We took the water taxi from the dock at the end of the next door pier to the ferry in San Pedro then ferried to Caye Caulker. We are not a big fan of the ferry system mainly because we are always be stuck in the lower section which does not provide a vantage point where the shades of turquoise are easily studied, where the wind can rub its fingers through my ever whiter hair. Most seats are in the belly of the beast where there are few windows. And because we are shoehorned sardines, there is little space to maneuver for a better view. It feels claustrophobic.
Our return ride, our final ferry ride, was infinitely better. We were able to wrangle two seats on the top and watch the green shores of Caye Caulker fade into oblivion and the palm-lined shores of Ambergris Caye appear magically on the Northern horizon. See the horizon stretch from yesterday into tomorrow, into the soul of a lone rainbow hanging onto Earth’s edge in the East and a gray wall of never experienced rain in the distant West.
Roots, rock, reggae, dis a reggae music
Play I some music, dis a reggae music…
The vibe on Caulker is a far cry more mellow than the relatively bustling San Pedro which is a slow crawl compared to sweet home Chicago. I specifically wore my Che Guevara shirt, his head in silhouette against a military green background, for this part of our vacation. Rebel. Rebel. It received an early compliment. I think I may need to purchase similar shirts for Brotha Marley, Uncle Ho, Cousin Vladimir, Papa Villa, Tante Joan d’Arc, Señor Bolivar, Jefes Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, Friar Martin Luther, Uncle Martin King, Great Aunty Rosa, Mr. X, Viva Zapata, ¡Viva la Revolución! …I think you can see where my heart lies…
Anyway, the Caulker feels reggae…dis a reggae music…from the moment one disembarks the ferry. The island sends relaxed out relaxed vibes that appear to be floating within life. Maybe, floating on the spirit wings of the Ganja bird…I don’t know. But the vibe is one lovish…
Let’s get together and feel all right…
Everyone we encountered was friendly and chillaxed. It is a place I could see me whiling away the years of my youth when I was young and living close to, if not over to the edge of sanity. How about the Winters of my retirement? Not sure. I’ve taken to enjoying solitude and don’t see that possible in this very small village but it is definitely a great place for a lunch and an afternoon.
One of our first activities was to hole up in a restaurant hanging over the ocean, a restaurant with a cover but otherwise open to the sea breezes and gentle waters and puffy clouds lazing their way across the impeccable sky. In the North, a dozen or so Magnificent Frigate Birds hung in the sky, all facing into the wind, barely moving as if they were tethered to a child’s mobile hanging over a crib. They almost lulled me to sleep.
The Frigate is brownish black with a deeply forked tail. I envied their ability to float in tranquility. Frigates are considered good omens as their presence means land is near. I felt lucky to be at this place at this time in my life. We ate close to noon and were almost finished eating the fresh fish when a catamaran dumped a load of tourists all who tried to squeeze into the eatery quickly destroying the tranquility. We hurried out. I like to be around people…generally in moderation. I also enjoy silence…
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening…
When I think of silence, I don’t envisage absence of sound. For me, silence is defined by the absence of human-generated noise be it the human voice which can trill emotion beyond the bounds of human thought, be it a jackhammer chewing away in the heart of downtown Chicago in the twilight before the masses have emerged from their hives to pollinate the financial flowers perfuming global commerce.
For me, silence includes the choir of nature, the low croak of Gecko hunting insects by the light of the waxing Moon, the rustle of leaves when a flock of Pelicans launches into the morning sky after a night sleeping safely in the trees, the gentle scraping of Fiddler Crab hauling its shell across a sandy beach at night seen when I walked out with a bottle of wine to sit in the poetry of the ocean, the song of the orange Sun inching o’er the horizon, the light scratch of Iguana’s claws scurrying over rocks before it sucks in a juicy fly or hurries to a hideout when spooked by the shadow of Hawk on the prowl. The iguana moves in staccato bursts punctuated by long stays in the musical score playing in the background of its life.
For me, silence is the place I find myself, if not find, then converse with my inner voice, scratch away at my defenses in an attempt to understand the beast within until, that is, Monkey gets antsy and interjects without raising his paw to be called upon in an orderly fashion. He sticks a needle in my ass to get my attention. As he frequently did in Caye Caulker.
Folks won’t find us now because
Mister Satch and Mister Cros
We gone fishin’…
Caye Caulker is run down as if the town was succumbing to neglect. Or it was rooted in the hippie vibe more concerned with the present moment than the tomorrow which never comes. Zen existence. Many buildings are on stilts to keep the residents dry during the hurricane season when waters can surge and cover the low lying island. A number of buildings were broken. Many were little more than concrete shells. Poverty. Surprising?
I seem to be always surprised by poverty which is strange considering there are many more poor than there are not poor. The rundown nature of the island may be why accommodations tend to clock in at half or less that of Ambergris Caye where we were staying. It could also be why so many youths choose to congregate here where bars line up side by side on the main streets. Youth and alcohol…fun and dangerous…dangerous fun…bars in Caulker open early. I don’t drink before 5pm…
Jewelry particularly earrings and necklaces on a street vendor’s table is a bait my wife can’t pass up. It’s her shiny penny, her pink pony. Where I see a hook, she sees yummy morsels to add to her eclectic collection. When choosing, she selects for rare beauty. It is my job to negotiate the final price so the barb doesn’t set too deep in our tender wallets. I paid higher than normal because some profits went to the local women creating a cottage industry to help them sustain and grow. The woman we purchased from told us of a place on the island to see Tarpon and seahorses and gave us a free map of the tiny island. Glad my wife took the bait.
We followed the map with less luck than I would have expected. That was ok because while on Caye Caulker, I planned on taking Monkey walk for a long walk on a very short pier and pushing him into the drink for a few hours of peace. What I wasn’t planning on was a heat that was punishing, a humidity making my balls swampy, while searching for the appropriate length pier. I was beginning to think we wouldn’t get lucky when we walked along a dilapidated, twisty pier through a shaded, almost spooky mangrove opening to a bay teeming with tarpon.
Tarpon are a sportfish that can grow up to 280 pounds (127 kilos) and 8 feet(2.5 meters) long. These Tarpon were schooling in about three feet deep. None were the 280-pound monsters but there were a few in the vicinity of 50+ pounds, prime game for a fisherman such as myself. They are edible but not delectable so most are thrown back. I was itching to pull out a rod and reel and try my hand but today was not the day I would get to fish. This is one of the few places Monkey and I aligned today. Nor would I fish the entire trip as it cost $250 for a half day of guided fishing which is to steep for my tastes.
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul to waste
And I was ’round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate…
Mi esposá opted to purchase feeder fish from the Belizean woman manning the shack at the end of the pier. 5 Belizean dollars for 10 dead fish to hold a few inches above the water, dead fish to entice the monsters to break through the surface and suck in an offering. She a high priestess offering sacramental communion to the devotee. The trick is to hold the fish between two fingers with the palm open so the fish doesn’t also inhale the hand although the mouth is big enough to suck in the hand and half the arm.
After watching her feed a few, I decided to join in the fun but with a twist. I figured it could be a great way to wash my hands of Monkey once and for all. I wrapped Monkey tightly around a tantalizing feeder fish and dangled it a few inches above water counting the seconds until Tarpon swallowed Monkey for absorption in his gullet or puke him far out in the deep blue sea where he would drown. Either way, I would finally have Monkey off my weary back. Freedom! Just one fish away.
But, not a Tarpon jumped. Not a one. I touched the water with Monkey Fish, still nothing. It was as if the little fucker hypnotized Tarpon. They even quit leaping for the fish my wife offered. Frustrated, I tossed fish into the air and let it plop into the water where it was gobbled up almost as soon as it hit the surface. It is amazing how fast the behemoths can move when motivated. Unfortunately, Monkey was not part of the meal. He crawled up my arm, into my ear, and tucked himself deep into my subconscious where he remained hidden quietly for a few hours. I think he finally figured out I was serious about existing in and only in the moment.
Fly me to the moon
Let me play among the stars…
Three kayakers pulled into the bay to marvel at the Tarpon. They spoke a combination of French and near accent-free English. The blond, almost as pasty as me, hopped into the water, waded with the fish who swam safely distanced from her pallid glow. Tarpon has sandpaper teeth instead of needles or spikes meaning they can do little damage with their mouths to human flesh.
Tarpon kept a safe distance parrying with a flick of the tail all her attempts to ‘pet’ one of them. Predators don’t grow large without developing street smarts in abundance. She settled for a few selfies featuring Tarpon in the background. When the woman climbed back into her kayak, two halves of a pale moon separated by a thin, black partially eaten thread shown bright as the raging sun. Her bikini was little more than a thong with ruffles at the waist.
We walked around town for a couple of more hours in the glaring sun. My wife added to her golden glow while the little of me exposed to the sun mimicked the pink inside of a conch shell which, by the way, are quite tasty.
We walked to one of the few resorts on the island which is much different than the many resorts lining the shores of our island. There was a small seahorse farm with yellow, black, and brown seahorses hiding in the weeds. We mostly saw them when their tales were wrapped around a blade of seagrass and they sat idle.
I am amazed at the number of midday drinkers mainlining alcohol into their systems. And it was not young kids. These were adults, some retirement aged drinking their day away. One woman looking to be 60ish but that could have been from the ravages of alcohol was so drunk she had to walk carefully to the bar for her sixteen-ounce refill. I had a Mai Tai…it’s always 5pm somewhere.
It wasn’t our scene so we moseyed in the general direction of the dock to await the ferry. A short downpour, they tend to be brief on the island lasting no more than fifteen minutes, forced us onto a bar porch for a short rest before completing our trek. We arrived at the dock early meaning we were in the front of the line. And we finally were able to sit on the upper deck of the ferry. Definitely not Uecker seats this time.
And we were excited to go back because San Pedro is home to the best Chicken and Rice or Pork and Rice we have ever eaten. It is on par with Jerk Chicken from the kettles of Jamaican beaches. We planned to buy enough food for a couple of meals…
To be continued….