The morning after our arrival, we were shown the way of the natives: kayaking out to the reef, tying to a buoy, and snorkeling. Since I’m somewhat terrified of open water, this was a terrifying prospect. I felt certain a shark would come scoop me up. However, a shark never showed, and for the first time, I saw the Caribbean Sea and swam among its critters. What a reckoning!Next, we realized there was no efficient transportation on Ambergris Caye. The single road that ran from north to south was in disrepair, so we rode bicycles. And I thought snorkeling was scary! Riding a bicycle on the beach was even worse, considering my constant klutziness. We made it unscathed, however, into the island town of San Pedro, where we made the acquaintance of two road-side salesman, Byron and Prince. Byron and Prince sold us our mainland tour package, and shockingly, by the end of the week, Prince would tell me, “You’re family now. You know that.”
We rode our bicycles back toward our resort, but not before a stop at ocean bar Palapa. Palapa floats on stilts above turquoise water. Going to the restroom there sounds like being underwater, and apparently a moray eel lives under the toilet. We began to realize something at Palapa. First off, there was no sense of time. As a collective, we were there … and we had nowhere to be. Perhaps because of this, everyone we met wanted to talk to us—know where we were from, when we’d arrived on the island, and what we planned to do while we were there. Strangers smiled and laughed and bought us beers: a truly foreign concept, in contrast to fast-paced, self-centered America.
We slept like babies (we did every night in Belize), and the next morning, we rented a golf cart and set off to explore the island. San Pedro is the one and only town on Ambergris Caye. It’s a tiny burg with even tinier streets. The houses are crooked, the roads are bumpy, and laundry hangs on strings high above the street. Golf carts often threated the lives of pedestrians and bikers, yet no one yelled and not once did we see a middle finger thrown.
In San Pedro, we ate at a roadside restaurant called Robin’s run by a Jamaican husband and wife. We ate jerk chicken and curry with a side of rice and beans. Of course. We ate rice and beans every day. What bliss. That night, post-shower and pool, we rode the golf cart into town with “travelers,” otherwise known as alcoholic beverages for the road. Never leave your house without one, although be warned: drinking on a bumpy golf cart does have its downsides. Just ask my stomach Wednesday night …By Thursday, we had fully acclimated to Belize Time. Belize Time is otherwise known as Island Time. For example, five minutes Belize Time would probably be considered a half an hour here in Phoenix. Again, it goes back to the fact that no one—not even the natives—has anywhere to be, and I think you’re arrested if you even try to rush. We took a boat taxi to Rojo Lounge, up on the north end of the island. There, we enjoyed floating in the beach-side infinity pool while sipping jalapeno-infused tequila. There, we made friends with the other members of our island “family,” John and Ashley—an American father-daughter duo from up north. We ended the day with the chicken drop at Wahoo Lounge in San Pedro. It’s one of the most popular forms of gambling on the island, based entirely on where a chicken poops. I’m serious. A chicken wanders around a numbered grid until it poops. Whoever bought the number the chicken pooped on won money. Hence, “chicken drop.” Friday was our mainland adventure. We had the pleasure of stuffed fryjacks for breakfast. Fryjacks are an island specialty. They’re deep-fried tortillas. They can be consumed with honey and butter or stuffed with things like eggs, ham, cheese, et cetera. My stomach moans at the thought, I miss fryjacks so much.
We took a plane to the mainland and met our priceless tour guide, Robin. Robin is a native who worked at the Belize Zoo and studied botany. He basically knew everything … about everything. In one day, we learned the entire history of Belize. We learned about the rodent delicacy known as the “Royal Rat.” We even learned about the poison tree, the sap of which practically burns off your skin. Gotta love having a botanist on hand!
Robin drove us to the Mayan ruin, Xunantunich, which was quite a riling experience, since Robin says speed limits are merely “suggestions.” Xunantunich was a spooky place, when you think of the ancient culture that lived there, prayed there, and died there. In order to get to Xunantunich, we drove across the entire country. I was shocked by the level of poverty. Houses barely standing up. Sweaty children playing on broken-down playgrounds. Despite this, everyone seemed so happy—so peaceful. I have never witnessed a culture more filled with peace and joy, and yet, they own next to nothing. Humbling, to say the least.
More tomorrow, as I continue “Belize: Welcome to Paradise, Part II.”