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Monday, 05 May 2008

Belize: A Journey from Belize City to Placencia - Page 5

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.


I returned to my room and crawled back into bed. Anxious to clear my head of all that was unclean, I concentrated on the sound of rustling palms and drifted into a cozy sleep. I awoke to voices outside my window and wiped the sweat from my face. Damn was it hot! It was now nearly noon and my companions were lounging in the shade of the balcony. Ely was entertaining himself by trying to chip his way into a coconut with a pocketknife. We exchanged good mornings, laughing about the night before. I told them I was up at dawn for the spectacular sunrise but decided to leave out the part about the Pampers. They could find that out on their own if they wished. Our bus wasn't leaving for a few hours, so we decided to take a walk and explore this derelict hole a little more thoroughly.

We wandered alongside a sludgy canal embraced by thick, balmy air and stopped to watch two men cleaning barracuda in front of their skiff. They were cheery men who answered our dumb questions with a smile. They offered to guide us on a fishing trip, chartered of course. I had to remind myself where I was. What Third World really means: you make a meager living by doing whatever you can. Dumb tourists were easy meal tickets. We politely declined and continued along the canal toward the open sea and a recommended café for lunch. I was pleasantly surprised by the café’s ambiance, compared to Elvis' pick from the night before. We opted for the breakfast menu and dined heartily on huevos rancheros and strong Guatemalan coffee; a long bus ride lay ahead.


“Welcome to the jungle!” blasted out of my headphones from a mix tape I had brought along. The song made me smile as I peered out the window at the lush jungle that blanketed the tall peaks of the Maya Mountain Range. Belize has one of the richest ecosystems in the world, home to a treasure trove of species of plants and animals. What lurked deep in the vast Belizean jungle would have Axl Rose screaming "Oh, won't you please take me home…to my mommy!" Jaguars, toucans, howler monkeys, crocodiles, scorpions, spiders and a plethora of deadly snakes had made this a favorite stomping ground for the late, great Crocodile Hunter. The sun was starting to inch its way beyond the horizon, creating a spectrum of brilliant colors over the mountains. The moist jungle canopy shimmered and sparkled like a sea of emeralds. It seemed to reflect the magical, mysterious history of the ancient Maya who ruled this land centuries ago. I felt like a child waiting for Christmas, eager for the adventure to unfold.

The bus made a jerking stop alongside a banana plantation, shaking me out of my contemplative state. School kids clambered off and ran towards a cluster of shanties set up high on stilts. The old Blue Bird school bus was packed tight with a mixture of Spanish, Creole, Garifuna, European and American passengers. We were once again speeding down the Hummingbird Highway, known as the most scenic drive in Belize. Suddenly a loud bang from below nearly made me jump out of my seat. A clanking noise ensued which signaled a flat tire. We coasted to the junction with the Southern Highway and stopped to check the tire. I cursed under my breath and sarcastically pondered Belizean AAA.

But luck was on our side, the tire was not flat. A chain had somehow wrapped around the tire along the way. I breathed a sigh of relief, then sighed once again as we turned off the smooth, paved highway and onto a dusty, dirty, rut-filled road. My brain shook inside my skull as we rattled down the last stretch of narrow highway before our destination. While massive dump trucks sped by dangerously close, filling the bus with a thick cloud of dust, I sat with my head down and eyes closed, taste-testing Belizean soil.


(Page 5 of 6)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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