Archive for January, 2011
A bad night’s sleep left my grumpy and tired. When one is grumpy and tired, even the sunrise over the Caribbean Sea can go fuck itself. Yes, Sun, I’m talking to you, ya big hydrogen and helium-y bastard. Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough. Yep, that’s what I thought: it’s easy to be a tough guy when you’re 149.6 million kilometres away and you’ve got Mercury and Venus to back you up.
Being here in Belize, having come here from Mexico in fact, is like reliving the start of my travels in 2008. And it’s giving me a not insignificant amount of wanderlust. Specifically, a desire to fly to Brazil. A friend of mine who lives in Paris, a friend that also loves Brazil recently emailed that she had some pão de queijo at a Brazilian restaurant, and it made me drool. Not literally. But, y’know. I even had a dream last night that I was denied entry when returning to Mexico—something I will be doing on Wednesday—and “had” to fly to Brazil instead.
Took the kayak out again in the morning. I went with my manservant this time. Not as windy as yesterday, so we made relatively light work of the one mile-ish journey to the island. I forget the name of the place, so let’s call it Isla de Shakira. We approached from the northwest and it was all lovely and calm around the west side of the island. Lots of fishes in amongst the sea grass. Pelicans flew by, too, looking for some breakfast. Once we got to the southwest corner of the island, the wind and waves picked up again. We paddled around and found an inlet with a tiny beach. From the island, we heard noises. Human noises. We dragged the kayaks onto the beach and ventured through the trees. Ten minutes or so of hiking (fancy word for “walking”), hearing the voices getting louder, we finally saw moving shapes. We stopped, and I shouted hello. The noise from the trees quieted down. I repeated the greeting and walked forward. And there in front of me: twenty or so women. Beautiful Hispanic women. Naked. All with breasts that one would never confuse with mountains. I turned to my manservant—a happily married man—and told him to go and wait with the kayaks. The leader of the women stepped forward, “You can fuck off with him, ya four-eyed freak.” The women all laughed and I could feel years of erectile problems forming in my loins. Back in the kayaks, we returned to land. Not without some bloody hard work, though. The sea had picked up, and with every paddle forward with the crest of a wave, the trough dragged us back. It was worth it, though: waiting for me there on dry land was a barman who was employed to be nice to me and accept my money in exchange for a bottle of beer.
I’d not had my fill of water, so I had a swim in both the pool and the sea. How decadent is that, eh!?
After yesterday’s magnificent peanut butter ice cream, went back to the same place. Had a mint choc chip ice cream this time. Average. And talking of average, there was a soccer game in progress opposite the ice cream place. Full teams. Matching jerseys and everyfink. Reds vs. yellows. The reds were on fire. Scored three goals which we watched. Kept their shape defensively, too.
On the whole, a moderately lazy day. Caught a bit of sun, too. I now have pink legs instead of off-white legs.
Woke up giggling to myself. I’ve been told before that I sometimes laugh in my sleep, but I woke up during the act. And kept on giggling. I’d been dreaming that there was a Montreal Expos themed flea market in an unspecified Belizean beach village, vaguely like the place I’m staying in right now. (For the non-baseball fans: the Expos were a Major League Baseball team that existed from 1969 until 2004. They were the first MLB team outside of the United States. They were joined by fellow Canucks, the Toronto Blue Jays in 1977 who, since the Expos’ relocation to Washington D.C. to become the Washington Nationals, are now the only non-U.S. team.) Among the stuff for sale was a Daft Punk-style helmet, but with LED and neon Expos logos. It was awesome. So I bought it. And woke up.
The amount of typos I make when typing into the Notes app on my iPod is phenomenal. I did, however, enjoy the “Daft Pink” typo I just wrote (and corrected). I want a Daft Pink Magic Marker.
After breakfast, I asked about the kayaks that were resting against a wooden rail near the hotel. Free for hotel guests to use. Bueno. Time for another adventure. I set out aiming southeast, for a small island that is, apparently, about a mile away. Started paddling. Not too windy or choppy. Got further and further out until I was about halfway. Waters starting to get a bit more uppy downy, but it didn’t seem too far to the island, so pointless to turn back: soon enough I’d be behind the island, which I imagined, would act as some sort of barrier, where the waters would be calmer. Then I felt a knock on the bottom of the kayak. Huh, that was weird. Kept on paddling, re-aligning my course. Another knock. And another. I looked over the edge of the boat and there was a dark shape right there. It seemed to be moving, and it circled back around. Another knock. This time I became a tad concerned. The shape looked, well, kinda like a shark. It was too big to be a dolphin. Another knock. I decided my trip to the island should probably be postponed and started to turn the kayak around. Another knock, this time nearly losing my balance. “Right, you cunt,” I yelled. “I’ve had enough of you.” I set aside my pipe and glass of sherry, and dived into the sea, above the shark. I grabbed hold of his fin, and rodeo-ed him for a while. It’s tough to make yourself heard underwater, but I tried my best to impress on him that I wasn’t some stupid novice, that I’d sailed the seven seas, and a couple more besides. He snarled at me, so I launched a left hook right into his eyeball. The bugger quickly learned the error of his ways. I’m not fluent in shark, but I get by. He offered an apology which I graciously accepted. We had a brief chat. Decent chap, as it goes. Goes by the name of Sharky. We shook hands and he toodled off, and I got back in the kayak, and headed back to shore where I told tales of my adventures on the high seas, to the admiring glances of gentlemen, and lust-filled gazes of ladies. With a wink, I flipped a gold doubloon to a nearby peasant child, who excitedly shouted, “Wow! Thanks, Mr. Robinson! If you ain’t the World’s bestest boatsman, I don’t know who is!” I then retired to my room with a pair of rather comely Mayan twin sisters.
(Actually, it just got a bit too choppy out there for my liking, and my fags had gotten wet in my pocket, so I called it a day, drank a Belikin beer at the bar, and looked at Twitter for a bit.)
In the afternoon, we went to a place in Placencia (the village at the southern end of the peninsula of the same name), called Purple Space Monkey. Yes, indeed. You can insert my roll of the eyes at the name here. Three words chosen, one assumes, to portray some form of once-cool studenty wackiness. It wasn’t, as the name would suggest, though, a “head shop” or “cyber cafe” (a phrase that really does make me chuckle whenever I see it. And did you know that in cyber cafes, you can dial up your AOL account on the information superhighway?) It was, in fact, a place that did average coffee and had a book exchange thingy. A lot of Placencia’s visitors seem to like John Grisham and Danielle Steel. But I guess a lot of humans in general like John Grisham and Danielle Steel. We were served by a slip of a lad from Winnipeg with an almost comedic Canadian accent. They had a massive fucking iguana in the tree next to the verandah, though, which was pretty good.
The village itself seems nice enough considering most of it is tourist-related. On the way into the village, a car cut across the street right in front of us, and without provocation, leant over the passenger seat to yell, “I live here!” through the open window; like being an arsehole driver was a local privilege. Obviously, he was ignoring the fact that tourism more than likely paid for his car in a direct or indirect way.
We had some very nice ice cream from an ice cream place. Peanut butter ice cream. Except they called it gelato for some reason. Must be the Belizean word for ice cream, I guess. The peanut butter ice cream was delicious. Fucking yum. I like typing the words “ice cream.” Ice cream.
Across the street was a soccer field, but it wasn’t just a soccer field, oh no; in one corner was a baseball backstop (translation: a high-ish chain link fence to stop people watching or passers-by from being brained by balls that are hit backwards). And there were some children playing softball, too. I watched for a few minutes. Made me pine a little bit for a new season of baseball to watch, and to try and find some people to play softball with in Mexico City.
After such a harrowing and exhausting day: a late afternoon beer at the hotel bar. Sat next to Dean and Janie, tourists from Virginia. They seemed nice enough. He was a smoker, and mentioned that cigarettes were expensive now in Virginia: $36 for a carton. $3.60 a pack. I guess in tobacco country, that may well be expensive, especially compared to the $10 a pack I paid last time I was in New York in 2009. Very pleasant couple, but then politics came up, and the way Janie turned her nose up talking about “our current president,” you’d think the current president of the United States was Pol Pot. Still, at least she still referred to him as “our  president,” something I’m sure a lot of teabaggers wouldn’t do.
In the evening we popped over to Jaguar Lanes, a bowling alley across the street from the hotel. Little did we know that the combination of cosmic bowling and it being a Saturday night in this tiny village of Maya Beach would mean all the lanes were booked for the night. When we enquired, they told us that we couldn’t bowl tonight, “it’s cosmic bowling.” The woman said it like you’d expect someone to say, “the Rolling Stones and the Beatles are playing a gig here tonight, and we’re serving free beer, and the lapdancers are offering simultaneous all-you-can-eat Buffalo wings and blowjobs.” A whole heap of (mostly-American) Placenia residents filled the four lanes. Retirees, mainly. A couple of hippies, and a light smattering of younger people. Lots of leathery skin, pot bellies, khaki shorts, and white socks. There was even a couple who had matching home-made t-shirts. White with COSMIC written on the back with stars and planets drawn on in fluorescent paint. We stayed for some food. The hot dog was pretty good. I read somewhere that Gore Vidal once said that the best sentence to end a blog post with is “the hot dog was pretty good.” So, I’ll say it again: the hot dog was pretty good.
As so often happens on vacation, you’re in the same hotel as someone who you don’t really get chatting to until the last day. On my last day in Punta Gorda, a guy asked about the the baseball cap I was wearing (replica 1901 Cincinnati Reds). Got chatting with him and his wife, Cubs fans and producers of radio documentaries for NPR. He and his pals take trips to old minor league ballparks, so we had a nice wee chat about that.
After leaving Punta Gorda, it was a swift 90 minute journey north to a wee village called Maya Beach on the peninsula of Placencia in the Stann Creek district. Placencia is pretty much a few hundred feet of beach either side of a road. On the western side is a lagoon, on the eastern side, the Caribbean Sea. Ever since those damn pirate films, I’ve pronounced the name of the sea, Ca-RIBB-ean, not the way I was taught to say it, Carib-BE-an. Fuck you, Johnny Depp. (But not fuck you Keira Knightley, although, come to think of it, take the harsh tone of those words, and, y’know, yes please.)
Dumped my bag in the room, opened the clips, stuck one arm in the top, rooted around like I was artificially inseminating a cow, eventually found my swimming costume. Before dashing out to the sea to have a flap around, I stood by the water having a smoke. Wondered what I could use as an ash can while I’m here so I don’t litter the beach with fag ends, and, as the mind is wont to do, I suddenly started thinking about the ash can outside a bar in Bellingham called Cap Hansen’s. A nice wee place, a place I got drunk several times, and a key place in the relationship with my ex. And also, I presume, punningly named after a racist baseball player, Cap Anson. (It amuses me a little that there’s all the talk about if players who took performance enhancing drugs can get in the Hall of Fame, yet someone who was kinda instrumental in setting up racial segregation in baseball is in the Hall of Fame.)
A relaxing day ensued. All topped off with what most relaxing days yards away from the lapping sounds of the Caribbean should end with: watching a replay of the whole of the 1976 FA Cup final between Southampton and Manchester United.
Terrible night’s sleep. I don’t really mind the sounds of the jungle. Crickets, the odd bird, maybe the sound of the occasional unidentified eight-legged, two-headed monster rampaging across the land to make menacing noises outside my window. But last night, when it rained in the early hours of the morning, it was loud. So many broad leaves on the trees and plants make for a lot of water-hitting-surface noises. And at dawn, there seemed to be a particularly insistant bird outside my room. No matter how much I wished it to happen, he just wouldn’t hit the snooze button. Between those two things, you can add a bad dream that left me wide awake in the dark for over an hour, mulling over the dream’s contents and the real life consequences of my interactions with the real person in the dream, and the real and dreamworld aftermaths. All in all, it left me knackered.
Piled into the car, we took a winding trip south to what on my not-overly-detailed map looks like the closest village to the southern border. A place called Barranco. Passing through a couple of Mayan villages which pretty much only had wooden houses with roofs thatched from palm leaves. Chickens, pigs, dogs and smiley children along the roadside. The road—a dirt track—came to an end near a messy bunch of houses: some wooden, some concrete. At the one tiny store—essentially a counter, where one can order a Coke or beer—an old fella in flip flops, baggy red shorts, an orange t-shirt, and a floppy green hat beckoned us. He introduced himself as Harvey. He was, apparently, a former policeman and “Belize’s Bill Cosby.” He was also seemingly a tad drunk. He anointed himself as a tour guide, albeit a slow slow guide that took about two hours to walk around a village with less people living there than can fit in one subway car. It was a dire place. They had electricity, but how the hell anyone earns a living there I don’t know. Virtually no sign of crops being grown. There was a small pier, though, so maybe fishing goes on.
Harvey told us that the world Bible is an acronym: Basic information before leaving earth.
He took us to the Barranco House of Culture. We paid the $5 entry fee to walk around a room about the size of a minivan. It was full of faded photos, wooden tools, and some records and tapes. There were a few pictures of a singer called Andy Palacio who was, so I’m told, quite famous. Later in the tour, after being guilted into buying coconut cookies for a dollar a pop by some woman who saw us walking by and ran out of her home with a Tupperware box, we stopped by the cemetery to see Andy Palacio’s grave. His gravestone was marble. A quick scan around at the other graves, and there were nailed together crosses with names painted on them. So he was clearer one of the better-off Barranco people.
Back at the cottages and it was time for some much needed relaxation. Stop! Hammock time. Lying there, reading, with one of the cottage cats on my belly.
Of the four cats that live here, one of them, a wee kitty, went missing. Wasn’t around at food time, either. And as I type this last paragraph on Friday morning is still missing. Poor kitty.
For some reason, the WordPress app on my iPod has taken to crashing if I use it too long. It crashed last night while uploaded yesterday’s post, so I tried again and it uploaded the post twice [update: double posts since deleted]. Plus the way it crashes tends to mean that I can’t go back in and edit typos and other mistakes [update: typos since corrected to the best of my ability]. I typed that the zip-line of 2,500 metres was “split up into XXXXX separate lines.” That is how I make a note to myself to check something before putting it online. The assumption being that when I copy and paste the text, I will notice that the capital Xs and deal with the detail that needs dealing with. I forgot to do that. Which is a rather long way of saying it should’ve said “ten separate lines.”
Staying at Hickatee Cottages, a place run by Brits, I was treated to an excellent breakfast of coffee, juice and lovely home-made bread slathered in delicious, delicious, oh-so-delicious Marmite. Down here in the south of Belize, it gets hot and humid, so it’s important to get up and make the most of the less humid early mornings. That was not a problem, as soon after dinner and the accompanying beers, I was exhausted and was asleep as my head hit the pillow.
Taking it easy, after ruin-climbing and zip-lining and a four hour journey over the last couple of days, I used one of the Hickatee bicycles and had a leisurely ride into the town. Butterflies fluttered by, I rode past a dead snake, and a tiny alive snake that scurried across the road in front of my wheels. At one point a whole load of ants were crossing the road. They’d weaved a fairly straight path across the road to and from the jungle on either side. Dark patches of black were a car width apart where a vehicle had crushed a load of ants, but their brothers (and sisters..? Do girl ants do the work, too, or do they just sit around drinking White Russians and watching telenovellas?) kept on trucking, skirting either side of the carnage. But the ants had nothing visible with them. They weren’t like leaf cutter ants where you see them National Geographicin’ tiny bits of leaf around in their gobs. I think I found a colony of what are known as Idiot Ants. Just walking across a road for no damn reason. Or they may just have been playing chicken. Or collectively trying to understand the “why did the chicken cross the road?” jokes.
The town seems pretty much as I remember it from being here in 2008; a couple of restaurants have closed, a few have opened, but that’s about all the difference I noticed. Hungry, stopped at a tiny Chinese place called Zhuo Sheng. An incredibly miserable looking woman slid her flip flops across the floor as slowly as possible and dropped a battered, photocopied menu on the table. Chicken fried rice and a beer, please. While my meal was being prepared I watched the Chinese soap opera that was blaring on the telly in the corner. Language and settings seem to be the only difference from other soap operas. Plus the incidental music was that instrument that Western movies use to indicate that the action is in China, which was interesting. Lazy Western cliches are at least correct. The food arrived. I took the bottle of habanero sauce and give it a couple of shakes over the rice. And rather than the normal drip, it splashed everywhere. They’d watered it down. Everywhere down here, cutlery comes wrapped in a paper napkin. At this place, it came in a sheet of toilet paper. So far so bad. The rice was awful; tasted like it had originally been cooked at some point during the last week and reheated. And there were less vegetables in there than in a Pot Noodle. I poked at the fried shapes of animal on the plate. I think they just fried up some chicken bones. I took two forks of the rice, pushed aside the plate, chugged down the beer and for the first time in a few years, paid without leaving a tip. Next stop, a store to buy some Cheetos and a chocolate bar.
Grumpy grumpy bastard first thing. Hopped out of bed to find no running water in the hotel for the second day in a row. Not had a shower in two days. Filled a glass from the water cooler thingy to take to my room just to give myself a whore’s bath.
After splashing my bits, it was time for the day’s first adventure: zip-lining. The place we were staying at has a 2,500 metre zip-line thing set up in the jungle on the property. It’s split up into XXXXX separate lines [update: that was supposed to say “ten separate lines”]. When asked if I wanted to do it, I said yes simply because I’m absolutely shit scared of heights. At the top of the Mayan ruin yesterday, I felt all vertigo-y, but I didn’t want to miss a fun opportunity just because of a silly fear of heights. I got strapped into a rather fetching harness, gloves, and helmet ensemble and it was time to go. One of the guide guys went off first, and I stepped up. The other guide told me exactly where to hold on, where and when to use my back hand to break. Stood on the edge of a bit of a hill at the top of the jungle canopy, with just a few feet drop beneath me, he told me to “sit” into the harness. I was so glad that I didn’t actually have to push off or take a step out off the platform. That would’ve been too difficult for my fear to cope with. But the simple act of sitting was a great way to start. I sat, and slowly gravity took over and for ten seconds or so, I was flying over the top of the jungle. It was awesome. Next up a shorter one, and after those two baby lines, they got longer, with bigger drops beneath the line. Each of the platforms were high up, built around trees. Some of the lines were fairly steep and fast. The smell of the burning glove leather accompanying each platform approach. All felt very safe. And way cooler than letting my fears run my life. The very last one was high and long, returning us to the start. This one was accessed by a hydraulic elevator which wobbled up near the top of a fucking tall tree. Stood on a wobbly piece of metal, that was really the only time I felt the fear of heights, and up there, all I wanted was to be on the line, cos there felt safer. Of course, the elevator wasn’t unsafe, it was just my silly brain. At the end, and, as one would expect, all I wanted was to do it again.
And that was it for the Cayo district of Belize. Into the car, and a four hour journey east and south to Punta Gorda in the Toledo district. I was here almost exactly three years ago, and it’s nice to be back, sat on the same verandah at the wonderful Hickatee Cottages, drinking a Belikin beer, feeling relaxed in the hot and humid evening. Time to count all of those crickets I can hear in the jungle.
So, no other guests at this place. The other tables at breakfast totally silent. No inane chatter. No-one to be snarky about. Which saddens me more than world hunger.
And this was EARLY. Breakfast at six fucking thirty. Out on the crappy, dusty road by 7.15am. Heading towards Caracol. It wasn’t far on the map, but after a wee detour when we headed the wrong way, the road was so shitty it took us until nigh on nine o’clock to get to the military escort point. Apparently this road is a good place to get robbed by bandits. The military point was a couple of wooden buildings with an incredibly loud radio. After some talk of marital infidelity and the joys of the Lord, the radio switched to eighties hour. Maniac, Mickey, Uptown Girl, Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). In the toilet there was graffiti positioned so that urinating men could read it: “Thank God for what is in my hand is not in my ass!” I guess the John McCain would be a fan of these Belizean soldiers’ opinions on homosexuality.
The military escort was, well, I didn’t really notice any particularly military-looking people or vehicles; there was just a convoy of six tourist cars and buses. And the road got worse. Littered with potholes and big rocks, trenches dug out by the rainy seasons. It was genuinely like driving along a dried out river bed.
A brief paved stretch either side of a river crossing, twenty minutes more bumpy, then a lovely road up to Caracol. Paid the $15 (Belizean) fee, and it was Mayan ruin party time. Some fairly big stuff going on. Took a hike up the biggest to the top, which afforded a wonderful view over the top of the jungle canopy. In the distance, ten shades of hills further and further away in the distance. I had my headphones on. And it was enjoyable. For one thing, I’ve not listened to music much since I’ve been here, so it was nice to choose what was going in my ears. And, thinking of what would be appropriate and realising I didn’t really have anything on my iPod, I listened to “Space,” the ambient house album by Jimmy Cauty which still sounds ace, and sounded really great in a sweaty jungle, sitting at the top of Mayan ruins. Try as I might to enjoy it, and to experience some sort of awe, ruins just don’t do it for me. I wish they did.
We had a wee picnic, then took the road back. This time, though, the journey was punctuated with a break at a place called Rio on Pools. I wasn’t as prepared as the others for a spot of spontaneous swimming, as they’d all brought swimming costumes. So, I felt stupid swimming in my boxer shorts, my cock bobbing and flopping out of the flap every few seconds. It was annoying. A nice place, though. Next time I am visiting some ruins I will endeavour to anticipate the need for swimming trunks.
Back at the hotel place, more lovely food cooked by a very friendly young chap called Abner. Frankly, it’s worth staying there for his cooking. And for the opportunity to meet someone called Abner, which doesn’t happen every day.
I’m fairly sure there’s the possibility for some sort of TV play to be made about the subtleties of human beings in a hotel breakfast environment. Sadly, though, it’d likely be done by Matt Lucas and David Walliams with no subtlety whatsoever. The passive aggressive one-upmanship of stories. I’ve been here. Well, I went there five years ago. My Canon EOS has got a bigger lens. I took some great shots of that toucan yesterday that were way better toucans than you are taking photos of right now. Etc. forever.
Onwards to a new place to stay, waaaaay down a gravelly, potholed road to a place called Calico Jack’s. Not too far from San Ignacio, but out in the jungle. We are the first ever guests. It’s been open for a while because they have ziplining and caves to explore, but the hotelly bit is new.
And it seems pretty fine to me. I spent most of my Sunday watching the NFL playoffs, drinking cold beers. So not much to complain about. But, with no other guests, what the heck am I gonna write about over breakfast tomorrow morning?
There was a guy at the next breakfast table. He had an iPad. Now I wonder: does everyone with an iPad look like a self-satisfied cunt when they are using one?*
The hotel staff have put a bird table hanging from a tree near the dining area, and chucked a few papayas on there. It was lovely to watch toucans eating their breakfast while I had mine.
To the Saturday market in San Ignacio. I know it’s some kind of heresy, but I really can’t get excited about markets. People seem to love them, but for me it just seems like a place where one can walk at a snail’s pace, weaving your way past people stood around fondling fruit, merchants yelling, and filled with a constant awareness that pickpockets could be around. And, if you have no intention of buying food to cook, then all you are left with is the option to spend money on skanky-looking sneakers, bootleg Miley Cyrus t-shirts, and Dallas Cowboys backpacks. There was, though, some joy to be had at this market. The Christians preaching in Spanish through a guitar practise amp, for example. And Mennonites selling vegetables. I find Mennonites endlessly fascinating. The chinstrap beards, plain clothing, and the occasional pretty lass who I can’t help but fantasize is a raging slut waiting to be set free and given a Brazilian and a vibrator. There were also puppies for sale, Michael Jackson stickers (showing him at all ages), and “American daipers!”
We had a coffee in a place that was above a Chinese restaurant, spent some time watching people go by, then headed off to find an art park in a town called Benque Viejo del Carmen near the border with Guatemala. As tourist attractions go, it was pretty shy. Two and a half km along a gravel track outside the town; a dirty, mossy sign that was barely readable. Inside, the woman seemed hesistant about the price of entry. “Ten dollars…….. U.S.” (American money is acceptable currency here and prices are often listed as Belizean or American dollars. Two local dollars equals one U.S. dollar. But one gets the feeling that tourists are quoted a U.S. dollar price regardless of the Belizean price if there’s no explicit signage.) But, whatevs, we were there, at the Poustinia Land Art Park. And, well, the art wasn’t my cup of tea on the whole. Lots of reclaimed stuff assembled to mean something, usually something about the environment in some way or other. Don’t wanna be too cruel, but it was kinda sixth form art. But the walk through the jungle was great. Jungle, as I may have written before, seems to me to be, on the whole, a sweaty forest, but I do enjoy the density of it. Jungle feels like high speed film of nature happening around you, even though you don’t see the high speedness. You do, though, know that if you return in a week and no-one has gone through the paths with a machete, it will have changed.
Back at the hotel, having a beer in the bar near the pool. A table of six teenage girls all chatting and giggling. Conversations go along and they will, without any signal, just pause the conversation to all join in with the choruses of Rhianna, Lady Gaga, or Black Eyed Peas songs on the radio. Just as I’d grabbed a towel to go to the pool, the teenagers relocated there. I felt paranoid about the sleaziness of going in the pool at the same time, so read my book until they’d gone. By that time, though, the sun was behind clouds and it was a wee bit cold in the pool. So I just got drunk instead.
* I am an owner of an iPad, and I guess I’m the same.
Every now and again you get a reminder of how the memory is not a factual document. We drove past the softball field that mentioned yesterday. I said it was poorly maintained. That was what I thought, that is what my mind saw. But driving past it again, it wasn’t poorly maintained at all. The grass was short just there was no dirt infield. Does make me wonder how much of stories about my past include bullshit. And when you see talking heads interviewed on documentaries, too. How much of that is shite? Anyway…
After discovering a battalion of insect bites on my legs this morning, I lacquered up in bug spray before we hit the road, going not too far away to see some of Kraig and Barbara’s Oregonian pals. They moved down here last year, driving down in an old school bus. It took them twelve days. They’ve built a wee house on seven acres, right next to a river. Most of the land is still jungle. They warned of snakes and widowmakers. Which was obviously thrilling to learn.
We had a drive around, through a bit of Mennonite country where farmland is a lot neater, and there are sexy ladies in headscarves and full length skirts that really get the blood racin’.
Stopping off at a store, I asked the checkout woman which of the five newspapers she would recommend. Slightly ignoring the question she told me that the Bible was the best thing I could read. In the end she indicated two were less politically biased than the others. I bought one of those, The Reporter, (“Independently Serving Belize Since 1967”). The lead story included an exclamation mark in the second paragraph. Not a good sign. And this is that paragraph, exactly as it appears:
Senior Magistrate Sharon Frazer said she had no choice but to acquitted them because she found the evidence given by police officer Lincoln Hemsley no credible!
Spent the afternoon in the pool. Reading, drinking strawberry daiquiris. And staring at the tiny square tiles on the floor of the pool. Three shades of blue. Watching my feet swirl the water; my left leg clockwise, my right leg anti-clockwise. Until the blues all swishes together and I could no longer see the individual tiles. It took six seconds—six Mississippis anyway—for the water to get back to its normal state of rippling squished back-and-forth tiles. Aaaah, holidays…
Later, we took a trip all of a hundred metres to Cahal Pech, the nearby Mayan ruins. The Mayan empire would probably still be around if they made proper buildings instead of crappy “ruins.” Who would wanna live there? Did those fuckers not think to install elevators? Idiots.
It was nice to wake up early. After 15 hours sleep, though, hardly a surprise. Downstairs to the dining room for a coffee an the landlady got to talking bad about other Central Americans. I just sat there and smiled as she banged on about Guatemalans being dirty and treating their women bad, and she advised any woman with a husband not to employ a Salvadorian woman because, well, y’know… Breakfast was some potato-y green vegetable that I didn’t recognise, some spicy sausage and toast, all to the background sound of some religious TV stuff going on in the next room. Some bloke banging on about tabernacles and keeping tracts in his shirt pocket to give to people.
Got a ride back out to the airport with the landlady’s husband. We chatted about Mexico. He asked if I were a Chivas or Pumas fan. Neither, Cruz Azul. Got dropped off and waited a cigarette’s length for Kraig and Barbara, my friends from Oregon, to arrive.
That happened, we sorted out the rental car, and headed west towards the Guatemalan border. Stopped to eat at a nice enough place called, imaginatively, Cheers. Carried onwards, passing an ambulance coming the other way, then ten minutes later, a trashed motorbike lying on the road. Passed a field which caused me to urgently shout that we should stop the car. I jumped out to take photos of a poorly maintained softball field.
We drove through San Ignacio which, on first drive-through impression seemed nice, and on up a steep hill to a hotel near some Mayan ruins called Cahal Pech, which means “potato salad” in Mayan*.
The hotel is one of those that has had all the money spent on the ground floor. A fountain near the entrance, thatched roofs over things, two pools near a bar. The room barely has a lock. Kraig demonstrated something I’ve often thought was just a Hollywood thing: you can actually open a door with a credit card. Call me picky, but somewhere to put the soap in the shower is kind of essential. It’s a bit annoying to hold it the whole time. And kids are starving in Africa, ya bastard. Still, one of the two pools wasn’t being used, so while the others had a nap after their long journey from Portland, I took my book and cigarettes down to the bar, got a beer, and jumped in the pool. Obviously, I put all of my stuff next to the pool before jumping in. And it was enjoyable to cool off, read some Paul Auster, smoke and drink in the sunshine.
In the evening, we went into town and ate at a Sri Lankan place called Serendib. Not bad. A saunter around town, back to the hotel, sat around for a while chuckling at “Extreme Movie” on the telly. It was okay, although every single punchline wears a high visibility vest, so obvious were the gags, and in his brief appearance Michael Cera displays an amazing break from his usual role as Character Exactly The Same As George Michael Bluth to play Character Exactly The Same As George Michael Bluth In A Balaclava.
Bed. Decent sleep until I woke up itching an insect bite on my ankle at 6.15.
As I type this over a fairly average breakfast, there’s a bunch of other people eating their breakfasts. The chatter of humans is so inane. I’m not discounting myself from this, but when it’s all around you, it becomes very noticable what a miserable excuse for species we can be at times. Welcome to the Diary of a Misanthrope in The Former Colonies.
* Not true.
Cab to the airport at 2am. I’d been told by three people that for international flights, you have to be there three hours early. That’s horse shit, especially when there’s more or less nothing open, and the Taca airline desk doesn’t open until two hours before the flight. Once that was done, the departure lounge was an abandoned mall with a handful of workers and a bunch of tired travellers.
On the plane, strapped in, notice my book isn’t in my bag. Talk to a stewardess and she let’s me go and get it from the lounge. Back on the plane, taxiing, sitting there with a Paul Auster book on my lap, I instead read an interview with Ricky Martin in the airline magazine. I do not care one bit about Ricky Martin.
One of the greatest things you will ever see in life is being in a plane over Mexico City when it’s dark. It’s amazing, like a fishing net of lights has been thrown over the land, with a few black mountains poking through.
Behind me on the flight were two Mennonites couples. It took me half the flight to work out what language they were speaking. I think it was Dutch.
“Grown Ups” was the movie. I dozed off towards the end. Not sleeping, just dozing until me head dropped then sparking awake again. It didn’t seem like a movie; it was just a collection of snappy remarks, like you’d get in a bar with friends.
By the time the plane came close to San Salvador, the sun was up and reflecting on the flat Pacific like Bob Ross brush strokes.
San Salvador airport looks like a secondary school, just with aeroplanes on the Tarmac rather than Peugeots.
Central American heat and the smell of jet fuel.
The announcer in the airport had a wonderful whispery voice, like a Latina Björk, escorting me all the way down the corridor, as I looked for what I knew was here three years ago: a cafe that had a smoking section. And yes! It’s still there. This was the place that I met Brendan and Mel three years ago. We’d got off the same plane and separately, we were looking for a smoking place. And it was still there. I had a black coffee, chugged down a fag, then went to the gate for my second flight.
All the coffee I’d drunk, though, was gurgling around in my belly, making me feel a bit grim. Combine that with the aeroplane air that seems to distend things. And I could’ve, y’know, done with an extra ten minutes in this airport which is an airport that I already associate with a dodgy belly.
Onto the plane, and a surly looking young Belizean was in my window seat. The plane didn’t seem overly busy, so I was a pussy and sat in the aisle seat, quietly scoffing to myself at his shit trainers, and listening to the Wu-Tang Clan to remind myself that I am from the tough streets of North Hykeham.
I think the stewardess was giving me the eye, which I guess is the sign of a good stewardess/actress.
Arriving at the airport, it’s one of those where you walk across the Tarmac to the terminal. I like that kind of airport, it makes me feel like a returning sporting hero. Or one of the Beatles.
There’s the heat again. Immigration and customs; out for a smoke and to take in the new temperature. The heat curling up the trouser leg like a villian’s snake. And the undershirt of sweat forming on my torso.
Into a cab with Jose, a very friendly man who pointed out landmarks along the way (“there’s the supermarket!”, “the boys play football there at four o’clock if you want a game”), and soon enough I’m at the guest house I’m spending the night at. It’s a little outside of the town but I knew my needs were essentially somewhere to bathe and sleep and get back to the airport to meet my friends.
My room wasn’t ready when I arrived, so, having been told to make myself at home, I took a coffee and a cigarette on the patio by the creek that runs alongside the house. The lady, rather than getting the room ready, came out with me and pointed out various types of fish in the river. Not content with the amount of visible fish, she went to get a loaf of bread and coaxed fish to the surface. There were catfish, needlefish, bigbrownfish, notquiteasbigbrownfish. Lots of birdlife, too.
Once the room was ready, shower, clean clothes, a quick look at a map of the city, and I’m out. Almost immediately my choice of jeans not shorts was apparently a mistake. Hot.
The lady told me buses pass by, or to get a cab. I started walking. Bought a Coke. Glass bottle. Half the price of the same sized plastic bottle of Coke. How the aesthetic ponces of the world like me rejoice at that.
I saw a bus parked up, the driver staring out of the window. I shouted and asked if he was going into the city. I hear my voice at moments like that, when accents are Caribbean or simply not British, and all I hear coming out of my gob is Hugh Grant. It was a crappy old Blue Bird bus. Like a US school bus.
The lady at the guest house had told me to stay on this side of the river; the other side, and I paraphrase, sucks. After spending a couple of hours on this side of the river, I came to realise that it was like being told your shit sandwich doesn’t come with fries on the other side. Belize City, in my limited experience, is horrible.
The word potholes doesn’t do the roads justice. They look like roads that have been dug up from another town and dropped into empty streets and steam rollered into place. Shacks and busted cars everywhere. The type of macho male youth hanging around that makes pasty English chaps nervous.
I made my way to the museum. Were I being charitable, I’d say I was too hot and tired to fully appreciate the history on display. But I’m not gonna be charitable: if a museum had coins and bottles, you know it’s a craphole.
Sidenote: I saw 14 people wearing New Era fitted caps. Everyone of them was a Yankees cap.
I decided to walk back to the guest house. It took about 40 minutes. I could feel my skin cooking. I was hungry so I stopped along the way at a place called Friendship Chinese. They weren’t friendly of course. Chicken fried rice and Leeds vs. Arsenal on the telly. Halfway through my meal, a child at the next table jumped out of her seat and screamed. The rest of her party all vacated, too, while the owner stood on their table to remove a massive spider from the wall. A couple of Mennonites were dining, too. They had a cell phone. And drank Coca Cola. The modern world.
I bought some McVitie’s Digestives from a store, (the joys of colonialism!), and trudged back to my room around 3pm. I sat down on the edge of the bed. And woke up at 6.20am.
I’m off on holiday for a couple of weeks. Not going far, just next door to Belize. I’ve got WordPress all set up on my iPod touch because I’m not taking a computer with me. This will be the longest I’ve been away from a computer since December 2005. Part of my brain twitches at the thought of it. But hopefully I’ll be ignoring it as much as possible and only using my iPod to draw and listen to music. But I like blogging when I’m travelling, so maybe I’ll find time to do some of that.
Last week I popped into the Museo de Arte Popular. It’s a wonderful place. Here’s some photographs.
Virtually every day of my life, I have an internal battle. A battle to go to bed at a decent hour, and thus wake up at a decent hour, too. I do like staying awake late into the night, but more than that, I like being up at a regular time. It’s one of the perils of freelancing from home: having absolutely no normality. I realise that to those of you who wake up at 7.30 a.m. every morning, this must sound like a dream, but it’s not really. Admittedly, my propensity to stay up late had a worse effect when I had a real job and had to be in an office at a certain time of day. But for the last couple of nights, I’ve been actively trying to flip my sleeping habits a little. I have to be at an airport around 2.30 a.m. tomorrow morning. My flight leaves at 5.20 a.m., so there’s no real point in trying to get to sleep tonight. But I was hoping to just skew things a little, so I wouldn’t be a zombie in the airport. Yesterday, I woke up at 10.20 a.m., but I was, for some reason, quite tired last night. Asleep by 1 a.m. This morning, a dream woke me up at 8 a.m. and I was wide awake. Here endeth today’s incredibly dull blog post.
Fuck Google Maps, this is how I find my way to Best Buy. (Okay, I copied Google Maps onto my hand. You win, Google. As ever.) But definitely fuck Best Buy for selling me a camera without the USB thingy in the box. And hurrah for me for having a spare one from an old Panasonic camera so I don’t have to go back to fucking Best Buy.
One doesn’t really expect a club like Barcelona to be regional partners with a brand that looks so… so… crappy. But they are here.
The seventh issue of FAQ Magazine is online now. If you’ve not seen it before, it’s a very nice thing run by Juliana Mundim; each issue deals with a FAQ-ish kind of question, addressed by a bunch of arty types from all over the world. I did something for the fifth issue, when the theme was “What’s the meaning of fife?”. (You can see that on the FAQ Magazine site, or here.) And the theme of this current issue is “What are you thinking about?”. I wrote a very short story. The site is Flash-based, so you kinda have to navigate through things, but it’s all worth a look anyway.
Nothing makes you regret your order more than seeing your cappuccino come in a glass like this.
It is currently raining for the first time since November 3rd. (It might’ve rained when I’ve been asleep between then and now, though.) So that makes a grand total of four rain showers since I arrived in September. Life is tough in Mexico…