After over 24 hours of travelling from Amsterdam by buses, planes and boats, I set foot on the white sandy paths of Caye Caulker and realised that every hour spent awkwardly slouched in a plane seat was so worth it.
My first night was spent in a hostel on the South Island making friends with some local backpackers and exploring the island's nightlife (Sports Bar!). On Monday morning, I got to meet the rest of the Frontier team: Gabrielle and Elena, who run the project and keep us volunteers in line, and Jack and Angus, two 18-year-old English guys with chaotic energy and a great sense of humour.
I was thrown straight into island life, as my first day in Belize happened to coincide with the annual Raft Race Regatta at Sports Bar. The premise of the race is simple: teams of four people build a raft using materials that aren't designed to float and race each other to be crowned the winners. Jack and Angus had already built some semblance of a raft using driftwood and empty plastic bottles found at camp, and they were keen to beat the three-time winners of the race - the Castaway Girls.
After some quick last-minute additions to the raft, we decided it would probably hold us. Feeling relatively confident, we marched our raft across the island to the start line. However, we had some serious doubts as soon as we saw our raft sitting next to the competition.
Our next struggle happened as Jack had forgotten the paddles on the North Island, but this was quickly resolved with some help from the friendly locals who managed to source some paddles - probably out of pity, given the state of our raft.
As one of the first teams racing, we lined up our ship and Jack and I clambered onto it. When the start signal went, we began avidly rowing the paddles and attempting to move forwards. Unfortunately, with the current moving against us and our raft slowly falling apart, we survived about 5 seconds before Jack and I pitifully tipped over and landed in the water. With some encouragement from the crowd, we got back on and began rowing again. We knew at this point we had no chance of winning the prize money, but we were determined to finish the race.
With the help of some tactful cheating (putting out feet on the sand to prevent us falling over), we completed our first round and handed the raft over to our second team: Angus and Gabrielle. They tried to find a spot to sit on the driftwood and bottles, which were now held together solely by loose bands of tape. They made it about halfway, before Angus abandoned ship and Jack rushed up to push Gabrielle on the driftwood to make sure we finished the race. After 11 minutes and 32 seconds, we finally crossed the finish line as a team.
There wasn't much left of our raft - or our pride - but at least we persevered and most pieces of the raft made it across the finish line. The Castaway Girls nabbed another win (although using marker buoys - as their primary purpose is to 'mark' not 'float'??) and we went to grab a beer in Sports Bar. Maybe we'll have better luck next year!
Overall, it was a great first day on the island and an immediate bonding experience with the team. After only one day here, I already regret only signing on for two weeks. This is a place people come and never want to leave.