Desert Island Coconuts: Dangriga and Tobacco Caye
A tiny island covered in white sand and coconut palms.
An island so small that one can walk the circumference in less than five minutes. No vehicles of any kind, as there are no roads, just quaint buildings dotted in the sand under the palms, and a couple of wheel barrows (one of which was once used to transport a seriously ill resident to the boat taking her to shore, but more frequently used for coconuts and conch shells). This island is part of the Meso American Barrier Reef, no need to take a boat to the reef, you can see it from shore. The water, by the way, is crystal clear. You can see Rays, Tarpin and Scorpion Fish clearly through the gentle waves. The waves are gentle because the island is location on the “right side” of the reef, meaning it is protected from the ocean swell. I challenge you to find a more tranquil ocean paradise. Step off the boat, kick of your flip-flops (no need for them here) and relax.
The only reason we left Crooked Tree Lodge (instead of moving in and living there forever) was that we had an awesome sounding Couchsurf accepted. Sean and Jen live on a tiny island off the Belize coast called Tobacco Caye where they run the Tobacco Caye Marine Station. They invited us to sleep on the porch of the station in hammocks, and we said “yes”!
They had a university group there when we sent the request and so they suggested we arrive the Sunday the group left to avoid overcrowding.
We tore ourselves away from Crooked Tree Lodge and our new family there on Saturday morning, in order to give ourselves time to find somewhere safe to store Jugs and Cricket while we were on the island.
Belize is a very small country, and so it is not very far to get anywhere. We expected to take only a few hours to drive the 200km to the coastal town of Dangriga. It took a little longer than we expected.
Things took a turn for the longer when we followed a sign that said to turn left for Dandriga. This took us onto a gravel road. About 4 or 5km along we passed a vehicle stopped on the side of the road. Phil noticed they had a very flat tire, so we pulled over to see if we could help. We could.
Doyle and his companion were stranded, because they didn’t have a compressor to re-inflate their rear tire. Well actually they did have a compressor, but it needed to be plugged in to a wall socket, which were scarce on that dirt road. Â Luckily we have one that plugs into a cigarette lighter socket.
It turned out that the tire they had on was unrecoverable, so we decided to put the spare on. That was fairly straightforward, and we confidently started filling it with the compressor. Except the pressure didn’t go up as much as we expected. This is when we discovered a large slash in the side of the Â spare tire. Â It didn’t go the whole way through, but was certainly letting quite a lot of air out. Luckily a large bag of patches of various sizes and materials was part of our Cozumel care package. We took the biggest, strongest looking one, and slapped it on the outside of the tire with globs of glue. MacGyvering at its best.
Doyle turned the car around and the tire didn’t explode in the first few hundred meters. We all had fingers crossed that he’d make it back to civilization before the patch gave out. While changing the tire, Doyle had told Phil that actually most people do not take this road to get to Dangriga, they take the longer, but fully paved and therefore faster, route throughÂ Belmopan.
Phil told me this as we continued riding along the gravel route. I did ask Phil if he thought we should stop and lower the pressure in our tires, but given the hardness of the road, Phil didn’t think it was necessary.Â I was feeling more confident than usual on the dirt, so I didn’t insist that we turn around and take the paved route. I admit that the fact that my GPS indicated that we had 60km further on this road made my heart sink, but we are going to be riding a lot of dirt roads, and I need to build my confidence on them.
This confidence lasted about another five minutes, when the road turned soft, and I felt my bike start to wobble alarmingly. I was going a lot faster than I normally would be on soft dirt, and despite telling myself to just keep going straight, I lost control and Cricket and I ended up on our sides in the dirt. I hit my head, again.
Cricket’s left pannier had taken a beating, the lower corner bashed in, the edge of the lid ripped up and daylight showing through one of the welds on the side. I was physically okay, but I was very shaken and upset. There was also another victim of the crash that I didn’t yet know about.
Phil had dropped Jugs while stopping to help me, and to avoid running over cricket, and by the time both bikes were upright I was in tears and I had decided that I was turning around to take the other route. I offered to just meet Phil there, but he chivalrously refused to let me go off on my own in that state.
I spent the whole of the rest of the ride planning ways to avoid ever having to ride on dirt again. I really, really just do not enjoy riding on dirt. It doesn’t matter how many time we take the roads, what tips other riders give me, what skills I’ve developed, in the end what it comes down to is that I simply do not like it.
I’ve since accepted that if I am going to continue this journey, riding some dirt roads is unavoidable. However I am resolved to stick to paved roads whenever I have the option. I just do not see the point of torturing myself.
Having turned around and taken the paved route, we arrived in Dangriga in the late afternoon. We were looking for two things when we got into town, an ATM and the Chaleanor Hotel. We had been told that the cheapest place in town to stay which also had secure parking for our bikes was the Chaleanor.
We found an ATM, which wouldn’t give us any money, and then we found Charlie. Charlie is a Dangriga resident who is known by everyone in town, and Charlie befriended us and showed us where the hotel was. In fact Charlie hung around and ended up showing us where to eat, where to get money and organised our boat ride for the next morning. He also prettyÂ blatantlyÂ asked us for a tip for all his hard work. There’s not a lot of tourists in town at this time of year.
The Chaleanor Hotel is a family run hotel, with a variety of rooms, the economical ones we stayed in were 43 Belize dollars for two people (US$21.50) – a bargain! The owners, Chad and Eleanor (figured out how they named the hotel yet?) and their son Chad, were extremely good to us.
Although the bathroom was shared, we got our own beds, our own fans, and a interesting door lock, that we figured out could be abused to turn our room into a prison by an unscrupulous person.
Eleanor kindly agreed to lock our bikes in the gated area behind the hotel while we were at Tobacco Caye, and while we were parking them there who should we see? Doyle! He had made it to Dangriga after getting his tire fixed!
That evening he brought us a couple Belikin Beers to say thanks for the roadside assistance.
The next morning we found our boat with little problem. We’d established the day before that it was going to be US$20 each, each way. There was no negotiating on this price, no matter how much we tried, or how many potential boats there were vying for our business (there were several).
The trip over took about 45 minutes, there was a pleasant French couple also heading to the caye.
We were really in the middle of the sea when the tiny island came into sight. Except it turned out that wasn’t our island, ours was even smaller.
With only 33 full time residents, it wasn’t hard to find our host Sean.
Sean and his girlfriend Jen run the Tobacco Caye Marine Station, where they indulge their love of Marine Biology by teaching it to school groups varying in age from primary school to university. Pretty awesome job if you ask me, they’re from the UK, and having lived there myself for a decade, I can confirm that the Caye is a much nicer place to live.
Jen was still asleep, having been worn out by their last group, but Sean had been up since very early to see the students off and was very welcoming as he showed us around the island.
Sean soon learned of Phil’s love of coconuts, and showed us a new way of opening them.
It didn’t take long before Sean had us fitted out with snorkels and fins and we went out to see what we could see in the sea. Sean didn’t join us that time, but he and Jen took us out for a long snorkel later in our visit.
We snorkelled from one side of the island to the other, and there were some kids playing on the dock we got out at. They borrowed or masks while we got talking to their uncle, Nobel.
The kids found a Conch and Nobel asked if we’d ever seen one live. We hadn’t, so he walked us over to his house and showed us how to get them out of their shells.
Nobel expertly cut a hole in just the right place on the shell, pulled the poor creature out, and then chopped all the extra bits off with astounding speed and skill. Gained from living on an island I guess. Â He presented the remaining piece of flesh to Phil, who proceeded to eat the whole thing. Raw. Ick.
Nobel felt bad that he hadn’t provided anything for seafood adverse me, and so decided what I needed was some coconuts. He was up the tree in a flash.
As Nobel threw the cocos down Phil and I dodged them and gathered them up into a pile.
There was so much water in those fruit. It was delicious!
Having shown us the bounty of the island, Nobel then took us to the best place in the island to watch the sunset.
We’d had a misunderstanding with the lady who had arranged lunch for us earlier in the day. She’d quoted us 10 dollars each, we thought that was Belizean dollars, but she informed us post meal that she wanted US dollars (twice the price). We asked Nobel where the best place to eat was. He took us to meet Miss Margaret.
Miss Margaret became our Belizean mother. Once we had tasted her fabulous homemade fare, we went back every day. We always went in through the kitchen rather than using the front door.
After taking advantage of the Marine Station having the only internet connection on the island to chat online with Christian, I slept well that night in my hammock. It wasn’t perfect though because of the loud generator roaring beside our heads and the fact that my hammock’s holes were too big. I decided to try a different hammock the next night.
Nobel turned out to be quite the cook as well. He came to find us the next morning on our porch and told us he was making us breakfast. Heart shaped waffles just like the ones we have at our parents house!
He also generously insisted on making us dinner, later that day he bought some Red Snapper from a local fisherman.
Dinner was absolutely delicious. Thanks Nobel!
That evening we stopped by Jen and Sean’s house and Jen decided to take us out to the dock to play a game.
Jen and Sean had flashlights, and when they shined them in the water, all sorts of sea life appeared. First we saw a small octopus, then lots of small fish, which attracted bigger Tarpin. The the Eagle Rays came out to play. The Eagle Rays are diamond shaped with spots. They are beautiful!!!
Jen and Sean demonstrated their extensive knowledge, and passion for the sea. They are in the perfect jobs. I only hope that when I have to go back to working, I find a job that I can be even half as passionate about!
We asked if we could stay longer, and ended up spending three nights in paradise. We can’t thank Sean and Jen enough for inviting us to stay with them there. I even decided which of their three hammocks was the best for sleeping in. (The one made of fabric rather than the loose woven ones got my vote.)
We left on the 9am boat feeling very sad to leave our new friends. Onwards to the next adventure!