Nov
18
2008
0

More from Belize

UPDATE: Alex has posted some wonderful photos of our trip here:
http://tumultimedia.org/clients/belize/index.htm
I particularly like the ones of the schoolkids..

Our snorkeling trip was nice. Not the best snorkeling I´ve ever done, but pretty good. We saw lots of coral (most of which is dead, unfortunately) and tons of critters: pikefish, small beautiful jellyfish that moved like they were in outer space, sea urchins (ouch!), angel fish, grouper, barracuda, porcupine, parrot fish, snapper. I passed by a couple of nurse sharks just hanging out waiting for dinner. They´re pretty docile, but have a wonderful etymology:  “Nurse sharks are so-called because their method of feeding on prey larger than their mouths is to bite down and slowly suck the prey’s flesh down their throats..”
James pointed out a spotted eagle ray that I had missed. They´re massive creatures, and literally fly through the water. Apparently they can jump several metres above the water, too, which I would love to see.

Occassionally “square grouper” washes up on shore, which is how a lot of the locals get rich. Square grouper is, of course, bags of cocaine that are dumped overboard by drug runners being chased by the feds. Usually it´s boats from further south (Columbia) headed for Mexico.

The weed here is cheap, plentiful, and strong. There was so much of it we didn’t know what to do with it all. I wish I liked it more, but it just makes me cloudy.

Our cabin had a hummingbird feeder which I filled up, and we got a few coming around. As well as a sweet, very pregnant dog who looked as if she was about to spit them out right on our porch!
Marisol walked past a large boa constrictor on the road. A couple of the locals caught it and were going to keep it as a pet.

Sol gave me a haircut using kids scissors borrowed from the one-room schoolhouse she´s been volunteering at. I´m really impressed with her (and the haircut!) teaching and volunteering everywhere she goes.

I´m learning from Alex that everything goes better with lime juice (and salt). No matter the food, squirting a bit of lime on it makes it perk right up. He´s also taught me that Peace Corps volunteers are the best source of local information. I´ll have to remember to look up the local offices whever I go.
Alex also demonstrated how to open a coconut with one swift smack against the tree such that the end of it pops open, ready to use as a spout. That guy is amazing!

The Belizean phone book looks like a magazine. Every person and every business in the entire country fits into one slim booklet.

Placencia feels a bit like Fire Island, what with the lack of cars and what’s billed as the world’s narrowest street connecting all the houses and businesses. [Although when you actually investigate this Guinness claim, it falls apart..]

Written by in: Belize | Tags: , ,
Nov
12
2008
0

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!

Written by in: Belize | Tags: , , ,

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