Monday, January 19, 2015

The Stamp Collector: New Years in Belize Part I: Ambergris Caye

Ambergris Caye by air.
There's a movie title that perfectly sums up a travel addict's mentality: "The World is Not Enough." If you don't know, it's a crappy James Bond flick where Denise Richards plays a nuclear physicist. Yep. But, let's focus on the title. I can't speak for all travelers, but for me, all my self-indulgent travel began with a small list of places I wanted - nay - had to visit (Brazil, Australia, Thailand - where I have yet to reach). Then I ended up traveling to wherever with whoever, oftentimes whenever; the list went out the window, and it became all about the exploration… and the passport stamps. Ultimately, traveling the world will never be enough. Visiting a new country, environment, culture - It's an appetite that can never be satisfied.

This is really just a loquacious way to explain why I ended up going to Belize. No great reason. Just because. Just because it's warm there in December and January. Just because it's f'n freezing in Connecticut. And just because I like to go big on New Year's Eve. Collecting another stamp ain't too shabby either. As per usual, I went with my travel bro Pete. Not as usual, it was a 6 night/7 day trip. Longer than my average trip. It's actually more time than you need in Belize. We spent most of our time on Ambergris Caye (pronounced "key"), a small island around 80 minutes east of the mainland. 

I'm breaking down the trip in 3 photo/blogs: Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, and Guatemala/Belize mainland. All photos unfiltered.


Right outside our hotel, Banana Beach. There aren't many big beaches in Belize.  This is the average amount of beach you'll see on San Pedro and Caye Caulker. It's more of a dock and shore town. Keep that in mind if you're looking for beach travel - I wouldn't recommend Belize.
Belize's main beer is Belikin. It doesn't taste fantastic, somewhat like Tecate, but it's much better ice cold. Of course, when in Rome… That's my excuse for drinking a lot of these bastards. Conch fritters in the back.
This meal was at Caramba, recommended by some cab drivers and Fodor's, but it's totally a tourist spot. I ordered a Mayan fish fillet wrapped in banana peel flavored with local peppers. As per usual, I was always order some random BS that the menu says is local/native. It doesn't always pay off. A burger might've been better...
I didn't go here, but I did have the urge to join a local gym and play dodgeball. #FnACotton

The backyard of our hotel. Private beach, with dock pick-up depending on the excursion.  Banana Beach was all right, especially for one of the cheaper hotels on the island - as far as I know - we didn't do that much research. One drawback is that their wifi is weak. It turned out to be quite a nuisance trying to meet up with people or make plans with tours, but the rooms itself were spacious. There's also two tiny pools. The biggest issue with Banana Beach is that it's a $5US cab ride from the town center. That's not much, but when the cost of living on the island is so cheap, you're just wasting money. It's a 5-10-minute bike ride from the city (will talk more about bikes below), or a 2.5-mile walk, which we accidentally found out. 

Simple breakfast as Island Torch Grill in the Town Center. Those fried dough pastries here are called "fry jacks." They're almost like a breakfast funnel cake - only healthier! Hahaha, I just made that shit up. No way these bad boys are healthy, but they're good.

The town center and the clock tower. Doc Brown and Marty McFly would've had a much easier time if HillValley was in San Pedro. Clocks and time are seemingly more symbolic on the island as everyone takes their sweet time and nothing is punctual.

We rented some bikes and started exploring the island. After riding about 90 minutes north of town, you start to run out of things to see. Bike path becomes spotty at times. There's a ton of incomplete construction of vacation homes… and apparently a lot of drug deals. The dude who rented us the bikes made it seem like West Baltimore with Marlo running the show. We didn't see any such commotion, but we didn't feel like testing either.

Caye Mart! Sadly, caye is pronounced "key" - so it's not quite the homonym awesomeness we all wanted. Also not sure if that's a statue of Jesus or the bearded guy in the Diet Dr. Pepper commercials. 
Requisite paradise pic. Screw you, clouds!!!
Went snorkeling in Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley.  Pete went diving, I did not (check this blog why: He had close encounter with a moray eel. I had a close encounter with these weiner fish.
And this nurse shark.

These are striped fish. You can tell because they have stripes. #IDontKnowWhatTheyreActuallyCalled

My turtle friend. He didn't have a surfer accent, but he did help Marlin find Nemo.

Evidently this guy does believe fish are friends, not food. Look at all them buddies chilling.

The bustle of San Pedro.

Town Center for New Year's Eve. Tons of mainland residents came out to the island to celebrate, as well.
Different angle of the midnight madness. 
The fireworks show lasted for awhile - seemed like 15-30 minutes. To be honest,  I don't really know. Time became more of a concept than a measurement at this point. #YouKnowCuzIWasSleepy
More fireworks. Normally San Pedro - and Belize in general - is a sleepy town. Bars close at midnight, very much-driven by day-time tourism like diving and snorkeling. However, for NYE, the town came to play like a 4th quarter Russell Wilson.
Some of that New Year's Eve crew. Them tykes go hard!
Found me some stage. 
New Year's Day is uber slow and quiet in the islands. We trekked out to Caye Caulker - will profile in next blog. Had dinner at a solid local spot - Pupuseria Salvadoreno, an El Salvadorian spot with great pupusas, a thick handmade corn tortilla filled with meat, cheese, and beans. The woman in blue outside is cooking pupusas. Ate some ceviche, as well - all ceviche on the island is good. 

On New Year's Day, I had to watch the college football playoffs. Missed almost all of the FSU-Oregon game, and was watching Alabama-Ohio State at Pupuseria, but as you can see, the restaurant was closing and waiting for us to leave. It was 10p!!!
So we headed back to the hotel and found Carlo n Ernie's Runway Bar, right next to the municipal airport with a huge projector screen, and as you can see - huge crowds were amped to watch the Sugar Bowl. Had a Lighthouse lager, which is made by Belikin, but way better. Very light, but not as - what's the word - ass-y.
Windsurfing proved to be an epic fail. Our instructor with Kitexplorer, Audrius, was a well-informed guy, but he couldn't control the weather. As I had the kite attached to me (which I couldn't figure out for the life of me), our anchored boat started to float away. So as he and Pete ran to get the boat, the kite was whisking me away. With Pete now holding down the boat and a squall heading towards us, Audrius decided to take the kite back. Good call. As the storm came, we used the kite as a tent in the water. Good times. On top of that, water leaked into my GoPro case and destroyed the camera. Today was not the smoothest day.
But dinner was good. We hit up another hole-in-the-wall that another traveler recommended to us. Called Waruguma, it had pupusas, as well as 2 lobster tails for $17.50US. 
One of the main bars on the island is Fidos (pronounced Fee-doughs). We may have ended up at this place at some point on every night. They say they have the largest thatch roof on the island, which isn't exactly a boisterous claim. What I do know, is that the Belikins and Lighthouses cost $2.50US each, which can be either really good, or really bad! They have live music every night and were showing UFC 182 on Saturday night. San Pedro is very much a Saturday night town, as opposed to Friday night. People aren't out too late on Friday, but Saturdays for sure.
Our last night on the island, we hit up El Fogon, which is another spot that all the locals and tourists seems to like. We had an array of local dishes, shrimp creole, fish balls, this chicken whatever it is. 
Goodbye San Pedro. From outside our hotel room. 


It's about a $15US water taxi ride (1-way), from Belize City to San Pedro, which takes about 80 minutes. There're three main ways to get around the caye - golf cart, taxi, and bikes. Our hotel, the Banana Beach was about 2-miles south of the town center, and considering the $5US one-way rides started to add up, we rented bikes. Two good bike rental spots: Joe's Bike Shop (no credit cards, $15US for 24 hours) and this random ice cream shop that also rented bikes. Seems like a weird combo, but it turned out to be convenient because I could get a fresh pineapple, papaya, banana smoothie while getting a sweet cruiser with a basket (no credit, $12US for 24 hours). No word on how many ice cream cone-influenced biking accidents there are in San Pedro, but this spot could be directly responsible for any... rocky roads, hey-yo!!!


Next: Caye Caulker, a slow-paced island that had one of the greatest meals I've ever had.

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