Flip Flop Flying

Belize, day 5: Placencia to Punta Gorda

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City Craig, the anxious tetchy me, kicked in early. It was my last morning in Placencia, I fancied a last early morning on the beach. The sea had been relatively rough during the night. The waves on the shore were quite loud, and a lot of the trash and stuff that washes up on the shore had been washed away again. I sat down on one of the hotel’s wooden beach chairs. A few moments later, a couple who were also staying at the hotel sat down a couple of chairs over and started having a conversation and harshed my mellow. Ignore them, Craig. Ignore them, just enjoy the view. Couldn’t. I’m a dick.

Just before seven, it started raining. Just as I was about to check out. The woman at reception seems like a happy soul. She’s always singing to whatever is on the radio. I smiled and gave her the room key. I head-nodded towards the rain through the open door and said, “perfect weather to walk and take the water taxi, right?” She cocked her head and said, “no it’s not, it’s raining.”

At the coffee shop, I ordered a regular coffee. While I waited, an elderly guy, with that kinda old man stubble that looks way more stubbly because of the silvery bits that catch the light, was in a chatty mood. He asked the people behind the counter where they were from. He asked where I was from. And then returned to his young companion who sat, looking miserable and sugar daddy-ed, wearing a Backstreet Boys reunion tour t-shirt.

An aside: how hard and brittle your toenails feel after a few days of sand and flip flops, right. It’s like they grow dead quick, too. I’ve got a wee cut on the inside of my toe, right next to where the holder-onner bit from my flip flop goes. It hurts. Sympathy, please.

At the water taxi, I sat in an open-sided shed (imagine being under a table with very tall legs). There were a couple of people there waiting already. A young attractive woman walked up and an older guy, maybe late fifties, early sixties got all lascivious. He mmm-mmm-MMM-ed. Told her she was lovely and just blathered on and on. The woman laughed, didn’t really say much. A bit of polite smiling. Obviously, this is no great revelation, but damn, it must be irritating having to put up with that shit from men.

The rain started coming down harder when we got in the boat. I was on the starboard side. To my right was a big sheet of white plastic that ran from the bow to the stern. (Look at me with the technical terms, eh? Left, right, front, back!) All the other people sat on the starboard edge of the rows of benches started dragging the plastic out and over their heads. I did the same and soon enough, all of the passengers were underneath the plastic. It was like we were in a big deflated balloon. Rain drummed on the top of the plastic, wind blew it around. It was tough to hold onto and keep taut. At some point in the journey, I noticed that it was less taut than it had been, and that my head shoulders and back were all touching the plastic. It was loud in there. As the boat slowed and we arrived at the other side, I pulled the plastic from over my head to find that, for the majority of the journey, I’d been the only person underneath. The two women next to me giggled. I put on my laugh-at-myself very British voice, and said “good morning! Well, that was fun.” They looked at each other and giggled again.

An air-freshener of taxi drivers (that’s the correct collective noun) were waiting on the dock. I got one of them, and as I sat in the front passenger seat, he looked out the window at the aforementioned gigglers and said, “pretty girls…” He opened the back door of the taxi and asked them if they wanted a ride. They did. Canny bastard, though; he got five dollars from me and from them, even though his original fee was just a fiver for the journey.

I had a shitty two-dollar sandwich at the bus station (pitched to me as cheese and tomato, but in reality it was a lake of mayo with some orange and red bits that were a slightly different texture).

The bus arrived and, wahey! the driver was the spitting image of Otto off the Simpsons. We left the station, and on the way out of town, took a slow left turn at a junction. As we did so, an older red-faced, red-bearded Mennonite guy ran out of the bushes waving his hand to stop the bus. *theatrical whisper* I bet he was having a poo.

It took us less than an hour and a half to get to Punta Gorda, the southernmost town of any size in Belize, but it took another 20-odd minutes to get to the bus terminal from the edge of the small town. Everyone on the bus wanted dropping off at very specific points. Why get off here where the bus is stopping for two people already, when you can get off 20 yards up the road?

I walked to Central Park from where the bus dropped me. Central Park in Punta Gorda is quite similar to the more famous Central Park in New York. That is to say, they are both called Central Park. The Punta Gorda one is a small triangle of short, patchy grass and dust. I approached a couple of guys leaning against there cars. They were indeed taxi drivers. The elder of the two said, “taxi?” I said yes. The younger of the two asked if I was smoking a blunt. I said, no, just a cigarette. If you want any weed, he said, just come find me.

On the way, the driver started talking about food. He liked fish. Then he clarified: well, not *likes,* but has to eat it more because of his diabetes and bad eyes. Hold on, what’s wrong with your eyes, Mister Driving-me-down-a dirt-road-in-the-jungle?

I have written here about the joys of Hickatee Cottages on several occasions. This is my fifth visit. The night before I left Placencia, I mentioned to a couple of people that I was coming to Punta Gorda. The reaction from both was “why?” Hickatee is why.

It’s about an kilometre and a half outside of town, virtually invisible on the satellite pictures on Google Maps. There are six rooms–in five small cottages—and a bar/restaurant building. All are spread out amongst some wonderfully-designed jungle gardens. There are loads of different types of trees and plants, attracting butterflies, birds, and insects. It’s a beautiful thing to sit on the verandah and just let your eyes and brain relax into the green.

After a good catch-up chat over coffee with the owners Kate and Ian, I took a bicycle into town to get some food. I ended up at the north end of town at a place called Gomier’s. It was too hot to cycle at any speed beyond not-falling-off speed. A smell of weed came from the jungle along the side of the road. I asked Ian later, and nope, they don’t have skunks around here, so it really could only have been weed. Apparently people go into the jungle to smoke. Duuuuuuuuude.

Saturday afternoon, and the streets were lazy. Dogs slept in the middle of the road. Kids wandered down the middle of the road, too. The occasional old dude on a bicycle. A couple of houses had the sound of drumming coming from within. There were kids singing in a school building. A guy in a park tossed baseballs up and hit them high in the air to kids with gloves. A couple of teenagers played basketball. Six or seven women and girls sat under a tree braiding each other’s hair. I said good afternoon to a guy on a bike, and he replied, “easy, bro.” A car, up on blocks in a front garden, pumped loud reggae from its stereo.

Gomier’s was doing likewise. A small street-level porch with bar stools facing out to the street. Two gringos were there chatting over the incredibly loud reggae. I sat off to the side at a plastic table under the palapa. I ordered some food and a beer. BBQ tofu with brown rice and salad. It was really tasty. (Caveat: virtually everything is tasty when it comes in a BBQ sauce, right?)

As I finished up my meal and lit a cigarette, a little Mayan kid, maybe six or seven, holding a bucket, came and stood next to me. He was doing the sad face that begging kids do in Mexico City. Every sentence he spoke began with the words “please sir.” He was offering me tamales. I told him I had just eaten. He asked if I would buy one again. I pointed to the empty plate in front of me. He asked again. I told him, no thank you, but if I saw him tomorrow, I would definitely buy one off him.
“Please sir, you can save it up for later.”
“No, I’m sorry.”
And then he snagged me:
“Please sir, it’s not good to be mean.”
How could I refuse that? I bought one. Later on, Ian told me that the kids’ parents sent them out and they couldn’t return without an empty bucket. I guess you perpetuate things by buying them, but sometimes, some high-minded principles need to be slackened: I’ll be buying a dollar tamale next time I see him, whether I’m hungry or not, just to help him go home before ten o’clock at night.

A truck pulled up, and a tall thin guy with grey dreadlocks inside a yellow hat, wearing an LSU Tigers t-shirt, got out. He said hello, then came into the restaurant. He introduced himself as Gomier, the restaurant owner. We shook hands. He had fingers as big as budgies. I told him that I enjoyed the food. He sat down and we had a chat. Originally from Saint Lucía, he ran a health food store there and then, with no professional cooking experience, came to Punta Gorda and opened a restaurant. It started off as a vegan place, but the business demands of a town like this has meant he’s started selling fish dishes, too. A lovely chap. Tasty food. I will undoubtedly go there again in the next few days.

After a few beers, and more chatting with Kate and Ian and other guests on the verandah at Hickatee, time for bed. Nothing quite like sleeping in the jungle. The noise. The unremitting sound of millions of creatures out there. It’s wonderful. As I turned off the light, I could hear howler monkeys making that 40-a-day growl they make. Being back here, and knowing that I’ve got four more nights in the jungle, is fantastic.

Written by Craig

October 26th, 2014 at 10:01 am

Posted in Travel

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