Where do I begin with this travel blog? Summer 2014. Belize. It’s everything. It changed my life. I have no idea what possessed me to journal my entire trip. I’m not the journaling sort. And in all the trips since that first one to Belize- another trip to Belize, France/England, Panama, Costa Rica, Cuba, France again- I have not kept a daily journal. I hate that. I’m hoping this travel blog will help change that. But for my first outing into the unknown, those first baby steps on wobbly travel legs, I journaled. I poured out my heart. I captured every moment. Maybe I thought this would be the last time I would have an experience like this, so I had to be able to savor every detail forever. Fortunately, that is incorrect. In a way. Because although I’ve had experiences since and many more in my future, none were like this one. It was powerful in so many ways. There are no travel tips- just me pouring my heart out and trying in some small way to capture the magic of this trip.
Disclaimer: I didn’t change or add a word, except I did remove one rather rude reference to a tourist that was uncalled for. You might be offended by certain words or ideas. If so, I don’t care, so don’t waste your time alerting me to your delicate condition! And in case you’re wondering, Lisa was a woman I met on Craigslist following a post I made that basically said “anyone want to go to Belize?”. A post I made out of fear of being alone. I no longer have that fear, and I haven’t spoken to her since we got back to the US.
I slept fitfully on the redeye flight. I was in the exit row alone, but the armrests didn’t lift up so I couldn’t lay down. I was folded up like a contortion artist in every position imaginable trying to sleep. I got some, but not much. Woke up as the captain was announcing 30 minutes until landing. Out the window was a solid cloud bank below us. Storms. We went through them and I got my first look at Belize in the early light of a 6:30am dawn. Lots of trees, interspersed with glimmering bodies of water- most likely large pools formed from the rain. The wheels touched down and the first sign I saw was one for Belikin Beer- the national beer of Belize. The plane got to the end of the runway and made a sharp uturn to taxi back up to the terminal. The second sign I saw was “Jesus is Lord”. Immediate dichotomy. I already love this place.
Deboarded and went through customs. Easy breezy. The shuttle guy I had lined up was standing outside with a sign with my name on it. Hopped in the van and headed toward San Ignacio. The rain was sporadic and quite heavy at times. We passed through a few small towns where houses were either large rundown cement structures with decorative balcony railings, or small rundown wooden structures. The poverty here is clearly apparent, but not overwhelming. More like people make due with the limited resources and funds they have and just do the best they can. Manny, our driver, was awesome. Lisa couldn’t understand him, his English was heavily accented probably with a mix of Spanish and Creole, but somehow after about 15 minutes I could understand him perfectly. I conversed with him for most of the hour and a half long trip about all things Belize, and he was obviously very proud of his country. He’s been to the US many times- to LA, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, New York. He was happy to share information and answer my questions. Did you know Belize only became a country in 1981? It was a British Commonwealth before that. He told me the industries that each district produces. We talked about hurricanes (rare here, but there was a devastating one in the 1960’s that wiped out Belize City), the animals of the country (he hates snakes, but they’re rare to see), how the Chinese run the supermarkets- all manner of things. I did ask him if the locals were resentful of the influence from outside cultures taking over local business opportunities (Chinese, Hindu, etc…). He said something beautiful. “Belize is like rice and beans (the “national” food)- the cultures combine and work together perfectly to create something good.” I liked that. How much truth there is to it, I don’t know. I also asked about crime. He said Belize City- no one goes there, not even locals. But San Ignacio is very safe.
Soon we were on the bustling streets of San Ignacio. It was market day, and I was excited! We passed by a large park area with dozens of vendors. Wound our way through the town and up a little hill, and then pulled up in front of a black iron gate. This was the entrance to Kumquat Cottage, where we would be spending our next week. We were greeted by 3 young men who took our bags from Manny, who I was kind of sorry to see go! I really enjoyed learning from him. The men unlocked the gate and let us down a little path to the house. And oh, what a cute little place it is! It’s about 1100 square feet, a large living room/kitchen/dining room, a really big bedroom with a king bed, and a nice large bathroom with a HUGE shower that has a mirror piece mosaic for walls. Outside, the gardens are SPECTACULAR!!
I couldn’t wait to get into town and start exploring (especially to get to that market!), so we walked down. Town is literally a 3 minute walk from the house. We were starving, and our driver suggested a place called Pops for breakfast. I had a breakfast burrito with eggs, bacon, potatoes, and beans wrapped in a hand made flour tortilla for- get this- $3 US!! We sat there talking for quite a while, then headed out. Lisa was only concerned about the fact that she couldn’t get a cell signal and that she had forgotten her ipod cord. So we had to go find a cord, then go to the phone store. I must have been giving off an antsy vibe after waiting at the store for 10 minutes, so she told me to go on to the market and she’d meet me back at the house (she has zero interest in soaking up any local culture, which I do NOT understand, but whatevz.) So I headed off down the streets alone.
As I wandered the streets, not exactly sure which way the market was but just following the sounds of very loud live music, I realized that I wish I would have come alone. Something about the thought of it scared me when I was planning this trip. I didn’t think it would be safe. But as I passed men sitting on the curb talking, dogs sprawled under cars trying to escape the heat, women herding small children, shop owners trying to get me to come in and take a look at their wares, I realized that I felt so peaceful and relaxed in this moment. I wanted that feeling for the whole 2 weeks. Lisa talks INCESSANTLY about her myriad of health problems. On the ride to San Ignacio, I’m trying to talk to Manny and take in the scenery- she’s just blabbing about bullshit. I turned a corner and there was a guy standing on top of a truck, surrounded by people, singing a reggae-esque tune. Apparently it was in support for someone who is running for mayor. I stood alongside the locals for a while, listening, and wishing I blended in better. I hate standing out as the obvious American tourist. The market was FANTASTIC! So many fruits and vegetables, jewelry, trinkets, clothes, almost everything you could imagine! I found a place selling local beef, and bought myself a Tbone steak for $3BZ ($1.50 US!!). Then picked up a bag of green beans, a potato, a pineapple, and 4 bananas for a grand total of $2 US!! This place feeds my inner cheapskate like nobody’s business!!!
Headed back up the hill with my treasures, and immediately laid down on the couch and crashed for 2 solid hours! I was so exhausted! Woke up and we hung out for a bit before heading down to find dinner. Our driver had suggested a place across from Pop’s called Cenida’s. It was 4pm, and they were closed until 5:30. So we headed to the central park area and found a modern style restaurant to have appetizers and a drink. We got some fried sweet potatoes that were seasoned with something AMAZING and served with an equally AMAZING dipping sauce. OMG, I could have survived on that alone! Also had a watermelon mojito for kicks. 🙂 Talked for a while, then headed to Cenida’s. Hadn’t eaten since about 9am, so we were both starving! Our waiter was Cenida’s son in law, and he was SO kind and friendly!! I really enjoyed just chatting with him in between ordering and drink refills and such. There was a darling little girl there, maybe just about 3 years old, that we were kind of playing with. I asked him if she was his daughter. He said, no, it was his sister in law’s child, and she was off in Belize City testing to become part of the Coast Guard. I ordered a steak with 1/2 rice & beans, 1/2 coconut rice, a salad, and plantains. $6.50 US!! And OMG, it was a) so damn good I could not even believe my taste buds. Seriously. and b) so much I couldn’t finish it all! I took half of it home. The sister in law came back from the Coast Guard before we left, so I talked to her about how she did, etc… What a LOVELY woman! What a lovely FAMILY! I felt so at home and at ease. Between the food and the kindness, I will be back there a few more times before we leave.
Came back, got a shower, washed my clothes in the sink, hung them up, and headed to bed. So exhausted. And that was the end of Day 1.
6:36am Backyard garden of Kumquat Cottage
Right now I’m sitting in a swinging hammock chair in the gardens. There is a wonderful misty fog over the jungle this morning. The air is amazing! It’s just slightly damp, and the tiny little breeze makes it wonderfully cool. I’d say it’s absolutely perfect! And it’s much cooler out here than in the house. Because sometime early this morning we lost power! That means no ac. I fear my t bone steak will go bad in the fridge. I’m not sure if it’s a neighborhood thing or just our house. Lisa is still asleep and honestly I’d live without power, so I’ll wait to figure it out. Right now, I’m just soaking up the peace, swinging in the jungle in my pj’s, listening and writing.
I hear birds. A few species. One being a rooster a few doors down calling back and forth to his friend a little further down the hill. Another being possibly a woodpecker. I hear dogs every once in a while. A small yappy one now. A car every once in a while. At a little before 630, I heard a large bell being rung. Easy to know that was for Sunday morning service. At a little after 630, I was greeted with the sound of many voices singing way down the hill in town. Something about that sound winding its way thru town, thru jungle, and up the hill gave me goosebumps.
I ate my leftovers from Cenida’s last night, and topped it off with a banana. Perfect breakfast. I’m going to go in now and cut up a fresh pineapple.
We got ready for a big adventure this morning- horseback riding! I ate my leftovers from Cenida’s for breakfast, but there was nothing here for Lisa so we walked to town. Most everything was shut down. One place was open for breakfast. It was there that we discovered our “no power” situation was town-wide. The electric company was installing new stuff, so power was off from 6am to 3pm. No worries, we were going to be gone most of the day. The problem was that we didn’t have wifi to check our email to see if the stables had confirmed our pickup for this morning. So in the vein of “better be safe than sorry”, we got a taxi in town.
The drive was AMAZING!! Oh, the lush, jungle covered mountains far off in the distance- the beauty was almost overwhelming. We pulled into the ranch for Hannah Stables and got out. We were greeted by a lovely English woman who came to Belize 13 years ago on vacation and never left (hmmmm….). She pointed to a huge stone ruin towering above a distant mountain and said “That’s where you’re going.” I can not even begin to describe that scene. The stables were part of a 400 acre farm that mainly grew cattle and grass. They also had a large organic garden and greenhouses so they are pretty much self sustainable. We met David, our guide. And man does this guy have a passion for horses! I love to see that in people! I’m not much of a horseback rider. Maybe been on a horse 10 times in my life. They paired me up with a horse named Obama. They do a lot of horse rescues, and Obama came from a Mennonite farm where they had basically worked him to death almost. He’s only 12, but they said he was done. He had a sadness and worried look in his eyes that hurt my heart. I talked gently to him, told him I had no idea what I was doing but would try my best to make it easy on him. He and I got along fabulously. David said he only has one gear- low gear. I said that’s perfect for me!
The ride through the jungle was absolutely breathtaking. With the deep green waters of the Mopan River on one side, and surrounded by jungle- here and there a clearing with a farm. We saw some HUGE ant beds. David said they were from leaf cutter ants. Later, I saw a little trail of them off to the side of the trail, each carrying a piece of leaf just like I’ve seen on the Discovery Channel!! I so wanted to stop and video, but I was lagging behind (Obama and I were in no hurry), and wasn’t confident enough to dismount and remount without asking for help. Hopefully I’ll see them again before I leave. It was such a beautiful sight!
We soon reached a highway. David told me no lagging! Keep up so we could get off the road as quickly as possible! Obama and I grudgingly agreed. We entered the Mayan village of San Juan Sucottz. We passed by families spending their time sitting and swimming on the banks of the Mopan. Men selling pineapples and tacos in makeshift stands or just right on the ground. In the distance I could see the ferry. This was something I’ve been so excited about! It’s a hand cranked ferry that crosses the river from the village to connect the road to the Xunantunich ruins on the other side. We reached the ferry and dismounted, leading our horses on foot. The crossing only took a couple of minutes. But there was something about it that was so peaceful and right. I asked David why they didn’t build a bridge. He said “Then that guy (pointing to the hand cranker) would be out of a job!” We laughed about that!
Once on the other side we remounted and rode a mile up the hill to the ruins. David handed us off to Eduardo. While we were getting everything together, Eduardo said, “Look! A grey fox!” He was so cute! So little! I couldn’t get my camera out fast enough though to get a picture. We started walking up the hill and soon the ruins unfolded before us in the midst of the jungle. The largest building, El Castillo, is the second largest man made building in all of Belize! This is a newer site, dating back to 700AD. A lot of restoration has been done on the ruins, and Eduardo pointed out what was original and what was new. He only has a primary school education, but his grandfather and father both worked on excavating the ruins alongside renowned archaeologists, and when Eduardo was 16 he started working on them as well. Again, he is a person with passion for the history! I told him I was a teacher, and he went into great detail about all of the buildings. There is so much more to be excavated on this site, there’s just no money for it. I climbed to the top of the palace, which for me is a major feat as I’m scared of heights. But I didn’t want to not do it. I climbed halfway up El Castillo. The second half was just too narrow and steep, and as much as I wanted to go to the top, I knew my nerves would get me on the way back down. After touring all of the buildings, we went inside the visitor center where many of the original artifacts are kept. The incense burners were amazing. There was a skeleton as well. It’s exciting to think about all of the things that are still buried under the large, unexcavated mounds. History that hasn’t been seen for over 1300 years just right there next to you, almost teasing you.
It was now time for lunch, and man was I ready for it! We mounted the horses, went back across the ferry, and headed into the Mayan village of San Jose Sucottz. Up some back roads, past ramshackle houses in various state of disarray, barking dogs, smiling people, and soon we arrived at Benny’s Kitchen. I asked David what was the best thing. He said everything. Not helpful! I decided to order the Pibil- shredded pork cooked underground served with avocados, pico, and homemade flour tortillas. I also ordered my first Belikin- the beer of Belize! We drank our beers and talked about Belize while we waited on the food. David is creole. I told him I could tell, because the French Creole people of New Orleans always have spectacular eyes and he did too. David has no internet, no phone, no hustle and bustle. I told him how much I love it here already, and started asking him about living there. I asked how much was a 1 bedroom to rent. He laughed and said what I considered a 1 bedroom is probably about the size of their 2 bedrooms. He was a little shocked when I told him how small of a space I live in. That I’m a minimalist. He was even more shocked when I told him I paid $1300 a month. He said that would buy me about a year and a half worth of rent here. Holy fuck.
The food came and it deserves its own paragraph. As delicious as Cenaida’s was the night before, this food blew it away! It was so simple, but AMAZING. It is seriously one of the best meals I have ever had in my life. I ate every. single. bite. I could have had more. I told David that if I lived here I’d weigh 400 pounds at the end of a year, because all that money I would save on rent I’d buy food. He laughed so hard. Such a sweet, genuine guy. I got a kick out of saying little things like that to make him laugh. Like when he joked about not having internet and he might be Amish (there are large communities of Mennonites and Amish here), and I said no wonder he liked horses so much and he probably had a buggy that he hitched to Blue (his horse) to go home in. He laughed and laughed, then stopped and looked at me and asked if that was rude. I said no, I’m a rude, obnoxious American so it’s ok. More laughter. The food and the company were just perfection. I am finding myself so at ease here, so natural. I love it.
We mounted back up and headed back along the Mopan River toward the ranch. Again, I was just struck by the beauty of the country. It will literally take your breath away. All too soon we were back at the ranch and saying our goodbyes to David and Obama. The lovely English woman drove us back to our house. The electricity was back on! Lisa had a headache, so she went and laid down. I decided to walk into town to get us some water. Being Sunday evening, most everything was closed, except for the supermarket run by the Chinese. I took some time to peruse the shelves. Lots of brands I recognized. Lots of Mexican looking brands. Most everything dusty. Lord knows how long it’s been sitting there. I grabbed two waters and headed back toward the house. There was a woman sitting on a porch of a house. We smiled as I passed, then I did something I would normally never do. I approached her and just started talking. We talked about the electricity situation, about where the best breakfast in town is (Pop’s that I had already found), and just assorted stuff. It was genuine. It was friendly. I thoroughly enjoyed that 10 or so minutes.
Finished my walk up the hill to the house. Took a shower, hand washed my clothes from the day and hung them up, answered some emails, talked to Lisa, then went to bed exhausted in the best way imaginable at about 9:30. Day 2 was wonderful in every way.
5:41am, Kumquat Cottage Living Room
I woke up about 4:30 and just laid there for a while, listening to the occasional call from a bird. Then I heard a low rumble. Thunder. I got up and went into the living room. It was still dark out. I watched the lightening through the sky light and windows, followed by very distant thunder. There was something amazingly beautiful and poetic about it. When I come out of the air conditioned bedroom into the unairconditioned living room, it’s always an initial shock. But within minutes my body adjusts without me even realizing it. There’s something peaceful about that damp warmth. The birds began calling to each other more and more as the dark sky began to turn a pale blue/grey. I could soon see well enough outside to see that it had rained in the night. But I couldn’t hear it. Probably because of that infernal air conditioner!! It’s very still outside. Almost disconcertingly so. There are thousands upon thousands of leaves in every shade of green imaginable outside of my window, and not a single one has any movement. I’m laying on this HUGE beanbag type chair that is so comfortable. I could almost fall asleep again.
6:40am, Still in that bean bag chair
It’s raining now. I tried to pick up the sound of it on my cell phone recorder, but it’s not doing it justice. I think you have to not only hear this sound, but see it as the once perfectly still leaves gently vibrate under the falling drops. It’s gray and green outside. And lovely.
After Lisa woke up, we piddled around for a bit and walked to town for breakfast. Went back to Pops. I had a breakfast burrito again, because for $3US I just can’t help it! I read on TripAdvisor that they have something called Fry Jacks that are amazing, so I ordered some for the hell of it. They were $1.50US, so even if I hated them no big loss. They were like these very thick sopapillas- I asked for honey to eat mine with. FAN-FUCKING-TASTIC!! I brought half of my burrito home with me. So $4.50 for breakfast and I’ll get two meals out of it!
We decided to go to the outdoor market after breakfast and buy things to make dinner. Got two T-bone steaks to replace the one that was killed when the electricity went out. He pulled a huge hunk of beef out of the freezer and cut me two steaks right there! Cost? $1.50US each!! Then we got some spices, some beans, some veggies to grill, some fruit. I love that little outdoor market. It’s maybe 20% the size of the Saturday one on the weekdays, but there’s still plenty of stuff. We then had to go to the regular supermarket to get a few things like charcoal. We were so loaded down that there was no way we were getting back up the hill with all of that! So we grabbed a taxi. After we unloaded everything, Lisa said she just wanted to hang out at the house. I’m enjoying her company for the most part, but she complains about a lot of things and I don’t really like the way she talks to and about the people here, so I was thrilled. Plus, I’m finding that I really enjoy exploring on my own…
I headed up the road walking in the opposite direction from town. Just me, my binoculars, camera, about $20 US, and a hat. All I need. My first stop was about 5 minutes up the road at the San Ignacio Resort. They have an iguana sanctuary there, and I wanted to take the tour. The next tour was in 2 hours, so I kept heading up the road to the ruins at Cahal Pech. All of the tourists (and this is slow season so there aren’t a lot) are in town. I was going in the other direction, walking through residential and business areas. I walked the entire mile and didn’t see another Caucasian. HEAVEN. There’s something inside of me that wishes I was darker and could just blend in. I know I stick out. I don’t want to be looked at or treated differently. I’ve never been so aware of this within myself when I’m in another country as I am here. I found the road to the ruins and headed up a VERY steep hill. At the top, there was the visitor center for Cahal Pech. I had done no research and really had no idea what to expect. It cost $5US to get in. The attendant said there were no guides today, so I’d have to just do it myself. No brochures or anything to help me out. I went through the visitor center and looked at many artifacts that had been excavated. My favorites from here and the site yesterday are the incense burners. Somehow I’m just drawn to them.
I started down an AMAZING trail through the trees. No ruins to be seen yet. Here I saw my first (and thankfully last) white people. One of them was a guy standing off the side of the trail poking a stick into the ground with an idiot buddy egging him on. There were 3 girls on the trail waiting for them, and a Belizian guide who looked very awkward. As I approached, I saw the fucker was sticking the stick down a hole. I said, “What poor creature are you molesting?”, not hiding my disgust. He said, “A tarantula. But it’s not coming back out.” I said, “Would you?” and kept walking. The guide smiled knowingly at me as I passed. I was immediately ashamed of my culture in that moment, and the desire to blend in and leave the American part of me behind was strong. I walked around a corner and there was a little souvenir stand. They had water, so I got a bottle and continued on my way.
I saw some fairly “regular” looking ruins, but they had been restored quite a bit and were in excellent shape. I walked through what I immediately recognized as a Mayan ball court, and was proud of myself for knowing it. I then headed up a set of stairs when a yellow butterfly caught my eye. I knelt down and fiddled with my camera, and a gorgeous green inch worm came crawling by me. Damn camera, I couldn’t get it to change to macro mode so I could get a close up!! So I’m messing with the camera, cursing it under my breath, and sweetly trying to convince the worm and butterfly to keep still for me until I could get everything together. Then I hear a voice behind me, “Are you having fun?” I jumped up and there was a Belizian man of the Creole variety (I could tell by his lighter skin, beautiful eyes, and accent- just like David yesterday). We talked for a few moments, and I told him there were no guides available and asked if he knew anything about the ruins. He said he did, but couldn’t tell me because he wasn’t a licensed guide and could get into a lot of trouble. There was NO ONE around, so I asked him if he could tell me as a friend. I put out my hand and said, “My name is Mary.” He said he was Leroy. I said, “Well, now we’re friends, Leroy, tell me what you can!” He explained a few things, but kept looking over his shoulder. I asked what would happen if he was caught telling me. He said they would take him to the police station and charge him! We talked for a few minutes, then he continued through the ruins and I went back to getting a pic of my butterfly. The worm had already disappeared into the jungle.
I walked into the next huge plaza, surrounded by stunning buildings. There was only a pair of archaeologists doing some excavating on one side, and 3 workers on the other side. I stood there taking a few pictures, then asked the archaeologists if it was ok for me to climb the stairs of the far building. He said yes. Then he called across to the other guys, “Rice and beans time! Go have lunch!”. And within a few minutes I was completely alone- surrounded by jungle and ruins. And it felt right.
I wandered toward the far building to climb stairs. I was met with a view that I can not even describe. Another plaza surrounded by the most beautiful ruins on all four sides. And I was completely alone. I said out loud, “Oh my god” because the beauty of it literally overwhelmed me. My words echoed off the walls, and a voice said, “You like it?” It was Leroy- sitting on top of the ruin on the far side. I walked down the stairs and into this new plaza, and toward my new friend. I climbed the stairs of the far building and sat near him. I was still in awe of this place, and I know it was written all over my face and in the words I could barely form to describe my feelings about it to him. He seemed pleased and proud that I was so taken by the place. We talked a little about the ruins, then started talking about our lives. He’s a construction worker and it was his day off. He goes to Cahal Pech to relax and think. He liked the idea that I was a teacher who would take the knowledge of this place back to my students. He offered me a cigarette, I declined, and he apologized for even offering it. I told him it’s just that I don’t smoke, but thank you for asking and I didn’t mind if he did. We talked about the beauty of the place, and how lucky we were that there were no tourists to interrupt the peace. The creole have a politeness and peacefulness to their speech that I find myself very drawn to. Very soft spoken and gentle. Soothing. And then he said something I wasn’t expecting. “I saw you, Mary. I saw you in the roundabout walking here.” That is the last little area of town before heading to the road to the ruins. I said, “You must have been wondering who is this crazy white girl wandering the streets all by herself.” We looked at each other and laughed. I found myself very attracted to him in that moment. He asked why my boyfriend wasn’t on vacation with me. I think that was more of a “Do you have a boyfriend?” question. I told him my boyfriend was in America on his own vacation and I was here with a girl friend.
We started talking about the ruins again, and he told me of the ruins behind me, how sacrifices were made there, and told me how to access them. I got up to go in the direction he said, calling back every once in a while to make sure I was going the right way (there were a lot of different stairs and ledges. He assured me I was heading in the right direction. I turned a corner and WOW. There was this long, roofed passageway like nothing I have ever seen in a Mayan ruin (I’ve been to a lot in Mexico over the years). It was almost like wandering through a medieval castle’s wall. The passageway took me behind the plaza, where I turned to go to the other side. I climbed some stairs, shouted to Leroy that I found the way, and started to explore a completely different building and plaza. This one was FANTASTIC! Still not a soul around except for Leroy, and I couldn’t see him anymore. There were so many rooms and stairs. I went down one passageway and there were about 3 flights of stairs going down. I got a feeling of not very good energy from there, so I decided to just keep going. More and more rooms. And then I saw something that is on my Belize Bucketlist- A BLUE MORPH BUTTERFLY!! It fluttered in over a wall and down a passageway. I chased it, but it disappeared. I headed back toward where Leroy was. He had disappeared as well.
Cahal Pech was the most unbelievable, awe inspiring, feeling of being seeped in history. Of everything I’ve done so far, I have enjoyed this the most. The solitude, the energy, being surrounded by dense jungle, the meeting with Leroy. Amazing and something I will never forget. I hope to be able to go back before I leave.
I headed down the hill toward the San Ignacio Resort. Normally anything with the word “resort” in it would not be a destination of mine. However, here they have an iguana sanctuary. There are two species of iguana in Belize- spiny tails (which I saw when we were horseback riding) and greens (the ones most people are familiar with from pet shops). Belizians love to eat the greens, to the point that they are decimating the populations in the wild. This conservation effort breeds iguanas at the facility and releases them into a 17 acre sanctuary behind the resort. They have two cages- one for the breeders and larger iguanas that are waiting to be released, and one for the babies. The guide took us to the cages where we could pet, hold, and feed the larger iguanas. They were not too keen on the holding and petting part, but when the guide brought out leaves for us to feed them with, they literally came running at us! Most were about 24″-30″ long, and even as someone who has worked extensively with reptiles, it was a little nerve wracking for these Jurassic looking creatures to be heading toward you in a pack! The alpha male was close to 3′ long and his name was Oscar (as in the grouch!). We couldn’t pet him- he was boss of this cage, the main breeding male, and would bite the crap out of you. I admired Oscar from afar with my camera lens.
The 5 other people in the tour where in the main area of the cage, feeding and ooooooing and ahhhhing. I noticed one iguana in the back corner by himself, so I went to him. I immediately noticed that his spine was horribly contorted. I asked the guide about him. He said his name was Ziggy (for his zig zagged spine). His little spirit was so gentle, my heart went out to him. I stood there feeding him one leaf after another and talking softly to him. He would look me right in the eye, almost like his reptilian brain could understand me. The guide walked over and said, “Oh good! He’s eating!”. I asked more about him, and what the guide said I understood, but it broke my heart. Little Ziggy’s internal organs will never be able to develop right because there is not enough space within his body cavity. Eventually, as the organs expand, he will be in a lot of pain and will have to be euthanized. The vet said that will happen in about a year. If there was any hope of saving that little guy, I would have gladly paid to have the vet do it. But I know that it’s not a correctable problem. This is the second time I’ve written about this, and the second time tears have filled my eyes about it. We then went into the baby cage and these little guys were literally climbing all over us! It was fun and cute, but my mind remained on Ziggy and his sweet little spirit. He weighs heavy on my heart.
A short five minute walk, thankfully downhill, and I was back at the house. It was about 2:30, and I’m too antsy to stay in for long, so I told Lisa I was heading down to search for Cahune oil. Eduardo, our guide at Xunantanich, told me about it after I pointed out some palm fruit in a nearby tree. He said it’s better than coconut oil, which immediately peaked my interest. He said they have it in the market in town, so I headed over there and started asking. The first two booths said they only had coconut oil. It was packed in old beer bottles and such with no labels- not in some prepackaged branded thing. That is why I hadn’t noticed it before. I went to another booth that had a bunch of bottles with clear liquid in them and asked for Cahune. She said they had it! I asked to smell it- it has a nutty/smoky smell and it definitely wasn’t coconut oil. We had a little chat about her booth and customers (she was an old lady- maybe in her mid 70s). I decided to buy an avocado as well as they are in season here now. Total for both items, US$3.
Alone and in town, I decided to wander around to the areas we hadn’t explored- the areas that interest me and are away from any damned gringos. The residential neighborhoods. So I took off down a street and wandered past a variety of what we would call rundown, but perfectly functional, homes. Most with bars on the windows. From one house I could hear a tv, with three or four children singing along to a cartoon sounding character. I just stopped and listened. It was a beautiful, joyful sound. Some houses are cement, some are wood, all could use some fixing up and paint. But there isn’t a ton of litter here like in Mexico. No more than in my own neighborhood. One thing I’ve noticed about the few Belizians I’ve had the pleasure of talking to- they are proud. Proud of their country, their resources, their businesses. As well they should be.
I had been in flip flops all day and traveled about 4 miles total since I left the house in the morning. My feet were killing me, so I decided to find some kind of little dessert and have a seat. I headed back to town and found a ice cream stand that had a little plastic table with 4 mismatched chairs around it out on the sidewalk of the tourist street (the one street that is blocked off to cars). I ordered a strawberry cheesecake ice cream on a cone for $1US and sat down by myself, just watching the people go by. This is so out of my normal mode of operation. So many things I have done here are. I love it. There was a rasta looking man and a white man standing at the barricade to the street having a conversation several feet from me. The rasta man asked me how my ice cream was. I took it as an invitation for a conversation and walked over. He is from Ambergris Caye, the beach area I’ll be at next week. He told me he was born on Ambergris, and when you are born there they give you a very small piece of land for a fish camp on either Ambergris or Caye Caulker- his is on Caye Caulker where I’ll also be next week. I told him I brought my fishing pole and needed to know where to fish! He thought that was funny- an American girl packing a fishing pole to come to Belize! I told him I wasn’t the type to sit on the beach with a cocktail. He told me to fish in the Split, during the first tide change after dark, and I’ll catch snapper this time of year. I told him we were staying at a little hotel right on the Split and I’d be sure to do as he said. We talked about me being a teacher, the white guy he was talking to was from the UK and here on a trip with a school group. I could care less about the UK guy and didn’t really engage him in conversation. I asked the rasta man where he lives, since he’s from Ambergris, has land on Caye Caulker, and is in San Ignacio. He shrugged and said “Wherever.” Perfect answer. He then informed me that he is a “certified herbalist” and has “medicine” if I need any. I politely declined and said I probably should be on my way. A mandatory jail sentence for weed is not on my itinerary!
Headed back to the house, where Lisa and I fired up the BBQ. We grilled onions, zuchhini, and the creme de la creme- our T-bone steaks!! It was truly a feast! The steak was one of the best I’ve ever had, so tender. I’m sure because it was fresh, local beef. After dinner, we talked for a while, listened to music, and I journaled while a thunderstorm with heavy rain rolled in. A very relaxing end to one of the best days of my life.
5:52am Living Room of Kumquat Cottage
The rain stopped last night fairly early on. I’m glad, because I’m supposed to do my trip to the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave today. We have to ford a river on foot to get to it, and if the water level is too high from too much rain, the government won’t allow tourists in. I hope it didn’t rain too much in the mountains overnight. This is the one thing I wanted to do, and I won’t leave until I do. I’m supposed to get an email at 7:30 telling me if it’s go or no. As I was sitting here, I saw the high limbs of the trees in the backyard garden bouncing. Something BIG was moving through them- and fast! I grabbed my camera and ran outside, but it was gone. I think it may have been a monkey…
7:04am Living Room of Kumquat Cottage
Just got word that the cave is open! I’ll be heading to Actun Tunichil Muknal in a little over an hour! I’m so excited!!! This is going to be an amazing adventure…. Lisa is staying at the house again, maybe venturing out for a massage. She asked me if I thought it was safe for her to walk to town alone. Jesus fucking Christ, lady. I’ve spent HOURS there alone. If I was that much of a princess, I’d assassinate myself.
Carlos Pantini with Caveman Tours picked me up at the gate promptly at 8:15 to go on the one tour there was no way I was going to miss- a trip to Actun Tunichil Muknal (commonly known as the ATM cave). I had been in correspondence with Carlos for a couple of weeks. I told him that I wanted the educational tour- not the adventure- because I’m a teacher, and I knew he was considered the best guide for knowledge of the cave. Come to find out, his wife is a high school chemistry teacher. I asked several questions about how strenuous this trip was- I knew there was swimming and climbing involved. I made my fear of heights known. All of the emails back were vague about my fears. I would email him right back and ask for more clarification. More vagueness. Later, this would become a joke!
As I waited outside by the gate for Carlos to arrive, the tops of the tree limbs started moving. My monkey from this morning was back and heading right for me! I got underneath the tree, and there was some squirrel like creature, but bigger than a squirrel, with a faintly black and gray/white ringed busy tail. It was such an amazing little guy! No one I asked all day could tell me what it is, and the picture I took is lost to the broken hard drive on my computer. 🙁 But from the research I’ve done, it is of the Bassariscus genus, most likely B. sumichrasti.
The man driving the car was David. We were to meet a family of three to join us. I was immediately bummed, because I find myself very selfish when it comes to the Belizian people. I want them all to myself! No other white people allowed!! Imagine my relief when I saw they had their own car and were to follow us! We drove to the town next to San Ignacio- Santa Elena, and stopped at the store. Carlos walked down the street while David was in the store getting ice and drinks. Carlos comes back with about 8 tacos wrapped in foil that he had gotten from a street vendor. OH MY GOD! I swear, the food here is out of this world. I have not had a single thing that was not outstanding. We headed down the road toward the caves, which were about 45 minutes away. I got to talking to Carlos and David and we were really hitting it off, laughing and joking about all kinds of things. Carlos asked me if I’d had mango since I’ve been here. I said no. He tells David to pull over a little ways up and gets me some sliced and seasoned mango from a roadside stand. Um, DELICIOUS!
We drove on the main road through quite a bit of farmland. Carlos would point out certain farms and what they specialized in, who owned them, etc… He and David were always waving and calling out to people standing alongside the road. Soon we turned on to a dirt road that would take us to the Roaring River Valley and the ATM cave. We stopped at a little village and David introduced me to his brother. Except I’m not really sure he is his real brother, because Carlos seems to refer to EVERY male Belizian as his brother! I really like David. He’s very quiet, but I can get him to talk a little bit. When I get him to laugh is the best. We stopped on a bridge across a small river, and I immediately started peering over the side, looking for fish. David noticed and came to look with me. We pointed out what we saw to each other. I told him how I packed a fishing pole and wish I had it with me now. He told me how he lives in San Jose Sucottz (the same village we went through when we were horseback riding- where Benny’s Kitchen is), and he fishes there and catches big fish. I told him that sounded so fun! He said I was welcome to come anytime. Carlos is much more outgoing and confident, but then again he’s the boss. He told me how he worked for other tour companies for years and eventually decided to open his own. We talked about my teaching, and I told him I’m the boss because I don’t like being told what to do! They both seemed very impressed that I was my own boss, and maybe a little bit shocked.
The Roaring River Valley is AMAZING!! Farm fields, mainly Mennonite, go on for as far as you can see. Teak, Mahogany, corn, coconut. Jungle covered mountains in the distance. The Mennonites lease the land from Canadian companies who bought it while Belize was still a British Colony- Belize only gained their independence in 1981. I asked Carlos how much the Canadians bought the land for. $5US PER ACRE!! In this beautiful, fertile valley! There was a man with a broken down tractor on the side of the road. We pulled over, and David and Carlos tried to help him for about 20 minutes. No luck. Normally I would be an impatient mess, wanting to get to my own agenda. I just got out and walked around in the weeds alongside the road, looking for critters. I didn’t find any, but it was fun. I’m so much more relaxed and “go with the flow” here than I am at home. Honestly, I didn’t know I even had it in me.
Soon we were bumping our way down the road again. Carlos pointed out these mounds that were about 6 feet high scattered here and there in otherwise flat corn fields. He said those were Mayan house mounds from about 700AD!! If you dug underneath, you’d find what was left behind. Oh, I can not tell you how bad I wanted a shovel and a lookout guy in that moment!! Soon we reached a gate that led to the trailhead. We parked, and got out. I officially met the Dad, Mom, and 9 year old son, Eli, that would be going with us. They are from Alabama. We got our helmets and headlamps, and left everything else behind. No cameras!! Why? Because an idiot tourist (I am convinced an American) was taking a picture of a 1300+ year old skeleton in the cave, dropped the camera, and left a huge hole in the skull! Had I been there, there would have been one more human sacrifice in that cave…. God, people. I can barely tolerate them anymore. Anyway, after that the government said no more cameras.
We headed off on a fairly wide (probably 3′), flat trail through the jungle. Carlos began stopping us and telling us about the medicinal purposes for different plants. When he was 5, his grandfather began taking him into the jungle and teaching him jungle medicine. My god, but it was FASCINATING!!! Thank goodness we trusted him, because it was “smell this, eat this” the whole way! Some things you were to eat directly. Some things you boiled and drank as a tea. Some things you made into a paste. Ear aches, bug bites, sore throats, stomach pains, headaches, cuts, toothaches- the jungle has a remedy for all! At one point, he chopped open a HUGE termite mound- like the size of 3 basketballs- and a zillion termites scattered everywhere. He said they taste like carrots. I grabbed one, and just one had such strong flavor- of CARROTS!! It was really good so I ate a few more. 🙂 Oh, how I wish I had my camera!
We had to cross the Roaring River 3 times. When we would hear Carlos call out “Refreshing!!”, then we knew it was time to get in the water! Refreshing was a bit on the chilly side for me! But it felt wonderful once you were in for a few minutes. The first crossing was about waist deep. When I stepped in, I was surrounded by a fish I immediately recognized- tetras! Carlos said they were Mexican Tetras (a freshwater aquarium fish) and they were about 2″ long. I could have stood there all day watching them nibble me! The other two crossings were only about knee deep.
I hiked right behind Carlos the entire time so I wouldn’t miss a single word. Plus, I didn’t want to engage the Americans in too much conversation. The little boy, Eli, took a liking to me immediately though and wanted to walk right behind me. He talked a lot, and I found myself getting a little annoyed and trying to tune him out. We soon reached a little encampment of sorts- tarps hung up as makeshift roofs in a few places. This is where archaeologists were working. We had reached the cave. We scrambled down some rocks. Carlos pointed to his left and said, “Look. The entrance.” We were greeting by an amazing site! A keyhole shaped hole in the side of the mountain, with blue water running from it. Stock Photo. It took my breath away. It was like a keyhole that once you passed through, would lead to an amazing adventure.
We ate a snack of banana muffins that Carlos had bought in town. DELICIOUS! We then put on our gear. Carlos told me to go first. I was a little apprehensive, but would never let it show too much, so I climbed down into the VERY refreshing (cold) water! After I got used to the shock of it, he told me to swim across to the other side- about 20′. The water was about 15′ deep. To enter the cave alone….eek. But I took off doggy paddling! I soon reached the natural rock bench area inside that was submerged. I turned around and sat down, facing them on the other side. My confidence soared! Carlos asked me how I was. I jokingly said, “Wonderful! I’ve got this handled now and can lead the rest of the way!” He laughed and said he’d heard that before! As I waited for everyone else, tetras swam all around me. I held out my hands and they would swim right into my palms and I would talk to them softly. If the others noticed, I’m sure they thought I was insane! Carlos told me to climb up onto the rock ledge, and I managed to do so pretty easily. The rest of the family came next, and I helped them get out of the water by extending a hand. Carlos was last. We were now in the sacred Mayan underworld- the cave of Actun Tunichil Muknal.
We began swimming through the cave as a group, headlamps and Carlos leading the way. We were the last group in for the day. This is the part I will never be able to do justice with words, because the images and sounds and feelings must be experienced. Unbelievably huge cave formations like things I have never seen before, and I’ve been in a lot of caves. Many would sparkle like diamond chandeliers when our lamps would hit them. The water flowing through the cave echoed off the walls, and the sounds of dripping from above mingled in. It was almost sensory overload. In many places the ceiling soared above us, 100 feet high or more. We alternated between swimming and walking through ankle deep to waist deep water. Eli was a little nervous, and instead of going to his parents, he stayed ahead with me. I would encourage him and soon his confidence increased and he was really taking it all in and loving it! Carlos would shout back instructions to me, and I would help the family over rocks, point out foot and handholds as we climbed along, etc…. It felt good to be helping and not just being in my own headspace.
At one point, Carlos told me to take a passage to the right and for the family to follow me. Again, a little apprehension creeped up, but I quickly sucked it up and started walking through waist deep water and a pretty low ceiling. I called back instructions to the family. “watch your head here” “Dropoff, so take a large step to the next rock”, etc… After about 20 feet I reached a T with a very narrow channel that almost looked man made. I shouted to Carlos which way. He said left, and then I saw his headlamp about 50 feet down. He had taken a short cut and allowed me to lead by myself. I worked my way towards him, using the same commands he had been to lead the family back to Carlos. I was pretty proud of myself.
Now it was time for something really scary for me. Climbing high. I’m afraid of heights, and had expressed my concern to Carlos in email a few times before I arrived. I asked specific questions about how high, etc… And he would give me some vague answer or ignore that part of the email. I tried about three times before I have up on getting answers. And here we were… Facing a boulder about 10 feet high. Despite the coolness of the cave chilling my wet body, I started feeling heat rise through me. Fear. Words to formulate an excuse as to why I wasn’t going up there started to form in my mind. I quickly stopped them. I could do this. Carlos went first, showing us each hand hold and foot hold. I watched and listened so carefully, but when it was my turn, I blanked. He called out each one to me and slowly I ascended. My heart was pounding. But I reached the ledge where Carlos was and turned around and sat down as he instructed while the others made their way up. We weren’t done yet. We had to make our way up a steeply angled rise, carefully following instructions. All I could think about was that we would have to go back down, and for me that’s way worse than going up. But soon we were standing on a large ledge with two slate monuments standing up and some pottery. We were standing inches away from 1300+ year old artifacts left here by the Maya. Amazing.
We worked our way back down toward the river. The thought of that boulder was blocking out any enjoyment of the amazing formations all around. Within a couple of minutes, I was standing on the ledge, looking at the top of the boulder and the river 10 feet below. Fear gripped me again, but Carlos was encouraging. He stood at the top and told me exactly where to put my hands and feet. I focused on his voice instead of thoughts like “if I fall and break a leg how in the hell will they get me out of here”. Soon I was standing in the river, helping the others.
We wound our way further back into the cave. It was so spectacular. I could never describe the formations I saw. We heard voices and rounded a corner. There were a group of eight people (the maximum allowed) on a ledge about 15 feet above us, preparing to descend a huge boulder. Fuck. Not again. Carlos explained that we were now a little over a half a mile inside the cave. It had taken over an hour to get here. He said we would climb up here, see massive amounts of artifacts, then go back out the way we came. As I watched each person successfully make it down, my fear was heightened rather than relieved. It was a long way down. Maybe I could just sit here and wait for my group. But the thought of disrespecting Carlos by asking was stronger than the fear. The last person made it to the bottom, their headlamps disappearing around the corner. It was just the five of us, a nasty boulder, and the true secrets of Actun Tunichil Muknal ahead.
Carlos went first. I wasn’t ready. I let Eli and the mom go. That sick feeling in the pit of my stomach grew. I was pretty sure I could make it up. Making it down was the problem. I reached up and grabbed the first handhold and put my foot in the correct notch. Step by very slow step, I climbed the boulder with verbal cues from Carlos. When I saw his outstretched hand and grabbed it, I was thrilled. When I saw the steep incline of the angled cliff ahead, my heart sank. This was getting to be too much. When the dad got to the top, we started our new ascent. This time I got back behind Carlos and followed his lead. After a couple of minutes we were on flat ground. This is where we would enter the huge rooms that contained massive amounts of pottery and even human remains. We sat down and took off our shoes as per government regulations in this area. Carlos had us turn off our lights and be silent, to pay respect. The darkness was thick and palpable. You literally could not see your hand in front of your face. We turned our lights on and proceeded in our sock feet.
Within a few steps, there was an orange ribbon on the ground, and behind it huge pieces of vessels carried here by the Maya over 1300 years ago. Many were broken, victims of the flooding that happens in the cave from time to time. Some were whole. Several were almost completely calcified to the cave floor, as if the cave was claiming them as its own. The sheer amount of pottery was overwhelming. Literally hundreds of pieces, every where you looked, and just inches off the trail. We were walking over a floor that had been created by years of water flow. There were ridges and little depressions between them. In almost every one of those thousands of depressions were pottery shards. Carlos said stay on the ridges. And then, to our left, was a skull. Just laying there, its open socket stare fixed forever on the formations hanging above. After that, two full skeletons next to one another. Bones, most calcified and now a part of the cave floor, in a jumbled heap from having washed down from a little ledge above. Most likely these were human sacrifices.
Carlos told us to look back, and shined his light at the ceiling. Every cave formation I have ever seen was in this place! Stalagmites, stalactites, ribbons, chandeliers, columns, huge glistening looking things. Carlos said no wonder the Maya thought this was a mystical place. Imagine being here, full of fear of the underworld, nothing but torches to light your way, the flickering light creating eerie moving shadows that must have looked like spirits to them. Wow…
We then saw a skull with a huge hole in it. Not because of a brutal death, but because of an idiot tourist dropping a camera on it. The disgust I felt at that moment… God. People ruin everything.
We rounded a corner, and my headlamp hit something terrifying. A ladder. About 20 feet high. My fear of heights goes double for ladders. They have always been the worst, because if I can see thru slats where I’m stepping, I freak out. At the top of this ladder was the culmination of our trip into the cave- the crystal maiden. A completely calcified skeleton of a young girl who was sacrificed here. But how could I do this? I had never been more than a few rungs up a ladder before my heart would start pounding and my palms sweating. And this wasn’t some good old sturdy American ladder. This was two extension ladders tied together and somehow lashed to a sheer rock wall with ropes! Fuck this. I was done. I would let the others go ahead and wait for them.
Carlos looked at me and my face must have said everything. He said it was OK and I could do it. I said no. Boulders are one thing but at least they’re solid and I can’t see thru them. Ladders are my arch nemesis. He said he would help me. And something happened in that moment. I did not want to disappoint this man. But I also wanted to see this through to the end. To overcome my fears. Carlos went first, then told me to follow. Fuck. I put my hands on the highest rung I could reach and stepped on. Slowly, slowly I ascended, step by step with Carlos encouraging me the whole way. My heart was in my throat. It seemed like an eternity, but I reached the top. And now I had to swing out to my right over a gap of nothingness to get on to the ledge. This is the stuff of my nightmares. But there was Carlos’ outstretched hand. I trusted him. I took it and he guided me across. It was now me and Carlos, high above the cave floor, in the room of the crystal maiden.
Eli came next, then the mom, then the dad. Eli was so proud of everything he had been doing in the cave and said more than once that his friends would never believe him. I told him he rocked and high fived him. He was beaming. We all sat on the ledge and Carlos had us turn off our lamps in respect. Complete darkness immediately surrounded us. We each spoke about what this place meant to us. We then turned on our lamps, walked a few feet, and there she was. The crystal maiden. Sacrificed in this spot, deep in the cave, about 1300 years ago. Her remains were covered in the permanent jewelry of the cave, beautiful calcium deposits that glistened in our lights and affixed her to the floor so she could never leave. She was beautiful.
We turned to leave, and I was gripped by fear of the only thing worse than going up a ladder – going down one. We sat on the ledge above it. I told Carlos I would stay right here and live, just please tell all of the guides to bring me a little food and water when they come. I was only half joking. Eli said he would stay and keep me company. I think he was a little nervous about the descent too. Dad went, then mom, then Eli. Carlos swung across that gap and got on the ladder. He said he would be right behind me. This was it. He told me to sit and scoot to the edge of the gap, facing the dropoff. I did. Fuck. I then had to turn and kind of get on all fours to reach over and put my foot in the ladder. I did. He told me how to get my hands in place. I was now completely on. My legs did not want to move. I felt as frozen as the crystal maiden. Each gap between the rungs felt like a mile. My foot would go ever so slowly to the next rung until I was sure it was perfectly in place and steady before I would make the next move. Sometimes Carlos would put his hand on my ankle and guide it to the rung. And then, we were at the bottom. I did it! For the first time in my life I climbed a ladder!
Now, it was just a matter of retracing our steps to the entrance of the cave. We wound our way back through the field of pottery. Then Carlos stopped and said he was going to show us something tourists never see. He pointed to a hole at the base of the cave wall about 3 feet high and wide. He said, “Miss Mary will go first. Walk on the ridges (there was pottery everywhere), crawl through the hole, and look to the left.” When I got to the opening and got on my hands and knees, there was a completely undisturbed mud floor. A hundred people go thru this cave a day. No one had been here since it flooded last. I was so honored, as I knew this was something Carlos was doing for me. I crawled several feet and there was a complete vessel! Large, maybe 18″ across, and in a shape unlike any others. Very flattened, almost like a ufo shape. It was amazing.
We reached our shoes and put them back on. I had very little fear of descending the big boulder now. Carlos actually sent me down first so I could help the others with the technical last few steps. His voice told me where to put my hands and feet, and I was down in no time. He gave instructions to the rest at the top, I took over near the bottom. Right foot across to the little ledge, step down with your left foot to the next ledge, turn and face me, reach across to the wall, right foot on the wall, and step down. My confidence was strong. We made our way out of Actun Tunichil Muknal. Soon we were at the large entrance pool. I was the first one in, and Carlos sent me out first as well. As I swam across to the waiting jungle, I realized I was not the same person who entered this cave. And I was glad for it.
We hiked back through the jungle to the truck, Carlos, me, and Eli leading the way. Most of the time we couldn’t see or hear the mom and dad. Eli was so excited. We talked about all kinds of things, and he was especially enamored of Carlos’ machete. At one point, Eli and I realized that Carlos had gotten way ahead of us and we were alone. I said let’s catch him and we took off running thru the jungle. Carlos saw us and he started running. So much fun! On the last river crossing, Carlos looked back and said, “Be careful, it’s slippery”. The sound of “slippery” still hung in the air as I went down! He thought that was hilarious and was laughing so hard. I told him comedy is all about timing! All too soon, we were at the parking lot, where David had rice and beans waiting for us, and a cold Belikin. It was wonderful. Eli sat at a table with me.
We said our goodbyes to the family, and David, Carlos, and I got in the truck. We joked about my emails concerning heights that I had sent. Carlos told David that he was being vague on purpose, but I just would not stop with the questions and he had never seen anyone like that! “I’m stubborn,” I said with a grin. They quickly agreed! On the way back, a large 13 passenger van passed us. Carlos said it was his dream to have one of those. And it clicked with me. I love this jungle. I love the people. I love Belize. And I want to help Carlos like he helped me today. We started talking about sourcing better equipment and me helping him with that, a website, and marketing. We talked about my teaching, and I said I would love to volunteer teach. Carlos said he would get me a meeting with the director of education for the Cayo district! I said the only thing that would keep me from moving to Belize is that I can’t get Diet Dr Pepper. He said he knew where. I didn’t believe him, until we pulled into a store several miles up the road. By God if there wasn’t a cooler with ddp in it! Coke has a monopoly, and only coke products are allowed in. This was “black market”, $2us a can, and worth every damn penny.
All too soon, we were in front of the house. Carlos wanted to come in and meet Lisa and see if she was really a princess like I said. He joked that he would knock on the door, machete in hand, and tell her he was a caveman and was going to drag her off to the jungle. I said she’d die of a heart attack! They came in, we talked for a bit, and then they had to go. Both hugged me warmly, twice each. And then they were gone. But I knew I’d see them again. My friends.
No pictures today. Couldn’t take any in the cave, and I dropped and destroyed my computer that had what pictures I did take on it. 🙁
I woke up very excited to go to Guatemala and see the ruins at Tikal. And for once, Lisa was actually joining me. But by this time I was comfortable being alone and actually preferred it. Our guide, Elias, picked us up at 730. My excitement quickly faded as I climbed into a van full of 7 dreaded white tourists. Oh how I longed to be in a little pickup with David and Carlos! I climbed into the only available seat, the far back, and sat next to a 17 year old girl named Winslow from North Carolina. I hoped she was shy and would leave me alone. She wasn’t and didn’t. After 15 minutes, we passed through San Jose Succotz where Carlos and David live and a place I feel especially drawn to, and I seriously considered jumping out. But my exit was blocked by Winslow.
Just a few minutes later we were at the border. I hadn’t realized just how close we were! I got in line first, as I tried to do with most things. With them behind me, it was like they weren’t there. I first got an exit stamp on the Belize side. We then got into a different van on the Guatemala side, I sat on the front bench this time, and Elias took our passports to get the entry stamp. We also picked up four other tourists, one of which looked suspiciously Belizian…. I immediately liked him just based on that.
The vibe in Guatemala was different. I could still see Belize, but I knew I wasn’t there any longer. It felt depressed and poor and dirty. Not necessarily bad, but just not warm and proud like Belize. We drove past ramshackle houses and farmlands. Horses tied so close to the highway they were sometimes in it. Pigs running down the side of the road in villages. It felt primitive. San Ignacio is certainly not a hot bed of technological advancement by any means, but it doesn’t feel primitive.
We stopped at a lake. Women were washing clothes on stone tables. Men were fishing in canoes. Chickens ran loose. It was pretty, but again, primitive. I walked away from the group and stood alone taking it in. Back in the van the tourists were all having their own conversations, and the cacophony was deafening. I wanted to be alone in the jungle, surrounded by its music and rhythm. The jungle was whizzing past my window, but it wasn’t my jungle. This Guatemala was truly another country.
The van pulled into a little village, and I saw two girls under a tarp making tortillas. A block or so later, we stopped at a souvenir shop of the worst kind. It was in a dirty, poverty ridden village, but inside was squeaky clean, with overpriced trinkets arranged neatly on shelves. I had to buy something to exchange my dollars for quetzals. So I bought a bag of coffee beans and quickly checked out. I asked Elias if it was OK for me to walk down to the tortilla stand. He smiled a knowing smile and said yes. I think he understood that I wasn’t a sheep like the rest of the group.
I headed off alone down the street of a Guatemalan village I don’t even know the name of. It felt peaceful, leaving the tourists to ooh and ahh over junk. I secretly hoped they were all taken for every dollar possible. I got to the tortilla tarp and the two young girls looked at me like I was crazy, and then looked down as though they shouldn’t have made eye contact with me. I don’t think they were used to tourists walking down here. I waited a few moments for them to engage me, but they didn’t. It took me a bit to remember how to ask how many tortillas. I tried tentatively, “cuanto tortillas en una bolsa?” They giggled at me and said cuatro. Progress! I again conjured up my limited Spanish. “Cuando cuesta para cuatro tortillas?” They giggled at me again and said uno quetzal. That’s about 13 cents!! I said, “cuatro tortillas, por favor.”, very pleased with myself! One girl mixed the tortillas by hand. The other put them on a concave stone surface over a fire. I wanted a picture, so said, “Fotographia, por favor?” and held up my camera just in case I had the wrong word. They giggled and nodded yes. I took a picture and said, “Va a Los Estados Unidos” and patted the camera. They thought that was really funny. I smiled and said gracias, and headed back to the monkey wagon. Back on board, I ate a tortilla. It was warm and delicious. And real.
Another half hour of insipid, meaningless banter and we arrived at Tikal. Elias led us down a trail and pointed out some HUGE caterpillars on a tree. They felt like velvet. I wandered away from the group and found another caterpillar on a tree. A brilliant green one with branching spikes all over him. I knew better than to pet him! I shouted to Elias to come look, and the sheep followed their shepherd. He said this was a fever worm and would make you very sick of you touched it.
We continued down the trail, and soon arrived at some small ruins with some beautiful carvings. Normally, I want to stick close to the guide and absorb all of the information. I just couldn’t bring myself to be a part of this “group”. I didn’t feel like I belonged. I wandered off to get a closer look at the carvings. The Belizian looking guy that had boarded back in Guatemala walked over and started talking to me. He was from San Ignacio! His name was Gonzo, and he was an archaeologist, working right now at Actun Tunichil Muknal, and as a tour guide. I told him I was at ATM yesterday with Carlos. He knew him.
The next stop was the grand plaza. Tower 1 rose high above the trees, with tower 2 directly across from it. It was spectacular. The other two sides had layered ruins, one with a lot of palapas that were covering original carvings. We got a little orientation, and then had 30 minutes to explore on our own. First, I went to the ruins across the plaza from the palapas. Birds were nesting in all of the dark rooms, rushing out and scaring the crap out of me when I’d enter! Some of the rooms had graffiti carved into the walls. Ancient ruins, relegated to the status of a gas station bathroom. Disgusting. I then walked across to the ruins with the palapas, admiring the stela (upright carved monuments) and the altars (round structures low to the ground). There was a large palapa covering a huge room deep inside the ruin, about 15 feet down. I took a picture of the wall and the camera put a square over what it recognized as a face. Wow! It was a face! A huge one. Stunning and breath taking.
Tower 1 was not accessible, but I saw people on top of tower two. I walked around to the back and saw some rickety ass looking wooden stairs. No thank you. I started to walk back to where the group was. And then I thought of Carlos and everything he had done for me yesterday. I looked up. Way up. I can’t even climb sturdy metal fire towers in the states. But by God I was going to try. I made it up the first flight with no worries. Then, the second flight. I could easily see between each step to the ground and it was freaking me the fuck out. I got about halfway up and stopped, old familiar heart pounding and sweaty palms. I considered turning around. But I wasn’t going to disappoint Carlos, even if he didn’t know about it. I continued SLOWLY. People were passing me, shaking the steps, and making it worse. But step after step I continued, and soon I was at the top of tower two, the queen’s tower, and I felt like one. The view was amazing! I snapped some pictures and headed back down, a little faster than I did going up!
Met up with the group again and started hiking to the next spot. Elias pointed out the most amazing wildlife! We saw keel bill toucans, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, a tarantula, a coatamundi, army ants, and more! The jungle reverberates with the energy of life. I think that’s why I love it so much.
During hikes, I would hang at the back of the group, keeping separate but close enough so I didn’t take a wrong turn. Gonzo somehow ended up next to me and we talked about the Maya. As an archaeologist, he was a wealth of information and had his own hypotheses about different topics. I felt like I was getting my own private tour.
We reached tower four. Elias said he had climbed it too many times and would wait at the little refreshment area at the bottom with anyone who didn’t want to climb. That was most of the group. He said it was about twice as high as tower two (woah). I took my zip off pants bottoms and sunscreen out of my pocket, set them on the table, and headed for the stairs- first one to reach them. These were constructed a lot better and harder to see through the slats. I started up. And up and up and up! No fear, just steady progress. At the top, there were about two dozen people sitting on the rock stairs of the tower, starting out at the jungle. Too crowded, plus I would have had to walk a little closer to the edge than I was comfortable with. I leaned against the stone. In front of me were the expansive jungles of Guatemala. For as far as the eye could see. The tops of towers one and three extended above the canopy, the only clue of civilization. It was breathtaking.
I made my descent and sat at a table with Elias and Gonzo, my back purposefully to the others. We talked about ideas of government and religion, then and now. How nothing ever changes really. Soon the others joined us and we prepared for the hike out, and a much needed lunch.
Gonzo and I walked alone together at the back of the group, talking. I wish I could convey the comfort level I feel when speaking to people from Cayo district. I am normally socially awkward. But I have a flow, an energy, with these people. At one point we caught up to the group as Elias was explaining that the small plaza area we were in, with small ruins, was a place of festivals and celebration. He led us down a trail. Gonzo bent down. “Mary! Look at this!” and he held up a piece of chipped rock. He explained that it was a chopping tool. There were shards of tools and pottery EVERYWHERE along the trail! We crouched down and started going thru them piece by piece. Soon I could distinguish the artifacts from the rocks. He said these would have been deposited in the trail as the ruins were being excavated, and what we were finding didn’t indicate this was a place of celebration, but more of a place of production! That was so exciting to me! Observable science at work! It took every bit of restraint not to pocket an artifact or two. After all, they were right in the middle of the trail, being trampled. But that’s disrespectful.
After about a mile and a half hike out, we reached the parking lot. It flew by, because of the conversation. When we reached the lunch place, I realized I had left my pants bottoms back at tower four! Fuck! Those were my only pants!! I asked Elias if I could run back and get them. He said it was too far, and he’d get them tomorrow when he came back and bring them to me. Fuck. I brought them because Carlos told me that the doctor flies were bad in the lunch area. They are flies that bite really hard. I was a little concerned, but it was 230 and I was STARVING. Gonzo sat next to me and we talked and had a delicious meal of chicken and mushrooms. When we were done, Elias appeared… With my pants! I couldn’t believe he ran all the way back there!! I thanked him profusely. He told us we would be leaving in about 15 minutes, and had time to go across to the souvenir area if we wanted. I decided to check it out.
I walked over alone. It was like Mexico. Stand after stand of tourist junk, overpriced, with pushy salespeople offering you a deal. Ugh. I went into one shop. The woman was trying her best to sell me stuff I had no interest in. I politely told her no thank you a half dozen times, and headed out. Then I saw it. The thing I had been wishing for ever since I arrived… A WATER BOTTLE HOLDER!! It had a canvas outer with a painted picture of a toucan and said Tikal Guatemala. There was a colorful cloth flap with a hole to go over the top of the bottle. And a strap to go over your shoulder, freeing up your hands. Perfect! And for $5us, a steal. I didn’t even try to haggle. They need the money more than I do, and I’ve always hated that whole process.
Soon I was back in the front of the van, listening to the inane chatter of idiots, while Guatemala passed by me in a blur. I sat quietly, daring not to move for fear of attracting attention and having one of them speak to me. Guatemala looked the same as it did this morning, a hundred years ago, and probably how it will look a hundred years from now. We arrived at the Belize border. As I stood in line with my passport I thought, “I’m home.” It was such a pure thought out of no where.
Elias drove the van to town instead of dropping us off at our house first. I told Lisa I’d walk home. She couldn’t believe I’d do that after all the walking I had done. I told Elias goodbye and thank you. A woman on the other side of the street with a five gallon bucket caught my eye. I headed over. Huge chicken tamales wrapped in banana leaves for $.75 cents each us. Perfect. I walked up the hill to the house.
I checked my email. Carlos had gotten me a meeting with the education director of Cayo district for 9am tomorrow morning so I could discuss volunteer teaching! And he was going to take me to some places tourists don’t go to. Every day here is full.
9:34am office of the education minister of Cayo district
Carlos picked me up this morning. He handed me a flash drive with all of his pictures on it so I can help him build a website. He thought we would have to go into town to get it copied and was amazed that I did it on the computer at the house within two minutes! I don’t think he believed me, because he asked to see, and when he saw his pictures on my computer, he smiled so big. He could only drop me off at the education office, as he got a call this morning from a woman who runs a local lodge. He said she scares him sometimes, as she is very strict in business. She wants to work with him to use him as the guide for her guests. But she is very business minded and he is learning from her. I told him he can’t be Belizian in business, he must be tough! He laughed and said he knows and is trying. So he didn’t leave me completely with nothing to do, he took me to the car rental place. He then drew me a map to two places he wants me to go. Big Rock Falls and Rio On Pools in the Mountain Pine Ridge area. I guess that means soon I’ll be getting a car and heading off into the Belizian countryside alone!
My meeting with the director went well. He explained the school system to me and the process to get a teaching license. He gave me a stack of paperwork and said to email it directly to his office and he will help expedite it. Who you know…
1015am Cayo car rental
Tuki was the cab driver who picked me up. A new friend! He used to live in Los Angeles. Such a nice man, and he had his six year old son with him. He said I should shop around for a rental, so he brought me here. The price was the same as the other… $80us with tax and insurance. I didn’t really want to take a taxi to the other place so I asked if that was the best he could do. He said he’d do $75. I joked how for only that five dollars, I guess I’d have to go to Flames (the other place). I said his car could sit here and make no money, or he could give me a deal. He told Tuki, “I like how this girl works!” We all joked a bit more about it and he ended up giving it to me for $70. GREAT deal! I hated to see Tuki go. Such a warm man. He gave me the name of a friend of his who would take care of me at the beach. Also gave me his card and said he loved people who loved his country and he could tell I did, and to be in touch when I came back. I will.
1048am smartphone office
I need to rent a phone for my trip, just in case, so I’m waiting in line. I just got gas. The attendant was SO nice. Everyone here laughs and jokes all the time, so I fit right in! I told them I needed to walk to smartphone and parking was scary. Could I park at the station. He said no, but ran across the street, stood in a space and guided me in! I love this place!
113pm Big Rock Falls in the Mountain Pine Ridge reserve
Carlos told me that along the dirt road I should look for a little gift shop called Garcia Sisters. I pulled into a little driveway. The door was locked, so I walked around until I found Maria… A little old Mayan lady, probably 70 or so. I told her Carlos sent me and she proceeded to tell me all about the business. She was preparing for an exhibition in Belize City at the end of August. She told me how she’s working with sacred seeds to create jewelry, and I asked to see. She took me into a little room in the back and pulled out piece after piece delicate jewelry, with hundreds of different seeds for decoration. Some of the seeds looked like precious stones. Beautiful! She explained how each one had a benefit. One for energy, one for protection, etc… She showed me all of the fabric pieces she had already cut out and told me what she planned to do with each. She then told me how she was invited by the Smithsonian last year for an indigenous people’s art exhibit, and some of her stuff is there on permanent display! All this, from a little Mayan lady, down a dirt road in the middle of a jungle! I bought a few sacred things that she said were ancient Mayan remedies and protections. I told her how nice it was to meet her, and truly meant it. Pulled out of the grass driveway and back on to the dirt jungle road.
I made it to the first destination! Down stunning, secluded jungle roads of dirt, through isolated yet beautiful villages. And now, after following a very steep trail down into a canyon, I am sitting on a huge piece of granite in front of a roaring waterfall. The terrain here is no longer jungle. I’m now in a pine forest. On the way, I stocked up on supplies in Santa Elena. Two large bottles of water and a pack of coconut cookies for $2.25us. I then walked down the street a little ways and bought six chicken tacos from an old woman who had a makeshift kitchen under a tarp for $1us. A perfect lunch in a perfect place. Someone is calling my name…
Carlos had texted me that his friend Eric was going to be in Mountain Pine Ridge today with a tour group and he had told him to keep an eye out for me. Never in a million years did I think we’d cross paths at the same time, so I really didn’t give it any thought other than a kind gesture from Carlos. Imagine my surprise as I sat in front of a huge waterfall, journaling, when I hear my name being called loudly in a Belizian accent, “Mah-REE! !” I turned to look and there was a large man with about 7 people maybe 100 yards away. I hadn’t heard them approach over the sound of the falls. I called back, “Eric!” He beamed. I clamored over the rocks and worked my way toward him, thinking here I am all alone, in the middle of no where Belize, 20 miles from the nearest civilization (loose term), and someone I’ve never met before knows my name. I reached him and it was like we were long lost friends. He said that he was behind me at the gate (I had pulled over and let him by), and when he saw a woman driving alone, he figured it had been me. But they had missed the turn off and gone several miles out of the way, which is why I beat them here. I joked that I’d help him get back to the main road if he wanted. He gave me a much appreciated cold Belikin, and we talked for a bit. He introduced me to his tour group, who probably thought the whole thing was a little weird! White American woman, alone in the wilderness they had paid someone $100US each to take them to…
I bid farewell to Eric, promised to come see him when I got to San Pedro where his office is, and headed back up the steep canyon. Windows down, Belizian radio playing mainly Jamaican music, nothing but me and a dirt road, with an occasional car passing me that I would wave to. I felt free. Free, alive, and in the moment. I followed Carlos’ handwritten map to Rio On Pools. There were a few cars parked at the trailhead. I got out and started hiking down. Two little girls about 7 and 9 were walking with a little boy about two. They had blond hair and blue eyes and the little one said, “hi!” to me in a really enthusiastic voice. They were in soaked t shirts and shorts and barefoot, so I asked them if the rocks hurt their feet. They said no, and that started an entire impromptu conversation (the best kind when in Cayo). Even though they had perfect American accents, they had lived in Belize their whole life. I had seen some Mennonite women in the parking lot, and assumed these must be Mennonite girls. We talked about school, I told them I was a teacher. The little one had the most exuberant, outgoing, fun personality! She practically just bubbled over with life. The older one was much more reserved. I asked them their names… Lolita was the younger one and Latishia was the older. As we said our goodbyes and I started down the trail again, I wondered how soon it would be before religion extinguished Lolita’s spark.
It wasn’t too long before I could hear the sound of falling water. I rounded a corner, and there was Rio On Pools. A huge flat area of reddish brown granite, with large pools scattered here and there, and a nice waterfall at one end. There were about 20 people here, most young children and teens, mainly in the large pools near the waterfall. I went downstream to find some privacy. I passed by a couple cooking something that smelled divine over a campfire. I found a little sandy trail through the trees and took it. I came out far enough downstream that I was away from the crowds, but because the area was so flat I could still see them. I didn’t have a suit, so I stripped down to my bra and panties and slid down into a refreshing pool about waist deep. It was fed by a little waterfall. The feel of the cool water washing away the sweat of the day, and the sound of my own little waterfall and the joyful screeching of swimming children upstream was so relaxing. Large clouds floated overhead. I looked for fish, but saw none. So I just stood and soaked it all in. After about fifteen minutes, it started to rain a little. Clamoring over the smooth granite in flip flops had been a little sketchy when it was dry. So I decided to get out and make my way back to the trail. I dressed, and no sooner than I had buttoned the last button, the shower became a deluge! Huge drops of warm rain came down in a torrent, making the calm water in the pools dance furiously. I laughed out loud for no reason other than the pure joy of this remote place. As quickly as it came, the rain stopped. I tentatively made my way across the rocks toward the trail.
Along the way, I ran into Lolita and Latishia again. They were in little dresses this time and off to retrieve their cousins. Lolita said she liked me. I said I liked her, too. And we both went our separate ways. About halfway up the hill, in true Jimmy Buffett style, I blew out a flip flop. That slowed down my progress quite a bit, but I was happy it happened here instead of at the much steeper trail of Big Rock Falls. I got to the car and saw the Mennonite women from earlier. Long dresses, cloth bonnets. I asked them if they were with Lolita and Latishia. They quietly said yes. So quietly I almost thought I had broken some taboo by speaking to them. I said they were lovely and friendly little girls. The women smiled. As I drove away, I wondered how little Lolita would be in another 15 years.
The drive back out of Mountain Pine Ridge was just the same as the drive in. Windows down, Jamaican sounds blaring from the radio, dirt road ahead, dust behind. I soon reached the gate again, and pine forest reverted back to my jungle. I reached the T on the map. If I turned left, I would go back the way I came. The way Carlos said to go, through quaint little San Antonio village. If I went straight, according to the rough map I should reach the highway again. I had no idea how far it was, exactly where I would get spit out, or what I would drive through to reach the end. Safety and familiarity or the unknown and adventure? I looked at my ever dwindling gas gauge, said fuck it, and chose the latter.
This road was no different really than the one I had come in on. Dirt, jungle, houses scattered here and there, an occasional passerby in car, on bike, or on foot that I would wave to. The only difference was that it was somewhere I had never been. It seemed like I was on this road for a lot longer than the one coming in. I did get a little apprehensive a couple of times as I looked at the gas gauge, but I had no fear about being stranded without help. I knew someone would lend a hand if needed. It’s the kind of people they are. The distance between houses became closer and closer, and soon I was at the main road in Georgeville. I turned left and headed down the Western Highway toward San Ignacio. I stopped at the diet Dr Pepper store, walked in barefoot, and walked out with another six pack. I felt like a local.
That night, there was a soft knock at the door. I tentatively asked who it was through all of the locks (Belize is warm and friendly, but just like anywhere in the world, there is an “element”). A gentle voice said David. It was David from horseback riding! I opened the door and greeted him warmly. He said he had come by last night to take me fishing at his friend’s house on the river, but I wasn’t at home. I was immediately disappointed that I had missed that opportunity! In his hand, David was carrying something small and grey. I invited him in and he showed it to me. A baby armadillo!! He had rescued it from some kids up the road who were torturing it. Sweet, kind, gentle David. His spirit is so powerful. I held that little armadillo and it slept in my lap for over 2 hours while we all talked. No one ever comes to visit me in LA and I am glad for it. Here, nothing made me happier than this impromptu visit from my new friend. David has no email, no phone. No way for me to keep in touch. But I know I’ll find him again someday.
My last morning in San Ignacio. I got up, ate a tamale from the fridge with a ddp while I waited for 7am, for Julio to come pick up the car. He was prompt, and we talked in the driveway for a bit. I hated to see him leave because I knew that would be my last conversation in San Ig.
I walked to town for the last time to return the cell phone. I hadn’t intended to, but I just instinctively walked to the farmers market on the other side of town. There was a woman with a pickup truck full of coconuts and a cooler, wielding a machete. The sign said fresh coconut water. I bought two clear plastic bags full for $1us. I strolled thru the fruit and vegetable stands, savoring the sights and sounds and smells and smiles. I felt at home. I turned up a street to the left and walked back to the house.
Mr. Manny arrived at 830 to drive us to Belize City, with a stop at the Belize Zoo. I was glad to see the first man I met in Belize again, but he was also the one who was going to take me away. We locked up our little Kumquat Cottage, loaded our bags, and drove off. As we crossed the Hattiesville bridge, tears filled my eyes. Bye San Ignacio. I will be back.
We drove along the Western highway for about 45 minutes, and then we reached the Belize Zoo. This zoo is unique in a few ways. Only animals native to Belize are there, they are all in natural habitats, and they are all rescues! It’s an awesome place. You can literally touch many of the animals, they are so close! There are about 50 species here. The one I was most excited to see was the the tapir- the national animal of Belize. I headed toward their enclosure. They were BIG! Like pigs almost, but with long snouts. The first one approached. I could literally bend down and reach out to touch him through the fence! Wow! As he walked away, he sprayed me. I guess he considered me his territory now. Lisa was completely disgusted. I was honored! How many people can say they were sprayed by a tapir?! A smaller one approached. According to the sign, his name was Fuego and he was rescued from a forest fire in which he lost his mother. I pulled some grass from my side of the fence and fed it to him while I petted him. Amazing.
I saw so many spectacular animals… Ocelots, toucans, peccaries, silly spider monkeys, crocodiles, owls , parrots. But one really stopped me in my tracks. A harpy eagle. It didn’t even look real… It looked more like some magical beast out of Harry Potter. It was large and powerful. Majestic and intelligent. Its presence was commanding. I had never seen anything like it. I almost felt as if I stood there long enough, it would speak to me, like an oracle.
I searched through the jaguar cages but the big cats were no where to be found. I wasn’t disappointed. They were doing what they should be doing… Hiding deep inside a thick jungle, resting from the heat. I looked at my map. Somehow I had missed the agouti and paca enclosures. I back tracked and still couldn’t find them. A staff member was on the trail, so I asked him. He said he would take me. As we walked, we talked. His name was Albert, and he had worked at the zoo for four years. He took me to the agouti area, but they were all hiding. He started asking me if I had seen different animals. I said yes to all except the jaguars. He said I must see them! He led me to the enclosure and called out. Damned if a big, gorgeous, yellow jaguar named Junior didn’t come walking out of the jungle right up to us! I couldn’t believe it! Had there not been a row of electric wire keeping him from the edge of the fence, I could have reached out and petted him!
Albert then took me to another jaguar enclosure. This was a jet black jaguar, that again came right to us. He said this was Lucky, and I already knew his story from having researched the zoo before I left. He had been left at a hotel, where he had been an attraction, to die when the owner abandoned the property. In fact, his cage mate did die. Another day or two and Lucky would have suffered the same fate. Now he was a massive and commanding presence. Albert explained that there were a total of 17 jaguars at the zoo, 14 of them were in the back as there was no where to display them. He told me about the jaguar encounter where I could go in their cage. Sign me up, I said!
I paid $5us for an encounter with Lucky. It was just me and the handler alone in a little cage within Lucky’s enclosure. The handler called, and soon this huge, beautiful animal was inches from me. The handler fed him chicken through the bars. Wow! Mega teeth! The handler had Lucky stand up against the cage so I could give him a high five. I was petting the paw of a 200 lb cat! The claws were massive! You could just feel the power in him. What an unforgettable experience.
130pm Belize City water taxi to San Pedro
We left my beloved jungle behind, exchanging it for mangrove forests as we approached the coast. Soon we were in Belize City, and the vibe was not good. I said, “We’re not in San Ignacio anymore, Toto.” It felt sad and rushed and depressed. Crowded, dirty, and desperate. I smiled at a young woman through the window at a stop sign. She scowled at me. I want my jungle back. My friends.
We bought our water taxi ticket for San Pedro. $17.50us one way. Got in line, then crammed in shoulder to shoulder like sardines. Now we’re racing across blue gray water, little cayes in the distance, salt air whipping across my face. It feels good, but I want my jungle back. Now.
We arrived at the Portofino. Just fucking kill me now. We’re a six mile walk from town. This resort is nothing special at all. I know Lisa is disappointed, because this was the only place she insisted upon and booked herself. But she is being upbeat for the first time on this trip. She complained 24/7 the last week, but now that we’re at a place she booked, it’s all roses. We paid $55us for kumquat cottage. She is spending four fucking hundred dollars a god damned night for this place! And it is CRAP. The pool isn’t anything special. Boring. The beach is TINY, like about 10 feet from water edge to grass. And the water here, like everywhere on ambergris, is full of sea grass. There’s one restaurant, which is fucking EXPENSIVE because they have you held prisoner. The wifi is down. The air conditioner sucks. And the worst part? Fat , lazy, selfish, idiotic, white tourists. I’m disappointed that I even agreed to give her $100 a night for this place.
When we arrived at the hotel, I unpacked my bags. One of my diet Dr peppers had exploded. Ugh! I washed out the bag in the sink and took it out to dump it over the balcony, just barely missing a black kid who was filling up the little foot tub to rinse sand off of your feet. I apologized and joked around with him a bit. His name was Travis. I told him bye and went in to finish unpacking.
We ate at the restaurant. $36 for a lobster dinner. I asked if that was Belizian (which would be $18us). Nope. Give me my cheap, but delicious, rice and beans from a local joint, or a tamale off the street, and keep your damn lobster. Sigh. It was OK. I could eat for a week in San Ignacio for that price. After dinner I walked out on to the dock. Travis was out there and we started talking and didn’t stop for over two hours. He is a 16 year old kid living in a gang area of Belize City. His uncle is the accountant at the hotel and got him the job so he could pay to go back to school… He has two more years until he graduates. He had it really rough a couple of years ago, stealing and doing bad in school. Even though he turned it around and is trying to do better, his mom and step-dad still don’t trust him. They kicked him out of the house and he’s living with a friend and their parents. His dad had 16 kids, no more than two by any one woman. Travis tried to call him to get help with school, but his dad won’t answer. He joined the Belizian Defense Force, like the national reserves, to earn money. Even working seven days a week, he’s still going to come up short. Here, students have to buy not only supplies, but very expensive books (8 subjects) and uniforms that are custom made! It’s ridiculous! No wonder most drop out after middle school.
This kid is so lost and lonely. He literally has no one. He likes to work on cars and computers. I asked him about his grades. He said he made a deal with himself the year before last to finish in the top ten. He finished seventh. His deal last year was to finish in the top three. He was third. I told him how proud I was of him. He beamed and said, “I’m going to show you something that will make you really proud of me. Don’t go any where, ok?” I agreed, and he said again for me to stay here. He was afraid I’d leave. He ran off and came back with a book bag. He took out a pile of achievement awards and certificates. I went through each one, commenting on how great it was. He was beaming. What 16 year old boy carries around such things? Then he took out a small stack of pictures of him as a small boy. It just broke my heart. I told him how cute he was. He writes love poems. He is a sensitive soul. And no one gives a damn.
So many people in this country with dreams and passions and motivation. So few avenues for them to utilize to tap into that. I am determined to be an avenue. After listening to this child who has seen so much, been through so much, and has still managed to maintain the desire to better himself, I knew what I had to do. I offered to buy his books. No, no, no he said. He couldn’t ask me to do that. I said he didn’t ask. I offered. He said he didn’t want to bother my vacation. I waved back toward the resort and said, “This is not my vacation. I don’t belong to any of it. Helping you is my vacation.” I choked back tears and my voice cracked as I told him of my love for the people of Belize, and how people are being led across my path here for a reason. He is one of them.
It was late. I hugged him and told him goodnight. We agreed that in exchange for books he was going to help me with my creole. He laughed so hard that I would even want to know! I want to know everything. And I’m learning so much not only about Belize, but about myself.
701am Ambergris Caye Portofino Resort hammock over the water
I awoke to silence. The morning calls from my jungle birds are now just a memory. Any sounds here are drowned out by the air conditioner. I put on a bikini top and shorts and went out to “enjoy the resort”. I tried. I came out here, waded through calf deep water to a hammock, and tried to relax. It lasted about four minutes before I rolled over and peered down into the water, looking for life. I watched a little hermit crab crawl up a piece of sea grass. Then I wanted more. Fuck it. This hammock shit is not my gig. I’m heading down the pier to see if I can find some fish swimming around and maybe some staff to talk to. Maybe someone is from San Ignacio.
1003am chaise lounge under a Palm tree
I have been a prisoner of this resort since I woke up at 6. Stuck. Trapped. Six miles walk to town. Just went to the office and a boat is leaving at 11 for San Pedro. Hallelujah! Freedom! Escape from the narcissistic verbal diarrhea of Lisa. I’m used to being able to get away from her as soon as I wake up and strike up a conversation with someone interesting in town. Here, the only interesting people call me ma’am and are ready to cater to my presumed whims. I do not want to be catered to by the lovely Belizian people like somehow I’m better than them. I wouldn’t engage any of these insipid tourists in conversation if my life depended on it. They disgust me. Oh how I miss my friends calling me Mahree with their creole accent, Miss Mary, or affectionately Maria.
1048am under the dive shop palapa on the portofino pier
Waiting for the boat to deliver me from this place. I’ve been walking along the pier, looking over the edge into the crystal clear water. Lots of yellow snapper. Sargent major damsels, conch, rays, cucumbers, and Atlantic blue tangs. I got to the end and was met by a moray eel about 3 feet long! I squealed out loud! Rare for them to be out during the day. He showed himself to me, and then retreated back into his cave in the rocks. I thanked him. I walked back and got on the lower level. I laid down and stuck my head under the upper level. The snapper here are good size! 10″. I laid there, just my ass and legs protruding for passersby to see, talking to the fish. Telling them how beautiful they are. Greeting them by common name. Had someone been there, they would have had me committed I’m sure! But I’d rather talk to fish than tourists. And then I saw him. A HUGE filefish about 18″! He swam into the shadows of the pier and out of sight before I could get a good look. I waited a bit, but he didn’t return. I thanked the fish, and got up. Proceeded to the other side where I saw a little blue and green parrotfish. And then, from under the pier, my filefish emerged! He was beautiful in the sunlight! Flecks of blue and purple from his side glistened in the sun as he turned, rolled a bit, and looked me straight in the eye. I told him he was beautiful and thanked him. He swam leisurely away.
It’s 11. I’m now on the dock with 7 other people. I’d rather have the captain to myself. I don’t feel comfortable around white people anymore. I can feel their selfishness. Oh god, here come about eight more. Fuck.
1151 San Pedro. Pupuseria El Salvadorensia
I sat in the back of the boat on a small seat behind the captain. Alone. We arrived and I was immediately in the midst of tables full of tourist trinkets, bars, dive shops, and… White people. The pace was fast. I’m scared how Los Angeles is going to feel when I return. The smiles I’m used to on the streets of San Ignacio were absent. It’s not that the locals were rude. I assume they’re just numb to one more white person walking by, like a million others. I needed familiarity. I saw a man locking a building and asked him if he knew of Inland Tours, run by Eric. He thought for a few moments and said no. He directed me to where I could find a map of town, and I thanked him and walked away. I heard him call after me. He did know. I just said the wrong name. It’s inland and sea excursions. I was less than a block away. He gave me directions.
Eric wasn’t in. His nephew was. I said I’d come back. I refuse to pay resort prices for breakfast, so I was starving. I passed a library and decided to go in. I read a bit of the San Pedro Sun newspaper at a table. As I was leaving, I pushed the door and it made a noise and stopped. I heard a giggle behind me. I turned and a young girl, maybe 16,was smiling, as was the lady at the desk. I asked her if she was laughing at me because I pushed a door that had a huge sign that said pull on it. They both laughed and said everyone does it, even them. I was so desperate for local conversation I turned and asked them about a lunch place that wasn’t full of tourists. They said EVERYWHERE is full of tourists (and this is the slow season). I was afraid of that. They told me to go to the Pupuseria and gave me directions off the main street. I found it. Prices were so much more than San Ignacio , 30-50%. I ordered the cheapest stuff. Banana shake, which was banana HEAVEN $1.50us, a small chicken burrito $2.50us, and chips and salsa $2.50us. I figured the burrito would be really small, as there was a large for $5us. Imagine my surprise when it was longer than the plate! Like in a tortilla a little bigger than the biggest ones you can buy at Vons! I ended up taking half of the chips and burrito back with me.
Next stop, Eric. He was in. He smiled so big and hugged me. We talked a bit about the tours he does and I may go snorkeling with him. I have to meet Tuki’s guy first though. I only had 45 minutes before the boat left, and I still had to get groceries.
I asked a man on the street to direct me to a grocery store. It was a few blocks away, but I found it. I got a little bottle of Belizian rum, two packs of my coconut cookies, a pack of crackers, and some cheese for $10 us. They didn’t have any fruit, so I walked a little further to a fruit stand and got a huge papaya and cantaloupe for $6.50us. I miss my market in San Ignacio… I headed back to the boat docks. If I missed the 1pm boat, the next wasn’t until 630! I don’t really like San Pedro and didn’t want to be stuck here. I walked up the beach and saw some men filleting fish. There were three HUGE stingrays eating the leftovers! I jumped in the water and began petting them and feeding them from my fingers. Amazing.
The beach is very small here, just steps from the sidewalk to the shore. There are tables with overpriced tourist trinkets everywhere you look, hawked by pushy salespeople. It’s like Cancun, Mexico, and I don’t like it.
I boarded the boat back to the Portofino, where I took a three hour nap, then sat on the balcony talking to Lisa and drinking rum. I went to bed at nine. Lisa came in a little later and said Travis stopped by. I was sorry I missed him.
Last full day at the resort, thank god. I have never felt so alone. I can’t talk to the staff during the day because they’re working and I don’t want to get them in trouble. I can’t fish because I have no bait. I don’t want to hang out in the common areas for fear of having to talk to one of these idiot tourists. I hate that I am assumed to be like them. Lisa had been spending time in the pool, talking to people. She asked me if I had talked to anyone. I said, “No, I don’t want to get the staff in trouble.” She seemed incredulous that I would assume she meant the staff, and said, “No! The guests.” I said absolutely not with an obvious air of disgust. She asked why. And I know I offended her when I said that those people hold absolutely zero interest for me because they’re self absorbed and boring (like her). I don’t care. It’s true.
I didn’t want to go to San Pedro again. Coordinating the boat schedule is a pain. So we decided to go snorkeling at Mexico Rocks, not too far off from the resort. The trip didn’t leave until 3 though. Fuck, that’s a lot of time to fill. I asked Lisa if she’d like to walk with me. She said sure, and we headed up the beach. We passed huge beachfront homes. They looked gaudy and tacky to me. I thought of all the good that could be done here with that money. It was hot. One house we passed was empty and had a nice pool outside. Lisa convinced me to go for a dip! I was really scared of getting caught, but the water felt so nice. We swam a few laps and got out, continuing up the beach. We went about a mile and a half and saw a sign that said Mata Grocery Store. What the fuck!? I had asked the captain on the way over if there was a grocery store on this side of the island and he said no! Mother fuckers, trying to keep me and my money prisoner. We turned off the beach and followed the sign. It was stifling. No breeze as soon as we got off the beach. Luckily we only had to walk a couple of blocks. Not only was there a little store, but a restaurant called Aurora’s Grill. A tiny little building, just big enough for a kitchen and a cook, and a few picnic tables in the sand under a huge almond tree. Perfect! I ordered grilled shrimp with rice and beans and cole slaw for $10us. Went in the store and bought a cold Belikin.
What’s better than finding local food? Finding locals! I was laying in a hammock, waiting on my shrimp, and trying to not attract the attention of the table of white tourists next to me. The black guy with dreads and a creole accent who took my order walked over. He said I was so beautiful, that he wanted to take a picture so I could see. Game….dude has it! I handed him my camera. I found out his name was Evan. We talked about Belize, politics especially. I’ve found that the Belizian people are very well informed. After the food was served, Aurora joined us outside. We talked about growth of the tourism industry here. How the past few years their little restaurant (Evan is with Aurora and they have a child) had grown so much they can barely keep up during high season. We all agreed that Belize is on the cusp of an exploding tourism industry. I told them of the infrastructure improvements in San Ignacio. They said things like that are slowly happening everywhere. I told them how the Portofino had told us there was nothing on this side of the island. They said they always do that. Frustrating. I don’t like being lied to.
The food was amazing! The conversation was engaging! I finally felt like I was back in Belize again. After I was finished, Evan came over to take my plate. He said yesterday was his birthday, could he buy me a beer to celebrate. I declined, as one Belikin is good, but two meant I would stumble instead of walk back to the hotel! He laughed and I asked him if he had a birthday cake with candles. He said there were not enough candles in Belize (he was maybe 40). I joked that I would import some for him next year, if I could get that many thru customs. Laughter, easy conversation, and silly jokes…this is my Belize.
I hated to leave this spot and these people. But we had to get back and get ready for our snorkeling trip. We headed back down the beach, stopping again for a cool off break in the fancy house’s swimming pool. Got back to the resort, gathered up our gear, and headed out. I saw Travis, raking the never ending piles of sea grass that washed up. I didn’t want to get him in trouble, so I just said I was going on a snorkel trip and would meet him on the dock around 530.
The guy that took us out, well, I don’t even remember his name. There was little to no interaction. Disappointing. It was just Lisa and I on the trip. She wanted to stop at a place with a sandy bottom so she could swim. Swimming for the sole purpose of swimming bores me. I put on my mask and snorkel and and looked for things. There was one rock I found that had a little purple and yellow damsel guarding it. I followed a small stingray for a bit. That was it for life. I got back in the boat and sat there, staring out at the ocean and thinking of the jungle. We motored over to Mexico Rocks and anchored. I put on my fins and headed to the side of the boat to jump in. The guy said, “Look! There’s a shark.” Sure enough there was a nurse shark about six feet long swimming right next to the boat. Seriously, Mother Nature? Sharks, tsunamis, and tornados are my three biggest fears. I had never snorkeled without my husband before, and first time trying there’s a shark? Brilliant. I had two choices…sit in the boat like a pussy because I was scared and miss out on an adventure, or face it and jump in. It was a nurse shark. I know the chances of being bit are zip unless I cram my hand in its mouth. It’s like the ladder, like the stairs. Mind over matter. I jumped. The shark was swimming about 15 feet from me. It was beautiful.
Mexico Rocks is a ton of huge, coral covered boulders, just inside the barrier reef. I stayed pretty close to what’s his face, because I’m never completely comfortable in the water. There were so many fish! Snapper, wrasses, parrots, damsels, trumpets, tangs, needles, and more. Most were small to medium sized. I saw one huge puffer, maybe 15″. He was hiding in the rocks. I recognized most of the hard coral by scientific name. There were huge brilliant purple sea fans and long gorgonians swaying in the current. It was relaxing and peaceful once I let myself relax. We saw a couple of small nurse sharks in the distance. All in all, it reminded me a lot of snorkeling in Mexico. Enjoyable, but not spectacular. We turned and swam back to the boat and climbed in. No conversation really on the way back. I felt lonely and a little empty. At least I had conversation with Travis to look forward to this evening!
I went in and got cleaned up. Hand washed all of the day’s clothes like I do every evening. I stood on the balcony and looked for Travis, he’s really dark and easy to spot amongst the white tourists and Hispanic staff. He was no where to be seen. I walked down to the end of the dock, peering down to see if I could spot that moray again. No luck, so I headed back. And there was Travis! He was sitting on the lower dock and I hadn’t seen him when I walked by. I immediately plopped down and we started up an easy conversation.
Tonight, he told me a lot more about his life. About abuse at home and school. Neglect- emotional and physical. More about how he planned to better himself. How this kid maintains any sense of self and hope for his future in the midst of this insanity is unreal. And we talked about any 16 year old boy’s favorite subject….girls! There’s one in particular he really likes. He talked about what he wants in a girl and family. This kid has his head on straight. We talked about his view of the US. They get TV from the US. I was trying to tell him that everything you see on TV isn’t real, especially after he said he would never want a girl from America because from what he’s seen on the Lifetime channel, they’re always plotting to kill their man or acting crazy. I about fell off my chaise lounge laughing so hard!
We talked for a couple of hours. It was as if he couldn’t talk enough! I don’t think any adult has ever sat and just listened to him. This was my last night at the Portofino, so we made plans for him to come to San Pedro the next day after work so we could go buy school stuff. We also exchanged email and Facebook information. I really think he was scared I was going to disappear on him. I hugged him goodnight. As I walked to my room, I thought about how similar he is to my own kids in many ways. Yet so different. This kid had crossed my path for a reason, I was sure of it. I think we can both grow from knowing each other.
I awoke to a friend request on Facebook from Travis. Travis is a religious kid, and I can’t blame him. He needs that. When he asked for my Facebook, I had to have “the talk” with him. That I am an atheist. He seemed pretty shocked, but accepting. I tried to explain how what he thought of as god, I thought of as more of an energy than an entity. I didn’t want to dissuade him from his beliefs, so I was very careful.
I have never been so ready to leave somewhere in my life! I spent much of the morning in bed, journaling to pass the time until noon when the boat left for San Pedro. Then I sat in the hammock on the balcony for a while. Why people stay here and pay all that money to do nothing blows my mind. It was driving me insane. After what seemed forever, it was 1130. I got my bags and headed to the dock.
It was a quick 15 minute ride to San Pedro. The captain put us in a taxi to go to our condo, Paradise Villas. The office was closed! It was so hot out and we were weighed down with all of our luggage. We sat on a bench under a palm tree trying to get some shade. A white man approached and started talking. He owned a condo in the building and said the office was out to lunch. He and his partner (I do not remember their names) were going to go have lunch, and if we wanted we could put our luggage in their unit and go with them. Had it been anyone else, I would have sat there and let Lisa go. But they were a gay couple, living in Texas none the less, so I knew they were interesting!
We walked down a dock right behind the condos. At the end was a restaurant called Wet Willy’s. Oh lord. It was tourist cheesy to the max. T-shirts from all over the United States were hung from the rafters, autographed by the idiot tourists who donated them. Banners from college football teams were there, too. There was a Texas A&M one even. There was nothing about this place that was Belize and I wanted out. Trapped again, I ordered coconut shrimp and almost died from sticker shock. At least the guys were interesting. They had owned their condo for ten years, and had seen San Pedro change a lot. I could only imagine.
We went back and the office was open. Got the keys to our ocean front unit for $139 a night. It was so much nicer than the Portofino! Nice full kitchen, nice bathroom, big bedroom, nice living room. I told Lisa she could have the bedroom and I’d take the Murphy bed in the living room. I unpacked and was eager to explore. I headed out to find groceries. As I walked through the grounds to get to the back gate, a little girl about 8 was walking with a little boy about 5. She was one bubbly little spitfire! Her name was Michele, and she led me to her grandfather’s fruit and veggie stand, where I bought an avocado and onion to make guacamole with later. She told me where to find the grocery store, her grandfather told me where to find bait, and I headed out in the direction away from town. I quickly found the liquor store /bait shop and struck up a conversation with the owner. He said there are more fishermen than fish in San Pedro and I’d be better off waiting until I got to Caye Caulker. Sigh. I continued walking and found a tamale stand! Hallelujah! I bought six chicken ones for $7 us. I then came across a bakery with some tasty looking desserts in the window. Grabbed a couple of things and then went to the grocery store to get water. This end of the town felt much more local than where I had been a couple of days before.
I dropped everything off at the condo and headed out to go find Eric and plan a snorkeling trip to Hol Chan for tomorrow. He was happy to see me, and scheduled us for tomorrow at 1pm. I explored town a little. Hustle, bustle, busy, crowded, golf carts, cars, tourists. I had to get out of here. I went back to the condo and took a nap. I was basically biding time until 5, when Travis was taking the boat over.
At 430, I started a leisurely walk down the beach to the dock where Travis would arrive. I sat at the edge of the dock, near the shore. A little Belizian girl about four with a blow up floatie around her waist said, “hi!”. The kids here are just so awesome. She was standing on the edge, looking down at the water. I asked her if she was going to jump. She said yes, but I could see that she was a little scared. We talked about how far down it was, how deep the water was, etc… After we talked, she stood crouched at the edge, toes hanging over the side. She hesitated. I said, “One…… Two……. Three!” to encourage her, and she jumped, landing with a huge splash! She turned around and grinned at me. In a few moments, she was back up on the dock next to me. “Count!”, she said excitedly, and I did, and she jumped. I took a video and showed her. Then I had to video each of half a dozen other jumps and show them to her before the next could commence. She was having so much fun, and so was I.
A boat pulled up and I saw a bunch of Portofino staff walk past me. After a few moments, I saw Travis walking toward me. He had his finger to his mouth in the shhhhhhh position, so I just at there and continued looking out over the ocean. After a few minutes he came back. His manager had been on his case all day, even bringing something up about me and my offer to buy him books (someone had overheard us talking), and she assumed he was begging guests for money. I was PISSED. I told him I’d call over there and set them straight. He said no, and he was right. I told him it was time to get books, and we walked the streets of San Pedro together toward ANR, where he said they should have everything. Lord only knows what everyone thought! This white (clear as Travis calls it) woman walking with this dark boy. It was the one time I can say I didn’t care what the locals thought about me.
We reached the store, and Travis started up a conversation in creole with a young guy who worked there. I could make out that he was asking him for books for third form (his grade, like our 11th grade). No books here. So we got a basket and headed for the school supplies. He was trying to get the cheapest of everything. I know he loves fast cars (the fast and the furious is his favorite topic!) and there were some notebooks with things like Ferraris and Lamborghinis on them. No, he said, too expensive, and he started picking out plain covered notebooks. He was tentative at first, but soon he was getting into the groove and having fun picking out the things he needed. I would joke and ask him if he wanted a Hannah Montana lunch box or if he needed crayons. We were laughing up a storm! Once he was comfortable, I again pointed out the notebooks with the cars. “Are you sure you don’t want any of these? They’re really cool…..” He picked out three.
Our hand held basket was overflowing! We sat it down and went upstairs. This is where the back packs were. He immediately went to one that was black and red…his favorite colors. He showed me all of the neat features on it he liked, as if he was trying to convince me of its necessity. I knew he had been eyeing this bag for a long time. I told him if that was what he wanted, then get it. He grinned so big, and asked the staff member in Spanish to get one off the shelf for him. It was fascinating to watch this kid flow so easily between English, creole, and Spanish. He said he spoke some Chinese as well, as all the grocery stores are owned by Chinese here.
We went back downstairs. I asked him if there was anything else he needed, and would point out things asking do you need this or do you need that. He stopped me in the middle of an aisle and asked if I noticed the people looking at us. Fuck. I must be doing some obnoxious loud American thing I was unaware of. He said no. That people here were not used to hearing someone ask a kid to just get everything they needed, and that’s why they were looking at us. He then told me that this was the first time anyone had taken him shopping for school supplies!!! I asked him how he had gotten supplies in the past. He said the night before school started, his mother would come in with a bag of supplies for him and his siblings. Some stuff he needed, but most he didn’t. He never had all of the supplies he needed. And now he did. This kid kills me.
We checked out. It was over $100us. A computer caught Travis’ eye on a table behind us. He asked the guy in creole what it was. The store was raffling it off on August 30, and you could get a ticket for each $40 you spent. We had spent a little over $200 Belizian, so I said we needed five tickets. Travis filled out each one so carefully. He was so excited about the idea of winning it. If there is a god, he will.
We walked down the street toward another store the guy said might have books. They didn’t. Travis then wanted me to meet his friend, Richard, that worked at cellular world. They spoke in creole and I knew Travis was telling him about me and buying school stuff. And I could tell he was proud, not bragging. I suggested that we go drop everything off at the condo and go eat. Lisa wanted to come along too, so we went to a more locals kind of place on middle street. There’s front street, which is the tourist street, middle street, which is a little tourist stuff but mainly locals, and back street which is pretty much all local stuff. I call them expensive street, less expensive street, and cheapest street! We sat down and I told Travis to order anything he wanted. He got a stewed chicken dish. I shared lobster nachos with Lisa. Mid way through the meal Travis kind of scooted his chair back, put his head in his heads, and said out loud, “I just can’t believe this.” I said believe what. He said he couldn’t remember the last time he ate in a restaurant, and getting school stuff too, it was just so hard to believe. I told him to believe it and finish his dinner or he wouldn’t get dessert. He thought that was funny. He ate every thing on his plate, and all of Lisa’s salad that she didn’t finish.
Lisa went back to the condo and Travis and I walked around town and talked. We stopped so he could get a ticket on the 1030pm Coastal Express boat back to the Portofino. $5.50us, I paid. We walked in the dark along the shore back to the condo. His tone got very serious, and he told me this story. That a week ago when he was raking, he found $5 bz. He looked in the trashcans for money after that. He was working seven days a week and was still going to come up a little short. He prayed every day that he would find a way to make enough money to pay for school. And then I came along. I looked at him and said, “Yep, God sent an atheist!” He looked at me oddly for a moment and said yeah, then burst out laughing. I said God works in mysterious ways. He said, “You know that?” I said I know a lot of things and we walked into the condo.
We all talked for a while. Travis got his school stuff organized so he could easily carry it on the boat. I gave him the receipt in case he needed to return anything or someone accused him of stealing it. I then insisted on writing a note explaining everything in case anyone questioned if he had asked me to help. I made it clear in the note that I approached him and would be very angry if anyone at the portofino have him trouble over it. He said when he got back to his room, he was going to take everything out and look at it and smell it! Silly kid! He said he’d try to come tomorrow night, but didn’t know if he could. I told him I hoped to see him, gave him a hug, and he walked off to the dock.
I want to go back to the jungle to my friends.
This morning required killing time until 1, when the snorkeling trip to Hol Chan would leave. I wandered around town for a while, did some journaling, and took a nap. At 1230, we gathered up our gear and walked to Eric’s office. He gave us an awesome discount since I know Carlos. In us dollars, it’s normally $35 for the trip plus 12.5%tax, plus $10 park fee (it’s in a national marine reserve). He gave it to us for $40 total. He didn’t have to do that.
I was kind of bummed to see that the boat was packed. We had about 11 other people. It was a quick 15 minutes to Hol Chan. Where we anchored was a sandy bottom about 4 feet deep. I jumped in and started swimming around. Big Jacks, about a foot long, swam right up to me, but stayed just out of reach. I saw a big nurse shark about twenty feet away and got a sick pleasure out of standing up and announcing excitedly to the tourists, “There’s a big shark over there!” with a sweet smile on my masked face. Some of them noticeably flinched. Mission accomplished.
There were so many people, we split into two groups. Our leader took us toward a boat that had a HUGE black grouper hanging out just underneath the hull. Like about 4 feet long! He was so majestic. A few feet further, there was a green sea turtle lazily feeding on sea grass. There were some BIG snapper. That’s what I noticed about this place compared to Mexico Rocks…all of the fish were bigger and many more species because this was a marine reserve and no fishing was allowed.
Hol Chan means cup in Mayan. Here, there is a natural channel in the barrier reef about 80-100 feet wide. As we approached, the bottom went from 10′ to about 30′, with reef on either side from top to bottom. I said WOW through my snorkel because it was so amazing! I have never had the desire to scuba, but this made me want to! There were big snapper, some solitary and some in huge schools, grouper, angelfish, parrot fish, and more. Coral everywhere. We swam the channel opening down one side, then crossed, and swam up the other side. It was mesmerizing. By far the best reef snorkel I have ever done.
All to soon we were back in shallow water, with Jacks teasingly swimming just out of reach. We came across the turtle again, and the huge grouper, then we were climbing back into the boat. We took off for the next stop – shark and ray alley. As we pulled into the area, you could see the water literally boiling with large nurse sharks next to the boats. They were chumming the water. Our boat anchored and the guys started throwing fish over. I have no idea what got into me, but I jumped in without hesitation. Half the people stayed in the boat. About 20 nurse sharks between four to six feet were in a huge writhing ball at the surface, trying to get a piece of fish. I could reach out and pet their sandpaper bodies. The Jacks were so engrossed in catching a piece of food, I could even touch them. I didn’t stay in for the whole time, because the guys said once the fish run out, the sharks leave, and I wanted to get on board and get some pictures and video.
The boat sped back across blue waters to San Pedro. We walked back to the condo and showered. I was starving! All that swimming really takes it out of you. We waited to see if Travis would show up until 520, then walked down towards the dock. No Travis. Part of me wondered if he had gotten what he wanted and was done with me. I hate that part of me. We found a chocolate shop and decided to go in. Oh my god, it smelled like heaven!! I just stood there inhaling for a few moments. I picked out a banana caramel covered with milk chocolate, a peanut butter cup, and a cookie that was swirled with chocolate. Lisa and I had dinner at a beachfront restaurant so we could see Travis if he walked by. After, we ate our dessert. The peanut cup was nothing to write home about, but the banana caramel was out of this world and the cookie was amazing.
We walked down front street and there were a lot of souvenir vendors with tables set up. I walked through about a dozen booths of the same thing….jewelry… Run by the same people….Guatemalans. Boring. Then I got to a table run by a Rastafarian man that had something unique! Little cups and things made from bamboo. I hadn’t seen anything like that anywhere else. There was also jewelry. I said I was looking for two shark tooth necklaces, and would rather buy them from a Belizian than a Guatemalan. He said he could run home and make them for me! I told him exactly what I wanted.
While I waited, I sat and talked to Ruben. A young, quiet man with long, dreads tucked into an oversized knit cap. He was the one that made the bamboo pieces. Marlon returned with two perfect and beautiful necklaces, and I also bought a bamboo cup that had fish and the word Belize carved into it. Marlon and I talked about how hard it was for local artists to compete with the junk from Guatemala. How he was trying to organize the native Belizian artists so they could have their own area to promote their art. But he said things move slow. He also said that because he is dark and a true practitioner of the Rastafarian religion (it’s so much more than reggae and weed), that people treat his kind like animals. That sentence hung in the air and penetrated me to the core. It was the same kind of thing Travis had been saying, but this was blunt and to the point. I told him I wanted to help him, what could I do? He needs a website. That’s easy. He gave me his card and I promised to come back the next day and talk more.
We got back to the condo about 830. There, sleeping on the porch, was Travis. I asked him when he had gotten there, and he said about six – he couldn’t get the first boat out. I asked him if he had eaten and he said no, so I went in and heated up two large tamales and put three of my coconut cookies on the plate. He ate the cookies first. Yes, he could be my son! After he ate, we went inside to sit in the air conditioning. We sat on the couch and talked. Lots about life, school, and girls. At one point he said he wanted to give me something. He reached into his bag and pulled out the little stack of photos from when he was a child and handed one to me. I was touched beyond words. These photos mean so much to him….This 16 year old young man looks so different, but the innocent and hopeful heart of that boy in the picture is still there. We hugged and said goodbye. I told him I hoped he could come back tomorrow for our last night. He said he’d try.
I found San Pedro this morning. It exists between the hours of about 7-745am. I walked out of the condo and turned in the opposite direction from town, heading to the little tamale stand to get some breakfast. It was closed, but I decided to continue walking, as the sun was still low and there was a nice breeze. The narrow street was lined with the houses and businesses of locals. Instead of the constant roar and exhaust of golf carts filled with white idiots, there were locals, on foot or bikes. And they smiled at me! And they said hello and good morning sincerely! I never wanted this street to end. I only saw two other white people, older men who were obviously expats. I averted my glance from them. I walked and walked until I reached the bridge. I crossed it. I peered down into the crystal clear water below and saw a school of about 20 snapper. In the midst of them, trying to belong, was a puffer. He stood out easily, rounded body instead of laterally compressed, and mottled spots instead of silver, but seemed to be accepted by the snapper as they all slowly turned in unison. I am the puffer. Which just so happens to be my favorite fish…
I headed back. About halfway through, I started seeing golf carts driven by tourists. The smiles and greetings from locals were further and further apart. The sun was higher and it was hot. San Pedro was melting away before my eyes. It was transforming back into a tourist town. I wanted to cast a spell and make it stop. I had found Belize again, and I didn’t want it to slip away.
I went in to town later in the morning to find Marlon. He wasn’t there yet. I came back to the condo and decided to nap under a palm tree. There wasn’t much for me in this town. After I woke up, I headed back down to look for Marlon. When he saw me, he smiled warmly. We talked of how he needed to promote his art. How he had 17 acres of land in the jungle next to a Mayan village in Toledo district, down south. He was trying to develop it into a campground for backpackers, with the goal of using that money to further develop a little hotel. I asked him a lot of questions and gave him some ideas on improvements for the campground that he seemed excited about. I made it clear that I had no cash to invest, but would trade skills and necessities. He said that’s the best way to do things. He said that I really got him to thinking about things differently. That he had been hoping someone like me would come along, because he didn’t understand technology very well. He also has land in my jungle, in Cayo. I think there’s a good opportunity here to trade skills for a little land… He said when I come back at Christmas, he’ll take me to Toledo district. I can take pictures and videos and give him ideas on improving his property. I told him about Carlos. How Americans want things made easy for them and we should see about setting up packages. He was excited about that idea. While I was there, he sold three different pieces. He said I was bringing him good luck. He was bringing me hope. Hope that with enough strong connections all over the country, that I could really make a go of it here.
602pm San Pedro at Island Barber Shop
My adopted son, Travis, took the boat over from the Portofino for the third and last night in a row. He was helping the captain tie up the boat, and a wave caught it and crunched his hand between the boat and dock. Scraped him up pretty good and hurt his thumb. Lisa made a fuss over him, getting ice. I made him wash his hands. He couldn’t believe we were doing all of that. He spoke of more abuse that I won’t write about because I don’t want to think of it.
He’s said a few times that his hair is high (that means long). So I had a surprise for him. I asked if he’d like to get a hair cut. The amazement that crosses this kid’s face when I do something so simple for him is both heart breaking and heart warming. We walked to the barber shop. He asked me if he could have a design cut in his hair. I said do whatever you want. He explained to the barber in creole, and is sitting in the chair now. They spoke about me in creole a bit, but I couldn’t understand all of it. He explained about me helping him with school. I can’t imagine a white woman brings a black kid in for a haircut too often around here…
$7.50us for the exact cut he wanted. Money well spent to boost this kid’s confidence. He was so excited with the way it turned out. This kid, who normally didn’t want me to take his picture, was posing up a storm and asking for me to take lots of pics. He wanted a good one for Facebook. Apparently the girls really like this kind of haircut.
We went back to the condo to get Lisa for dinner. We headed to a local place on middle street. I told Travis to get whatever he wanted. He got a cantaloupe juice, chicken burrito (I had had one here a couple of days ago and told him it was great) and a chicken quesadilla. He ate all of it, saying how good the burrito was especially, and ate the rest of Lisa’s. The boy has a healthy appetite!
We went back to the condo. Travis and I sat outside talking. He was telling me jokes in creole to see if I could understand them. I could most of it! He would have me repeat words and phrases, always telling me to quit drawing them out, say them faster. I then decided to make him a deal. I told him that when I had something mind blowing to tell my students, that I would have them hold their head. I put my hands on my head to show him and told him to do the same. He did. I said, “Travis, if you finish first in your class one semester, and no lower than second for the next semester, I’ll fly you to LA for a week.” This kid came unglued! He had finished third in his class last year (he had shown me the report card), and said he could definitely do it!
We sat there laughing and talking until the alarm went off. 10pm. Time to go catch the boat. He got his things together slowly. He walked out the door, with me behind me, and said, “I want to cry but I’m not.” I told him he better not, because he’d get me started and he knows how I am! We hugged. Tight. It was time to leave this boy and hope that somehow he would have a place to live and enough money to get by. And that he would stay in school despite every odd against him.
I convinced Lisa to take the 930 boat to Caye Caulker instead of the 1pm one. I wanted out of San Pedro. I could see why the tourists love it here so much and it’s the number one destination…. It’s as close to home as possible. What’s the fucking point?
We boarded and raced south. About 20 minutes later we arrived. I was a little disoriented when we got on the dock. A golf cart taxi driver (no cars on this island) was standing there and asked us where we were going. I said sea dreams hotel. He said that was about a mile away. We climbed in. Our driver’s name was Celvis. He pointed out different things as we drove through town. There were quite a few tourists, but nothing like the insanity of San Pedro. There was a much more laid back vibe here. I liked it. We arrived at the hotel, and Celvis said he could give us a tour of the whole island of we liked. I got his card.
We checked in at sea dreams. The room was tiny, with two twin beds, a small refrigerator, and a decent sized bathroom. No closet, so I just put my bags under the bed. I gave the front desk the flash drives I brought over for the local high school they support. They were so thankful. Lisa and I walked to the split to see if we could find some food. The split is basically a channel that was created when a category 5 hurricane ripped through here in 1961. It literally split the island in two, with a channel that’s about 100 yards wide. Whoever owned that beach front property must have been a sad panda indeed!
We followed the sounds of reggae, and were soon at an awesome little beach bar palapa. It was early, a little after 10, and the chef wasn’t there yet. We sat at the bar, had rum punch, and soaked up the really cool, laid back vibe. Some locals were fishing, and I walked up and started talking to them. Lots of red snapper here usually, they said, but fishing is better early in the morning or evening. One said he caught a big barracuda here yesterday. I asked if they were good to eat and he said very. I was itching to get bait and tackle!
The vibe started to change about 1045. Tourists started flooding in. One woman brought a yappy ass Yorkie that would not shut up. Lisa got a little snippy with her, and then asked me if I thought she was too mean about it. I told her I couldn’t care less about anything she said to a tourist, just don’t be rude to the locals.
Finally the chef got there a little after 11. I was starving! I saw him write all of the standard seafood fare on the board… Shrimp, lobster… Then he wrote something interesting… BARRACUDA STEAK! Oh hell yes! It came with rice and beans (everything here revolves around rice and beans!) and omg it was FANTASTIC! Seasoned perfectly, very garlicky, and oh so fresh tasting. The portion was huge and only $10us. I wished I had another stomach so I could have eaten two.
Lisa wanted to hang here, but too many tourists were flooding in. I had to get away. I went to the front desk and asked Anna to call Celvis. No answer. I asked if she knew someone else that could do a tour, and she called someone named Peter. He arrived in about 10 minutes. I hopped in the golf cart, more excited to have a local to myself than to see the island.
Peter and I spent about an hour and a half together, going up and down practically every sand-packed street as he pointed out interesting landmarks. He told me lots were going for about $100,000us! I asked him how in the world could the locals afford that. He said they couldn’t. Priced out of their own country. Sad. As we talked, I found out that Peter is 100% Mayan. He used to lead horseback rides at Mountain Pine Ridge in Cayo. I asked him if he knew Maria Garcia, the woman who made jewelry, and he did! I loved finding connections back to my jungle.
I told him I wanted to fish and he showed me some good spots, then took me to get bait. We pulled into the driveway of a house with a hand painted sign out front that said “bait for sale”. $2 us for a bag full of sardines. We then went to a little tackle shop, and Peter picked me out the right sized hooks and sinkers. I was set! The last stop was the best. He pulled up to a house on the back side of the island. He got a bag of fish from the lady. We walked down a small dock on the side of a shady cove, surrounded by mangroves. There in the dark, shallow water were about two dozen tarpon! Some almost four feet long! Peter threw the fish in and the tarpon sprung into action! It was so awesome! They were big, fast, sleek, and beautiful! I could have stayed there for a long time.
Back at the room, I couldn’t sit still for long. I walked to town to get a close up view of all of the little shops. My directional ocd kicked in, and I made my way up the right side of the street, telling the vendors on the left side that were trying to get my attention that I’d catch them on the way back. One thing I noticed here was that the majority of the street vendors selling art and trinkets were Belizians. That put me in a buying mood! I stopped at a little table tended by an old woman that Peter had pointed out as Mayan. She had the exact thing I had been looking for! And she only had one…a little clay pot to burn herbs in. I paid for it and asked her to hold it until I came back. It was a delicate piece and I didn’t want to break it. I continued down the street and found another thing I’d been wanting- a little palm container for coconut oil. If you bought two local pieces, you got 15% off, so I added a carved fish soap dish.
I reached the end of the street, crossed, and headed back down the other side. In between the tables set up to sell things, there were lots of “tourist fare” food shops in addition to all of the regular restaurants. Ice cream, coffee, juice bars, smoothies. And lots of tour operators as well, offering the same things as those in San Pedro. As I walked back toward the hotel, I saw a Rastafarian man that reminded me of Marlon sitting next to a booth with a lot of painted art canvasses. Marlon had told me his brother lived on Caye Caulker, but didn’t tell me anything else other than he was a very smart man. I couldn’t not ask, so I walked up and said, “Please don’t think I’m crazy, but I have to ask this… Do you know Marlon Usher?”. He said yes, Marlon was his brother! Crazy! We talked for a while, and then I continued on. Belize is a small country…..
It was getting close to 630. I walked to the back side of the island and watched the most amazing sunset. I could see the sun join and melt into the sea, watching it until the very last drop off molten orange disappeared. It was breathtaking. And now, it was time to do what I had been waiting weeks for…. FISH!
I went to the room, gathered up my rod and reel, bait and tackle, and headed to the split. I was so excited to get down there, I didn’t even change out of my dress. No one else was fishing at the split. I was a little disappointed, as I was hoping to hang with some locals and get not only some fishing tips, but a dose of that Belizian warmth I had grown to crave. I extended my telescoping pole, attached the reel, ran the line thru the eyes, and attached the sinker and hook. I hadn’t done this in years, and it felt right and good. I took the huge butcher knife I borrowed from the hotel kitchen and cut the first sardine into one inch chunks like Peter had told me to do. First cast, smooth as buttah! Went about 25 feet out into the split. I let it sit, and sit. Nothing. I waited probably a full 45 seconds (I’ve never been accused of being a patient fisherwoman!) and slowly reeled it back in. I was met by my little chunk of sardine. I cast again. Wham! Immediate strike! God, there is nothing like that adrenaline you get from a fish biting, except for actually catching one! But I’ve always enjoyed the chase… I didn’t mind feeding a few fishes while I waited. I put on another chunk of sardine and cast again. Within seconds, wham! Another bite, and another free meal. I looked at the dark water and wondered what was under there playing with me…
A couple more of the same thing, and then I heard a voice. “Catching anything?” The creole accent made my heart leap! I said I was getting bites, but nothing caught yet. A young man with dreads introduced himself as Shawn, and we started talking fish. He asked how I was baiting the hook. I showed him and he said that should work. This time I had put on a sardine head, hooked through the eyes. I cast and asked Shawn if that was a good place. No sooner did he say yes then WHAM! A really hard hit! And a couple turns of the reel let me know it wasn’t just a hit, but it was hooked! A few more turns let me know it was something pretty damn big! Shawn was cheering me on and I was reeling as hard as I could, but losing ground. Shawn took the pole and worked on landing Moby Dick. As he fought the fish, the reel handle broke in his hand. We stood there looking at each other, stunned as the line ran out. There was nothing to do but cut it. I lost my fish, lost my reel, lost my plans for the next morning and evening all within a few seconds. Normally I would be pissed and rant and rave about getting my money back for the reel. Instead, Shawn and I talked for a while. He asked what I was doing later, I said I’d be asleep later as I rarely stay up past 930. We parted ways and I headed back to the room, a little disappointed that my fishing was over, but more happy about the experience in general. And I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a barracuda taking revenge on me for lunch!
636am sea dreams dock on caye caulker
I woke to a Facebook message from Travis, telling me in creole that he was just chilling. I knew he missed me. I missed him, too.
I didn’t sleep well for the first time last night. The knowledge that this is my last day is heavy on my heart. I don’t want to leave. I’m trying to come up with a way not to. But I know I have to finish out the school year, work on my business plan, and come back next summer completely prepared for the move. As I look out over the blue water, completely alone except for a school of small fish swimming beside me, I realize that I am at peace. With my surroundings and myself. I don’t know if that is something I’ve ever really felt. I know all of my problems are not solved, all of my fears are not quelled, but they are diminished in this place to a point where they are no longer my focus. I can focus on bigger things now, better things. Things outside of myself. The culmination of the work I have been doing on myself for the past almost exactly seven years is right here.
754am rooftop at sea dreams
I’m having a breakfast of eggs, bacon, bagel, and fruit which is included with the room. It’s so American. My heart is getting heavier and heavier, and I’m constantly fighting this lump in my throat. Tears just boil up out of no where. Glad I have my sunglasses. This last hour has been tough. I’m going to get a bicycle and ride away to the remote parts of the island. Parts where tourists are rare. I need a friend today. I wish I could call Carlos and talk business, or have David come over and talk about horses and life in his gentle way. If I can’t get a hold on this and get focused, LA is going to crush me when I return.
I decided a bike had too many limitations, so I walked all the way to South Point this morning. Almost six miles round-trip. I procured a nice little blister from my flip flops, but I needed to be away from the tourists. I walked down the main street which was empty of white flesh tinged various shades of pink and red. They were still recovering from last night’s hangovers or enjoying the ability to sleep in. I was enjoying the feel of the island without them. The locals were friendly and saying hi and good morning as I passed. Just as Travis (and basically all Belizians) slip effortlessly between languages, these locals slip between their genuine selves and what they have to be for the tourists.
I walked and walked, through streets lined with the houses of those who call this island home. I passed by a little overgrown area that had a sign stating it was a reserve. I stepped on to a trail under a canopy of thick trees. I immediately recalled my jungle, and even recognized some of the plants. Creatures would rustle through the dried palm leaves that covered the ground as I passed, causing me to jump. I liked that they had that power over me. I followed the circular trail all the way around, and then stepped back into civilization. I continued past the airstrip that I would revisit in the morning. Through a cemetery. Iguanas eyed me warily as I passed and told them good morning. I finally reached the end of South point and the last dock on the island. I walked down it. I was pretty sweaty and had planned on stripping down to my skivvies and going for a swim, but there were no stairs to get back up, and climbing through the muck and mire and mangroves didn’t seem very appealing. So I sat, staring at a tiny distant island and marveling at the intense turquoise strips of water between me and there. I thought about Belize. I thought about my friends and how I could help them. I thought about Travis and how I was determined to get this kid to graduate in two years. I thought about LA and how there is nothing there for me anymore. There’s nothing real about that existence, it’s just a fake veneer shored up by society. A society I have always shunned.
Usually I eat a meal with Lisa. Today, I avoided her completely. She had said some things in the morning that she and her little tourist friends had discussed – the fake kindness of the locals. Those idiots wouldn’t know genuine kindness from their fucking ass holes. I think she was jealous of my easy rapport with the Belizeans every where we went. She commented on it a few times, sometimes snidely. I think she’s used to being the center of attention because she makes herself that way. These people see that and keep their distance. But for some reason they gravitate to me and I to them. I like to think it’s because we both are looking beyond the surface and seeing each other’s true spirit.
By the time I walked the three miles back to the hotel, I was drenched. I went for a quick swim in the ocean, and then took a nap. I woke up ready for lunch, and headed back to town. I had roasted pig in the ground on my mind…. It ended up not being as tasty as it looked, and I regretted not having my last meal at a seafood place. I walked back to the far side of town and looked in some shops. I remembered I had promised someone a postcard, so I got one, walked all the way back to the hotel to get the address, then all the way back to the far end of town to the post office. $.15us to mail it. Cheaper than if I had mailed it from my house. All in all, I was up to about 8 miles for the day. I swam again with the locals, steering clear of the beautiful, but tourist infested, split. The shrieks of dark skinned children as they did back flips off the dock made me smile. It was pure happiness.
Sadness got a hold on me again as I walked back to the room. I showered, and decided to just put on my pajamas and stay in. It was about 6, and I did want to watch the sunset, but I didn’t want to share it with anyone. I knew I’d cry as I watched the sun sink beneath the ocean for the last time. I crawled into bed and spent the last few hours of the day journaling. My mind was uneasy. I set the alarm for 5am and went to sleep.
519am sitting outside of sea dreams hotel
I didn’t sleep hardly at all. I checked my phone in the wee hours and there was a message from Travis. They fired him. Fuck. I went outside as soon as there was a hint of light. The streets of town were empty. I stood there, staring down them, trying to reconcile this image with the one of these same streets filled with tourists. Then I stood at the water’s edge and watched the sun ascend. Now I’m sitting outside, waiting for Peter to pick us up in his golf cart taxi. I hear him coming.
647am Belize international airport
We took a tiny plane over. Less than a 10 minute flight. They didn’t even ask for a ticket, just asked if we already paid and our yes was our boarding pass. Trust. Probably the last time someone will honestly trust me until I return. So now I sit and wait. I don’t feel like I’m going home. Los Angeles now feels as foreign to me as this place did two weeks ago. I’ve already had to interact with idiot tourists, and I hate them. I’m going to hate everyone in la. I know it. That city holds no magic for me anymore. I can finally see it for what it is. Shallow, fake, self serving. People with everything who have nothing. I want no part of it. The things and people there that once captivated me are now deconstructed and seen for what they are. Foundationless. Just a facade of life. Nothing anchors anything or anyone. They float aimlessly, searching for the next trend, the next distraction, the next obsession….whatever can numb them from the fact that none of those things are filling that void inside. I’ve lived that way for far too long. Here, for the first time in my life, I met genuine people. People who treated me with kindness and respect, not to get something from me, but because they are whole people. And being around whole people makes me want to be whole, too.
719am delta gate at Belize international airport
Security took my Belize juice. They took my Belize rum. They took my precious cahune oil I bought in the jungle. Back to the life of take, take, take. I’m sitting here wondering how I will survive back in LA. Will I be able to stay focused? To not get sucked back up in the machine? Or will I succumb to what is easy and familiar?
912am on board delta flight, waiting for take off
No. No no no no no. I am immediately awash in everything I now hate. A woman with lips, ass, and tits, bought and paid for with money that could put a few kids through school. An idiot couple behind me taking about some ridiculous American TV show. Fuck these people. I’m checking out. I have been alone most of the past two weeks. And most of the month before that. It has felt good. I can do it for the next 10 months. I’m going to focus on how I can help my friends. My business plans.
Everything I came here seeking, I did not find. I had two meetings set up before I left and blew them both off. I found more. I found the last pieces of myself that I have been gathering together the past several years. Pieces I thought were forever lost and irretrievable. Who knew they were hidden deep in a jungle cave? Who knew they spoke creole? Who knew they were dark skinned? Belize did, and it’s why it has been calling me for the last six years. I’m glad that for once, I listened.