19 August 2008

Tropical the island breeze

We have reached that portion of our MesoAmerican adventure that can most accurately be labeled 'holiday', arriving at the tiny island of Caye Caulker an hour or so off the shores of Belize. We are here for no reason other than a bit of self-indulgent chillage. The Very Understanding Girlfriend is, as we speak, scuba-diving near the world's second largest coral reef, and I, allergic as I am to most water based activities, am seconded to the ropey embrace of a roof-top hammock, 'borrowing' the neighbour's wi-fi (which, like their doors, the locals leave unlocked most of the time. Bless). Typing while gently swaying in 35C heat (feels like 40C according to weather.com) is a skill I think I will add to my resume.

For once we seem to have left the rainy season behind us. We left San Cistobal on Friday, traveling overland to Palenque for seven hours through the Chiapas highlands on what had to be the bendiest road I have ever been on. The shock of leaving the highlands and arriving in a tropical jungle with weather in the high thirties and more humidity than a New York August cannot be underestimated - it was like stepping into an ayurvedic barbecue.

Saturday saw us visit the Mayan ruins in Palenque. Although we had spent a good amount of time in Teotecheuan the previous week, nothing could have prepared us for the temples at Palenque rising sharply out of the jungle hillside, with howler monkeys leaping from tree to tree, their cries echoing through the ballcourts below. truly this was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

They say a picture tells a thousand words, but as my camera ran out of battery less than ten minutes after we arrived, you will have t imagine the screams of frustration that erupted from deep within me, cries that resonated with the howler monkeys and misconstrued as invitations for amorous advances which I then had to politely, but somewhat awkwardly, refuse. I had my iPhone with me, and as the sun was blazing in the sky the light was good enough to use it's camera, all 2 Megapixels of it, but I'll have to wait until I get back to Dublin to download and upload.

We left Palenque that night on a 9:00pm bus that left at 10:30pm, heading for Chetumal in Yucatan and the border crossing into Belize. We were trying to make a 7am boat sailing from Corazal, an hour south of Chetumal in Belize, and the journey from Palenque was supposed to take seven hours, so we were a bit stressed by the time we actually got on the road. I don't sleep on planes/trains/automobiles, and you can now add buses to that list, so I had the joy of watching the bus inch its way through lowland fog that reduced visibility to less than ten feet, dodging oncoming 18 wheelers that didn't understand the meaning of reduced speed, lights, or any other niceties of driving hazardous conditions on single lane roads when you can't even see far enough to notice the charred and burnt remains of the last truck that flew by at 100mph scattered over what passes for the hard shoulder.

Needless to say a journey time of seven hours was more aspirational than a summer 2009 release of Watchmen, but we arrived into Chetumel at 6am and thought with a bit of luck and Hay-zues (Jesus' hispanic brother, very popular at the Latin Grammys apparently) behind us we might just make it over the border in time.

Which we didn't.

After changing buses in Chetumel, going through the border crossing any paying the $20 departure tax, passing the unregulated American owned Casino in the no-mans land between both countries, and startling the Belizan immigration officials who obviously weren't expecting two bleary-eyed and ever-so-slightly anxious looking Irish people at such an ungodly hour, we made it to the sleepy town of Corazal at ten minutes past 7 in the morning of Sunday, 17th of August. We ran as fast as our little legs could take us through the (three) streets of Corazal, passed incredulous Maya and Creole townfolk on their way to mass, down to the docks to catch the one boat that would get us to Ambergis Caye in time to make a connection to Caye Caulker, hoping against hope that Belize was really, as the guidebooks told us, a Carribean country despite its central American location, and thus nothing would really run on time (a bit of a racist assumption on our part, but these were the straws we were clutching at as we ran).

And as we made it to the dock, yes, oh sweet zombie Hey-zues yes, there was the boat still moored with a group of sleepy deckhands ambling about!

“Is this the boat to Ambergis”, we asked, “why yes, it is” they said. “can we pay in US dollars, or do we have time to go to an ATM and take out Belize Dollars” we asked, “we take both” they said, “but you have loads of time to go to the ATM, we don't leave for another 40 minutes”. “how odd”, we said, “we thought you only left at 7am”. “that's right,” they said,”its only 6:20 now”.

6:20am. Belize is in a different time zone, an hour behind Mexico, its northern neighbour.

Thus at 7am (Belize local time) we boarded the good ship Thunderbolt and sped across the tranquil waters off the Caribbean to Ambergis Caye, the 'Isla Bonita' made famous by one Mrs Madge Richie, before walking the three blocks to the other side of the island and boarding a second water taxi bound for the smaller, less developed, far less sung-about, but infinitely more enjoyable Caye Caulker, arriving at 10:30 in the morning and just in time to pass out from exhaustion.

Caye Caulker is smaller than Bull Island, has three main dirt streets (Front, Middle and Back Street) and no cars, the main mode of transport here is electric golf carts, and bicycles. The town seems mainly populated mainly by backpackers here to snorkle and scuba, and the rastafarian and ragamuffin dive shops and bars that cater for them. The temptation to start a conversation with any of the many rastas just so I can tell them I was in Haile Salasie's bathroom three weeks ago (ugly tiles pon da wall, mon, dem be in seriously questionable taste) is almost overpowering.

There's no real beach, the coral reefs stop any major build up of sand so you have to take a boat out to do any real swimming. Its incredibly hot, possibly the hottest I've ever been in my life, and the offshore breeze does little to help – its amazing to think that its actually going to be about 10C cooler in the Nevada desert at Burning Man next week (its 29C there now, with no humidity, compared to the 40C that it feels here today, or the positively arctic 32C it will feel tonight).

With all that in mind there's not much to do really but sit in the shade in a hammock on the roof of our guesthouse and take it easy.

Which sounds just fine to me.


At 10:19 am, Blogger Kate said...

It's still raining here.
We've had flooding each weekend you've been away.
I hate you.


At 1:44 pm, Blogger Farran said...

Sounds like you're really not enjoying your adventure!


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