Friday, March 30, 2012


Upon further reflection, I can safely say there are many things that are ubiquitous to the whole of Belize, from the coast to the inland borders. Here is, in no particular order, a short, non-inclusive list of said normalcy:

1. Undecipherable conversations in Kriol. 
Technically a version of English, (a really awesome, raucous, super-rasta version), Belizean Kriol uses no past tense. It is similar to what vocal spawn might spring forth from a union between a sassy French Creole voice and a laid-back Jamacian accent. Here is a sample of some useful phraseology:

Weh taim yu gat? = what time is it?
Yu da lamp up. = You are lazy.
Dis meet ya haaf raa. = This meat isn't done.
Stap you rass! = shut up
Please lef yo ugly raas dog home. = No dogs allowed. (And good luck with that!)

2. Colorful plywood houses on stilts, lines of laundry strung up beneath. 
Makes a lot of sense, building houses on stilts. Might help to deter some reptilian and insect creepers from scurrying in, while at the same time providing an expanse of cool shade to lounge under and a rain-safe place to air your laundry out.

3. Coconut palm trees.
Want some coconut water? Just reach out your hand. But watch your head.

4. Lizards. 
Big, small, everywhere. The definition of creeper.

5. Marie Sharp's hot sauce. 
Seriously, it is on every single table in the country. Queen of the sauce.

6. Street dogs.
Everywhere. Skinny dogs, mangy dogs, healthy dogs, three-legged dogs, nursing mothers, big-balled males, puppies, muppets.

7. Rum. Belikin Beer.
The local One Barrel variety is the best. This sweet spirit is cheaper than water and is in every mixed drink. We kept seeing a cocktail called The Panty Ripper on menus, but after some debate on what that name might imply, declined to order it. Belikin is brewed in Ladyville (how you doin'?) Belize, and is often the only beer sold. Comes in lager and stout.

8. Rice and Beans.
We ate some version of this literally every day. Coconut rice and red beans were my favorite.

9. Thatched roofs.
They're, um, thatched.

10. Birds
Grackles, grackles, grackles. Frigatebirds, pelicans, parrots. Orioles, kingfishers, egrets. Herons, kingbirds, and a species I have forgotten the name of now, but through some sort of deductive alliteration, called Count Chocula when I said good morning every day.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Don't Stop Belizing



Photosynthesis in action

Runs all the way to the ocean

Tracker-jacker town

Cahal Pech Mayan mojo

Just your average ancient hallway

Belize's Next Top Model candidate

It's not a tumor

Probably where wish-granting fishes hang out

Frolicking ferns

The industrious leaf-cutter ant

Vermilion, white, and blue

Belizean fireflies are among the most talented in the world

This lime is orange.

This is lime is flamboyant. And probably drunk.

Okay, two guys are stranded on an island, and the first guys says to the other guy...

Sky Pirates

Drafty house

Fancy thatch-work


There is a hammock at the end of this pier

Sargasso invasion = stinky swimming

Monkey River Town living

A howler monkey has a voice like a sci-fi monster being stabbed in the throat with a magical spear,
wailing as it is swept up in a whirlwind headed back to hell. Still, the babies are pretty cute.

Verdant veins

Pick a little, talk a little

Blinded by the Light, with Manfred Manatee

Talk about an over-done ending...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Hey Stenella!!!

It will be hard to relate the gravity of this, one of the most meaningful moments of my life, to you in words. Letters, sounds, colors alone are not enough. To speak in concepts, perhaps. Purity. Perfect happiness. Beauty. Bliss. Gift. But to truly feel it, I think one must be cradled in that warm, briny womb-water of the ocean, wrapped in that filtered, saturated blue light.

Just as we were back on the boat, motoring away from a day of snorkeling around that tiny slip of island, Ranguana Caye, trying to get situated in a wave-sturdy seat, I heard the commotion. Guides and captain yelling back and forth in Belizean Kriol, the rest of us clueless as to what was going on. Then extended arms, pointing fingers. Then dolphins, diving through the waves alongside the boat. A pod of pantropical spotted dolphins, Stenella attentuata, name like a poem. Obviously it took me all of a second to realize what was happening and throw myself against the side of the boat, leaning over it like rabbit-crazed dog eager to jump out of a moving vehicle. Our guide Luis said something about swimming with them, and something about waivers. None of us could tell if he was kidding, until the boat banked and circled around twice more, staying with the pod. When he said masks and fins, I fell upon by bag with the speed and voracity of a starving beast. My fins only half on I began stumbling and lurching toward the end of the boat, nearly tripping over myself as I tried to secure the mask and snorkel while heeling around in twenty-inch shoes. Luis stopped me near the edge, said my hair was all caught up in the mask breaking the seal. (Incidentally my hair, known now as "the beast", attained new and unrealized levels of big in this preferred, tropical habitat.) But the words swim, with, and dolphins had all just been uttered consecutively, and my brain was already mush. I just stood there like a little kid, fidgeting while he tucked my hair away, chuckling. 

Vin's account of the scene is as follows:
While the rest of us got hung up sorting out the veracity of Luis’s offer, Katie was already fishing out her flippers and gear from the bags under our seat.  As the boat got busy trying to chase the dolphins down again there was suddenly lots of commotion on the deck and shouting between the captain and crew.  I realized they were actually going to let us do it. At that point, Katie was already perched on the edge of the boat trying to force her mask down over her mass of curls. Luis stopped her and said, “Wait, I have to do that for you”.  I think he just wanted to touch her hair. She launched herself right in without thinking as soon as the mask slid over the beast. 

I was in the water. I was all purpose, swimming as fast as I could toward where I last saw the pod. Then suddenly, there they were, beneath and beside me, chattering in their squeaky foreign language. Maybe eight to ten, with at least one baby stuck to her mother's side. I tried to count, but by then my brain was short circuiting, bursting only with the thoughts dolphin. swim. must. get. closer. They'd fin out of view, then circle back. Such generous creatures, so curious and friendly. At times I was just a few feet away. Once or twice I reached my hand out, not to touch, per se, not to disrespect, but just to be that much closer to them. Because close as I was, it was almost a small heartbreak amidst such pure, innocent joy, to be separated. To be separate. How I wanted to keep pace. How I wanted to belong to that world, to be one of them, just for a moment, all flippers and fins. All speed and grace and goodness. 

I didn't know where the boat was, where the other eight or so snorkelers were. I didn't care. Had I the strength, I would have followed the pod until sunset. When they finally swam off, with purpose, out of sight, I looked up and found I was off on my own, the farthest from the boat. Others were already climbing up the squat ladder, already back on the deck. I heard someone say Shark while scurrying up. We never knew if that was a joke or a sighting. It didn't matter. The rest of the day was a sort of haze for me, as I tried to slow down time enough to reflect on it all. 

For days after I'd turn to Vin and ask "remember the dolphins?" A sort of good-natured joke. Eventually though, at times this would come out as more of a statement than a question. Remember the dolphins. Remember that feeling. Hold on to it, hold on with both hands.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Under the Shade We Flourish

Two weeks. Belize. Nutshell.

Five airports and 24 hours to touchdown. Belize City air greets like a warm towel draped heavy around bare shoulders. Beer-drinking taxi driver. Man with a Boa. Constrictor. Sure, I'll pet it through the window. Dirty bus stop. Powdered hand soap like detergent. Sweat. School bus. West, inland, to the country...Citrus and banana trees. Cocoa. Pressed white school uniforms. Jungle. Brightly painted houses on stilts. Lines of laundry flapping in the breeze. Fried plantain chips, salty, greasy fingers.

San Ignacio. Dirt streets. Amorphous intersections. Bikes. Taxis. Bare feet. Balcony room. Heat. Wild rose. Palm trees. Hazy hills. Fruit stands. Jicama. Pineapple. Watermelon. Papaya. Lime. The Macal River. A sturdy white canoe. Tremendous iguanas, everywhere, sunning in the grass, chests broad and heads to the sun. Eyes closed in revelry. Legs draped over branches, cat-like, over the water. Bright parrot face peeking from a silver snag. Yellow-footed egrets. Herons. Kingfishers. Little fish, biting toes. Shadowy vultures, gyring above. The World's Biggest Wasp nest high in the canopy. Three feet long, buzzing with action, a great capitol of industry. Women beating cotton shirts clean in the river. Boys throwing rocks at lizards. Sun. Sunscreen. Swim, swim in a pocket of whirling convergences.

Local rum in coconut water. Marie's ubiquitous hot sauce, crack to my taste buds. Burn baby, burn. Belikin beer in thick brown bottles. Stout. Fresh tortillas. Street dogs everywhere. Nursing mothers, virile males, puppies. Skinny, mangy dogs, cooling in the shade. Cahal Pech Mayan ruins. Ancient steps dappled in shade. Strange, tidy mosses. Mojo. Great courts. Arches. Tunnels. Stairs and stairs and stairs. More buses. Hot, crowded, three to a seat. Sticky sweat. Stuck to the seats. Windows that won't open. Windows that won't shut. Backpacks on laps. Nodding neighbors jerking their heads in sleep. Children. Good, beautiful, quiet children. Mayan, Garifuna, Indian, Chinese, and Mexican children. Reggae music. One love.

Dangriga. Fishermen. Boats. Pelicans, nosing between trash flotillas. Nightly ocean breezes, chasing heat, cooling skin. A town alive after dark. Pineapple smoothies from roadside stands. Sun-beat streets. Bewildering conversations uttered in Kriol. Gud maanin. Bus rides. Fresh popcorn for sale along the bumpy road. Fresh bread. Empanades. Coconut tarts. Cockscomb Wildlife and Jaguar Preserve. Sure, we'll hop in the back of this pick-up. Jungle hike. A long, unbroken string of industrious leaf-cutter ants, marching back and forth along narrow highways, sharp green booty bouncing like emerald sails upon the sea. Hot hot heat. Strange noises in the forest. Tiger Lily twin waterfalls and the most delicious swimming hole you could conjure up. Dive, swim, float. Dive, swim, float. Pale and pickled fleur-de-lance, curled up and cloudy-eyed in a giant glass jar. Big blue butterflies. Maya Center. Matte black slate carvings of tapir and toucan, iguana and jaguar. Sweat. Sun. Three cold showers a day.

Placencia. Hot. Haggard. But ocean now. Ocean. Sargasso grass invasion. Great, dirty, stinking piles rolling onto shore, laced with trash. Bottle tops. Wrappers. A green army man. A syringe. Bits of plastic and coconut husk. Burrito lunch. Siesta. Vegetable stands, cheap fruit. Orange-colored limes, deliciously fat and juicy. Rain and rain and rain. Inches of rain, rafts of wind ripping across the water. Two days of straight rain. Wet walks through town. Chills. Holed up. Real espresso at last, and from a treehouse! Why not swim anyway? Already wet. Warm water. Shockingly warm water. Thrice daily visits to corner cage bursting with parrots. Leathery black tongues. Green feathers crowned in red or blue. Whistles and croaks. Indoor picnic. Cheap gin and tonics with magnificent lime. Terrifying barracuda steak. Beans and rice. Always beans and rice. Lizards in hallways. Lizards scuttling across the sand. Brown pelicans. Terns. Frigatebirds. Political signage. Flags. Vote for me! No, vote for me! Election day. Sun again, at last. Coconut palms provide lovely, if not perilous shade.

Maya Beach. Cabin time. Thatched roofs. Singing Sands. A long and narrow beach on a long and narrow peninsula. Sun and shade. Open windows. Rafters. Stilts. Seaside porch with a pair of languid lawn chairs. A two-inch roach, called Rodney. Mayan girls, selling their wares. A dog name Scurvy, scrappy and sea-worn. Machete meet coconut. Watermelon binge. Pineapple for breakfast. Chayote and plantains. Bike ride home past more laundry lines, more stilted shacks, more barefoot children playing in empty boxes, more shuffling dogs. One dozen cats lounging on cement. Caprihanas in the shade. Wind and wind. Kayaks in the lagoon. Bare-throated tiger herons with necks stretched long as a giraffe's. Striped sheepfish. Stout taste-test with rice and beans.

Ranguana Caye. A boat called Dorado. Eighteen undulating miles out to sea, on the edge of the great reef. Sore bellies. Little Ranguana, just two acres of green poking out of the water. Brown-footed boobies preening in palms. Magnificent frigatebirds, dark pirates cutting through the sky. Snorkels, masks, flippery fins. And oh! What wonders! What gorgeous evolutions! Briny new worlds, cities built of brain and elkhorn coral. How many porticoes and porches! Fat starfish still as stones. Black brittle sea stars, fast moving on their five spidery legs, tickling palms. Parrot fish, angel fish, needle fish, blue tang. Schools and stragglers. Spiky urchins. Fishes defined by brightness of hue over syllabic structure. Hello shy octopus! Hello toadfish, so hideous and lovely in your hidey hole! Hello yellow spotted ray, casting sand curtains aside. I see you, spiny lionfish, poison to the touch. And you too, stonefish, you deadly mistake. Pink-rimmed conch. A lone lobster. And always the waves, the meditative, lulling waves. Mermaid hair, loose of the mask, swaying with the weeds. Steady Vader-mask breath drumming in ears. Salty tongues. And then the dolphins. God, yes, the dolphins. Beside and beneath, chittering in their squeaking tongue. Then sunburn, oh, you red devil. Since when was 85+ too little?

Monkey River. Placencia again, delivered in the back of a pick-up truck. Conch fritters and Campari. Early sleep. Up early. Boat dock. Terry, the gold-toothed guide. Back to the jungle, Monkey River town, now a shadow of its old banana boom glory. Hosts of herons and egrets, kingfishers and kingbirds. Bright Montezuma birds with pale-blue rimmed eyes. Hello little crocodile. A trio of tiny bats, pressed flat against a tree trunk. And then, the monkeys. Black howlers, creeping through the canopy, danging from prehensile tales, babies on backs. And that noise! Unearthly howls, raspy siren wail, beware, beware, beware. Then ouch! Sorry fire ants, chill out, my foot meant no harm. Blue crab holes, bamboo and breadfruit. Back on the boat, wind in hair. Then manatees. Great sea cows, gray smudges beneath the water. Wilfred Brimleys, all snout and whisker, round and lumpy. Mama and baby, surface and snort. Land again. Swim again. Grouper and gumbo. Last drink of rum. Early morning good bye. Tiny island-hopper plane, sitting practically in the pilot's lap. Belize from above, growing smaller in the distance under a happy gaze.