With all the potential for disaster – three flights, three different airlines – yesterday’s travelling went exceedingly smoothly.
I was on a lovely empty Mexicana flight to Miami, with some splendid views of Mexico and the Florida Keys. Immigration at Miami was fucking tedious, though. We all know that Immigration in the U.S. has a bad reputation, but every time I’ve flown to New York, it’s been fine. This, though, was my second shitty experience of Floridian Immigration. Slow, very suspicious, not a jot of humanity in the eyes. Probably didn’t help that every foreigner I was on a plane with was a potential illegal immigrant in their eyes. All that hassle (an hour queueing) just to go to a different part of the airport to get another flight. Once through security – and the pouncing from the customs lady who saw that I had no luggage – I took advantage of being in the States by going outside and smoking in Miami, and listening to the Miami Vice theme on the iPod.
Another fantastically empty flight to Belize City; again a whole row of American Airlines seats to myself. We flew around the north-western and western edge of Cuba. Not sure if that’s an airspace issue, ’cause it does look on a map to be a tad shorter to fly over Cuba. Looks, from the air, like a nice part of the world. And then we’re descending over the northern bit of Belize, and coming in to land at Belize City airport.
Belize City airport is small and functional. A big change from Miami International Airport. Immigration had three guys sat at big wooden desks. I got the feeling that the officer – a kind-faced, gum-chewing, black guy – was imitating harsher immigration officers in other countries; he seemed to let it slip at the end when, after stamping my passport, he smiled, and with genuine friendliness said, “Have a nice time in Belize, man.”
I had an hour to kill before my next flight, so I went outside to smoke. Jesus is Lord. So says big black letters on a building that’s right there outside. Not so sure about that, but the heat was mighty fine. Late afternoon Central American sunshine cooking my skin. I asked a taxi driver who was leaning against wall if U.S. dollars were acceptable everywhere in Belize. Yes, they are. And we stood chatting for the length of my cigarette: he used to work for the British army when they were here; the government is rubbish; the heat is great; he loves the Queen (“she’s my Queen now, and she’ll be my Queen until my eyes close”); and, again, I was wished a nice time in Belize, man.
Back into another departure lounge, back through another security check. Shoes off, no water bottles. And a small room with a handful of gift shops (highlight: t-shirts with Un-Belize-able written on them). Aside from the odd few people like me, obviously backpackers, it was mainly middle-aged Americans either on their way to or from a sunshine holiday. Outside the lounge were a couple of decent-sized planes (American Airlines and Continental), and a bunch of tiny planes. Come time to get my flight, I and seven other people were walked over to one of the smaller Tropic Air planes.
It was my first time on a plane so small. There were no seating numbers, you just sit where you can. Once we were all in, the pilot sped around onto the runway and we were off. Flying fairly low over the jungles of Belize. I got chatting to Ken, a middle-aged landscape architect from Seattle, who was sat all of 18 inches away across the aisle. I’d seen him in the departure lounge and chuckled to myself at the gleaming white New Balance trainers (the sort of trainers only middle-aged people buy), and high-waisted, elasticated, khaki trousers holding in one of those strangely American big man butts. But we got chatting, and like most Americans when you talk to them, was an exceedingly nice chap. We had exactly the same model of Casio watch; a watch that only a man would be tempted to buy; with its altimeter, compass, and barometer (were were flying 500 metres above sea level, fact fans). Perhaps dazzling New Balance trainers and high-waisted, elasticated, khaki trousers are the inevitable next step for me, too.
The plane stopped at three places on the trip down to Punta Gorda. Each time swooping down, rumbling along the runway to a handful of men who’d open the door, grab the bags, and ensure that the plane was back in the air within a couple of minutes. The sun was setting over the hills of Guatemala by the time I was coming in to land at Punta Gorda, (he says, rather wankily like a tanned-to-leather holiday-programme host; Judith Chalmers comes to mind). And the vagina-owning half of the couple that runs Hickatee Cottages where I’m staying was there to give me a lift in her pick-up truck.
I guess this is what travelling is all about: being thrust into a place where you’re with people you wouldn’t normally mix with. After dumping my stuff in my room, I went to the bar/restaurant-y bit of the cottage site and said hello to the two couples there. Both couples were virtually retirement age; one British, one American. The Brits seem nice enough. A meek-ish lady wife with very thick lenses in her glasses who was probably quite the looker in her day, and her slightly-dull-but-ultimately-a-good-human-being of a husband (I’m currently sat on the verandah of the bar area, and he’s wondering to his wife what wavelength the bulbs are). They are from Stratford-upon-Avon. First thing he told me was how a bus ride had played havoc with his back, and how trying to cut through bamboo was difficult, cos it’s “as tough as old boots.” The Americans were as open and as friendly as usual. Jewish, he manages a synagogue in Maryland, and she is some sort of counselling mediator for couples who are getting divorced. I immediately got on with the Jews. He had a beard. Beards tends to make me like people more. Especially the woman. Boom-tish!
As dinner was being prepared, another pair of Americans arrived. This time they were Coloradans who own property here. The guy was the big booming, something-to-say-about-everything kind of husband. Again, though, nice guy. He’s building a “planned community” here. He invited us all to come see how it’s coming along. I wonder if he really meant it. I wondered, too, what it’d be like. What sort of impact a planned community with 130 units and a marina for 50 boats would have on a small town like this, especially if, as he’s hoping, it’ll be full of rich baby boomers.
After a very good night’s sleep, listening to the insects doing their insect-y noises, I had coffee and toast, and then used one of the available bicycles at the cottages. It was one of those nice curvy 1950s-ish ones. Rucksack on, baseball cap on, headphones on, and I’m feeling like a teenager in The O.C. or something. And it was so lovely and hot. Mmmm, my skin felt niiiiiice. And, for the first time in ages, I was relaxed. I took my time in choosing something nice to listen to whilst cycling down the one mile dirt track into Punta Gorda, and my choice of David Gilmour’s most recent solo album was perfect (I later listened to Radiohead’s last album and “Ill Communcation” and they both sounded marvellous, so it must just be cycling in the heat).
Punta Gorda is small. It’s shabby, it’s a bit dirty like sunny places can be; but it’s great. If you want well-trimmed lawns and “nice” houses, you probably wouldn’t like it. Homes seem to be wood or breeze blocks. Very few of the homes here have windows. Mostly wood shutters. But it seems nice. There’s a nice feeling in the town. The people seem incredibly friendly, virtually everyone I cycled past said hello, nodded or waved. A macaw flew past me, herons stood motionless by the sea, and for about five seconds a beautiful butterfly flew in front of me, like a passenger attached to the crossbar of the bicycle.
I came across a sign for Bob’s planned community, so I followed the road and had a look. His wife showed
me around, glowing at the potential for the site. And, certainly, it will be impressive, but I can’t help feeling it’ll be horrendous, too. I asked if it’d be okay to swim there, and she told me it would, so I nipped back to the cottage, grabbed my shorts, and after some rice, beans and curried chicken in town – and 20 minutes of cycling around just to work it off a bit – went back. She or Bob weren’t there, so I spoke to Lloyd, a big, smiling fellow who was one of their staff. I asked again, out of politeness, if it was okay to swim here, and he told me that “the beach belongs to everyone” and that I should go and enjoy myself.
There’s only about two metres of beach, but the Caribbean water was lovely. Skegness can keep its bracing weather; this warm water’s where it’s at, daddio. Even if I do imagine that my pale English skin does look like a bar of Dove soap with a beard on top.
So, this evening, there are new people in the bar here. A huge middle-aged fella, and a young lass, who’s quite foxy. I initially thought, “aaah, someone my age!” But, of course, I’m no longer a teenager, so she’s not my age, and, in fact, I’d probably be considered some sort of paedophile were my lewd thoughts to continue beyond “she’s quite foxy.” Still, the lass might be fat guy’s child bride rather than his daughter. I’ve not seen a Mrs. Fat Guy yet, so you never know.
Anyway, it’s nearly time for dinner, so photos can wait ’til tomorrow.