Monday, April 13, 2009

Don’t pay the ferryman ‘til he gets you to the other side.

I knew little about Tobacco Caye. Our Lonely Planet was woefully out of date (at least 5 years) and had only a passing mention. But thanks to a friend’s reco and some quick internet searching, I’d managed to piece together that it was a tiny key about 30 minutes offshore right on the barrier reef, great for snorkeling and diving and very chill. I expected it to be like Caye Calker but the minute we got to the dock I knew just how off the comparison was. This was no terminal. There was no ticket desk. There was just a guy named Bernard and a boat. A small boat.

We agreed on a price. But before we got onboard, Adrian needed breakfast. Or rather lunch. Because the only thing open was a small shack selling chicken, rice and beans. This time we mixed it up and got the beans and rice. Not quite a full English but after two days of gas station and convenience store cuisine it was delicious and cheap too. With full stomachs it was time to get on the boat. It was just three benches and Bernard soon filled them up. Meaning I ended up sitting in the middle which started out uncomfortable but became excruciating as soon as we pulled out of Dangriga. The boat should have planed smoothly over the water but a combination of a full load and lots of waves had us slamming down as if the water was concrete. Not only was my butt getting bruised but my lower back killing me.

With nothing but sea in sight, I had nothing to distract me from the pain made worse by that stupid song kept playing in my head on repeat. “Don’t pay the ferryman don’t even say the price. Don’t pay the ferryman until he gets you to the other side.” Finally, a strip of land dotted with cabanas and deluxe huts came into view on the horizon. Yay we’re here. But as we got close to it, the boat turned away to a break in the caye and kept going further out towards a tiny spec that didn’t get much bigger as we headed towards it. This was Tobacco Caye, five square acres of land on the edge of the Central American barrier reef.

We pulled up to a dock. We had made it to the other side (barely) so I paid our ferryman. But our journey wasn’t over. We still didn’t have a place to stay. And without a map or roads to follow we just started walking. Tobacco Caye was a bump in the ocean scattered with guest houses and cabanas. We weaved through them getting a little bit lost until I recognized some of the cabanas from the pictures Andrew had sent me.

“Excuse me?” I asked a guy lying in a hammock, “Where’s the office?”
“Don’t know. I was met at the dock,” he replied, “but try over there by the restaurant”
As I rounded the corner, I ran into a woman.
“Are you Elaine?” she asked me.
“No. Elizabeth. Are you Karen?”
“No Barbara.”
Oh maybe this wasn’t the place from the photographs. But it looked nice and I was sick of carrying our backpacks. 
“Oh. Do you have room for two?”

She did. And as Adrian painstakingly assessed and compared the two available cabins, she and I continued talking. Soon realized we were indeed the people we had been looking, we were just both bad with names. She was Barbara, friend of Andrew and transplanted Canadian who’d arrived a year ago on the Caye and hadn’t looked back. And this was the Tobacco Caye Lodge I’d seen in the photos.

We settled into our lime green cabana with a big comfy bed, a private bathroom and three square meals a day. This was luxury. Finally we’d discovered what Belize had to offer. Beach. Sun. And chilling.

Next door to us was another Canadian, Craig (Hi Craig). He was traveling from Cancun through Belize but had bypassed the north and Belize City in favour of San Ignacio. He liked it so much that he stayed there for 10 days – a strong second recommendation for a town we originally weren’t going to get to. Then the dinner bell rang and we continued our conversation in the communal dining room. The other guests, two Swiss gentlemen were already there. Blinkie, the lodge’s guide, told us he was doing a snorkeling tour the next day and we all signed.

Night had fallen suddenly while we were eating and when we were done it was pitch black outside except for the bazillions of stars. It didn’t leave much to do so Adrian and I went back to the cabin and watched more episodes of Dexter. Outside we heard drumming and singing so we turned off the computer and headed towards the music. At the tiny beach bar a bunch of Garifuna guys were playing a bunch of unique percussion instruments (marimbas, turtle shells, etc) while a bunch of people from the Raggamuffin tour boat drank and danced around them. The tour group was on Tobacco Caye for the night as they sailed from Caye Calker to Placencia stopping at small islands like this on the way – a much better boat ride to Tobacco Caye than ours.

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