2004 Journey: Central and South America
The Journey to Belize
When it came time to leave Cancun, I was ready. I had had enough of noisy cars, exhaust fumes and loud music from storefronts. The thought of a quiet beach, clean air and the only sound to fill my ears coming from waves crashing on the shore felt very appealing.
It was good to be moving again, to offer a feast for the eyes of new and different things.
Our next destination was Belize, a small country with a population of 230,000 people tucked away on the Caribbean coast of Central America. I had heard about Belize years ago from people who used to go there to scuba dive. Now it was finally my opportunity to go and see it for myself. In Belize they speak English, unlike the rest of Central America. This meant for a brief period I could navigate a bit easier and for a change understand what people were saying to me.
We left early from Cancun for Chetumal Mexico, which sits on the border with Belize. The hope was to find a bus from there to take us onward to Belize City. Arriving by 12 noon, we were in luck, because the next bus was leaving in 45 minutes. Soon a school bus that had been painted brown came squeaking in, and announced it was heading for Belize City. For the next four hours with our knees banging against the metal seat in front of us, we bounced down the road picking up more passengers as we wound closer to Belize City. We arrived in Belize City just in time to take a water taxi out to one of the islands called Caye Caulker. Eventually we collapsed on to the beds of our $10 a night room exhausted after 13 hours of travel. No extra charge for the huge cockroaches. It was the cheapest thing we could find on the island, with holes in the screens to allow in mosquitoes, cold showers to rinse off the salt from the sea and plywood walls that allowed you to hear every snore of our neighbors. But, we were just happy to be able to escape a night spent in Belize City, which has a bit of a dodgy reputation, and appeared to be another large and dirty city.
We were greeted the next morning by breath-taking turquoise water begging us to come explore. A fresh breeze that constantly blew in clean air from the Caribbean and white puffy clouds scattered across the blue sky. With only two cars on the island, gone were the fumes and horns of traffic, gone was the pavement because all the roads were sand, and gone was the stress of noise-For a moment my heart went ahhhhh!
We had been warned that Belize was going to be more expensive, and because it lived up to its reputation, we shortened our stay to only two nights. Monitoring carefully what we spent on food, we found it difficult to eat under $8 per meal, per person. But the half day spent snorkeling was remarkable. The longest barrier reef in the western hemisphere runs the length of the country offshore and a host of small Caye's (pronounced keys) provide isolated island retreats. It is a dream destination for those who love to play in the water. The water is crystal clear, filled with every imaginable color of fish and coral. At one point, we swam in a group of Sting Rays that would gently rub up against you as they swam by. It is very magical to be so close to nature.
The Internet was very expensive, $2 for 20 minutes. So I limited my time to reading urgent emails, leaving the rest for a cheaper location.
The young woman managing the Internet cafe was a university student in Belize City who spent her weekends working on the island. Joy (20) was studying English and History and had plans to become a teacher one day. I asked her what she wanted to say to the American people. She said, “Let’s co-exist in terms of letting the fellow man exist as he feels necessary, while you do the same. It is important to operate within the confines of the law, the law of human justice, without compromising each other’s freedom.” She went on to say, “Sometimes people are happy the way they are, and they don’t need someone else telling them how they should live.”
As she told me these things, I could sense she had a large degree of reluctance or reservation to tell me what she wanted to say. But as I told her, this is one of the greatest expressions of Democracy, the freedom to express an opinion and have it acknowledged without threat or retaliation. Many places in the world lack this opportunity. Let us never take it for granted.
Next, we were heading on the bus again for the Guatemalan border in search of the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal.