Good thing Thorstein found his way back yesterday because we need to make an early getaway to be able to take the boat to Caye Caulker in Belize before it gets dark. But since this is Mexico the bus is of course late even though our local travel helper Oscar phoned several times last night to remind them to be on time.

When the bus eventually comes we load up and start our journey to Belize, but we get no further than the first stoplight.Colorful housing Because then the bus just stops dead, exhibiting all the symptoms of a dead battery. So while everyone is theorizing over what’s wrong with the bus our driver takes out some tools and dives into the engine room. And lo and behold, not fifteen minutes later the bus actually starts up like if nothing happened!

There’s an uneventful drive on the really good Mexican roads down to the border. We hop off just before the border in some kind of mall area as it is the only chance to get lunch along this road. It’s actually a McDonalds and Johan is once again very upset that they don’t serve any El Maco, what gives Mexico?! That should be your national dish!

At the border you have to pay a fee of $24 just to get out of the country. Seems weird, but Karina claims that it’s quite common actually.The Lazy Lizard I charm the customs lady by commenting on her nice nails and gets a smile and a Belize stamp in my passport. With some luck I’ll be able to fill a passport for the first time in my life!

We arrive in Belize City harbor ahead of schedule and buy some local beer while waiting for the boat. The ride is about an hour and it’s almost dusk as we arrive at Caye Caulker, Karina helps us to set up a diving trip to the Belize Blue Hole – a world famous dive site which is a giant cenote, 300 m across and entirely circular. It is 124 m deep and inside it sharks are known to hang out, Hammerheads have been mentioned for instance. Christian and I book the trip for tomorrow, and it will take almost the entire day, starting at 6:30 am.

Then we’re off to find a place to eat, Oscar recommends Rose’s Grill and we manage to get a table even though the place is packed to the rafters We’ve haven’t had much to eat the entire day so Johan, me and Therese order two main courses, thoroughly confusing the staff. When we eventually do get the food it’s delicious, grilled fish kebabs, pork chops and side orders of fried African bread fruit and rice. Afterwards we wander off to our designated water hole for the evening, the Lazy Lizard bar, but places here on Caye Caulker close really early for some reason and there aren’t many people around. So we call it a night and go back to the hotel.

McDonalds: 40 mxn
Departure fee: $24
Blue Hole dive: 380 blz
Rose’s Grill: ? blz