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Monday, 05 May 2008

Belize: A Journey from Belize City to Placencia - Page 2

Written by Aaron Ober
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This was my first trip to Central America. I had arrived with intentions of writing a fly-fishing and kayaking story on Glovers Reef with friend and fellow photographer Paul Kerrison, who had made arrangements with a local adventure company for the expedition. Hungry for some Caribbean sun and relaxation, I flew down a week before Paul's planned arrival. Another friend of mine, Jim Mercure, owned a small plot of beachfront property in Placencia (said to mean “peaceful point”), a village in southern Belize. He welcomed me to stay there but warned of unsure conditions. An unwanted guest had arrived in October 2001, by the name of Iris. Iris began as a tropical storm way out in the Caribbean Sea, but just before making landfall it quickly gathered strength and grew into a monster category four hurricane, with its sights set on Placencia. I wasn’t sure how the storm’s aftermath would affect my plans.

We pulled into the bus station with a jerking stop and waited until the bouncing motion finally ceased.

I reached for my wallet as the cabbie unloaded my packs from the back. He shot a disapproving look at me and motioned across the street to a crowd of young Belizeans hanging on a stoop.

"Don't you be flashin' that out here mon!” he said. “You'll get robbed for true!"

I quickly concealed my wallet, leaning into the wagon’s open back door to extract the bills. I was shaken by his abrupt instructions, which clearly meant: wake the f#!k up greenhorn! While I thanked him, I stole a glance across the street and sure enough, every eye was on me. I turned toward the station doors, my heart racing. “Man, I have a lot to learn about Third World countries,” I thought to myself as I purchased my bus ticket. I climbed aboard an old Blue Bird school bus, glad to be on my way out of Belize City.



The last bus departing the city that day shook and rattled down the road. It was too late to make it to Placencia, so we would stopover in Dangriga for the night. I opened my guidebook and looked up Dangriga. It is the largest town in southern Belize with a population of about 10,000. My guidebook reported that there is little to do in Dangriga except spend the night and head onward.

On the bus, three other Americans sat in the seats in front of me, and we quickly got acquainted. They were from Washington, D.C. and had recently graduated from Columbia University. We decided to find a place to stay together as soon as we arrived.

The landscape whizzed by and darkness descended upon us. Eventually, we rolled into Dangriga's crudely lit, dirt streets, which were alive with roaming locals and the pungent smell of fish. We found a reasonable guesthouse near the beach and checked in.

The four of us dropped off our packs, inspected the cleanliness of our rooms, decided it would do, and headed out for a bite to eat. To our dismay, the streets were strewn with trash and lined by a slow-moving open sewer that gave off a terrible stench of rotting fish and excrement. "Boy am I hungry," I thought as we wove through the staggering crowd of locals, many of whom seemed in a stoned stupor. We passed by groceries half the size of my room back home and food stands that made a prison cafeteria line seem gourmet.

An older Belizean man named Elvis approached with liquored camaraderie. He assured us that he just wanted to help show us a good place to eat. Slurring, he said that he wanted nothing in return and he put his hand out for me to shake. I gripped his leathery claw and winced at his awfully mangled, arthritic fingers. Our drunken guide professed his love for us and the strangers we passed, as we followed him to his recommended dining establishment. We rolled our eyes at each other but kept our thoughts to ourselves.

(Page 2 of 6)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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