By Sara E Walker and Erin Allen
On the one year anniversary of the pandemic lockdown, we jetted off to our first real vacation last month. While it wasn't intentional to mark such an occasion -- travel still has its challenges and restrictions -- it felt pretty life affirming to get out of town, beyond the occasional road trip or Sara's travels to Pittsburgh, Penn., for bodybuilding training.
Why Belize? Neither of us are scuba divers -- yet -- or had the overwhelming desire to see the Blue Hole. Something popped up on Facebook earlier this year highlighting a private island Airbnb in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. Snorkeling a wildlife reserve? All the fresh seafood we could eat? Rum punch? Warm weather? Sold. While the vacation was "planned," because we haven't truly traveled in so long, this trip felt very much like a last-minute splurge adventure.
Hideaway Caye (pronounced key, as we learned) is a unique mangrove island located 10 miles off the coast of Hopkins Village, Belize. We were picked up at the local marina and whisked off into what seemed like just open water for as far as the eye could see. After about an hour we saw little islands dotted about coming into view. All the islands looked the same, but as we neared our destination, there was a little dock emerging in sight. The owners, Dustin, Kim and daughter, Ama, (along with furry friends Caye and Maya) welcomed us warmly, helped us to our bungalow, and then we were treated to one of Dustin's famous Rum Punches and Kim's fresh seafood nachos with all house-made ingredients.
On this secluded island are three structures – owner's house, rum bar, and guest bungalow -- along with 700 feet of boardwalk. And, it really was just the five of us, outside of the occasional sailboat visitor (boaters can moor up their boats just off the dock and come aboard the island for drinks and food).
The island runs off solar and wind power, so we were truly "glamping," with limited power and lights and nothing but the lovely sea breeze (and some cute little bedside fans) to cool us off. The bungalow has these great floor-to-ceiling screened windows to allow the ocean air to cool off the space.
Our days were filled with snorkeling, paddleboarding or kayaking, with Dustin and Ama as our morning guides -- Dustin would also spend the time fishing for our fresh-catch lunch and dinner, and Ama would show us all the starfish and collect her sea biscuits for crafting.
The afternoons, we would have the sea to ourselves, exploring the nearby islands or simply floating in open water. It was surreal to be in the open ocean alone except for the occasional boat passing, stingray jumping or even dolphins off to the side, catching a breath through their blowhole before going under and disappearing. We were specs on a map for sure.
Speaking of fresh catch, the food was amazing. Sara had never had conch before, and boy did we get our fill. One particular evening had our plate full of "channel crab," a monster that would make even the boys on "Deadliest Catch" proud. Often the meals were accompanied by Kim's fresh baked breads and fresh veggies, with some things from their garden. They really are very self-sustaining and make incredible due with small spaces.
Ultimately, we could go on and on about this unique experience. It's not every day one can stay on their own private island. It was definitely an experiment in the sense that we had to cast off luxuries that we know we take for granted and learn to truly "check out" from life's little distractions (like the incessant need to check social media, because there was no Wi-Fi and barely any cell service). Admittedly, the first day or so was a huge lesson, but by day three, we got into our groove and had figured out how to just "be." Also, even in Belize it can be a small world! Some yachters who pulled up to moor at Hideaway Caye to grab a drink and some navigational info were from Durango!
Leaving Hideaway Caye for the mainland was bittersweet -- we enjoyed our company, the beauty of our surroundings and the utter relaxation -- but it was comfortably familiar to get back to civilization, as it were. Our dear friend, Oz (who we know through our time with the DC Rollergirls), played host to us largely on the back-end of our trip, as she lives in the area and happily showed us around.
While in her company, we enjoyed a private bird-watching trip (Sara flew solo on this one, because Erin needed a bit of a break from the heat and bugs), a private seafood dinner prepared by a local chef, cashew wine (think a malty port), taking a dip in a hidden gem of a river and waterfall, amazing coffee from a local ex-pat (there are a lot of them in Belize), we could go on.
What is there left to say? This certainly will be a vacation we won't forget (although aren't they all). And, we're pretty sure we wouldn't do anything differently -- other than actually remembering to regularly use the bug spray and bringing an adaptor for our charging cables. We look forward to another adventure in this beautiful location -- maybe this time we'll rent a boat (with someone else at the helm, of course).
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