Chinese People on a Sandspit
Trip Start Aug 09, 2009
108Trip End Oct 23, 2009
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Take a handmade wooden table cobbled together with rusty nails and splintery 2X4s. Drape a sticky purple and white checkered tablecloth over it so as to give this crappy table some hip and edgy curb appeal. And for the crowning touch, place a 1950s era dirty metal juicer on top and voila, the perfect breeding ground for hours on the toilet, and hopefully not while in transit on some intercity chicken bus with no facilities out in the remote jungle.
A steady stream of naive young foreigners stepping right up to that table for their fresh squeezed juice provided some entertainment as I waited and waited for the bus to Belize City
Using one single glass for his sidewalk enterprise allows Amoeba Man to unwittingly abide by the environmentalists' creed of reuse, reduce and recylce. Nope, no plastic cups or bags of trash here. This enviro friendly food prep station requires somewhere to rinse this lone petri dish and what better place than in this bucket of foul H2O. After a brave customer finished his juice, the glass took a dip into water infused with batch after batch of orange pulp and backwash. Amoeba Man did make the effort to cut the germs loose by placing his hand over the mouth of the glass and vigorously shaking everything into submission. Oh yes, the crowning touch, he would clean the orange mess off his hands in the same water. I mean come on. Can't these kids just look at the process and just maybe tell themselves this is not going to have a postive outcome six hours down the road?
And they wonder how swine flu spreads so fast in these third world places. I can save the CDC millions in research dollars by sending them a few shots of this man preparing his unsanitary dysentary in a glass. Ok, so I give the dude credit for trying to make a buck and doing what he has to do. That doesn't mean I have to part with my Quetzals at his curbside diner. (The Quetzal is the currency here and also a bright colorful bird by the way).
The return trip to Belize City was about the same as the trip to Flores except this time in customs we had haul our belongings with us through the mud rather than keep them on the bus. Pouring down rain soaked me good by the time the bus came along to pick us back up on the Belizean side. The whole immigration process took us through two sets of dilapidated customs shacks connected by a mud parking lot full of the requisite hustlers and vendors. Just like at Tikal, the Europeans backpackers' gauzy clothes were no match for the rain and nothing was left to the imagination. I guess we Americans are just too modest to give up our thick cotton, huh?
Just a side note...the Euro backpackers with their translucent MC Hammer clown pants and long hair got their bags searched thoroughly. I mean this was more thorough than the TSA picking through some infant's used diaper because the baby somehow ended up on some watchlist. We clean cut all-American types were waved through quickly without so much as a glance. Score one for America here!
The bus bounced through western Belize and eventually deposited us at the Marine Terminal which luckily is the same place for the boats to Caye Caulker. I don't think I would have wanted to maneuver my belongings in the heat around the cesspool that is Belize City past doped up ordinary street thugs. Of course all the hustlers and bums rushed the bus as soon as it pulled up and the transit police had to run them off since they were trying to "assist" us with retrieving our items which were tied down on the roof under a tarp. It was like one of those scenes on tv where the typhoon victims jumping up and down mob the relief supply truck
About a 45 minute ride over water so amazingly clear and every color of blue imaginable delivered a couple dozen of us to Caye Caulker. Belize minus the City really is a friendly, wonderful place. In fact, I had read Belize City is best only used as a transit point and I am planning the rest of the trip to avoid the city center if it all possible. I fully concur with the guidebook and what I have read online now after having seen the place twice with my very own eyes (and nose). Belize is an amazing country with great folks and there's no way a few morons in Belize City will taint my views of this place.
So what do you call a strip of land less than a mile long, 2-3 blocks wide and about 20 something miles from Belize City? Paradise found might be a good name for it. Caye Caulker may as well be in a different country it is so relaxed and stress free unlike that sprawl along the Haulover Canal back on the mainland. Nope, no cars or sidewalks along these packed white sand streets. Just a few golfcart taxis for those too lazy to walk the short distances are the only motorized vehicles I saw. The crystal clear water is like one of those places in a travel magazine we all dream about but never can afford to actually visit. Wait, for once I am actually visiting those places we dream about on those glossy pages!
By day this island just swelters and bakes like some sort of breezeless third world convection oven. The sun and humidty just beat me into submission and the island absolutely languishes in the heat. We showed up with no plan, no reservations and no agenda. The humidty fueled heat made finding a place fast top priority and the second place we came upon seemed ok for about $25 a room
Two hours later a Dutch guy and girl from the boat were still hunting for accommodations and were schlepping their crapola on their sweaty backs like pack mules in the heat. I asked them if the island was full and they said the hostel was and the other places were out of their price range. You know, sometimes forking over that extra $20 a night for something a step above the hostel is just the right thing to do, esp after having already wasted two hours already in 96 degree tropical heat. It's all about survival.
Two groups of tourists supplement an economy based on lobsteringg...those who are here to dive the Blue Hole and the largest barrier reef in the hemisphere and backpackers looking for a cheap, cheap, cheap authentic Caribbean experience. I neither dive nor really care one way or the other about the water so I got to wondering why the hell am I here. I just wanted to relax and kick back in a place where time stands still like Caye Caulker, but the heat was just killing my spirits and making me dream of Alaska
The reef a few thousand feet offshore keeps the sea grass filled water on this side of it knee deep and no beaches in the traditional sense of sand really exist on Caye Caulker. However, the water is just absolutely amazing to look at. Some sand does line the shore though and all the ramshackle wood huts built on stilts give the place a distinct look. One hurricane though and this place is gone for sure since nowhere seems to be more than a foot or two above sea level. Seagrass and mangrove trees seem to be all that keep us from dissolving right into the sea like a vat of third world quicksand.
Chinese owned and operated mom and pop stores with names such as New Luck Grocery or Dong Fatt Restaurant littered the highway in town after town on the highway between Guatemala and Belize City. Even the smallest of towns has a Chinese restaurant inside some moldy concrete shack decorated with faded paint. Why should Caye Caulker be any different? Two joints spewing nasty odors into the streets offer up Chinese food and each convenience and food store seems to be owned by Chinese people. Now how in the world do the Chinese end up in a remote Belizean border town like Benque Viejo or on a tiny three block wide sandspit like Caye Caulker way out in the ocean? Is anyone in the market for a ceramic piggy bank shaped like a fat cat with eyes on steroids or a cheap Chinese made bra? The Chinese grocery on the island here is well stocked with cheap tschotskies probably made by some seven year old back in a motherland sweatshop.
I could imagine I was in China actually with the heat and humidity and the suspect smells of some sort of animal products frying. No, I take that back. This island is much cleaner and plentiful stray dogs haven't yet turned into sweet and sour or emperor's delight. But seriously, do Chinese people spin a globe and where it stops they move and open a restaurant or grocery store? Caye Caulker, Belize of all places. Fine by me because they just had to the colorfulness of all that is Belize.
Around 7pm the island did a complete 180 degree for me and I was glad I came for the first time. The sun had gone down and a gentle breeze picked up. OK, Mr. Breeze, where the hell were you all day when I needed you? Now the warm air just wrapped around me like a comfortable blanket and that barely perceptible breeze kept me from melting into a pool of sweat. I walked out to the end of one of the long docks, looked up and the ink black moonless sky drew my eyes upward with a wow. Away from the few lights Caye Caulker has, the Milky Way makes a bold appearance along with a million of its closest friends. So many stars hide any chance of making out the constellations. I may not have found the Big Dipper or Orion but I finally had my peace, quiet and relaxation that I came to this remote island searching for. Two hours of laying on my back staring up flew by and it was time to return to that Tropical Paradise Hotel room that had by now cooled down to 88.7 degrees according to the temperature readout on my travel alarm.
The original plan for two days on Caye Caulker has been reduced to one by unanimous and enthusiastic consensus so tomorrow is open with no agenda yet except a trip back to the mainland ASAP. I am glad I was on Caye Caulker...I found my authentic Caribbean experience untouched by highrise development, tourists, chain stores and jaded locals. This sandspit definitely operates on Caribbean time infused with a little bit of Chinese and is one of the more unique places I have ever crossed paths with.