There are tshirts here that say Un-Belizeable and I would have to agree, it’s easy to fall in love with Belize. In fact, as I have traveled around, I have met a variety of Americans who visited Belize a few times-often just on cruise ships-and have decided that they like this paradise enough to pick up their lives at home and plant themselves here.
I woke up after my first luxurious night at D’Nest Inn in Belize City and spent a day on the town with Denise’s friend Kendra. She was gracious, kind, funny, and didn’t mind taking a few hours at the salon for my eyebrow waxing and pedicure. I am willing to rough it, but these grooming needs are just a few examples of why I would never make it on Survivor.
We saw a bit of Belize City and I was lucky to be invited to a special lunch celebrating her niece Rosa’s birthday. We arrived at the restaurant first and were seated at a big corner table. Each time the restaurant door opened, in walked another beautiful woman who headed to our table. There were seven women and the lunchtime fun started with a margarita and lasted for four hours. Their stories were funny and the time passed quickly with laughing about husbands, kids, and life in general. What I enjoyed most about the afternoon was being surrounded by the laughter of deeply connected female friendships that I miss while on the road.
As my itinerary grows, I listen to advice from others and have heard from many that Caye Caulker is a beautiful island near Belize City. There are surely hundreds of great places in Belize, but a few days of relaxing beach time sounded ideal. Kendra and Rosa dropped me off at the water taxi station and we watched a man entertaining what appeared to be his pet raccoon. He boarded my boat and found himself a seat in the back corner where he caged in the rascal with a defensive pose of his legs and a variety of small bags. It was an inventive way to give the raccoon space while protecting the rest of us from rabies. Every once in a while, I would hear a hmmmmpf of frustration as his pet escaped the cell, but was caught quickly as he jutted for my legs.
Paradise is such an overused word, so I have been trying to think of other ones to describe Caye Caulker…maybe others have ideas from my short description. There are sunny skies, palm trees, no cars only golf carts and bikes, the smell of delicious food being grilled everywhere, $10 lobster dinners, friendly and outgoing people, hammocks on a dock near the water, fresh young coconuts to drink, a safe feeling where you can walk the beach alone at night…I could go on but I am sure words that are a better match than paradise are hard to find. I was lethargically walking back to my hotel yesterday when a man asked, “why are you walking so quickly, you are on vacation?” I had one of those “if only you could see me at home” moments as I slowed to an almost still pace.
When I got off the taxi, I had a hotel in mind because my aunt sent me pictures of the bright building and hammock dock. The name Barefoot Beach Hotel spoke to me and I imagined never wearing shoes as i walked from room to hammock ad back again. The website said it was a bit away from downtown so I thought the free bikes would be helpful, too! I walked off the taxi and along the pier and there was James who said his job was to make me happy and make sure I had a positive first day on the island. He put my suitcase in a large basket in front of his bike and walked me to a few hotels to consider. James gets a commission from the hotels, and it was helpful to have his directions and luggage services. We stopped at the first option that he told me was close to the center of town and had a pool and seaside view from the rooftop deck. It was nice and any other time I would have said “sold” but that barefoot picture was still on my mind. He said it was safe to walk outside of town, but a bit far. In my mind, I geared up for the long hike. I realized distance is all about perspective when we stepped up to the front doors of the hotel about five minutes into our hike. I stumbled a bit when I learned this hotel was $15 more per night than the other and considered backtracking for the cheap experience, but luckily reasoning with myself or rationalizing my decisions is just another skill I have. I told myself…come on, it is only $60…the bikes are free….you spend that much on junk at Target without even thinking…you won’t eat much…there is free water in the room…the lady is nice…you can’t make James take your luggage back to town…all that in the ten seconds before I said, “I’ll take it.”
I wish I could tell you what I’ve done during the past days, but they are a bit of a blur of sunshine, walking, and beautiful views. I felt busy my first days here, but can’t remember doing much of anything specific. I think I mostly wandered around this beautiful place that takes 15 minutes to walk from my outskirt hotel to the “split” that separates the main visiting area from the more remote half of the island which was cut apart during a hurricane in 1961.
On Friday, the desire to move hit me so I dragged myself out of bed…four hours after my usual waking time at home…and walked to find a tour company with a daytime snorkeling trip. Tours are organized for each day, but the boats only go with a minimum of five people, during the off season, the local tour companies work together to fill boats. We had eight people ready to snorkel so it was a go. During the day-long event we saw tons of fish, sharks (“they never bite”), turtles, stingrays, and a manatee…all very cool!
One thing that I notice is that you meet really interesting people on day trips in remote places and this trip was filled with intrigue. First, you had two strong, but tired looking men, one was wearing a tshirt with a Belikin logo…the local beer in Belize. When we laughed about the shirt showing his priorities in Belize, he said that he was debating whether or not it was a good idea to snorkel with a hangover. After watching him vomit over the back of the boat for the second half of the trip, I made a mental note that it is not a good idea to take a snorkeling trip with a hangover. Both of the men were British soldiers sent to Belize for jungle training and to show a British presence on the Guatemala border where they are disputing land boundaries with Belize. Belize has had independence from England since 1981 but I have heard that they still keep an active interest in the growth of Belize. There was a also a couple from Maryland who were considering retirement in Belize and ventured over to look at property. She was unable to snorkel for the second half of the day because of surgery that left her with plates in her leg. I assumed she fell off her bike or something and was a bit wide-eyed when she told me she was a Federal agent and was shot twice in the leg..once in the line of duty and once in retaliation for an arrest. Could she be making this up? There was a young couple on the boat…I didn’t get their stories but as I walked off the bus, I started chatting with the final passenger who told me his name was Jason and that he was a travel writer who recently published a book about the year he spent traveling around the world with his wife. We decided to stop for some ice cream to compare adventures and wandered around town to find a perfect spot. While eating a piña colada cone, I picked up tips from his adventures and we decided to meet later for the premiere of an original Belizean film where the cast and crew would be present. We knew about this event because the small chalkboard sign on the main road said it was so. I went back to the hotel to shower and pulled out my red carpet dress…I mean my red dress…and was off to my first premiere.
The theater was an open outdoor space about the size of a large American backyard with an LCD projected screen, plastic lawn chairs, and a small bar area. The $7 ticket entitled me to a free drink so I ordered a Blueberry Ginger Mojito. Don’t let the fruity name fool you, it was rum with a few blueberries floating on the bottom of the cup. I had a sip, asked if they could pour in more soda, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t alleviate the taste of pure alcohol, so most of it ended up in the sand next to my chair.
The preview said “some adult content” so I prepared those near me by saying I planned to close my eyes to avoid embarrassment if the content was too adult…you never know what to expect. Watching the movie reminded me of watching feature films done by our brightest high school filmakers. It wasn’t awful, but there was something slightly off about it. The mystery of what was “off” was quickly solved when the director and actors spoke at the end of the film and said things like…”we decided not to have a script and just improv” and “we filmed the entire movie in 8 days” and “I was walking home from the market and this man asked if I wanted to be in a movie.” The only adult content was a few death scenes that didn’t require closed eyes. Jason initiated contact with the director at the end and we learned that he was a Canadian who planned on visiting Belize for a few weeks and ended up staying for the past year to make movies with locals. Yep…all kinds of people are drawn to spending time in Belize and this day provided some of the most interesting of all.
On Tuesday, I am busing it again with a long journey back through Guatemala and on to El Salvador. I can’t wait to see what adventures lie ahead.