Chasing the Caribbean

Wind howls through the sails as the Ragga King glides seamlessly through the undisturbed Caribbean ocean-a smooth, vast expanse of glittering turquoise. An upbeat collection of funky reggae penetrates the gentle sound of lapping water as this 40 foot yacht passes over some of the world’s most sought after reef and marine life.

A diver’s eden.

A flock of of birds soar high above as if to welcome us to their home, swooping past our sails and guiding us to land. Dolphins emerge from the crystal water, leaping in and out of our wake while orchestrating a spectacular show that no one on board will soon forget.

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The eleven sun kissed passengers on board this cosy ocean explorer have found their ecstasy; an experience like no other. The ultimate Carribbean adventure.

Suddenly, the sky turns dark and the bright turquoise water transforms into a menacing grey. Birds disappear and the dolphins, once playful and fearless, submerge into the white capped water. However, for the passengers on board this is merely a new adventure.

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We will wait it out.

Torrential rain whips through the sails as the once island speckled horizon becomes an indistinguishable mess of grey.  Music can be heard blaring as our first mate, ‘Killer’, sings his way through the storm. A chorus of “Don’t worry be happy” penetrates the crashing water and It seems that nothing can stop the reggae.

Claps of thunder are heard rumbling through the sky and still we resist the urge to retreat into the warm cabin. We stand on the hull of the yacht, dripping wet, teeth chattering and shaking but still smiling from ear to ear. This is what we travel for, these are the experiences that we remember.

This is our ultimate Caribbean adventure.

For decades the Caribbean has claimed somewhat of a mythical name for itself; sought after by travellers from around the world for its crystal clear waters, exciting marine life and, of course, an infamous reputation which was perpetuated by Hollywood and a certain pirate. And while it is true that there are many other beautiful oceans boasting similar experiences, few people can deny that a Caribbean adventure is not a worthy bucket list inclusion.

These days there are countless options for Caribbean exploring, catering for high budget and shoestring backpackers alike. From a range of cruises offering some spectacular photo opportunities with all the comforts of home, to countless fishing, snorkelling and diving trips. There is an experience to suit all tastes and styles. The only difficult choice one is likely to face is choosing which country they will base themselves in.

For me, the adventure began on the Belizian backpacker favourite, Caye Caulker.

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Upon arriving in Caye Caulker it was immediately apparent that I would have to undertake some serious research before committing to a trip. My mission was to find the ultimate Caribbean experience, but where to start? A quick search of the island produced a myriad of options that I would need to sift through. Options included the following:

1. A one day snorkelling and diving trip to belize’s famous blue hole (over rated).

2. Diving with sharks and manta rays (fantastic idea. But I can do this at home.)

3. A variety of fishing trips (what, am I 40 years old now?)

4. A three day snorkelling and fishing Yacht adventure with Raggamuffin Tours. Accommodation will include camping on remote islands and meals will be freshly caught and prepared by all on board ( my Caribbean senses were tingling).

Ultimately, it seemed like a no-brainier and this three day yacht trip proved to be one of the most rewarding travel experiences of my life. From the stunning scenery, pristine water and amazing people (Belizian and gringo’s alike) Raggamuffin’s yacht tour gave me the chance to experience Caribbean life while exploring traditional Belizian culture.

And like many valuable experiences it prompted me to look at my own life in a first world country. In Australia most of us are able to eat (quite a lot) everyday, we are often given cars, electronics and it is relatively easy to find a job to support our family, while also indulging in the perks of a developed world. Yet, we still complain about trivial matters and find reasons to be unhappy. I am as guilty of this as anyone. This is our culture, and it is a hard attitude to change.

belize 3 However, many of the people I met on this trip while staying in traditional communities are unable to feed their children three times a day; they cannot afford luxuries such as air conditioning (despite an intensely hot and humid environment); and many are unable to educate their children. Yet, a welcoming smile can be seen on every person and it is unusually common to be invited to a family dinner, despite the hardships of affording food.

After seventeen and a half years of education, I believe that these are the most valuable lessons I have learnt. And, believe it or not, many of my teachers have never seen the inside of a classroom.

To book a trip with Raggamuffin Tours visit them online at http://raggamuffintours.com/

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The Lemons of Travelling

When life gives you lemons.  Make lemonade.

I believe this is a mantra that every traveller should abide by and, fortunately, many do. Without following this neat little phrase a traveller will find no joy in their trip. No adventure no memory, so let the hard times roll! For example, when travelling to a third world country the comforts and security of your home can be extremely hard to find; especially when travelling on a budget. Those little luxuries that we often take for granted-a hot shower, clean (or free) drinking water, a bed without bed bugs, buses that show up within an hour of their scheduled arrival or, in my case, somewhere to fix a lap top-are few and far between.

When I have a technical dilemma at home the solution is a quick trip to the computer man, who will have my precious lap top back to me within a few hours. However, when faced with a similar dilemma in a rather remote Guatemalan town I ran into one rather large problem-there was no computer man. I decided to wait until my travels led me to a larger city, though I eventually came to the realization that the average Guatemalan person doesn’t really care about computers, and are more interested in feeding their family on a daily basis.

After several failed attempts at explaining my dilemma to a number of equally bewildered internet café owners (for some reason Guatemalans don’t seem to understand dumb-man Spanish too well) I found my saving grace in the captivating island town of Flores. $80.00 and a new hard drive later and I am set to go! I have dusted off my writing cap and will attempt to recapture all that I have missed in the past three weeks. However, I may be short of time, which will mean that Guatemala will remain undocumented. At least in this little blog!

Guatemala has been truly breathtaking and whatever words I may type will do it little justice. I am now heading to the picturesque Belize for a slice of the Caribbean, though as I leave Guatemala I can’t help but feel like I am leaving behind my new country of choice (until my next destination which I will undoubtedly fall in love with).

You Better Belize It!

As our shuttle approaches Belize City nothing can be heard but the soft breathing of a dozen sleeping gringos. A 4:30am start can take its toll on even the hardest of travellers. But as the bus comes to a halt all eyes are open as the confronting urban sprawl of Belize City presents itself: the smell of fresh burritos and tacos being prepared in time for the morning rush, the sound of car horns honking and bicycles rattling along cracked stone walkways and an all new demographic of six foot tall black men with baseball caps on. Coming from a homogenous country such as Australia, it amazes me that after only a two hour drive we are met with an entirely new culture. It seems that the familiar short and stocky Guatemalan is but a memory,

Suddenly the large sliding doors of the bus open, allowing a steady stream of sunlight to replace the darkness and blind the comatose passengers inside. As the shock of the sudden sunlight fades a large man with slicked corn rolls appears at the entrance, clip board in one hand and banana in the other.

“Wake up, wake up. I want to see smiles ‘cause you in Belize man.”

A short pause follows as we attempt to comprehend the situation. Why was this rather large man so cheerful at such a ridiculous hour of the morning? And more importantly, why did he have a mouth full of banana as he greeted us?

And then the man leaves us with a phrase that we will hear countless times in the coming weeks.

“And you better Belize it!”

And shortly after this initial greeting, we did Belize it. From the smiling faces, corn rolls and dreadlocks, outrageous Caribbean English (complete with the obligator y ‘Yah mahhn’ after every sentence’), the pristine blue waters and the vast coral reefs ready to be explored Belize is a country where smiles are merely a part of the culture.

The first stop in our Belizian adventure was the tourist magnet, Caye Caulker, a small island built around snorkeling and diving some of the best reefs in the world. However, despite the onslaught of tourists on this once purely traditional island, the culture has remained very much intact. Food lovers revel in an abundance of freshly caught seafood, stewed meat (take your pick), a variety of traditional rice dishes and some very strong cocktails which usually revolve around rum-what else do you drink on the Caribbean?

However, what makes this island such a gem is not just the food and the abundance of natural beauty but the people that inhabit it. From ‘The Budget Man’, who can be found by his beach side barbeque cooking up fresh lobster and stewed chicken (Note: The Budget Man’s food has often disappeared by sunset), Chef Andrew who strolls the island all day with his chef hat and cart selling spectacular baked goods, and the fine people at Wish Willy’s restaurant-who believe that a menu only restricts the creativity of cooking.

We are soon leaving Caye Caulker and setting sail for three days to the coastal town of Placencia. On the way we will be camping on islands, eating what we catch during the day and visiting some of the best reefs in Belize-a true Robinson Crusoe experience, but with tents.

Note: Unfortunately  it is proving too difficult to upload photos onto these posts due to lack of internet access. So these will be included with the text ASAP!