By FRAN DWIGHT

Fran Dwight, who lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan, is one of the regulars who come back to Caye Caulker again and again. Her photos of Caulker illustrate this section.

Caye Caulker is not for everyone: no sandy beaches, no real night life, no cars. It's more like a sleepy fishing village with character.

I've been going to Belize for eight years, always mid-February through mid-March - can't miss Valentines day - and I always stay at Tom's Hotel. This may not give me a good base for comparison, but there are many reasons why I don't have to consider staying any where else. My friends will surely hang me from the nearest palm tree for giving away this well-kept secret.

Tom and Zeida Young own the hotel, and once you've stayed a couple times you may find yourself being invited into their family, which also includes the employees who clean the rooms each day. Although seemingly quiet at first, you may start to notice an impish, playful quality in these good people.

Tom's is located on the water near the center of town, just south of the Tropical Paradise and Sea Beezzz, in a secure compound-type arrangement of buildings and decorative cement barriers. The old main hotel is a two-story wooden structure with about 20 spartan (bed, drawers, electricity, and fan) yet clean single and double rooms; bathrooms with cold water showers are shared. These run between US$11 and $15 per night. Some of the upstairs rooms are quite small and some of the downstairs rooms are a little dark, but you won't spend much time in your room, so why worry? If I have no roommate for the season, I stay comfortably in an upstairs front room for about US$14 night.

This structure are set to be replaced with a modern cement building as soon as the owners' two daughters are finished using the courtyard for their marriages (the second of the two marriages is planned for February 1998).

   Newer rooms over the Tom's Hotel office go for US$22-26 a night -- the rooftop has an observation deck
In addition to the main building, there are five cabins with extra room, closets and hot showers (about US$27.50 a night). These are my favorite when I have someone to split the rent with. There are also more-modern rooms over the new cement office, all light and airy with shared baths, which go for about US$22 to $26 a night. This building is topped off by a great observation deck with chairs and picnic tables.

Days at Tom's begin with sunrise on the dock at 5:45 (not so early when you've gone to bed about 9:30). Brother Charles Young, who lives next door, offers good reef trips, tailoring the trip to the customers' needs, while taking weather into consideration. Trips are about US$10 for a three-stop afternoon reef excursion, a little more for a longer trip to Hol Chan preserve with lunch on Ambergris Caye. He is an accomplished diver, and you'll find your boat filling with conch for dinner. Call Charles at 011-501-22-2128 for more information.

Tom Young Sr., who lives behind the hotel, offers sailing trips out to Turneffe and Calabash Caye on the Valentina, built by his father. This is a very special trip, but is only for those who can do without the creature comforts in exchange for pristine beauty and adventure.

Reservations can be made by calling 011-501-22-2102 from the U.S. If you decide to check out Tom's for yourself, PLEASE don't tell anyone you got the idea from me.

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