Caye Caulker Hangover: Party on the Budget
Every morning, I wake up with a hangover from the night before. The ocean breeze fills my hut, and I realize that I’m quite cold because I didn’t put a blanket on when I stumbled in. This has been my way of life for the past few days on Caye Caulker. But aside from non-stop party, I’ve also found something peaceful on this Belizean island.
The population is 1,300 people, and the town is small enough that anywhere is a 10-minute walk max. It’s not easy to get lost because there are only three streets that run north to south: Back, Middle and Front. And yes, they’re named in logical order.
I was still in tough-guy mode when I came over from Belize City. My scowl that I use as a deterrent to prevent pickpockets and muggers probably looked quite ridiculous to the locals. They reasonably became offended when I declined at least four offers for a golf-cart taxi ride to my guest hut.
But not everyone on this island is out to sell you something. The locals are genuinely friendly and like to talk with tourists. My guidebook recommended to “stop walking so fast.” After spending two days on Caye Caulker, that advice makes a lot of sense.
It’s called Island Time, and just because someone says they’ll meet you somewhere, doesn’t mean they’re punctual. It could be 10 minutes or 45 minutes from the time that was agreed upon. But it’s just a part of staying here in Caye Caulker.
Most of my days have started with me walking to grab some breakfast at nearby cafes. For budget travelers, I would recommend staying off of Front Street unless you want to eat from one of the street vendors. Back Street is where you’ll find better food at better prices. And if you’re not in the mood to spend $4 to $5 USD for coffee, eggs, French toast, bacon and fruit, you can buy a single banana at open vendors for a Belizean quarter. That’s 12.5 cents in American currency.
After filling up on some grub and curing my hangover, I change into my board shorts if I haven’t done so. That’s when I wander over to the Split. Island legend says Hurricane Hattie caused the island to be split into two in 1961, although some people say villagers dug the Split to keep from boats having to go around the island.
The time is noon, and I’m having my first beer. I always run into somebody I met at breakfast or the night before because it’s inevitable. That’s when we take turns buying beer buckets for $10 USD. Hanging out at the bar is optional; most vacationers usually find a spot along the edge of the Split to lay down towels and start sunbathing. When it gets too hot, it’s a simple jump into the ocean to cool off.
Several beers later, it’s time to break for food. My group doesn’t mind waiting for vendors, who usually offer to sell you something for about $2 USD cheaper than a sit-down restaurant. One guy sells empanadas. Another vendor who could pass as Chef from South Park sells delicious banana bread and other snacks.
As we debate whether or not Chef is real, dinner is over, and the sun has set. If we’re not on the Split, it’s time to get back. Happy hour has begun. It’s technically from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. anywhere on the island, but I was able to barter for drinks past 8. Don’t expect much selection though. Your choice is a rum mixture of some kind, and those go down extremely fast.
By then the drunkenness has kicked in, and I feel like I’m in a stupor (although everyone maintains that I still sound intelligent and well-spoken). That’s when the party crowd heads over to I&I Reggae Bar. We climb a set of stairs to the bar, and then go up another set of stairs to get to the roof. It doesn’t stay open for long. At 11 p.m., the employees force everyone either into the bar or the dance floor. Then at midnight, the lights come on, and the cattle call begins to Oceanside.
Every night, 30 people wander for five minutes over to the tiny bar that has no business until the early hour. When we step inside, I’m glad I’m wearing foot flops because the dance floor is sand. The DJ plays horrible music, but there’s no other option at this time of night. About 15 people crowd onto the dance floor, and another 10 dance just beneath it until 2 a.m.
That’s when my friends and I decide to say our goodbyes and agree to do the exact same thing the next day. And once again, my hangover will be there.