Our alarm failed us, or maybe we forgot how to use those darn things, but we jolted awake at 7:15, 15 minutes after we planned to leave for the border! We hustled and booked it out of camp in Bacalar, Mexico toward Belize. We had done our research, and knew what to expect, but even knowing what to look for, the lack of signs for ANYTHING had us turning around to go back to the unlabled "little wooden house" for our car fumigation that is required to enter Belize. Don't ask us what this is all about, but it was some strong smelling chemical that they sprayed our car with (by a gas mask wearing teenager) for $5... :/ We quickly moved through immigration, customs, and headed to the car insurance building, the entire process took 1.5 hours. Not bad!!
Hello Belize! We decided to head straight for a little off the beaten path town in northeastern Belize called Sarteneja. An hour and a half on a dusty dirt road and 2 hand cranked ferries later we arrived in the sleepy little town, grabbed a selection of cold Belizean beers, and headed to a little beach with turqouise waters. After getting sufficiently pruney in the water, we found Backpackers Paradise, an organic fruit farm with camping, and we would soon find out, many other guests in the form of chickens, horses, snakes, scorpions, tarantulas, gigantic moths, and hoards of mosquitos! Chris was is his own personal heaven, hunting around each night with his headlamp like he is the next Steve Erwin, and Mallary was in her own personal hell, but this hell fortunately provided a screened in common area with wifi, a kitchen, hammocks, and also all you can eat fresh juicy sweet mangoes and her all time favorite food, banana blossoms!! :)
|Chris crankin' some ferries|
|Sarteneja... Land of the 3 for 50 cent empanadas and crystal clear waters|
|Backpackers Paradise and some of our roomies!|
|Foraging for banana blossoms to keep the mosquito magnet happy in the jungle|
We are still traveling with our friends Nick and Leah, and we all decided to take a diving "vacation" week to Caye Caulker, a 5 mile long 1/2 mile wide, car and pavement free island, with the motto "GO SLOW". We left our cars at Backpackers Paradise and hopped on a ferry to the island. (This was definitely the more expensive option to get to the islands, but we had been stressing about where to leave our cars in the infamously crime ridden Belize City, and were happy to dish out the extra bucks to keep our home on wheels safe and not have a worry on our minds while on the island)
Upon arriving on the island, their "GO SLOW" motto proved to be serious, as we struggled for hours in the stifling heat trying to work out our loosely prearranged accommodations that Leah found for us. We ended up in basic rooms across the "street" from each other on the main strip in town for the first 3 days, right next door to a little dive shop. All was well on the island. We spent our days roaming around finding good and cheap food, talking to dive shops, sitting on our porch drinking coffee, and getting a feel for the place.
|Our cute rooms on the sandy main street of Caye Caulker|
|Getting smoked out by the grill and some burning coconuts, Caribbean jerk chicken and fresh snapper are totally worth it|
|Fry Jacks, the BEST food in Belize. 1.50 usd each! Good for the mouth, good for the wallet|
We rented a glass bottom kayak one day and went in search of some saltwater crocodiles on the northern side of the island. We unfortunately made one wrong turn into a spookey looking mangrove that looked promising for a croc sighting, got a little stuck in the shallows, and suddenly got attacked by a gang of mosquitos whilst getting unstuck! At this point Mallary is flailing around smacking the blood sucking little devils, and Chris is manuvering the kayak out of the mangrove and also smacking the crap out of Mallary's already welted up back! Genetic predispositions combined with type O blood really put a damper on so many situations... It's just never ever fun to be the one person covered in bites, when all your friends are untouched by the little bastards!
|So much fun... Until it wasn't!!|
For the last 3 days we moved to a wonderful house on the south side/locals side of island. Yes, an entire house!! 2 bedrooms, a living room with couches, and a full kitchen!! What a freaking treat that was! Lounging on a couch and cooking in a real kitchen are pastimes we definitely took for granted back in the states... If you happen to be reading this from a soft, clean, comfy couch right now, do us a favor and just enjoy the crap out of it! ;) There was even a resident croc in the backyard named Charlie who was unfortunately very shy during our stay, but Chris and Nick spotted a croc close up when biking home from the store one evening!! Our house was a 15 minute bike ride down a sandy dirt path infested with mosquitos, land crabs the size of footballs, and crocs. We loved it!
|Our crib on the southside|
Finally the morning had come to do some diving. About damn time! A group of seven of us loaded up into a boat and headed off for a dive site called Esmerelda, known for unusual canyon formations in the reefs and sharks! Sure enough, after rolling off the boat and into the water we could instantly see a couple sharks swimming in the reef about 40 feet below us. As we descended down, a couple more of the sharks came out of the woodwork and greeted us on the reef. We now had half a dozen nurse sharks (normally docile unless provoked) swimming among us sometimes getting within an arms reach away. The curious sharks ranged in size from 4-8 feet and were surprisingly glittery, like in Twilight when the vampire skin is hit by sunlight. As we swam through the canyons and reefs we saw massive Hawksbill sea turtles, many colorful fish, beautiful corals, and were continously joined by the sharks until we finally ascended. It was amazing how the sharks just casually stayed with us throughout the entire 55 minute dive, as if they enjoy being being gawked at by divers!!
|Rolling with our shark posse|
|Pass the mustard, we've got a lot of SARDINES here|
We got back to the dock amped about our day and now had to make a big decision about tomorrow, our last full day in Caye Caulker. The dive shop was heading out to the Great Blue Hole in the morning, famous for being first explored by Jacques Cousteau, and considered one of the top ten dive sites in the world. The almost perfectly cylinder shaped hole is surrounded by beautiful atolls and is 1000' feet across and 407' deep, with massive stalactites occuring 135' down. It was formed in a dry cavern above sea level during glacial periods... A true geological wonder. We did't necessarily ever talk about or plan on doing this dive, but here we are, so close to it, practically drooling as the local dive shops describe the day we could have, how could we pass it up?!? The cons: dangerous, people die here sometimes from a multitide of reasons. Panic or equipment malfunction could spell disaster, nitrogen narcosis can set in at 100' impairing judgement, and furthermore the 135' depth was deeper than Chris was certified for. Cost alone was enough to put a dent in the budget and send us back to eating ramen noodles....what to do!? GO OF COURSE!!! :)
We woke up the next day before the sun, hopped on our bikes and rode down the sandy beach path during sunrise. The 2 hour boatride destined for the Blue Hole began with a huge pod of dolphins frolicking and jumping in unison in the wake of our boat! This day is already the best day ever!!! A few minutes later, we came across a family of Sperm whales, and our captain slowly stalked them one by one, giving us an up close real life national geographic experience of them blowing water in the air and occasionally giving a coveted tail wave! The day just keeps getting better! Then, we arrived at the Blue Hole, suited up, and jumped in. We quickly left the safety of the reef and swam down to a barren shelf at the edge of the enormous hole. Even with the clear visibilty, looking out into it was a dark and amazing abyss. Then came the plunge over the shelf and began the weightless feeling of sinking down along the wall, 60' below quickly became 80', then 100' down and soon we could see the massive stalactites hanging from a cave in the wall. At 135' down we zig zagged in and out of the mouth of the cave and its tooth-like structures, estatic feeling due to the sheer beauty and also a bit of nitrogen narcosis (excess of nitrogen in your blood that gives you a loopy, almost tipsy feeling that goes away after ascending). Due to excessive air usage at that depth we had to start ascending after about 8 mins of being down. On the way up we passed a reef shark hunting in the darkness and eventually surfaced all of us screaming about how amazing of an experience it was! We could not be happier that we choose to do this dive!!
|The perfect start to the perfect day|
|The Great Blue Hole|
|Narcosis selfies in the Blue Hole|
The trip also included lunch on Half Moon Caye, a pristine island with one of the few accessible Red-footed Booby colonies in the world. The tiny island has some of the most pristine waters and beaches in the Carribbean is protected against any development or fishing. We explored the beaches and forest of this Lost lookalike and found the squawking colony of Boobies. We snapped off a few pictures while hoping we were not on the receiving end of bird crap. It would have been amazing to just camp here but alas, we still had two dives off the island that are also ranked as a premiere dive locations in the world. The first dive brought us to a 2,000 foot reef wall with an explosion of color, fish, sharks, and rays. The next site was properly named "Aquarium", the fish were so abundant they were at times bumping into your body. Reef sharks occasionally cruised by probably wondering what we tasted like, even a couple large green moray eels came out to swim freely along the wall. Simply UNBELIZABLE!!
|Half Moon Caye|
|4,000 Booby birds nesting beside their pirating neighbors the Magnificent Frigatebird|
|Feeling like a fish in a huge aquarium|
Sadly, it was time to say goodbye to island life, we celebrated our last night with a fresh caught crab dinner, compliments to the talented broom stick and garbage can armed hunters Chris and Nick!! Mmmmm. We still have the rest of Belize to explore, and we weirdly missed our little 4Runner home... So back to the mainland for these gringos...
|Dinner time on the island!|
|A bunch of really hot and tired gringos on the long journey back to our cars|