Fall of the Magic Kingdom
CAYE CAULKER IS AS RELAXED a tourist destination as you can find. It's a low sandy island, 5 miles long and one-quarter-mile wide, except at the sparsely populated southern end, where thick mangroves triple its girth. The village clusters around two parallel tracks of soft coral sand--the "front" and "back" streets--named for their proximity to the trade winds. There are no cars, just a couple of rusting pick-up trucks to move cargo and a small fleet of electric golf carts. Most people simply walk. Nothing is very far away on Caulker, and nobody is in any hurry to get where they're going.
The handful of restaurants, guest houses, and family-owned hotels cluster on the front-side shore, facing the open sea alongside the homes of the more influential islanders and a handful of U.S. and North European-born Caulkerites. Most of the latter came for a visit a decade or more ago and never left. All front-side property is cooled by the steady winds, which blow hungry mosquitoes and sand flies to the back side of the island, where they bite less fortunate Caulkerites sitting in still, fetid heat a mere hundred yards away. The back shore is still and sweltering day and night, its homes facing towards the thick jungles of mainland Belize, the urban jungles of Belize City, 20 miles across the waves.
Like most visitors, I had come to see Belize's world-renowned coral reefs. Belize itself is something of a backwater: Few Americans have heard of this little nation of 180,000 people; even fewer could