Surrounded in the ocean Caribbean, Caye Caulker is a place where time runs slowly and the asphalt has not yet come. “Go slow” suggest the local people when you arrive to the island: the racket of mass tourism has stopped in San Pedro while luxury lovers prefer the resorts in the South of Belize. The nearby reef, the second largest in the world, is an irresistible attraction for divers, while the neighboring atolls offer white beaches and mangrove forests to explore. But, Caye Caulker is not just sea and sand; the influence of nearby Mexico and the Creole culture is felt deeply in the Belizean food and on this small island it is possible taste great dishes, simple, but well prepared. So between a boat trip sailing and a dive at the reef, you can relax with a cocktail at the Split savoring tasty grilled fish, burritos and excellent examples of Creole cuisine.
No shoes, no shirt, no problem!
“No shoes, no shirt, no problem” says the writing on a wall near the little berth of the boat that leads me to Caye Caulker. The electric golf carts –the only transportation allowed on the island along with bikes and flip-flops – look forward to tourists to take them to the bungalows. “Hey man, come with me, I have the best bungalows in Belize!”. I smile while I pick up the backpack: I prefer go for a walk to immediately immerse myself in the atmosphere of the island. The long streets that cross the Caye have never seen a trace of asphalt, the sunlight cuts them sideways, lengthening the shadows of palm trees. It is early morning, but at the edge of the street freshly caught fish already frizzle on the racks. Some places nearby serve the English breakfast for those who just do not want to give up, but it is the local food that attracts my attention. A man with a cart pedal approaches me. I glance into the basket and I see some little pies: I fell me staved just to see them. When I ask one, the man adds a generous spoonful of chopped onion, habanero and green chili pepper. For onion and chili is a little ‘early, I think before giving in to hunger and bite the bundle with a paste made very similar to butter brisé dough. The filling consists of a meat sauce beef, creamy and spicy: I feel the taste of the green chili for a moment before being overwhelmed by the onion. What can I say? Great, really, but the next I’ll eat for snack in the afternoon!
Belizean food: Mexican influence and Creole culture
I spend the day wandering around the island: Caye Caulker is not famous for its beaches, but the boats come and go all day bringing tourists to the atolls nearby. The divers have already left the Caye before dawn direct to the longest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere. Along Avenida Hicago my eye falls on a sign with the Italian flag: the restaurant is very small and the counters for customers are all gathered under a shady veranda. Here I get acquainted with Anna and Armando, an Italian couple who has been accepted the challenge of producing fresh pasta in this small Caribbean island (to read their history and taste the pasta with me they do, click HERE!).
I reach the Split at noon: if you got up late and do not want to take a boat to the more distant beaches, come here. If you get hungry, sit at the Lizard Lady’s counter and order an iced Belkin, waiting to be served. The Mexican influence in the Belizian cuisine is strong: I order a lobster burrito, very good and tasty. I eat chatting with Selene, one of the barmaids “During the day, it’s nice here, but you should go back for the sunset, then yes that is a party!” she said serving me a slice of grilled barracuda caught the night before ( I ordered just for the record, word! 😉 ).
The grilled fish is a must on the island: barracuda, snapper, lobster and prawns, rest on the benches in front of the restaurant, waiting to be sacrificed to the delight of your palate. On the way the smell of grilled fish mixes with the spice. Together with the Mexican influence, the Creole culture significantly impacted the Belizean cuisine, in the following days I’ll have many confirmations: chicken curry with rice and beans is the most popular dish on the island. From Creole cuisine I come back again in Mexico: cevice lobster and homemade nachos in front of the ocean.
Sunset at “the Split”
At sunset under the suggestion of Selene I go back to Lady Lizard at the Split. The pier in front of the large mangrove forest is full of people. The atmosphere is lively but relaxed: Rastafari music, colorful cocktails and last dives from the jetty. Meanwhile the sun was going out slowly on the horizon, the Green Lizard Juice seems the favorite color of all! The split is not an exclusive meeting point for tourists: the people of the caye comes here and mixes with foreigners: this is the place where you will find the crew that brought you to the reef or a few traveling companions for the following days.
If you have not loved too much the green of the lizard the night before, pop by Glenda’s early in the morning: you will be rewarded with great cinnamon rolls and Johnny Cakes, pancakes similar to pancakes, flooded with maple syrup. Glenda prepares them every night for the next morning, but you will never see her: the place is run by her daughter Yvette. If you want to have breakfast at Glenda’s go there at early morning: cinnamon rolls and johnny cakes are selling fast! If you prefer a savory breakfast, Marin’s is your place. Here there are the best fry jacks of the island: fried dough with salt to eat a bean cream much like frijoles refritos Mexicans, the traditional Belizean breakfast.
Life on Caye Caulker is extremely relaxed, but the nights at Lizard Lady and the sea excursions bring into the body a huge need of vitamins! The fruit of the island come trough: pop by Kite Man, next to the marina, and enjoy a fresh smoothie admiring his kites (if you like, tell him, he goes very proud!).
My journey in Caye Caulker is going to finish. I will carry back with me the particular mix of Mexican and Creole flavors. I just have the last sunset at to spend at the Split, waiting for the giant crab that I spotted a few hours before the bench of Rose’s Bar and Grill.