Travel for me is extremely dangerous. As soon as I have a boarding pass in my hand, a carry-on breaking my shoulder and half a murky airport coffee, I’m gone. I instantly forget that I have any other obligation or responsibility. A career. Rent. A fixed address. This all becomes foreign to me.
I generally miss a little bit of Canada’s shiny sanitation, but quickly adapt to days dictated by the sun’s command. Life in flip flops. Only bikini strings attached. Happy Hour. Recreational reading interspersed with recreational napping. Deep-fried dough items whenever available.
Kim and I had been reading about Belize with PhD student diligence since November. Hot on the heels of our transcendent time in Egypt, we needed to pinpoint our next destination. We knew we were well-versed and cohesive with extremes after sleeping in the White Desert and Quebec’s Ice Hotel.
An innocent comment about an Expedia seat sale to Belize for $430 return had us both vacationing in fast-forward. We were due for some heavy beach time and travel that wasn’t so intense (i.e.: the very taxing 1,000km journey from Cairo to the Siwa Oasis across to the Red Sea endured in part with two wilting and bitching Brit honeymooners who shared the ride).
While Kim mapped out more logistical information, I took charge of the Gross Things To Eat and Drink List, as per usual. I noted Lonely Planet warnings that Belizean food was nothing to write home about, but nothing to complain about either. Imagine our surprise when we became rabid, glowing fans of absolutely everything served to us. Only two dishes earned a boo and hiss: conch skewers that had a Hubba Bubba consistency and a Garifuna durosa. The durosa was supposed to be a plantain-coconut milk-tamale thing stuffed in a husk. It tasted and looked like wet cat barf.
We ate half the sea in no time. Caye Caulker was a steady showcase of the best grilled fish I’ve ever had. Coconut-crusted snapper, jerk grouper, blackened barracuda, conch tacos and lobster on Caribbean steroids.
Mobile vendors lazily pedalled around the island hawking coconut fudge, lemon tarts, pillowy fry jacks, dense banana bread and sweet potato chips (that tasted strangely like fish popcorn). We tried it all. We worked our way through every Happy Hour rum list until we reached marathon rummer designation. We lost count of the panty-rippers (rum with pineapple juice and coconut water) and began to feel like we were rewriting the script for The Rum Diaries.
We stopped at an internet cafe (which also had a Happy Hour between 3—6. Which, is actually three hours and should be properly called Happy Hours) and learned via email that the latest episode of The Bachelor had been filmed at the very Lazy Lizard that we’d been sucking back 2 for 1 panty rippers at. To boot, we inadvertently followed The Bachelor trail by taking a charter boat out to the Blue Hole. (*Disclaimer: I have never watched an episode).
When I travel, I tend not to do any of the things one is supposed to do in certain places. Like, scuba diving at the Blue Hole, even if The Bachelor stars did. Kim and I were more than content to let the divers sink down into the depths with the sharks that they already reported they could see from the surface.
Kim is adverse to sharing swimming space with sharks, and I have come to realize that I prefer to be on the surface of water, not below it. I would suck back the oxygen in a scuba tank in record and fatal time. If an eel ever grazed my leg I’d be a goner. I’d propel myself out of the water so fast I’d have air bubbles in my brains and veins. No thanks. (*Second disclaimer: I took the PADI course with my brother when I was 20ish. Took all the in-pool sessions and wimped out when it came to do the open water dive certification at Tobermory).
1. I prefer all water to be 104 degrees (which means I could only ever dive in hot springs where no fish live).
2. I’ve seen Open Water.
3. There are fish tanks where you can see the same things at a regular breathing rate. In fact, my brother has a 200 gallon one I can gaze into while being fully clothed, fully breathing, with a whiskey in hand.
4. There’s nothing cool or flattering about a diving mask or the mask-face it gives you for the next three hours. So there.
Instead, Kim and I enjoyed the calm of the water from above, especially after the back-breaking SMACKSMACKSMACK of the fibreglass boat for two hours. It was like being repeatedly sacked by a pissed off NFL left tackle. I think my vertebral column compressed a permanent inch.
But, we had to join the shark-mad divers to get out to our preferred destination on Lighthouse Reef Atoll. Here, on the sleepy 45-acre Half Moon Bay, there’s a colony of red footed boobies that we had to see. We paid $250US to see these boobies and they definitely put-out! From the observation deck (which we had to ourselves), we were immersed in a magnificent racket of courtship and animated displays. The male frigate birds were huffing and puffing up their brilliant red sacs (it takes them 20 minutes to inflate), eyes no longer able to make contact with the object of their affection.
The boobies joined the cacophony and cruised in on the air currents to the tree tops surrounding us. Oblivious to the binoculared humans, the social frenzy continued. Kim and I popped open warm Belikin beers and I thought to myself, this is probably the greatest bird moment of my life. We’re standing (sizzling) on top of a platform, mere inches from my beloved boobies (I’d seen the blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos). There were a few chicks, all wobbly as Bambi, heads bobbling, all big puffs of down with beaks that they were still familiarizing themselves with.
The boobies took first prize as my Belize highlight. The atoll was a surreal dream of a landscape with tipsy coconut palms, kitty litter sand and scrambly hermit crabs that created the illusion of the ground moving. Indeed, it was, with top-heavy crabs!
Prehistoric lizards craned their necks, an osprey swept over our heads in a whisper and sandpipers seemingly on stilts picked their way along the water’s edge. And the water! Like it had been injected with turquoise! The clarity became most evident when the divers on our boat pulled on gear for their second dive into the appropriately named “Aquarium.” There was no need to dive. Kim and I could see black durgons and tangs skittling around in the boat’s shadow. Jellyfish blobbed by. Reef sharks teased the divers, moonlighting as their tougher cousins. In Placencia, we could see paprika-coloured starfish 15 feet from shore. Eagle rays glided by like space age aqua vehicles below the pier we adopted as our sunset depot.
This kind of imagery can’t be diluted from your mind. I wish I could insert a scratch and sniff app here. Then you could smell the density of the sea. That clean and wet and salt-heavy breeze that makes your skin tight and sticky. That heady smell of sea and peace. The persistent heat of the Central American sun, biting your shoulders, colouring your feet as you polish your heels in the coarse sand.
Can you hear that bird colony? It’s like a rave that’s somebody’s just turned the light switch on. Some of the birds could double as audio for video games. The males are so sexed up and full of bravado that they are blind to observers. Life carries on here as it does.
There is a distant crash and hush of the waves breaking on the reef. The wind gains momentum between the cayes and blows hard against the resilient palms. Our footsteps are pulled out with the tide as we walk back to the pier, our conversation takes on a higher pitch, the kind that comes after such a exhilarating moment.
Our trip is just beginning, and already I am restored and invigorated by the sensory massage of Belize.