It’s the age old story of being completely underwhelmed by what you came to see and leaving with a sense of value in the experiences that were unexpected.
Like you, I probably headed to Belize to see the Great Blue Hole. I might have been excited to get some R&R on Caye Caulker. But for the resort loving tourists (that I love to insult) who went to Caulker Village, bought a t-shirt and a puka necklace, and felt like they did something special, I move that they could have gone to Cancun and got the same generic experience. The truth that no one will tell you about Belize is that most of the photos you see online of the water have the contrast turned up too high. Either that, or I visited at whack time where the ocean currents screwed me because — well, the water was actually pretty gray and full of seaweed.
*Disclaimer: I did not dive. Had I, I might be raving but deep water is not my M.O. (See crying in Jamaica here.)
What I do remember about Belize is being (figuratively) lost in a jaguar rain forest without a soul around. I felt shy feline eyes on me as I observed the tropical birds and water dripping from foreign plants. The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, the world’s first Jaguar Preserve, protects more than 80 of these endangered cats from obvious deforestation and encroachment that sits at the park’s eastern doorstep. Bring a swimsuit for a private swim under a waterfall after a steamy hike.
I remember a sketchy yet pleasant off road drive through red mud to find the incredible 1,000 foot San Ignacio falls.
I remember the roadside eateries, typical of the Caribbean, in their Fine China styrofoam to-go containers, crowded with locals who walk to the corners of their neighborhoods for spicy chicken and rice & peas. Those types of situations where you don’t ask questions, you just eat whatever the momma slops on the plate for ya, and it’s delicious. No explanation on her part needed.
It was at one of those said roadside stands that I got to know a refugee El Salvadoran family making pupusas. The stand was in the yard of a neat but modest home. The cook’s son, about ten, tried to send me off with one of his many weaned kittens before he rode his bike down the road to play. The cook was happy to have a bag of my blouses as were were about the same size. This was the second time I’d brought my hand-me-downs abroad instead of to Goodwill. Lord knew it had to be hours for her to drive to shop. My inner four year old girl (that I frequently write about) also became fascinated by one of those Jesus Walk on Water Lizards in the driveway.
We stumbled upon authentic beach vibes at the Garifuna village of Hopkins. The Garifuna people, descendants of West African slaves who shipwrecked and washed ashore parts of Central America, have their own music and oral traditions. The 1,000 or so residents have shifted from an agrarian economy to tourism based jobs. We thoroughly enjoyed the food on the sweltering patio at Gecko’s and found reasonable accommodations where we had the beachfront to ourselves.
But we weren’t by ourselves for long when: On Central America Highway 13, which connects Guatemala to Belize, I did something I’d never done before and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. A hitchhiker approached me at the Guatemala border because he noticed my backpack. Maxim had a huge red backpack. He climbed into the front seat of our hired car. Possibly the most interesting man in the world, he shared that he had left is stable job as a native Russian working in Spain to travel the world on foot. We rode several hours together in our hired car where we discussed broad ideas like socialism and altruism, whereupon we amicably disagreed more often than concurred. He sucked from a filtered water bottle and shocked me when he said he’s lived the last two years walking from Patagonia to Belize, through the streets of Peru, Colombia, and El Salvador, all while sleeping in his tent. He found that people were friendly and helpful everywhere he’d been. He was on his way, walking, to California. He’d lived the last two years on a whopping total of $6,000, stopping to work for a few months at a time as he went. Leaving the rest of us to never use money as an excuse not to travel ever again . . .
So it wasn’t the Belizean beach that I left “oohing and awwwing” over. Proving that planning is pretty useless in this brilliant life where you just have to put your nose to the ground and sniff out unexpected experiences. Wonders like hidden jaguars, roadside stands, muddy back roads, private waterfalls, and fellow wanderers with lots to divulge are what left the most last impressions.
William saysOctober 15, 2019 at 9:31 pm
reading your story made me smile the whole while …its so true , what you expected or wanted to be true as in the pics is so different ….ofcours with these gadgets now a days even the not so pretty Tapir would look like a catwalk model …
but then the experiences that you came for got replaced by something better …a pleasant surprise …something pure and beautiful in its own way ….
i have been here since 1997 and still at times you get surprised by the simplest but stunning events or moments …yesterday morning we had a severe rain in the middle of San Ignacio and water was rushing thru a makeshift taco stand 6.7 inches high …the owners stood still int he water making the tacos for the one client sitting there , on a chair in the water …. nothing did move them …i kept smiling the whole time how the Belizeans take things in a stride where others would freak out lol
geckos in your house hunting flies around the light , a toucan surprise flight over the highway , a falcon staring at you like you would be a mouse ….your so right the advertised attractions make people come but the down to earth surprises make it special and unforgettable….
now ill go back and read your story again lol
trouncingaround saysOctober 16, 2019 at 6:52 am
I don’t get many comments here. Your response was so thoughtful. It was meaningful for me to get to connect with you.
“geckos in your house hunting flies around the light , a toucan surprise flight over the highway , a falcon staring at you like you would be a mouse ….your so right the advertised attractions make people come but the down to earth surprises make it special and unforgettable….”
You hit the nail right on the head.
Ruth saysOctober 17, 2019 at 11:18 pm
Interesting story! I enjoyed every bit of it, I actually read it twice! Many people share their stories about Belize, but none as captivating as yours! I’m glad you enjoyed your visit.
Thanks for sharing our jewel with the world.
trouncingaround saysOctober 20, 2019 at 9:34 am
Thank you for the kind feedback. As a small site, it means more than you know.
brndd saysJanuary 28, 2020 at 5:48 pm
Great post, nice to read a different perspective on Belize!
trouncingaround saysFebruary 2, 2020 at 5:46 pm
Thank you! 🙂