Gary Guinn

Literature of the Ozarks

Tag: Carribbean

Caye Caulker, a Day on the Island

Today. Here. Caye Caulker, a very small island off the coast of Belize. We wake up. The air is warm, comfortable. We walk fifty yards to a dock that pushes out through the mangroves into open water, old warped boards, greyed with age and uneven, and we lay out our yoga mats. The sun has not yet risen above the trees behind us. The water is clear, calm at the end of the dock and lightly rippling further out. The grey-blue of the water meets the grey line of the horizon in the distance. A half dozen sailboats are moored a couple of hundred yards away, resting in the still water. Grey-brown pelicans glide over in single file, big and awkward on land but graceful and beautiful in flight, skimming just a few inches off the surface of the water. White Sea Gulls glide, turn on a dime, dive for fish. The quick movement on the water of the diving sawbill ducks (Mergus serrator) disappearing under the water for what seems like an impossible time and reappearing fifty yards away.

Sun Salutations facing out to sea in the near silence, broken only by an occasional call of a gull or the sound of a small boat motor murmuring out into the day. Perhaps a voice from somewhere behind us on the shore. The smell of the salt and seaweed, the mud along the mangrove shore, the feel of light perspiration beginning on the brow. Back muscles loosening through Down Dog, Up Dog, High Plank, Low Plank. Blood beginning to reach the brain, the hands, the feet. The breath, the breath in the salt sea air. The Good Life opening up in this place on this day at this moment.

Mid-morning sitting under palm trees in the sand, reading in the cooling ocean breeze, steady out of the south-southwest. The sun bright on the ocean, grey-blue at the shore, turning to green-blue, then dark blue-green before the white line of the waves breaking on the reef a half mile out. Read and watch, read and watch. Put the book away and watch. Sailboats moored at the docks. A catamaran carrying twenty people out for a dive. Sail boarders skimming by. Palm fronds moving lazily overhead. The breeze like a soft hand stroking the face.

Lunch from Otis, his grill on the side of the street, the smoke drifting out irresistible, pork chops, jerk chicken, lobster. The street dirt and sand, no paved roads, no cars. Golf carts puttering past, bicycles swerving to miss the potholes, swerving again to miss the people walking on the street. Cold Belikin Beer in the hot noon shade.

Lazy afternoon avoiding the heat. Sleepy and sluggish. Thinking of swimming, but overcome by inertia. Watching iguanas move over the sand. They stop and look and wait. They crawl, awkward, their long tails dragging behind them, to a succulent plant, where they eat the leaves. They look again and wait. Then lumber under the porch and into the shade.

The sun sets on the ocean. We carry our beach chairs down to the dock and sit. A little Belizean rum on ice as the colors grow on the horizon. The golden ball of the sun casting its orange and red and yellow tendrils out to the fleeting clouds, slowly consumed by the sea, taking the colors down with it. The pelicans, seagulls, diving ducks. The silence gradually absorbing the fading light.

Dark. The breeze lifts the curtains into the room and drops them back again. The ceiling fan’s shadow flutters on the wall above the door. Done.

Last Day at Caye Caulker

The sea breeze runs through the palms, and the palm fronds whisper and chitter above us. A fresh wind that cools the skin. Sun bright on the water, shades of aquamarine, stretching out to the barrier reef, a long white line of surf before the dark blue deep. Sitting, looking, breathing is a sensual experience. The scent of the sea, the white sand, the scattered kelp along the shore. Our last day on Caye Caulker.

Every morning dark Belizean coffee from Maureen at Ice-n-Beans, just behind the grove of palms we idle under. Just before noon a Bellikin Beer, Belize’s own brew, to cool our palate, stir the belly for lunch. Street vendors–Kareem at his grill, Raul at his cart, Andre and Chenille at their shack by the street–the food so good we moan and groan as we eat. Chicken and pork and rice and beans and slaw and plantains and homemade tortillas–we buy one plate, eat our fill, and give leftovers to the dogs. Five American dollars, nine at the most. Always the talk and laughter with the vendors, and walking away feeling sweet, alive.

Each night the old wooden dock jutting out through the mangroves on the back side of the island into open water. A dozen people sitting and talking quietly, watching the sun slip slowly into the water beyond the sailboats anchored in the bay. A round surge of orange, a bright trail running toward us, the scattered dark grey clouds tinged with pink and red. A Belizean man standing in a flat skiff paddles by, framed by the scene, cameras clicking from the dock.

And tonight, Maurice, a wizard with blackened snapper, honey-brandy sauce, and grilled vegetables, here at Wish Willy’s in the yard of the cabana. Red and white strings of lights laced above the tables. Music drifting, easy laughter, the smoke from the grill, the aroma of chicken and fish. Everyone sipping a Bellikin. Maurice cruising, slow, keeping it going for thirty people. Island life.

Tomorrow the ferry to the mainland, Belize City, then a bus down to Hopkins, a village on the southern coast, south of Dangriga. I miss Caye Caulker. It got under our skin. That first morning, a week ago, when I woke up and stepped out onto the porch, Marvin, big smile and dreads, raking the sand, said to me, “Don’t worry, be happy.” So we didn’t, and we were.


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