Flip Flop Flying

Archive for November, 2014

Belize, day 16: Placencia to Corozal

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Sitting down to write about the day, I looked at the quick notes, keywords, I wrote and it’s bonkers really to see how much I have written about something so simple as a day spent mostly on buses. So, feel free to bail out now.

After two and a half hours of walking in flip flops the day before, I was a bit achey. Achey feet, achey calves, and a bit of an achey back. I guess it must be because one walks a tiny bit differently in flip flops than one does in shoes.

Shower, last bits of packing, last glance at the sunrise over the sea, and I was out and getting coffee from the lovely friendly woman at Brewed Awakenings by 6.30am. I walked to the Hokey Pokey water taxi. Someone was playing Love Hurts by Nazareth really loud. Being in a boat on a lagoon in the early morning is quite a nice way to start (a) the day and (b) specifically, my day of travelling. At Mango Creek, I hopped in a taxi to go to Independence bus station. (When I say “hopped,” I didn’t actually hop.) The taxi driver had bad breath. He asked how I was doing, and before I could answer he snorted, hocked up a big greenie, and spat it out of the window. Nice. He stopped to get petrol. I looked at my watch, but didn’t say anything, cos I’m a wimp. C’mon, man, if we rush, I can get the 7am bus instead of waiting for an hour, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon. he must’ve sensed the impatience, cos when we got to the station he pulled up right in front of the bus and said, with a smile, “The Belize City bus, man!”

As the bus rolled out, we passed someone’s front yard, where ten vultures were stood perfectly still with the wings spread. It was hot and sunny. The sun was behind the trees almost completely silhouetting them, save for a few bright leaves that the sun was reflecting off. I settled into the the rhythm of bus travel quickly. The windows were open, it was sunny, a nice breeze, music on, mind emptying. When the bus stopped at Dangriga for ten minutes, I hopped off and went for a smoke. (When I say “hopped,” I didn’t actually hop.) Next to my bus was the express bus, the one that doesn’t stop to pick up people standing by the road. Not bothered. Couldn’t think of anything more enjoyable at that moment than being on the slow bus. Yes, the express bus has air conditioning, but why should I care. I was hot, a bit sweaty, but I’ll be out of Belize in a day and a half; I wanna enjoy this weather as much as possible.

And the next part of the journey is the nicest: from Dangriga to Belmopan, through the hills, the jungle, the orange groves, the lovely clear shallow creeks. The sun burnt through some clouds and splashed bright greens and yellows across the hills. There was a village called Steadfast Community. I wonder if I could live here (Belize, not Steadfast Community). I think about it a lot. I go back and forth. Sometimes the idea of all the stuff I would miss about the modern world (fast Internet, sports teams, concert venues, choice in supermarkets, etc.) makes me think that, no no no: it would do my head in. Other times, I wonder how important those things actually are to me. But, for now, the “no” vote is winning. I feel that may change at some point. But right now, I’m looking forward to being back in Mexico just to have a different beer, buy Camel cigarettes, watch YouTube clips without it taking forever to load.

Mennonites stood by the road next to their horses and carts. Younger Mennonites played volleyball in a yard. This was not like the short tight shorts version of volleyball. The men wore full length shirts and trousers, the women wore skirts down to the shoes. Saucy minxes.

Another ten minute break at Belmopan. I went to the bathroom. A selection of the graffiti in there. I notice a theme…:
I want cock in my ass! Call or tex me
Fuck me in the ass! Call or tex me
I love to suck cock! Call or tex me

An attractive woman joined the bus at Belmopan. A guy hopped on a few moments later. (When I say “hopped,” he didn’t actually hop.) He walked up the aisle staring at the screen of his phone. When he passed the woman, he jolted away from his phone at stared at her chest for a moment and sighed. She had all eyes on her for a huge part of the journey. The guy sat across from her kept sneaking a look out of the corner of his eye. A guy sat across from me was just openly staring for the whole journey. Another guy near the front kept turning around to have a look. She took it all in her stride.

At Belize City I had a wee bit of time. I smoked a roll-up outside the station. One of the taxi drivers looking for customers said “What you smokin there? You smokin a curly?” I assumed this was slang for marijuana. I showed him the tobacco packet. He said, “Yes! A curly!” I didn’t ask why he called them curlies. Because the ask tends to curl a little if it gets a bit long on the end? Or because you roll them up? Or something else. But I like it, and will endeavour to keep using that word.

A guy wandered around yelling “Suuuuh-weet! [long pause] coconut juice.” Jehovah’s Witnesses had a little rack of literature and tried to convince Belizeans to switch teams in the God League. A couple of other white people with backpacks hung around, and as is always the case, we ignored each other. I find it amusing how often this happens. Everyone is friendly with the locals, they exchange hellos, but if other tourists (and that’s what you are, white dreadlocks boy, you’re a tourist, don’t fool yourself) say hello, they’ll either ignore it or do it half-heartedly. Awww, sorry, am I spoiling your delusion that you are discovering a place that nobody from the West has been to before?

I got on a bus heading north to Orange Walk. We passed a seafood restaurant that proclaimed that they were “Shrimply the best!” this was e most local of all the buses I’ve taken. For most of the journey out of Belize City, we were picking up and dropping people off. All to the thunderingly loud soundtrack of reggaeton.

At Orange Walk—a very dusty town, it looked like a cheap knock-off of Pompeii—I sweated in the sunshine of the temporary bus station. Nobody seemed to know exactly when the bus to Corozal would turn up. I ate some delicious plantain chips. I sweated some more.

The bus arrived, we all piled on, then we stopped about a minute outside the bus station and waited. And waited. And waited. Eventually, another bus rolled up, and our bus filled up completely as passengers from the other bus all hopped on. (When I say “hopped,” they didn’t actually hop.)

The last bus’ reggaeton was replaced on this bus by very loud Mexican pop music. The sort of awful low production values and lazy lyrics shite I hear every day around Mexico City.

In front of me were two lads, late teens or early twenties. One of them had a red, yellow, and green necklace and a purple and black cap that read “YOUNG MONEY CA$H MONEY BILLIONAIRES” next an altered New York Yankees logo. The N in the interlocking NY had been made into an M, which I guess stands for Young Money. The other lad looked like a Mayan version of a young Shaun Ryder. They were like dogs in heat. Every time a woman got on the bus, they craned to look at her. Every time a woman got off, they poked their heads out the window to see her one more time. It was a cartoon. It pretty much didn’t matter what these women looked like. If they were vaguely attractive and between late teens and early thirties, they were ON it.

After leaving my hotel at 6.30 in the morning, I finally arrived in Corozal at 3.30pm. I hopped off the bus. (When I say “hopped,” I didn’t actually hop.) Rather than going straight to the hotel, I nipped into a bar called Primos that I’d been to on the first day of my trip.

I sat there, got a beer, and immediately the guy sat just around the corner of the bar extended his hand and said hello. He was Bill. Nice guy. Former Washington DC policeman and college recruiter who now just holds up the bar in Belize. His pal, a guns out, mirrored shades, Canadian, kept showing Bill and I meme-type stuff from his Facebook feed on his phone.

Walking to the hotel, a guy yelled at me from behind. Hey buddy! Okay, here we go. He’s gonna ask for some money. And yes, he did. But at least he had the honesty to come out and say, “I’m just hustling” when I asked how his day was. I gave him a dollar for his honesty.

I was good be to be back at Sea Breeze. The two dogs—Red, a four-legged reddish one, and Grey, a three-legged greyish one—were outside. Red didn’t move. Grey, though, got up and hopped over wagging his tail. (When I say “hopped,” he DID actually hop.) What a lovely fella he is. They are both street dogs, but Gwyn, the hotel owner, looks after them, allows them into the building, and generally gives them a better life. I sat in the bar and chatted with Gwyn and a couple of other guests for the length of a couple of Belikin stouts. The day was catching up with me. I was tired. I went out for a burger, a nasty burger, and as soon as I got back to my room, I was dead on my feet. Even the guy in the next door room playing Fox News at a gajillion decibels couldn’t stop me from falling asleep by 8pm.

Written by Craig

November 6th, 2014 at 8:38 am

Posted in Travel

Belize, day 15: Placencia and Seine Bight

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The holiday is mentally over for me. There’s two more days until I get home, but it’s over in my head already. Wednesday is a travel day, and Thursday is a check-out-of-the-hotel-and-bum-around-for-few-hours-and-then-travel day. Really, though, the holiday has been over since I came back to Placencia on Sunday. That was a bad call, to come back here. Of the four options I had for my last few days, this is the one I shouldn’t’ve taken. I should’ve either stayed in Hopkins or gone up to the cayes. Stepping backwards, coming back a bit further south, to a place I came to early in my holiday, wasn’t the right idea. I’ve spent a lot of time in my room, haven’t swum once; essentially, I’ve just been killing time before I go back to Mexico, rather than Being On Holiday. Which is stupid, really.

The old habits, wanting to be really organised, kicked in. I packed my backpack as best I could in the morning, even thought I had a full day and night remaining in Placencia. Clothes for the morning chosen and laid in a neat pile. Clothes for the next day separated from the rest in my backpack so that I have minimal unpacking and repacking to do on Wednesday. This level of organisation burns holes in my brain. It’s not actually good to do this. I spend time planning where to put important stuff (passport, cash, spare glasses, camera, phone, keys) NOW because they need to be in my little bag that I use daily when I travel, but I need that bag NOW too, so they need to be—aaaaaaargh! Shut the fuck up, brain.

Before I came on holiday, I erased everything on my iPod so that I would have to consciously choose what I wants to listen to while I was in Belize. It’s a good thing to do. I recommend it. You’ll be surprised at how much stuff is on there just cos it’s always been on there. I put on a few favourites, but mostly it was stuff that I’ve not listening to for a while or just not gotten to get to know very well at all. I’ve spent the last few days listening to King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown when I’m sitting around on the beach or walking to get coffee. I think that’s because I’ve heard so much reggae stuff that I don’t really like (Legend, light modern seaside reggae in bars, crappy bar bands doing reggaefied covers), and wanted to remind myself that it’s not all crappy. And what a way to remind yourself of that! I love how rewarding a listen that album is. No matter how often I’ve listened to it, there’s never a time when I don’t notice something new in there.

But, I am reminded that stressing too much about little things WHILST ON HOLIDAY is stupid.

And, of course, it’s stupid to moan, especially when reminded by CNN over breakfast, that there are, amongst many other and things in the world, families of 43 students that went missing in Iguala still hoping and praying that they might be alive.

Thinking again about Loud Boy from yesterday’s post, I got a bit paranoid and started to wonder: do I sound like him I these posts? I hope not. I really hope I don’t come across as someone who is all “yeah man, I’ve been here before.” Basically, I don’t wanna be a dick about being somewhere in these posts.

But, lo! I did have the mental wherewithal to try and enjoy my last non-travel day. I, er, took a bus. Just a short ride, a one dollar ride, up to Seine Bight, the next village along on the peninsula. Seine Bight is, like Hopkins, a mostly Garifuna village. And it looks kinda similar. Most of the buildings are wooden and on stilts. Coconut trees, hibiscus flowers. The main difference is the road through Seine Bight is paved and pothole-free. That’s tourism and real estate for you. Pretty much the first thing that happened when I hopped off the bus was a tiny adorable child waved at me from a few feet away. Aah, that’s nice. She said hello, I said hello back. It wasn’t very busy there. Not many people on the streets. But I did see a coati wandering across the road. I didn’t really do a whole lot while I was there. Just wandered around, had a look, said hello to children who seemed to be the friendliest people around. Not that people were unfriendly, as such, just, y’know, not interested in a gringo in their village. At the north end of the village, I asked a guy where was a good place to go for a drink: “In the village.” Walking south again, I asked another guy the same question: “Dunno.” I asked a third guy: “You can get one at the store.”

I gave up. Having checked the bus schedule before I left, I knew it’d be a couple of hours before another bus would come along going back to Placencia, so I figured that it only took about ten minutes to get here, so it can’t be too far to walk. Flip flops, though, aren’t the best for walking on the road. Especially my nearly-ready-to-be-thrown-in-the-bin flip flops. It was kinda muggy. Cloudy, thankfully, but still kinda humid. I was getting a sweaty t-shirt. I passed a resort bar, just as it started to rain, so I nipped in for a well-timed beer.

Further along the grey grey road, as more and more SUVs or 4×4 type cars bombed past me, I started to mentally hate them all. I wanted to play “What’s The Time, Mr Wolf?” with them all, and then set wolves loose on them for not reading my mind and slowing down to offer me a ride. Non-psychic bastards. I took photos of things along the way, and every time I caught a brief glimpse of myself in the black glass, just before the screen activated, I was more aware that, yes, it’s you, Craig, walking along this road. I wonder what a Caribbean version of Arab Strap would sound like? A sports bar was closed. Damn you, I could be watching Liverpool lose in Madrid if you were open. Lots of land for sale along this road. Eventually, this peninsula is gonna be all gringos, all summer homes or retired folk, all in these perfect little suburban plots of sand ready for perfect cabins that’ll push the prices up on the rest of the peninsula, and inevitably change life in good ways and bad ways for everyone. Then there’ll be a hurricane. There will inevitably be another hurricane here one day. And this peninsula is so thin and so close to sea level, it’ll all get fucked. (Not, of course, that I’m wishing that on anyone.)

Walking walking walking. The road takes a turn to go around the end of the small airstrip. At that point, the road is dead close to the sea, so I left the road, took off my flip flops and walked along the beach. Figured that’ll be a nice way to get back to the hotel. I walked for a while along the beach where there were no buildings. Then I heard a dog barking, and saw it and two more dogs, who joined in, as I passed by a couple of houses with pools. The barkingest dog was kinda getting territorial. Walking alongside me, barking. Alright, fella, shut the fuck up.

I came to a cement wall. Right up to the edge of the beach and some exposed roots of a big dead tree there, too. Oh. Seems like someone decided to make this bit of the beach private. While the dog still barked, I saw a kid in one of the holiday cottages I was near. “Can I cut through your yard to get to the road?” The kid looked like it was a funny question, and said, “sure.”

Back on the road, I saw why the bit of beach might be walled off. I was in front of Turtle Inn, one of Francis Ford Coppola’s fancy resorts where it costs a bajillion quid a night. The front is the tidiest bit of land in the whole of Belize, I think. It also looks like the sort of place where coconuts in the trees are actually motion sensors to make sure the plebs don’t try to enter the premises. (It looks dead nice on the website, actually.)

I walked on the road a bit more, then saw a bit of rough ground next to the beach and had another go for a bit, then back onto the road, and started to recognise stuff: I was close to the hotel.

A young local fella on a bicycle passed me and said hello. He was super friendly. “Hello! How is your walk? It’s very nice weather right now!” Pleasant wee exchange. A couple of minutes later, he doubled back and cycled adjacent to me on the other side of the road. He asked where was I from. Where was I staying. It is good weather for fishing. That’s what I’m doing now, actually, going fishing. I’m just waiting for his friend. He is English too. He’s gonna be here til January. Did you come to Belize alone? My English friend is here alone, too. He was with his dad, but his dad has gone to Mexico until Christmas. Do you like Belize? Do you like drinking? Hey, you should join us later. I told him, thanks, but I’ve gotta be up super early in the morning, so I’ll be in bed early. He said OK and that was it, off he rode on his bicycle.

After walking for two-and-a-half hours, I was finally back. I went straight to the bar for a beer and some food. As I walked in, a woman said, “you made it, then.” I turned to see a middle-aged woman I didn’t recognise. She told me I cut through her yard earlier. Oh, the one with the barking dogs? Yep. I explained that I couldn’t go further, and she said, oh, it’s just erosion of the beach, you can go through, you just have to walk throu the sea a bit.

At the store, buying some water and biscuits for my long bus journey on Wednesday, the guy in front of me paid for his stuff, then got out the Happy Cow disc of mushy cheese triangles, and just started eating them right there. Right there at the counter. Didn’t move for me or other customers in the queue, just noshin’ away on his cheese triangles.

I went to a different bar in the evening, simply because my, ahem, local had the shitty “reggae with tropical vibes” band on. It’s a simple thing that I’m gonna miss when I’m back in Mexico City: bars having a bar. With stools. And strangers all sat near each other. And you can be quiet. Or maybe you’ll have a conversation. These types of places just don’t exist in DF. If you’re alone, you sit at a table and a mesero comes over and deals with you. Maybe it’s because I’m used to British pubs where you can stand at the bar, and if not, you still go to the bar to get a fresh pint. Maybe it’s because I really enjoyed sitting at the bar in my brief times living in Bellingham, Wa. and Toronto. Or maybe it’s just that I like sitting at a bar on a beach in Belize. Or maybe it’s just the booze. Lovely booze.

Written by Craig

November 4th, 2014 at 9:14 pm

Posted in Travel

Belize, day 14: Placencia

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I’ve never worked in a restaurant before, but I bet those of you who have will hate the woman who sat at the next table when I had some breakfast. She took ages deciding where to sit. She told the server this was her favourite place to eat in Placencia (if that really is the case, she has low standards cos the breakfast I had was the absolute pinnacle of average) and just as the server started telling her about the breakfast specials, she butted in and said, “Lemme tell you what I want, and maybe you can see if the cook can do it for me.” She told the server she wanted a piece of red snapper and eggs, “and how much will that cost?” So she wanted something specific, but she made sure the server knew that she had to come back and tell her the price before she gave her non-menu order the thumbs up. The server explained it’s the breakfast menu right now, but she will ask. Were I the chef, I’d’ve told her to fuck off, but the chef was clearly a better human than me. The server returned and told her, yes, she can have that and it’ll be $15. By this time the woman had moved to different tables twice. She umm-ed for a while, then said yes to the $15 non-menu breakfast. Then, like one would talk to a child learning to tie its shoelaces, she told the server exactly—exfuckingactly—how she wanted the snapper cooked. “Crispy on the outside, not too crispy, not burnt, and soft inside. Crispy outside, soft inside, okay?” She went to the bathroom and returned to find a couple sitting at the table next to where she had been sitting. She kinda stopped, frowned, then moved to a different table again. I try not to use this word so much these days, but she was a cunt. I left before she got her food or (obviously) paid her bill, but for the sake of this story, let’s just assume she tipped poorly, shall we?

Spent some of the morning touring the gift shops of Placencia village. Not really that hot, frankly. I don’t like faces carved into driftwood, and the kind of Mayan trinkets being sold here, I could buy cheaper in Mexico City. Looks like I’ll be filling the spare space in my backpack with delicious Marie Sharp’s hot sauce, then.

After slogging around—slogging, I say—for a whole hour doing that, it was time for a beer. Then a not-nap (my just-invented name for when you don’t sleep, but just lie around for a bit doing nothing). Before too long, it was time to pick up my laundry. Oh! the pressures of my stress-filled life. The place I’d take it to was just a house with a plastic sign on the garden fence. The small entrance to the house had a couple of washing machines and a dryer. The front door to this area was open. I went in and knocked on the next open door, which was to what looked like the family kitchen. I knocked and said hello. No answer. I knocked again a bit louder. I could hear a TV from a room with its door closed. No answer. I knocked a bit louder still and for a bit longer. I worried that the knock had an impatient tone, so when there was no answer again, I tried to knock in a friendly rhythm. Knock-na-knock-knock, knock, knock! Nothing. Sigh. I took a couple of steps inside the kitchen and saw my clothes in a pile on the table. I knocked again and semi-shouted hello. Nothing. Okay, fuck this. I went to the table, checked that all my clothes were there, had a quick look at the other pile of clothes, grabbed my Kraftwerk t-shirt from that other pile, mentally congratulated myself for having the forethought to check the other pile, put my clothes in the plastic bag they were resting on top of, dropped a Belizean ten dollar note on the table, and shouted hello once more. Still no reply. So I put the kettle on, put a teabag in a mug, and had a look at the books on the shelf while the kettle boiled. Lots of Stephen King and Patricia Cornwell. I shouted hello again. Nothing. I sat on the sofa with my cup of tea and read a two-week-old newspaper (EBOLA SCARE IN BELIZE CITY HARBOR!). I finished my cup of tea, and realised I’d been lying for the last few sentences, since the bit about putting the kettle on. Actually, as I was walking out of the kitchen with my clothes, the woman came out of the room that had the TV on. She didn’t seem phased in the slightest that I was in her kitchen. She asked if that blue t-shirt was mine. I said it was, I checked the other pile and found it.

I went to the bar around dusk. From the first sip of Belikin, it was obvious: I was kinda bored of drinking. I’ve done a lot since I’ve been in Belize. Every day, and a lot of it daytime drinking. It just didn’t taste good, wasn’t going down well, and I was tired of overhearing expats talking about home like it was paradise. There’s an element of that in my life in Mexico; I do kinda romanticise Europe, and London in particular, but to hear these dudes, complaining about every little Belizean thing that goes wrong, it’s like: just go home, dude. Go and get an apartment in Florida.

I ate at Dragonfly Moon, a Chinese restaurant in the village. It’s kind of a joy to see Chinese people who seem happy. As mentioned before, Chinese people in Belize are often talked too quite rudely, and, in my experience, tend to operate their stores as a smile-free environment. Chinese restaurants here tend to be pretty basic places. Fuel stations for Belizeans. The most rudimentary of decorations in the restaurants. A general atmosphere of “this is work, nothing more.” Dragonfly Moon is different. It looks nice. There’s nice lighting, nice chairs and tables, cushions, screens that separate a few sections of the restaurant. The woman who I think might be the owner, is a lovely, friendly person, who smiled a genuine smile when I said the food was really nice.

Some new people arrived at the hotel. Americans. One of them looked spookily like someone I used to be friends with, until he proved himself to be an absolute dick. It was creepy. I saw him three times in the evening and each time, I was like, “is that Tommy?” (I changed the name, on the tiny tiny tiny off chance that he or someone he knows might read this. I don’t want to give him the satisfaction. Just know: whenever he crops up in my mind, I still wanna punch him in the face.) This hotel is like one of those motels in an American film. A strip of rooms on the ground floor, and another strip on the first floor. It’s not as grim as you’re imagining cos it’s on the beach, but it is pretty basic (fun fact: it was the very first hotel in Placencia). They all sat outside their two rooms, drinking, listening to music on a cell phone. One of the lads was banging on to the others about how much he’d travelled, where he just been, how he was planning to go home via Las Vegas, and how he first came to Belize in 2004, “before most Americans knew about it.” As if he was reading my mind, another guest, an older guy, opened his door and asked them to be a bit quieter. Loud Boy got his hackles up, “I didn’t come all the way down to Belize from Seattle to be quiet!” The exchange continued. The older guy asked why they didn’t just go to a bar if they wanted to drink, talk, and listen to music. Loud Boy’s next line made me giggle: “I’m on a budget, bro.” A door was slammed, and Loud Boy continued being ostentatiously loud. Slowly, though, his mates started talking quieter. The music was turned down, and eventually the bravado had gone. It was, though, a reminder that I will be returning to Mexico City in a few days. Back to an apartment where any relaxing I wanna do is dependent on my neighbours not deciding that listening to loud, shitty, music is what they wanna do at ten, eleven, twelve o’clock at night, or one, two, three, four o’clock in the morning. The end of my holiday is creeping into my mind…

Written by Craig

November 4th, 2014 at 8:02 am

Posted in Travel

Belize, day 13: Hopkins to Placencia

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After Saturday’s doggy adventures, I (obviously) dreamt about having a pitbull. We went record shopping together.

Still itchy as heck from the sand flies from the day before, I put in bug spray. Too much. My skin felt like it had been varnished. But, considering how much the insects seem to like me, a lot of bug spray is, as Jesus Jones said, never enough.

My last morning in Hopkins, so I stood at the water’s edge and just stared at nothing for a while with my coffee. My brain has mental tinnitus. Always a buzz of something there that I can never quite quieten down. But, I’m nearing the end of my holiday, so I’m getting close. On the way back to room, I alternated the footsteps with my original footprints, so that I left a nice pattern of me me me in the sand. Hard to describe, so I’m going to break my self-imposed protocol and post a photograph:

After three days of nothing resembling friendliness from the guy at Donglee, the local store, I got a hello, a please, and a thank you. But he did them all with a mush of sandwich in (and creeping out of) his mouth so he must’ve known how disgusting I think talking whilst eating is. 1-0 Donglee. (Having said that, someone came in while I was being served and wanted to ask him something and opened with, “Hey, Chinaboy!” so every time I think Mr Donglee is being rude, something comes along to remind me why.)

I packed my bag, checked out, and got a taxi. I told the guy I wanted to go to the junction. He repeated that as if the words were from a song: “TOOOOOO THA JUUUUNCTION!” He seemed to like loud proclamations: “Hopkins has a lot of Catholic roads: hol(e)y!” And fully punctuated: “She. Is. Abyoo. Tee. Full. Woman.” I concurred and he said, “I hate living in Belize; too many beautiful women…and you can only have one! And you want them all!” He turned on the CD player and exclaimed, “MUSIC!” Unexpectedly, it was country music. He took a call on his phone. He had to go home and fix a water pump. He sped up to try and pass a slow minibus. The minibus sped up. He said, “Go if you gonna go, don’t if you gonna don’t.”

At the junction I waited under a tin roof shelter. It had taxi numbers and graffiti written all over it:

And a little more nicely:

I’d specifically planned my trip with a few open days near the end so that I could decide what I wanted to do. I pretty much had four choices. I could go inland, towards the Guatemala border; I could go north and take a boat to the cayes; I could stay in Hopkins; and the one I chose: I could nip back down to Placencia. My nuts brain chastised me for wanting to go backwards and revisit Placencia, but the other options weren’t doing it for me. I wanted to stay at the beach, I couldn’t be bothered with the expense of boats to the cayes, and the amount of sand flies at Hopkins was making me a little crazy.

A couple of women got dropped of by another taxi. I tried to understand what they were talking about but it was impossible to understand the creole. We all waited for about twenty minutes, and one of the women said, helpfully, “this is the bus, young man.” Young! Aaah, that was nice.

I paid attention to the bus. Normally, when I’m on the bus, it’s just a Belizean bus. A Blue Bird bus. But this time I wanted to pay real attention to where I was. I enjoyed staring out of the window. But with the landscape out of focus; staring at the reflection of the other side’s windows reflected in the slightly brown-tinted windows on my side. Concentrating on that was broken by a load of butterflies resting or something on a patch of mud by the road. Butterfly, schmetterling, papillon, mariposa: a nice word in most languages. I stared at the reflection of one window on the other side of the bus. That window was open. How bright it looked compared to the other closed windows. A woman on the other side of the aisle was sat in front of the open window. She had pinky-brown tinted sunglasses rested on top of her head. I focused on them for a while, trying to watch the landscape go by through an open window through the glasses on a woman’s head in the reflection of a window next to my face.

I looked up at a open window in front of me on my side: brightness. So blue and green outside. The turquoise sun visor decal thingy on the windscreen catching reflected on the metal window frames. And a big distorted reflection off the same sun visor decal thingy and the yellowish grey road on the curved cream roof above the front few seats.

We stopped along the way to pick up more and more people. Then we stopped at a place selling food. Four wooden poles supported a rusty corrugated roof. Underneath, an oil barrel had been fashioned into a grill. The driver and conductor bought food in polystyrene containers. Those containers and the thin black plastic bags they come in should be the national symbols of Belize.

The smell of grilled chicken wafted through the bus like gravy smells in the old Bisto television commercials. It smelled gooood. I was hungry.

FYI: Dubnobasswithmyheadman sounds great on a bus in Belize.

We overtook a small old pickup truck. The back had eight people sitting in it. They was also several guitars and a keyboard. The people were smiling and laughing. They seemed happy. I enjoyed seeing them being happy.

It’s the bus journeys that give me time to think and, probably more importantly, time to not think, to feel, about Belize. I feel content, at ease, on buses. Buses are by far my favourite mode of transport. Fuck planes. They’re expensive, uncomfortable, an increasing ballache to deal with, and terrible for the planet. Trains are great but are dependent on infrastructure being there. Cars… well, I’m not much of a driver. I passed my test, I have a licence, but I’ve not actually driven a car since 2005. Buses are the best. You are with other people, strangers. You are in it together and you cross the land. Crossing the land feels important to me. Knowing, seeing, feeling the time of the distance.

It was just a brief 45 minutes on the bus, I got off at Independence, took a quick pothole bumping taxi, and with three minutes to spare I jumped on the Hokey Pokey water taxi from Mango Creek to Placencia. It was raining by the time I got there a quarter of an hour later. I walked straight back to Sea Spray, the hotel where I stayed a week ago. I got the same room, too. I dumped my stuff, and went to the same bar a couple of doors away, and sat in the same seat I was sat in the last time I was there. I drank the same beer, served by the same barman. It was American football day on telly. Gringos sat around the bar talked about their fantasy teams. A couple of beers in, I realised I wasn’t in the mood for drinking all day, so I went back to my room and watched YouTube and went on a journey on the Wikipedia tree. Read an article, open a link on that article in a new tab, repeat repeat, then notice you’ve been reading Wikipedia for three hours.

Shitty live music wafted into my room from the bar. Cover versions, every single one rendered in a parpy keyboard light reggae style. But the wind was helping drown it out. It was dead windy. The palm trees outside my room clattered together, the sea was loud washing up on the beach; deep deep deep on the beach, all the way to the edge of the hotel building. I read up on Bob Marley. I’m down on him, but, really, it’s not fair to blame him for every beach bar playing just his greatest hits. I made a mental note (and now, a typed note) to listen to his early music, the non-Legend stuff. I ate bread and cheese. Drank water. And went to sleep.

Written by Craig

November 3rd, 2014 at 8:43 am

Posted in Travel

Belize, day 12: Hopkins

with 8 comments

It felt like a lazy day, even though I actually did more in the way of exercise than I’ve done the whole holiday. (It also feels a bit silly mentioning that I had a lazy day whilst on holiday. Feels redundant.) nothing particularly extraordinary about the day. I had a swim, swung around in the hammock, read a little, listened to Neil Young’s On the Beach, started doing a pixelly drawing of a custard cream biscuit, which I’ll finish when I get back to Mexico, I reckon. But I had the urge to do something. Nothing extravagant. No proper tourist outing or owt. I ended up doing something that I don’t think I have ever done in my life.

I went for a walk on a beach. An hour and a half there and back. An hour and a half walking barefoot. I really do think I’ve not walked barefoot like that before. I mean, I guess when I was a child, I probably played on the beaches of southwest England and south Wales for longer, but not a proper walk; not an I’m-going-for-a-walk walk.

The first 60 feet from the sea in all of Belize is public land. No private beaches here. Which is clearly a great thing. (The very idea that anyone can make a beach private fills me with a small amount of rage.) Each beach front property has its own section that they make kinda “theirs” what with raking, cleaning, a palapa, some chairs and whatnot, but nobody can stop you walking there. Having said that, I was only interested in the first few feet. The wet bit of the beach. The bit which every few seconds would get wet from the sea.

The guest houses, cabanas, and hotels are spread out. They, on the whole, are the ones with the raked sand. The other places, though, are a lot more interesting. You see, running parallel to the beach is the main road in town. The beach is the back garden of most of the houses along that road. It was nice to take a walk on a Saturday afternoon. To see life going on. Kids playing football. Adults relaxing. Chickens chickening. Fishermen fiddling with their boats or nets.

From behind me, out of nowhere, a dog came thundering past me, splattering me with wet sand. He turned around, quickly, then came back and looked up at me, circled back to face forwards again, and then he was like, right, I’m gonna hang out with this guy for a bit. People here do have dogs as pets, but there are also lots of dogs that just wander the streets. In Hopkins, those strays tend to look better than in other towns I’ve been to. Like, I’ve not seen any here with wounds, and I’ve not see any skinny ribby dogs. But still, dogs tend to react the same way. They are hopeful and wary. Hopeful you might be friendly, but wary that you might be nasty, too. As me and my new pal walked along the beach, a little kid spoke to me. He spoke quietly, so I had to ask him a couple of times what he said. “Don’t let your dog kill any chickens.” I told him the dog wasn’t mine, but if I saw him going near any chickens, I’d stop him. The dog, though, wasn’t really too interested in me. It seemed like he just fancied a walk, a run, on the beach, near a human. Poor lad, though, seemed constipated. He tried to go a few times. Legs quivering, but no cigar. Each time he did the scraping his bum thing along the sand. And after each attempt, he came bounding past me afterwards as if he was trying to convince me all was good, did the biz, let’s rock.

As swiftly as he appeared in my life, he disappeared. Seems like he was a south side dog. (The road that comes to Hopkins from the highway meets the village’s main road in the middle. There’s stuff off to the left, the north, and stuff off to the right, the south.) Gulls stood in a line along the far end of the pier, at the point where the north side meets the south side. Things seemed a bit more active on the northern end of my walk. A couple of beach bars were open. Families had barbecues going. Couples drank under a palapa. A whole load of young fellas listened to reggae, smoked weed, and ate grilled chicken and fish.

The clouds blocked most of the sun, there was a nice breeze, and there was a slight thrill that, as the clouds got darker, I could see that maybe it might rain on me at any moment. A fisherman stood up to his waist in the sea, doing fisherman-y stuff with his nets. The seashore here has a lot of rubbish. The usual stuff: food packaging, bottles, a flip flop here and there, the odd breeze block, and a rusty fridge. Obviously, the last couple of things are likely to be local trash, but a lot of the trash in these here parts come from the Caribbean. Either from other countries, islands, or dumped by cruise ships. And that all washes up on the beaches of Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico.

It started spitting with rain. The clouds didn’t look dark enough for me to worry too much about getting a soaking, but still, I couldn’t really be arsed to have to walk all the way back dripping wet. Now, I was going to type “as luck would have it” here, but (a) what a horrible phrase, and (b) it wasn’t luck at all. I was quite close to the Driftwood Beach Bar at this point. I knew I was heading in that direction. Had no real plan to go there again, for the third day in a row, but what with the spitting rain, fuck it: I’m on holiday. Before I left Mexico, I did some research, and wrote down a list of bars and restaurants that sounded nice. I went to absolutely none of them. I enjoyed being at Driftwood. So rather than force myself to do different things, I let it slide. I did what I wanted, which was to sit on a stool, with my feet in the sand, at the bar at Driftwood.

Elton John was playing. It seemed to him she lived her life like a candle in the wind. It’s nice to hear Elton now and again. Your Song came on. It’s weird that my mind kinda prefers the Ewan McGregor version from Moulin Rouge!, but that’s what my mind does. Must watch that again. Lovely film.

A Canadian guy and his Belizean wife arrived and stood near me at the bar. He was very talkative. She not so much. It soon became apparent that she couldn’t get a word in edge ways. He kinda looked like someone in a photo of the early days of the Wild West. Scrawny, deep creases in his face, huge huge huge ears. The only modern thing about him was his crumpled cap and a backpack that he never removed. When he found out I was English, he started yakkin’ about the Vikings, Romans, Picts, Angles, and Saxons. And that if the Scottish had voted Yes, the English should’ve rebuilt Hadrian’s Wall. Somehow he switched to the topic of Quebec and their version of French and how horrible it was. He didn’t realise, of course, that another guy there was from Quebec. The latter dude took it all quite well, seemed to not want to get into an argument. Once he had left, old timey guy retold the story of talking about the Québécois (thank you for your help there, auto complete) when a guy from Quebec was sat right there, as if I hadn’t just witnessed it all moments earlier.

He seemed like a dick. The sort of person you don’t wanna get talking to. Or rather, talked at. My end of the conversation dried up once he started banging on about “the Muslims” and how they want to take over, how there was no need to invade a country anymore, you just move there and slowly take over like a disease with “their Sharia law.” Oh God, this is tedious. His wife sat saying nothing. I was in two minds what to do. Should I just lie and say, my girlfriend is Muslim, and provoke either a confrontation or him to start caveat-ing his bigoted views? Instead, I wimped out. Just sat there, leaving his points unanswered. Can’t be doing with this guy. Not that he got the message now that the conversation had become a monologue. At one point on his meandering journey through Racist Forest, he head-nodded to the side, in the direction of the black bartender, when he used the word “slaves.” Pfff, I got up and went to the bathroom. Didn’t need the bathroom, just wanted a break. What should’ve happened was that I should’ve spoken loud enough for other people to hear and reminded him that the local black people in Hopkins are Garifuna. And they were never slaves. Their ancestors were, yes, cargo on a slave ship, but they ran aground and escaped before they could become slaves in the New World. Goddamn it, I really should’ve said that at the time… But really, I’m not gonna change his mind, and I know I’m just say/writing/thinking this to justify letting it slide, but all that would’ve happened was his wife would’ve got an earful about that damn English liberal all the way home. He was hungry, and they only do pizza at Driftwood. He wanted a burger. So, thankfully, he fucked off.

Later, one of the guys who’d been grilling and listening to reggae that I passed on my walk came up to the bar. Clearly, so clearly stoned. He smiled and extended his hand. He went for a fist bump. I went for a handshake. Paper wraps stone. He chatted up the barmaid. She ignored him. He kept flashing me a conspiratorial smile and using new lines on her in a creole I couldn’t understand. When the male Mexican barman arrived, he flashed me another smile. He talked to him in Spanish and kept calling him his “novio,” his boyfriend. The Mexican guy wasn’t amused, which amused stoned guy even more. The Mexican told him, “I wouldn’t fuck you even if you were a girl.” He laughed and said, “If I was a girl you’d be suckin’ my pussy all night long.” This was the perfect thing to be observing after the racist Canadian. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to earn some money, when the guy saw I was rolling a cigarette, he looked over, leaned in, and said, “I got some killer green if you want…”

I was being eaten by sand flies. Nasty little fuckers, I kept waking up during the night to scratch the dozens of itches on my calves and feet. It’d soon be dark. I paid up, said goodbye, and walked back along the beach.

Another stray dog that had been hanging around the bar decided to tag along. This one stuck by my side. Kept looking up at me, wanting some sort of recognition. I talked to him. He didn’t understand cos dogs don’t speak English. I threw a stick. That’s more like it! He went bounding along the beach and came back with it. I took it out of his mouth and threw it into the sea. He leapt through the waves and played with the stick, taming it, and dragging it back out. This went on all the way up the beach, past the pier. I started to worry that once I got back to my room, I’d be leaving a sad dog behind. It was getting darker and darker. By the time I was nearly home, it was fully nighttime. The dog still chased the stick every time I threw it. I stopped for a chat with a lady who was stood in the sea up to her ankles, drinking a glass of wine. She had just arrived in Hopkins “a few minutes ago.” I liked how she had got straight on the case. Relaxing. Sea. Wine. We said our goodbyes, and the dog was nowhere to be seen. He’d had his fun. I miss having a dog. Long time readers (anyone..? Anyone..? Is this thing on..?) may like to know that Billy is doing great. Happy and looking as young as ever in Berlin.

When I was doing my travels in 2008, a friend emailed mildly chiding me for seemingly spending so much time blogging. I felt it was a tad unfair at the time. I can hear her email in my head when I sit down every morning to write these blog posts. But to me, it serves two purposes. If I didn’t do it, I’d keep a far less detailed diary, and the only difference in time spent, is that I don’t use shorthand, and I try and make it readable, rather than a series of notes. Secondly, I like writing. I don’t do as much as I’d like to, and having the routine of doing it every morning helps me get better, I think. Reading the first couple of posts from this trip and the last couple, my writing has clicked back in as time has passed. Back in the old days of this blog (Christ, it’s almost been ten years) I wrote about my daily life a lot more than I do now. And while these Belize posts could do with some serious editing, hopefully they might be the start of me writing more regularly again.

Written by Craig

November 2nd, 2014 at 9:16 am

Posted in Travel

Belize, day 11: Hopkins

without comments

It’s no great revelation to write that it is lovely to wake up and hear the sea. But it is. Fisherman were out, fiddling around with their boats, chatting away. There was the sound of the grackle, that sounds a bit like a child pretending to do a rapid gun noise. I was up early, at daybreak, making coffee, looking out at the sea. The owner’s husband apologised if he woke me up. He didn’t. But he explained that their dog had got out and he is blind. Two years old, he just woke up blind in March. Poor thing. He said the dog is getting good at knowing where things are, but when he messes up, he tends to do it at full pelt.

One of the interesting ings about Belize is the stores. Specifically, the supermarket type stores. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never seen one that is anything close to super. There are two near where I’m staying. Donglee (not sure if it’s one word or two from the way it is painted above the door. Could it be Dong Lee? Or could it be Don Glee?) and Happy Shopping Center. Both are run by Chinese families, as are a lot of these types of shop in Belize. I went in one of these stores for the second time since I’ve been in Hopkins, to buy deodorant. Both of my visits were, as with pretty much all visits to Chinese supermarkets in Belize, fun. The people running them seem so miserable all the time. Now, I’ve heard the way other people speak to the Chinese in the supermarkets. They get called “Chiney” and “Chinaman,” are general talked to with very little respect. Last week, when I said good morning and asked how a guy in the store was doing, he looked genuinely surprised that someone would ask. So in a way, it’s no surprised that they can’t be arsed to be friendly. I’m not gonna be in Hopkins long enough, though, to get a smile or anything from the guy in Donglee. The deodorant was in the end of a glass case at the far end of the counter area. I went to the guy.
“Good morning!”
Nothing. No reply.
“Can I have the Old Spice deodorant, please? The red one at the end over there.”
I repeated myself.
“You go get it,” he said.
So, they put stuff behind glass near the counter, yet, when he can’t be arsed to move, anyone can just go and get stuff, then.

Freshly showered, I went for a swim. Dumb idea, really. Wrong way round, Craig: swim first, shower second. But, swim I did. I like those moments where the glaringly obvious comes into your head like a new thought: if I could physically do it (let’s ignore the need for food or water) I could go anywhere in the world from here. I could swim to Mexico, Argentina, South Africa, Europe, Japan, Kiribati. I could swim with whales and dolphins, whales and dolphins, yeah.

I didn’t, though. I got out of the water, showered, then thought, WHAT THE HECK, I’M ON HOLIDAY, and went for another swim. Sat by the sea for a while, read a bit, did drawings of the birds and the older women paddling a bit along the beach. A third swim, and I noticed that when I came out of the sea, I always have a brief moment, a very brief moment, where I allow myself to believe I’m in a Bruce Weber shoot, or in the Herb Ritts video for Cherish by Madonna. It does last long, because the reality is so so so much more depressing, but it’s nice to have that tiniest of moments where I’m a gorgeous model.

Feeling like I should really do something on a Friday night rather than go to bed before 9pm again, I took the bicycle and went to Driftwood, where they were having a Hallowe’en party. I’m not much for this particular celebration, but, y’know, I don’t hate it either. I had on my costume (Sweaty Red English Tourist) and creaked my way through the village. The bike I’m using really could do with some oil. Creaky creaky creaky. It got worse and worse as I went along. Several times on my journey, people passed comment on the noise. “Noise pollution, brother!” “That needs greasin’!” “That sounds nasty!” A frog leapt out in front of me before I had time to move. He leapt between the wheels and across the road. Hooray, Mr Frog.

Driftwood had an Alice in Wonderland theme. Some kids had painted big toadstools and flowers, and the bar tenders had Mad Hatter hats. Lots of playing cards were around. I kinda felt out of sorts. At occasions like this, when I’m on my own, I tend to not be able to grasp the inner fun me, and just end up sat at the bar, expressionless. And when I have no expression, I look miserable. It’s an affliction.

Local gringos had made an effort. There were pirates, disco wigs, cavemen and women, zombies. One guy bought me a beer when I asked him if he’d come as Hunter S. Thompson. “You’re the only one who got it right!” He and I chatted for a bit. Washington Nationals fan.

Local locals, as opposed to local gringos, didn’t seem to bother much with the Hallowe’en costumes. At the bar, a bunch of Americans and an obnoxious Englishman chatted away about Paul Nabor. They had no idea who he was, but they thought they should go to his funeral on Saturday, because “it’s probably gonna be a wicked party” and “we could just pretend we know who he is.” Knobends.

I talked to the barman. He was cool. Half-Mexican, half-Belizean. Thinks about going to work in Cancún for the money, but likes living in Belize. People got drunk and danced to the 70s and 80s stuff the DJ played. And then we had a band. They played one set of stuff, which I wasn’t that bothered about, so I went and sat outside and cooled down a bit. The DJ came back on, I returned to my bar stool, and soon enough, the band started up again.

This time, they played Punta, the main kinda Garifuna style of music. Two drummers. A couple of dudes with maraca type things. And a guy signing. They also had a guy playing rhythm on acoustic guitar. The band were getting well into it. People started dancing. Garifuna people danced effortlessly. Gringos made an effort. But the dancing and gapless set, where one song drifts into the next, kept the atmosphere going. It was getting hot. My glasses were actually starting to steam up. And for about 10-15 minutes, it was genuinely magical in there. There was something special happening. The band were loose, a bit ragged around the edges, but the room was theirs. It was good to be there. The DJ came back on, and, yes Thriller, etc., but how could he follow that? I love Bad Moon Rising and The Monster Mash, but, I didn’t want to be there as the night got sloppier. I got the bill, and cycled back to my bed.

Written by Craig

November 1st, 2014 at 9:59 am

Posted in Travel