I wanted to share my trip to Belize, because it was really something to remember. Also, I’ve been having deja vu a lot lately. I’m wondering if I should start recording all my memories, so I can keep track of what’s what. Before I get permanent deja vu.
A little background. My old man was in Belize for a few weeks checking out living arrangements and business opportunities in an attempt to expatriate himself and retire abroad. He invited me a few days before he left. Although I’m practically broke at present, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I bought a ticket last minute. I was given the obscenely vague instruction to meet him in the town square in San Pedro at about 2pm the day I arrived. I figured ‘what the hell’ and didn’t push him for more. This is supposed to be an adventure, right?
It was a breezy 60 degrees when I arrived in Belize City and caught a cab to the docks, where I met a local restaurant owner who recognized me for the tourist I was, and then swindled me for a few dollars. In exchange he found me a few much-needed beers. Not just any beers but “the Belizean beer” Beliken. We sat down outside and he told me the story of Belize’s beer industry while I waited for the boat to Ambergris Caye, where San Pedro Town awaited. Before I knew it, the boat was shipping off. But before I could leave, the restauranteur rustled up another beer for me and sent me on my way, assuring me I could drink on the boat. The folks on the boat were not happy about that, and I had to chug a beer in front of the loaded boat.
Belize is a fascinating place, in many ways separated from most of Latin America, but geographically in the heart of it. From the airplane it looked like what you’d expect. Clear blue water and reef. The green clumps of mangroves. And ocean. More mangroves and ocean. As we got nearer inland, the mangroves grew larger and began to look like jungle.I’d later find out that Belize has some serious jungle.
Belize’s shoreline is covered by the second largest barrier reef in the world, which means that the islands (cayes) are protected by shallow and calm waters. On Ambergris Caye, waves break thousands of feet from the shore and slowly roll in. It makes for great snorkeling and calm water for boats. On the boat ride to Ambergris, I met a few nice American girls and a dark-skinned man who was literally shouting (to himself) about the vagaries and corruption of politics in Belize. He had a few pieces of political art with him, and he handed one to a child on the boat. The kid looked really confused, but held on to the brightly-colored painting.
The first picture I took in Belize
I arrived on Ambergris and marched off into the town of San Pedro like I knew where I was going. I quickly realized I didn’t. I walked back toward the shore and found a beachfront park. The town square…? Nobody was around so I found a restaurant and regrouped. I ate lunch and an iguana started scrounging for food underneath my table. I turned on my cell phone to get the time. 1:45. I turned it off. I asked the nice lady who served me overpriced beans and rice if this was the town square. It was. I was getting anxious. I walked out to the beach and took a picture of the skiff tied up off the shore.
Almost as soon as I’d taken the picture there was a shout to my left. The old man was on the porch, waving, shirtless, at a run-down bar on the shore. With five Rastafarians. I knew it. They’d already been through a few rounds of beers and were smoking cigars and… other… They were listening to reggae and telling stories about women they’d been with. Welcome to Belize indeed.
After an hour or two my dad and I finally left for the room he’d rented up the beach a ways. There are roads and cars on Ambergris, but the island is only a half-mile wide. Most of the traffic is on the beach, and that’s how we got around in our time there. My dad had already been in Belize for a few days (and had been a year earlier), so he’d met and reunited with a few folks who were interested in doing business with him. He was optimistic. I was just glad to be there.
Our hotel in Corozal, the majestic Mirador
We ended up spending two more days on Ambergris before we took the two hour boat ride to Corozal, on the mainland. Corozal reminded me of Mexico. It was only a few miles from the border with Mexico, and there were a lot of Hispanics in town. Everyone we met was bilingual. It was remarkable was the way people operated. Everyone had a smile on their faces. If they didn’t, they seemed on the verge of smiling. They cared more about people and not as much about “things.” It seemed like everyone in Belize had a hustle or two, and they did what they could to make money. We met lots of proud locals, many in the cayes who thought of Belize as “paradise.” We met “Marlon,” (like Marlon Brando, he said) a somewhat talkative, jovial local, who only worked on Saturday and Sunday. The rest of the week he worked on his small farm outside of Corozal. He brought us out to his farm and showed us his coconut and mango trees. My dad asked Marlon if he was trying to sell his farm (he was very eager to bring us out there). Marlon got very serious. He said “no, not at all. You cannot sell the bones of your ancestors.”
After our adventures in Corozal we rented a truck and drove the long, bumpy ride out to the remote town of Sarteneja, known for its “backpacker’s paradise,” a lodge and hostel. My dad and I are very different people… pretty antagonistic
The view from Marlon's farm
at times, and we had an argument or two on the drive out to Sarteneja. I think we made some headway, though. It felt good to be honest with him outside of the realms of our usual lives. We had a fantastic seafood lunch in town and tried (but failed) to find a friend of my dad’s cousin. There is large bird and wildlife sanctuary near the town. We didn’t make it out there, but supposedly there are forests of marijuana growing somewhere between the sanctuary and the town.
We went back to Corozal. The next day we visited the Mayan ruins at Lamanai. This was probably the most amazing part of our trip. I can’t even really describe it. A long boat ride up a river and through the jungle. We saw howler monkeys and crocodiles. Lots of birds (but no toucans, the national bird of Belize). The Lamanai site stands in the midst of beautiful, old mahogany trees. The ruins themselves were surreal, almost mythical creations. The two largest stood high above the jungle canopy and once served as burial places for nobles in Mayan society. We climbed to the top of the largest temple, which stood at over 100 feet high.
The main temple at Lamanai
Things moved slowly in Belize, but my trip went by too quickly. Before I knew it, I was back on the bus riding to Belize City and the airport. I relished the long, solitary journey home. I read and wrote. I tried to focus on re-focusing myself when I returned. It was tough. Flying over the Florida keys was a real highlight. From the airplane, I actually saw the hotel in Key West that I stayed at a few years ago.