Belize: everything you imagine

I’m a couple of weeks behind in blogging about my recent exploits.. I’ll endeavor to get caught up soon, but first just a quick note to say that I’m alive and well and living in southern Belize, on the end of a spit of land in a town called Placencia. It’s so beautiful and completely laid back. “Slow down, mon, you’re in Belize now…”

White sand beaches dotted with coconut trees. You can pick up a coconut, stab a hole in it, and drink the water straight out. The sea is clear azure, and averages 80 degrees. Days are warm, nights are perfect with a light breeze. Tonight is the full moon, and the turtles will be coming up on the beach to nest. We’re going snorkeling today, out on the barrier reef which is offshore aways.

It’s definitely more expensive than Guatemala, but still fairly cheap compared to resort destinations. They say Belize is one of the most expensive Central American country, but one of the cheapest Caribbean countries. You can get a one-bedroom cabana with bathroom, small kitchen, and porch for about $30 per night. The five of us rented a larger place, which is nice. As much fresh seafood as you can eat – they catch it right off the beach and you eat it an hour later. Last night Alex went down to the dock and came back with huge lobsters and snapper that we fried up. Imagine, getting your fill on fresh lobster!

We met a guy who describes how he catches it – by free diving! He holds his breath for minutes at a time, dives down, coaxes them out of their hiding holes, hooks them just so behind the tail (to not damage them), and drags them up to the surface.

They say Belize is “where Jacques Cousteau meets Indiana Jones”. You betta Belize it, mon. The inland has rainforests with amazing animals – jaguars, toucans, parrots. Huge iguanas hanging out on tree branches, occasionally falling into the river (they’re great swimmers). Geckos and other cute lizards. Lots of unusual snakes. Mahogany and teak grow here as well. It’s just such a rich, abundant, verdant country. Avocados, mangos, almonds, papaya, pineapple, guava, and plantains all growing by the side of the road. I had never seen an almond tree. They’re huge, and the outer shell is hard to open. No wonder they’re expensive.

The Belizean dictionary doesn’t contain the word “stress”. It has the least population density of.. most countries. Hah, how’s that for a fact. Something like 80% of the country is protected preserve. They really know what they have here, and they’re capitalizing on it by protecting it. That’s very forward-thinking, unlike neighboring countries which simply think of today, with all the clear-cutting and such.

Belize used to be known as British Honduras, and only gained independence in 1981. Guatemala didn’t recognize this until 1994, and there are still resentments. The Belizeans are terrified of their neighbors and think of Guatemala as a crazy, violent country. You definitely feel the difference when you cross the border – the anxious undercurrent just disappears.

Because it was a British colony, English is the official language, which sure makes life easy for us tourists, as you can imagine! The population is a mix of Mestizos, Kriol, Mayan, and Garifuna. And Chinese! A lot of the stores are owned and run by Chinese, who are really successful because they’re so industrious. There is also a large Mennonite population. Years ago they made a deal with the government that they would administer their own communities in exchange for being left alone.

The entire population of Belize is only 300,000 people. We drove through the capital city, Belmopan, and it’s a very small town. There is one paved main road, all the rest are dirt. City Hall is a trailer. A nice trailer, but a trailer nonetheless. We stopped in at Peace Corps HQ to say hello to the country director, who is an old friend of Alex’s from Maldova.

I expected the quality of life for the locals to be better than in Guatemala, because it is supposedly a more developed country. But the people are equally poor, just in different ways. Public education here stops at age 14, and even before that it’s pretty dismal.

We stopped at Blue Hole National Park on the way through. Interesting topography – cool river pools that appear out of nowhere and enormous caves. We only went a couple of hundred yards into one that goes for a mile before exiting at another cave. Wow. Amazing formations from the water, great big chambers. One of these caves contains the second-largest underground room in the world, and was only discovered 30 years ago.

Then we drove another few hours through red dust land that had been flooded from all the recent rains until we reached the end of the road, Placencia.

I’ll be here until Friday.

Love from paradise!

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