Every night just before dinner time, we could see birds flying in circle over the beach near the Island Magic hotel - that was a sure sign that fresh fish had just arrived! We went down to the small pier one evening to see the fisherman (I believe his name is Novell) arrive with his catches for the day. There were all kinds of colorful fish, big and small, that could be bought right on the spot - whatever isn't sold at that moment ends up at some of the island's restaurants. It was really neat to see the locals (and some visitors) pick their evening meal and to watch the fishermen prepare some filets for them. They usually throw the parts that can't be eaten to the birds (see my little video), which explains why they tend to gather around the beach when they see the boat coming. Even though we didn't buy any fish that night, I still enjoyed having the opportunity to get a glimpse of the locals' life on the island!
It is rather surprising that there should be such an important Chinese population on such a tiny Caribbean island but if I remember correctly, I counted no less than six Chinese restaurants, and pretty much all the markets on the island are tended by Chinese people. Most come to Caye Caulker to learn English and spend a few months working on the island before going back to China once they've improved their language skills. It's easy to spot newcomers as they will often use a calculator and show you the total price, whereas those who've been there for a while have had time to learn their numbers. It's just another little thing that makes Caye Caulker so special and unique!
Fishing is Caye Caulker's second biggest industry (after tourism, of course), and practically everybody on the island knows someone who fishes. If you ask around, chances are you'll be able to find someone who'll sell you some freshly caught lobster and stone crab so you can cook your very own seafood feast! OK, since I don't eat seafood, I heated up some pasta while Sylvain and his parents were eating the crab and lobster, but it was still fun to take part in that fantastic homemade dinner!
It is virtually impossible to spend more than a day in Caye Caulker without having some rum punch - every restaurant has its own delicious recipe, and practically every tour operator will offer you some rum punch at the end of the day's activities. The secret to making this national drink: some Belizean rum, some fruit squash and some fresh fruit juice! After we got the recipe we bought all the ingredients we needed at one of the island's convenience stores (a 35 oz bottle of rum costs about US$10) and were able to make our own rum punch back at the hotel :o)
Another popular drink on the island is the "panty ripper" (usually pronounced "panty rippa"), and that is made with coconut rum and pineapple juice. For those who don't like rum, wine is available, but it is much more expensive. Two beer varieties were also widely available on the island: Lighthouse, a light-tasting lager, and Belikin, which I personally preferred because it had a bit more kick. Don't get the wrong idea now, I did try quite a few drinks during my stay on Caye Caulker, but it was only for the sake of writing this very useful local custom tip! ;o)
It is always slightly surprising at first to spot a Mennonite family in the middle of all the tourists clad in beachwear, but given that there are now thousands of Mennonites living in Belize, it doesn't take long before you get used to it. Mennonites first came to Belize in 1959, and signed an agreement with the Belizean government that would allow them to live their simple way of life without having to fear being persecuted for their religious beliefs. Most Belizeans are quite respectful of Mennonite communities and recognize the importance of their presence in the country: indeed, Mennonites produce over 70% of Belize's meat, dairy products, fruits and vegetables, and they do so without the use of modern technology. Talk about a hard-working bunch!
Belize is a diverse country with a mixed population of 49% Mestizos (Spanish-speaking Mayan/European mix), 25% Creoles (English-speaking African/European mix), 11% Mayan, 6% Garinagu (escaped African slaves from Caribbean islands) and 9% others such as Rastafarians, East Indians and Mennonites.
We saw this group of Mennonite women waiting for the water taxi on Caulker, dressed in their usual garb of long skirts and head-coverings. They seemed to be having a good time, going off to get some ice-cream cones and lining up for various group photos. The Mennonites are relatively recent immigrants to Belize (ariving within the last 40 years) after leaving Germany following the Second World War to settle in Mexico for a while before finally moving on to Belize. Mennonites and Amish are basically of the same religion, but the Amish hold stricter views about not embracing modern technology and personal grooming/fashions. Because the Mennonite settlers team together to buy large tracts of land and equipment to properly work it, Belize has benefited enormously from their presence.
During our later excursions in Belize not far from the capital of Belmopan, we came across field after field stretching to the horizon in a remote jungle stream area, with a different crop growing in each plot. When I said to our tour guide that this looked like a government-run experimental farm, he said "no, it is Mennonite land". I was impressed!
In some ways, our arrival on Caye Caulker was almost like a flashback to the days when we lived in Papua New Guinea! During a morning walk along the eastern shore as we headed south toward the Airport area, we saw a number of beachfront properties that were built on stilts - and they looked almost like the house we lived in for 3 years on the other side of the world. We actually saw houses like these all over Belize, used by the locals as well. In hot and humid climates the stilts serve a number of purposes. They get you a little further up and away from the creepy crawlies, the living space is up where the breezes are, you can park your car underneath in the shade and it even helps for the odd storm surge or two if you are living on the coast!
The locals are a mix from the past, slaves, Indians, Chinese, Koreans and Europeand are the most common nationalitys in Belize, they speak Creole and a feeling of Jamaica is very close, rastafaris are plentful here, some of them are artists, painters, writers etc... Very nice people, you will never be afraid or having a bad feeling. They usually end the conversation whit a friendly fist to fist "knock" and saying the magic "Respect" - very cool!
I know hanging your laundry out to dry is common in many places around the world, but this is the only place I've been where a hotel has actually encouraged it. Our apartment/cabana came with a clothesline and clothespins for our use - no need to be discreet about washing a few things in the sink here.
Folks on the island are totally laid back. They just want you to have a good time. So, enjoy their company. They move s-l-o-w, though. I had "fast food" once and it took 'em about 20 minutes to get my food to me. Don't rush. Just enjoy it. Women seemed to be approached by every guy on the island, so be aware.
We were so happy with our stay at Seaside Cabanas; we've only been back for a week and we're already...more
Great, small, self service condos just across the street from the ocean and a few blocks from Caye...more
The sea view cabins might be a little bit of a stretch of the word "view" but it was still good...more