Fish out of Water

**NOTE: The following events were in 2017. Catching up on old posts before I leave for another adventure in a couple of weeks! Stayed tuned for new adventures soon!!**

Day 787 – 26 April, 2017

I sat next to the window on the ferry to Caye Caulker from Belize City, letting the breeze tussle my hair. I was wearing long pants and hiking boots and sweating profusely in the tropic temperatures. I felt naked without my backpack, though. I anxiously kept patting my carryon to make sure it was still there. From the carryon, I fished out my flip flops that were tucked underneath my fleece jacket and makeup bag (in hindsight, this was an amusing item to have considering I hadn’t worn makeup in more than 6 months). Taking inventory, I had my camera and chargers, my iPad, and a pashmina. I had worn my bikini top on the plane, thinking the wireless triangle top would be more comfortable than a bra for two days worth of travel. It did not occur to me to wear the bottoms. There were no cosmetics or a change of clothes. When I had hailed a taxi on my arrival in Belize, the taxi driver seemed to be confused by my lack of luggage.

Caye Caulker is an island off the northern coast of Belize. It’s characterized by dirt roads, seafood grills, and a laidback atmosphere for backpackers and beach bums. At the hostel, I must have looked a sight when I showed up, not having slept properly in two days with deep sweat stains streaked down my tank top. I still had henna tattoos on my hands. I immediately asked my host where I might be able to buy a new swimsuit, explaining what had happened with my backpack. She reached behind her in a pile of laundry and held up a black bikini bottom, saying that someone had left it behind and I was welcome to take it. As a matter of fact, yes I DID want that, all while knowing that my mother would be mortified by me wearing someone else’s used bottoms.

The bikini fit and sort of matched my top so I darted to the closest beach and promptly fell asleep face down in the sand.

I slept more when I got back to my room, but realized I had nothing else to change into. The long pants were just too hot so I tied the pashmina around my waist as a skirt for when I wasn’t at the beach. A girl in my room overheard me trying to call Malaysia about my backpack and she offered to give me a pair of shorts and a top. Another girl gave me some underwear and sunscreen.

Unfortunately, I discovered that the only shops on the island only sold resort clothes. I couldn’t buy any proper underwear or other basic shorts or tank tops. I would classify the boutiques as froufrou island wear – sexy lace swimsuit coverups, animal print Brazilian-cut one pieces, and feather-trimmed sandals. I settled for a pair of black crocheted shorts, a pink Caye Caulker t-shirt, and a black sundress/swimsuit cover with white floral appliqués as the most “basic” items in the store. I was able to buy toothpaste, but no toothbrush and no comb. I bought bug spray, but no shampoo or conditioner. The dream of many backpackers is to be ultra-light – this had never been MY dream, yet here I was, very bare bones. I quickly discovered all I needed was a bikini, flip flops, sunscreen, and mosquito repellant. You don’t need much else in Belize it turns out.

There is a “secret” (not so secret) beach on the northern reaches of the island. First off, during Hurricane Hattie in 1961, the island of Caye Caulker was split in two. This is called The Split. The water is aquamarine and relatively shallow and is inviting for budget-minded beach-goers like me. The Lazy Lizard bar at The Split kind of has a monopoly on the beach. They serve sugary umbrella drinks with names like Lava Flow and Killer Bee. Hurricane Earl tore through in 2016, a year before my visit, and did some serious damage so I was witnessing the rebuilding and a lot of it seemed unfinished. Luckily, enter the “secret beach.” Through word of mouth at the hostel, I learned that I could take a boat to the north side of Caye Caulker, north of The Split, to the Koko King resort and beach area. Everyone is welcome.

I went to Koko King with my new friends, Anna and Tea. We laid in hammocks and ate conch ceviche and sipped mojitos and listened to a reggae band until evening. Allegedly, there are manatees that swim in the waters near the dock to Koko King, but they eluded us.

Back in town, we went to a fish grill and drank beer barefoot in a sand floor bodega. We were staying on the first floor of our hostel, but whoever was on the second floor partied well into the night. The next morning Anna woke up to discover someone had vomited out of the second floor window and it had leaked in the open first floor window next to her bed, which was not ideal.

I went on a snorkeling excursion to swim with nurse sharks at Hol Chan Marine Reserve. It was intimidating at first, but there was something about their graceful dance in the turquoise water that didn’t feel threatening at all. I intentionally chose to snorkel with a company that didn’t feed the sharks. I wanted to have an authentic experience to interact with the animals exhibiting their natural behaviors, but our boat was surrounded by other boats that were all throwing chum into the water. We saw rays and sea turtles near the barrier reef, where the current was so strong that you could actually feel it pulling you out to sea.

I spent several days baking in the sun, growing bloated with exceptional fresh seafood, and using my fingers to comb my hair. I was wearing a used bikini and sleeping in a room with no air conditioning that smelled like vomit. Life is good.

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