Keegan Murphy, a University of Central Florida student, and his young friend show off a snook at Monkey River Town in Belize.
Living in a tourist town is anything but relaxing, to say the least. My family lives on Anna Maria Island, so I know well the honking of car horns and smell of exhaust fumes as we try to reach our home.
That's one reason my family searches for locations that are as isolated as possible when we vacation.
When my uncle mentioned the disconnectedness of Monkey River Town in Belize, we knew that tropical Central American country would be our next destination.
We could sit back and relax as we watched Jurassic-sized snook, silver dollar, permit and countless bonefish swim past us.
Monkey River Town is idyllic, but our family vacations are not just about being chill. The intent is to teach my brother and me how objects and wealth are useless to the pursuit of happiness; that social connectivity and love are the only true paths to being happy.
Monkey River Town is very isolated, a village notched between an impenetrable jungle and the unforgiving sea. Getting to the remote town is a trek few people I know would be willing to take. Located 13 miles south of Placencia and 28 miles north of Punta Gorda, the only road to Monkey River requires travelers to brave 10 miles of dirt roads with potholes large enough to swallow a motorcycle. At the end of the dusty, jostling journey, you arrive at the mouth of a wide and lazy Monkey River. To cross over, you'll need to have a connection to someone in the town willing to pick you up via a rustic Panga boat.
Not surprisingly, basic goods and services are scarce in such a remote location, causing prices to skyrocket. So the people of Monkey River Town toil daily to support their families. And imagine how economically disruptive it was when a nearby banana plantation closed, forcing residents to move away to chase work in towns far from the river. Yet the departure of some townspeople tightened the relationships of remaining citizens. There's a strong family vibe that visitors to the quaint town quickly discern. Despite poverty and that adversity that came when some friends and family moved, the children and adults who remain in Monkey River Town seem happy. Unlike Americans, they don't get satisfaction from a gaming station but through relationships with one another.
My first night in Monkey River Town was as eye-opening as it must have been to Galileo when he discovered the Earth revolves around the sun. I was sitting on the edge of the beach when a small Belizean boy gestured for me to join him and his friends in a game of baseball. They were playing with a big stick and a water bottle that filled in for real baseball gear. As an 18-year-old, I understood how beautiful it was to connect with a boy who had relatively little in common with me: One of us black, one white; one who spoke only Garifuna (a language native to little more than 200,000 people), one who spoke only English; one well-off financially by American standards; one so poor that he couldn't buy a leather baseball. We were two kids, side by side on the same team, brought together simply by a sport and a connection sparked by competition.
I realized that evening as I watched the sun set on the Caribbean Sea that the world is bigger than me, my family, money, and luxury items like cars or baseball bats.
The world is as big as love. It has no limits, no preference toward any race, culture or social status. At 18, I fully understand that happiness can come only from love and welcoming relationships with others into your life.
The image of this Belizean boy inviting me to play baseball with a bottle and a stick in a remote town epitomized everything that's truly important in life. As the amber sun melted into the ocean, I felt only the happiness and friendship of the Belizean.
Keegan Murphy, 18, is a member of the UCF Fishing Club, Reel Knights. He is working to organize a charity drive to collect fishing rods, reels and tackle to distribute to Monkey River Town and Hopkins, Belize.