Last time I visited the Caribbean was way back in April, 1967. My traveling companions then were Mike Parsons and Charlie Boss, and between the three of us we had approximately ten dollars. So we lived off the generosity of strangers and most nights we slept on the hard cold ground. Well, Charlie slept. Mike and I, not so much.
The above photo was taken in Jayuya, Puerto Rico. Today I’m writing from Belmopan, capital city of Belize, on a laptop from a soft bed inside the residential compound of the United States Embassy. So over the course of 46 years I’ve moved up a notch.
My friend Sam writes to ask if, since Belize was once a British colony, motorists drive on the left side of the road. The answer is no. Mostly they drive in the middle of the road, but sometimes on the left and sometimes on the right–whichever side looks less crowded. Now and again one comes upon an elevated pedestrian crossing, or what we in the states would call a speed bump. Such bumps pop up frequently along the highway, and there is precious little by way of a warning sign, so you have to pay close attention. Not to the pedestrians, but to the pedestrian bumps.
It is the second month of the dry season here, so the dense foliage alongside the roadways is coated with dust. Belizians are taking advantage of the aridity by setting their yards on fire in order to reduce the undergrowth. These fires burn unattended, sometimes consuming fences, animal pens, chicken coops and outbuildings–whatever isn’t made of cast concrete. I have yet to hear a siren.
People live in their doorways and porches; they assemble under grass-thatched canopies and at bus stops. Every other hut has a sign advertising a product or service. Small scale businesses are everywhere, and just because no lights are on doesn’t mean the establishment is closed. What may look at first be an abandoned shack may turn out to be an excellent bakery, ice cream bar or restaurant. It most certainly won’t be a McDonald’s or a Starbucks.
The official language in Belize is English, but among themselves the natives also speak Spanish or Kriol or Garifuna or German or Mandarin–maybe even Mayan. Most faces you see are friendly, and no two are alike.
I’m a bit wrung out at the moment, having scaled a Mayan pyramid, snorkeled the barrier reef, and explored a watery cave at the end of which are pots and skeletons dating back a thousand years. Photography inside the ATM cave, alas, isn’t allowed–not since a klutzy spelunker dropped his camera and cracked an ancient skull. In a later post I shall show some pictures of old bones–including my own–but for now I shall sign off with this picture I took yesterday of a colorful toucan–official bird of Belize.