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.
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.
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…
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:
FUCK ALL HATERS!
TAKE ACID NOW
HATERS MAKE ME FAMOUS
And a little more nicely:
I LOVE GOD AND MY FAMILY
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.
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.
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.
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.
It rained all night. There’s no better sound, really, if you have a touch of tinnitus. Rain on leaves in the jungle is wonderful to drown out the buzz. It was loud and every time I was aware of the rain during the night, it was loud. Still raining when I got up and went across to the main building for breakfast. I took the umbrella that, helpfully, hangs up outside the cottage door. Put my hand in to open it and something damp touched my hand. I shrieked and dropped the umbrella, then briefly saw a tiny frog leap off my hand. Not so tough, Craig, are you?
After breakfast, I packed up my backpack and said goodbye to Kate, and Ian gave me a lift into town to get the bus. It was lovely to see them both again, and I will miss them and Hickatee Cottages. Really, if these blog posts have convinced you of anything, it should be that visiting Punta Gorda and staying at Hickatee is worth doing if you fancy a trip to Belize.
The bus sat, driverless, for ten minutes before we left. It was quiet during those ten minutes. Me and eight other passengers. My mind focused on the quiet. And, as is often the case, quiet isn’t quiet. We have just learned to kinda ignore sounds. The quiet was actually full of sound from inside the bus. The squeak of people moving on the seats. The sound of people rearranging their bags, getting their seating area just right. The sound of people removing snacks from the bags those snacks came in. The sound of crisp packets and the accompanying waft of a salty corn smell. Every sound, apart from the munching, was the sound of plastic.
The bus ride was painless, just three hours. Listened to The Orb’s first album, Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, which works quite well with the Belize landscape and heat. A woman across the way changed her kid’s nappy. We all got a waft of that smell, which, may be a cute sweet smell to parents, but to me: it’s just the stink of shit.
I got off the bus at a junction. The bus doesn’t go to Hopkins itself. It’s about six km from that junction to the village itself. Last time I was here, I had to walk a couple of those kilometres before someone pulled up and asked if I wanted a lift. This time, though, things were different. There was a taxi driver waiting at the junction to earn some money off anyone getting off the bus. That anyone was just me. It was $20. Yes, please. He was a friendly man. A red baseball cap over his grey beard and slightly buck teeth. He asked where I was from. I told him and he exploded with joy. Not literally, obviously. He looooooves England, he visited three times when he was in the army. He told me the whole story of his army career: got thrown out of Catholic school for swearing at a teacher, didn’t finish his education, was given a chance by the army, and had a 33 year career with them. He seemed like a lovely man. At some point I told him I lived in Mexico. He said that he didn’t like Mexicans. But “they are better than Chinese.” Oh, dude, I was enjoying this conversation, then you had to go and go all weird on me. I quickly changed the subject to talk about Hopkins. That was a more pleasant way to finish our conversation. I asked his name. He smiled and said with a boom, “Boots!”
The place where I am staying in Hopkins is the same place I stayed at last time. Aside from the more spendy luxurious rooms, there are three small rooms that directly face the sea, about 20 metres away. Last time I stayed in the room on one end of the three. This time that room was already booked, so I booked the other end room. I figured that, because the walls are quite thin, it’s best not to be in the middle. The only thing about the other end room is that the toilet and shower are outside. Now, when you are sat at your desk in Mexico City, dreaming of your holiday, the idea of an outside bathroom seems quite… romantic. And it’s the cheapest room (obvs). Cute. Quaint. When you are here and fancy a poo, though, it’s a tad annoying. But, the room is nice. Comfy bed, wooden slats covered with a mesh to keep the bugs out instead of curtains and windows, fridge, coffee machine, and a wee desk. As I write, I’m drinking coffee I made myself, sat at the desk, with a nice gentle breeze coming in from the sea. If you take off your glasses and imagine a bit, it’s possible to think that you are a proper writer living in a fisherman’s hut or something.
I took a lazy cycle up the main road (that is, a dirt track with speed bumps made out of thick rope) to the north end of Hopkins to a place called Driftwood Beach Bar. (An aside: I wonder how many businesses at seaside towns are called Driftwood?) obviously, they were playing Bob Marley’s greatest hits. But, having had a moan about it in yesterday’s post, it kinda didn’t bother me so much today. Plus, I made an effort to try and listen to the songs rather than just hearing bobmarleytediousbeachmusic. And, yes, it was possible to remember what it was like to hear those songs fresh. Still can’t be doing with Three Little Birds, mind.
The woman behind the bar was chatty. Canadian, had run Driftwood for six years, and hey, come down tomorrow, we’ve got a Hallowe’en party. I had a small and delicious pizza. There was a Manchester United teddy bear hung behind the bar. When I say “hung,” I mean “hanged.” The owner’s ex, who I think I met on my last visit to Hopkins, was a fan, but the barman is a Barcelona fan, so he hanged the teddy bear. Good lad. The Marley gave way to a homemade compilation. The Cars, Tears for Fears, Thompson Twins. A couple of Americans were also eating pizza. On his way to the gents, the male half walked past me and asked, is that a Reds hat? It is! A replica of the 1901 Cincinnati Reds cap to be precise. We had a chat about baseball. He’s a Houston Astros fan living in Austin, Texas. He and his wife are on their honeymoon, which explains why they’re spending 50 US dollars a day renting a golf car to get around town. Alternatively, that shows that I’m a cheap bastard, only willing to spend 10 Belize dollars on renting a bicycle.
I bought some bread, cheese, and milk at the store. That’s tonight’s evening meal and tomorrow’s breakfast sorted. While it’s nice to be on holiday and eat at restaurants way more than I normally would, there’s also something fantastic about being very very basic.
I smoked on the verandah outside my room as the sun went down. Then in the nearly dark, I noticed movement, lots of tiny things moving on the decking, next to the ashtray. Ants! Big fucking ants! Oh my gosh, there’s a dead gecko there, and tons of these huge ants, are having a feast. Rather than dealing with it, the holidaymaker in me kicked in, and I went and told the owner, and she came down and did what I could easily have done: scooped up the gecko on a piece of paper and got rid of it. I helped out by using a broom to shift the ants. After the excitement, it was time for a lie down. And by 8.30pm, I was fast asleep.
Woke up with Buffalo Soldier in my head. Not good. I started talking the lyrics to myself, though, in a posh British World War II army commander voice, and that made it better. Bob Marley is a funny topic. Acknowledged pretty universally as one of the greats, yet also quite annoying to listen to. Over-playing has ruined a lot of his songs. If you are within 100 feet of a beach, you will hear his music. Why did that happen?
Over breakfast, I was chatting with the couple from Manchester, and music came up, and we were talking and this and that and the guy mentioned Coldplay. And he said it in quite a disdainful manner. I laughed, and didn’t mention that, while I know I know I know, I do still quite like them. They are not a guilty pleasure. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. Pleasures are pleasures. I love Cartoon Heroes by Aqua. I’m not ashamed of that. It’s not a guilty pleasure. I’m not hiding it. Coldplay is a different thing, though. It’s easier to be bold about what other people would see as a guilty pleasure if it’s totally outside the norm of the generally accepted “good music.” (Another awful phrase.) Coldplay, though, are at the uncool edge of the good music spectrum. We, those of us into indie/alternative/college/whatever-you-want-to-call-it rock music, probably love quite a lot of music that the members of Coldplay love. I laughed along with the dig at Coldplay and felt a little sad that I didn’t come out and say all of this then. But, of course, it took being back in my room for me to properly distill this into words. And I began to wonder: what would’ve been Coldplay’s career path if they had released their first record in the 1980s. (Before I go on, let’s just acknowledge that Coldplay is an awful name for a band. But then, so is Radiohead. Terrible name.) So, the first Coldplay album was released in 2000. But if we imagine that their first album, with the same songs, had been released fifteen years earlier, it might’ve been produced a little differently, a bit janglier, and they would probably not had a big hit like Yellow was. That might’ve got to the top 20, but not much more. And their second album would’ve come out in 1987. Maybe a bit more piano, the odd violin and cello here and there. Playing bigger venues. And for the third album, would they have started filling out the sound and aiming to sneak into the U2, Simple Minds market. Or would they have been influenced by the dance music and been kinda like James: an indie band that added a shuffle rhythm and got lumped in with all the baggy stuff? Oh, I could think about shit like this for hours…
Another lazy day for me. I cycled into town, through town, and out the other side of town for a kilometre or so. Just to do something. At Cattle Landing, a small community at the bend in the highway that then goes inland and away from Punta Gorda, I turned around and had a beer at Waluco’s. A bar under a palapa. The telly was showing the 1991 European Cup final (Red Star Belgrade beat Olympique de Marseille on penalties). At the same time, the speakers were playing the Craig David album, Born to Do It.
Lunch at Gomier’s, the great vegetarian-ish place, and back to the cottages for a nap. I rarely nap. Maybe a couple or three times a year. It was nice to be that relaxed. In the evening, we all went out together. That’s Kate and Ian, the Hickatee owners; John and Nicky, the Mancs; and me. We ate average food at Asha’s. They have a great location. It’s a big room, with an outside deck, on a platform over the bay. Like a small pier, really. Great location: ugly as hell restaurant. It looks half-finished. Gordon Ramsay could do with stopping by and sorting them out.
We then drove inland to a sports hall near the airstrip. Last week, Paul Nabor died. He was 80-odd years old. He was an important musician in Belize, and particularly for the Garifuna. His funeral will take place in Punta Gorda on Saturday, and the town is getting ready for a lot of people to come, including Belize’s important people. The streets around the church where the service will take place are looking spicker and spanner. Last night was the first of four nights of music in tribute to Nabor at the sports hall. A little hut in the back corner sold drinks, the wooden bleachers filled up with people, and there was a stage decorated in the colours of the Garifuna flag (black, yellow, and white- sorry, black, GOLD, and white: why is it that people with flags never say yellow, it’s always gold?) with a big vinyl banner showing a photo of Nabor and the words KING OF PARANDA. This first of the four nights featured only local musicians. Things kicked off with a load of girls in traditional dress dancing and singing. That was nice. Then a godawful jazzy reggae band doing Bob Marley covers. The last act we saw before leaving was this band who seemingly played one long song. Ian later told me, no, there were six songs in there. The drummers and percussionists (there was no other musical accompaniment) just didn’t stop or pause between songs. Good stuff.
Back at the cottages, Kate, Ian, and I smoked cigarettes on the verandah and had a chat. It was my last night at Hickatee, my last night in Punta Gorda. It has been an absolute delight to be here and again.
Another very relaxed day. The troop of howler monkeys that live in these parts were very close by in the morning. The sound of their howls really carries through the jungle. It was like someone had set up big speakers out there.
Long trousers. Long-sleeve shirt. Buttons done ups at the collar and at the wrist. Time for a walk in the jungle. I find it quite exhilarating. A little bit of fear, but a lot of excitement. The fear mostly because I am alone out there. There are jaguars and snakes out there. And while jaguars very rarely attack humans, and snakes in these parts tend to come out at night, you never know, do you?
I love the jungle. I love it for what it is and I love it for what it does to me. I love that it’s just a really vibrant example of life happening. All stages. Big trees and plants, small trees and plants, new shoots sprouting from amongst the dead leaves, plants, and trees. It’s like an office, restaurant, maternity wing, and cemetery all in one.
What it does to me is it stops my mind wandering. It makes me focus: pay attention to your surroundings and nothing else, Craig. The jungle makes me stop thinking about work, drawing, ideas, blogging, etc. It’s just: there’s a load of ants, hundreds and hundreds of them, and they nip like a bastard if they get above the shoe.
I walked into a spider’s web. A massive construction, maybe two metres wide, with threads up, down, front, back, left right. I freaked out a bit initially when I suddenly felt web all over one side of my face, but soon calmed down and saw a big golden silk orb-weaver sat in the web up above. It had black and yellow legs about two inches long and it’s back was orange and the size and shape of a cigarette butt. I asked Kate at the cottages what it was called so at I could write it above and then had a quick google: there are photos of birds stuck in this type of spider’s web.
Thinking about that web, it could be kinda cool to do like a transparent Rachel Whiteread sculpture type thing. So, you fill the empty space between each silk line of the web and then highlight those silks with some colour, so you can get a good solid view of what the spider has made.
The ground was quite soggy, so it was good for pretending I was could track animals. Lots of foot prints around. I made a note of some and checked a book, and it would seem I saw coati prints. And some monkey poo. I saw monkey poo. Monkey poo. Poo.
A bit later, the monkeys were up in the trees above the cottages. Five of them. Mum, dad, three younger ones. One of them was hanging by its tail from a branch. It made me think that maybe evolution could’ve done with letting humans keep the tail.
As I type (early Wednesday morning), I can see the monkey eating leaves in a nearby tree. This place really is quite wonderful. Apart from the big bastard swollen doctor fly bite that I have on the ring finger of my left hand. Could do without that, but it’s a small price to pay when you can watch monkeys over your morning coffee.
I made some toast. There was no real Marmite but some kind of supermarket own brand copy. I opened the lid and it was rancid. I cut the toast in half diagonally (cos I’m posh) and walked into the lounge. I saw a car pull into the drive and that was when I realised that I wasn’t actually waiting in my mum’s lounge to surprise her with my visit. I looked around and, yes, none of the things here are my mum’s. I don’t know these people getting out of the car, but, fuck, I climbed through their open dining room window and now need to get out of her sharp-ish. No howler monkeys to wake me up in the morning.
I come to Belize to relax. I’ve by no means done everything there is to do in this country, but on previous trips, I’ve kinda done a smattering of the to-do-in-Belize stuff, and living in Mexico City fills me with the desire to do absolutely bugger all on holiday. This was a day where the bugger all really started kicking in.
I cycled into town to eat something. Gomier’s, the good vegetarian place, was closed, so had an average burrito from somewhere else that I forget the name of, and cycled back up the road a little to a place called The Olmec Bar and Restaurant. It was fairly rundown looking place with loud music coming from inside. I went inside and the pretty young woman smiled and got me a Belikin from the big chest fridge. A couple of dudes sat at one side. The back of the room had a stage and a load of music equipment, but on the whole, it kinda looked like a disused scout hall. There was a poster for Guinness Foreign Extra showing the rear of woman from head to thighs. She was wearing a black bra and short denim shorts. She had her back arched and a bottle of stout resting just above her the top of her shorts. None of yer fancy arty Guinness advertising here, no sir: just beer and ass. A tiny black kitten walked by. I took my beer outside and sat on a wooden stump next to the sun-bleached pink wooden fence topped with unfinished wood planks that served as a place to put your beer and an ashtray. A bunch of old timer expats sat out there. They looked like they that been sat there for days, weeks, months, years. To save space in my small backpack, I brought rolling tobacco and papers with me, rather than cartons of cigarettes. (Belizean cigarettes are awful, and you can’t buy Camels or anything here, thus the need to bring stuff.) I got out my tobacco, and started rolling one. The woman behind the bar yelled at me, in a voice that was half stern and half who-the-hell-does-this-guy-think-he-is, “you can’t smoke THAT here!” She, of course, thought I was smoking marijuana. I showed her the packet. She smiled. One of the guys who was drinking inside walked out the door and stopped at the kerb and hocked up a load of phlegm and spat into the street. Then his finger to one of his nostril and nasally spat another load of snot out. He returned to the bar, up-nodded at me and said hello. I paid up. Three dollars for a Belikin; the cheapest I’ve had since being here.
I cycled back to Hickatee Cottages and spend the afternoon reading. Ate some dinner a bit later and went to bed around 9pm. Relaxing really is starting to kick in.
There was this big party, right. Loads of pristine shiny glasses. Waiters in crisp white shirts. Tiny bits of delicious food on huge silver plates. At the end of the hall, there was a big iron-framed service elevator. It was stuck. People were yelling from inside. I grabbed a crowbar and pried open the door. I shouted out, “Could someone help me with this door please?” Nobody even turned a head. I held the door open on my own as eight or nine people eased themselves out of the elevator car. None of them said thank you. They just went and talked to the other people as if nothing had happened. No one said thank you or any kind of acknowledgement. That is what woke me up. Nobody said thank you. And the howler monkeys were at it again.
I never sleep as soundly as I sleep here at Hickatee. Crappy dream aside, it was a wonderful night’s sleep. I opened the shutters and it was delightful sunny day.
I chatted with the pleasant German couple at the next table over breakfast. They live in Berlin. Reflexively, I said “oh, I used to live in Berlin,” but then, not wanting to speak in my patchy, half-forgotten German, I told them I was just there for a year or so, in 2001. I had to remember this half-lie constantly for the rest of the conversation. Things I knew from later experience were suddenly, “a friend told me that [x]” or “I was visiting a friend in [some later year].” They were dead nice, though, and as they checked out and headed north, made a point of giving me their email address and telling me that if I ever visited again and needed a place to stay, to get in touch. How nice is that?
I did some drawing. Got my small notebook and a pencil out and drew a few of the plants in the garden. In my head, there and then, it was the plan for the day: coat my self in bug spray and spend the afternoon drawing plants, like I was some 18th century explorer or something hear on the business of the Crown. Sir Craig Robinson, tropical illustrator the His Majesty. This plant, native to southern end of the Caribbean coast of British Honduras, has no name, thus will be called, Craigus Robinsonium. Biggus Dickus. He has a wife, you know…
That plan, though went tits up when I noticed fire ants nipping at my ankles. Little bastards were all over my sock. I took my shoe and sock off and there was about ten of them all up in my feet’s business. I regrouped, soldiered on–I am British after all– and had a wander around the garden again, but kept finding reasons to put my notebook away. I liked the idea of spending my time drawing, but I didn’t actually wanna do it.
The owner of the cottages, Ian, and I had a chat about the garden. He studied plants and stuff, but he wasn’t a landscape gardener or designer or anything. He’s done a wonderful job of highlighting what’s out there in the rest of the jungle. It’s like, in Mexico City, we have people who get onto the subway with a portable CD player attached to a speaker in a backpack, and the first song on the bootleg compilation they are selling has a few seconds of each song, which they play to entice you into giving them 10 pesos for a CD-R. The garden at Hickatee Cottages is like that first song: a bit of everything from the local jungle.
I’m quite we all have typos at we make fairly regularly. I was never taught to type and considering how much time I spend at a computer, it’s ridiculous really that I only use a couple of fingers on each hand. I tend to make the same errors when typing on an iPad. The worst of them, because it affects a lot of words, is that for some reason, when hitting the T and H, I don’t seem to do it write, and they go un-typed. So “that” becomes “at,” and “the” becomes “e,” “with” becomes “WI” (autocorrected as capital letters, so I assume, with iPads being American, that’s the abbreviation for Wisconsin, not Women’s Institute.) Not sure why that happens, cos I never seem to have problems if I type a T or H in other situations. Only together.
Who invented all the fun collective nouns? I hope it was just someone being playful. Someone who thought, damn, the English language is malleable as hell, let’s stretch the shit out of it, and came up with murder of crows or a closer of cats. The Internet is obviously ace, but sometimes, it’s just a little bit too easy to close a discussion with tap tap tap: well, here’s the factual reason. I kinda miss the days when a question like “who invented all the fun collective nouns?” could provoke a few minutes of discussion.
I tried to relax. I lay on the couch in my room in my underwear reading a book. I put the book on my chest, and started up and out of the window. The odd hummingbird hummed by. Tiny little things, not much bigger than an adult thumb. I could feel the relaxing there. Just out of reach. You know like when you wanna sleep, and you start drifting off, and then something–a noise on the street, perhaps–snaps you awake again, and the drifting disappears from your brain and you feel properly awake again? Kinda like that.
As the sun fell, and the sky got darker, the jungle grows louder with every incremental darkening of the sky. Like someone has their hand on the hifi volume dial and is trying to move it a continually and slowly as possible up to ten. If, like me, you have a touch of tinnitus, the jungle sound is so helpful for sleeping. Instead of spending money developing arse implants, couldn’t doctors have spent their time sorting out tinnitus?
Before dinner, I had a chat with a couple from Manchester. Good people. In their early fifties. They’re hear on holiday celebrating their 25th anniversary. I did the mathematics: 25 years… Manchester… And yes, they met amongst all the Haçienda stuff. It was lovely to be sat in the Belizean jungle discussing acid house, the changes in English football culture, travel, and left wing British politics.
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.
It doesn’t take much for my brain to ruin things for me. A brief chat yesterday about rays, manta or otherwise, left me paranoid. Up at 5.45, shorts on, grab a towel, and out to beach. I took my specs off and went to the water for a swim. Without my specs, though, I’m relatively blind. After a wee swim, I settled down, crouching in the water so that all but my head was underwater. Is that-? That shape-? Is that shape? No, it’s not. Yes, it is! That’s a ray hiding in the sand! Don’t be stupid, Craig. Of course it’s not, you’re just being paranoid. But what if it is? You don’t have travel insurance. And aside from the cost, being stung would very literally be a pain.
I’ve already got loads of bug bites. I think they are sand fly bites. People here call them “no-see-ems” because, obvs, you don’t see them, just feel the aftermath of their lunching on your body. Despite lacquering myself with DEET at least a couple of times a day, the lower half of my legs are a galaxy of red bites. I can see the Plough! There’s Orion! I get paranoid, too, that all this DEET is gonna strip the skin away, then the muscle, then the bone will start to bubble and melt like cheese on top of a pizza. I’ll go to sleep feeling fine, and wake up, try to get out of bed and fall on my arse because all my legs have disappeared because of the DEET. I got some on my lip this morning – just touched my lip ever so briefly – and the horrible bitter chemical taste stuck around for a few minutes. Obviously, it is now eroding my tongue and throat.
Whilst I was swimming, a guy walked along the beach. He stopped and yelled, “you wanna buy a wood carving?” I realise you wanna sell stuff to gringos, dude, but there’s a time and a place. You can safely bet I don’t have my wallet with me when I’m doing breast stroke in the sea at six in the morning.
It’s really nice being awake early in Placencia. For one thing, it’s the coolest time of the day. There are fewer people around; the grackles and dogs are up and about, looking for food. There’s the pleasant sound of hotel employees raking the sand on the beach. And as you walk around, you are duty bound to engage in the Belizean hobby of saying hello to everyone. This is something I find fascinating. It’s obviously not a distinctly Belizean thing that people say hello, but I don’t go to many places where it does happen. Walks in the English countryside produce a lot of hellos and good mornings. And walking anywhere in Belize does, too. I like the different types. I tend to go for one of two things: a “good morning” before noon, and a “hi” after noon. Some men will do a proper hello, others will mutter, some will just raise their hand in a lazy wave, others will just make some vague noise that is the Belizean phrase for “fucking tourists…” Women, I have found, engage in this behaviour less. Whether it’s just that they don’t say good morning to male tourists, I don’t know. My fellow visitors mostly seem happy to do it. The older ones, anyway. Younger people don’t seem that arsed and this stuff.
An adorable child in school uniform asked, “do you know what time is it?” “Is it,” not “it is.” I told her, and as I continued my walk, I could heard her repeating the time quietly over and over.
Everywhere in Placencia smells of paint. The tourist season doesn’t start here for another week or so, so there are still lots of places doing renovations ready for it all to kick in again.
I had coffee at Above Grounds. It’s a building on stilts. And they sell coffee. Another coffee shop in Placencia is called Brewed Awakenings. Puns all around. Above Grounds is nice. They were playing the Stone Roses when I arrived. And the owner is a friendly Scot who was happy to chat for a while on the verandah looking out over the main street.
Here are some highlights of a conversation about a Harley Davidson that two Americans had at the coffee shop:
That your beast? (it was)
That’s a sexy bike (it was nice, sure, but not sure if I’d describe it as sexy)
I thought yours was black (no, it’s grey)
It’s like a gun smoke pearl (no, it’s grey)
I painting my Mustang like that (grey, then)
You can tell from the angle of the dangle (no idea what he was referring to)
I went to a laundry place. Just a hole in a wooden shack with a shutter opened. Nobody was inside but there was a buzzer. I pressed it. Nothing. I pressed it again and waited. I heard a toilet flush. Then a shifty-eyed guy came out, he didn’t say anything. I asked if I could get some washing done and if so, would it be ready today? He rubbed his face, looked everywhere but at me, and half-mumbled, “yeah.” I told him I’d be back with my washing and then went to a different place to get my laundry done.
Back at Barefoot Bar in the late morning. Ordered a beer. Was passed a beer. Took a sip. Water. That tastes like water. It Is water. (Budweiser joke goes here.) I tell the barmaid. She tastes it, shows it to other people like I’d found the elixir of life in their fridge.
Had a brief exchange with a guy. He was from Oregon. I asked where. Eugene. “Aah, the Emeralds!” I replied. He seemed incredibly unimpressed that a British person would know the name of a minor league baseball team in his home town, and just asked where I was from. I told him Lincoln. He shouted, “Yorkshire!” I corrected him. He shouted “Yorkshire!” again.
I sat at the bar and made a decision to not multi-task. If I was smoking, I not also be looking at Twitter or reading my book. I put the cigarette in the ashtray when I took a sip of beer. I put the beer back down, took a drag, then put the cigarette back in the ashtray while I wrote these words. It was difficult to do. I only managed doing it for ten minutes or so before the modern trained brain kicked in and I got back to doing several things at once.
The very friendly barmaid, Mel, asked what I was “doing on that thing” all the time. I told her I was looking at Twitter. I felt ashamed and ordered a shot of their homemade bitters.
Just like the night before, there was power cut around dusk. It was a perfect excuse to get away from the terrible bore I was sat next to (that is: a conservative Republican who wouldn’t stop yakking). Had a wander down to the end of the peninsula to Mojo Lounge. A lovely little restaurant on the first floor, overlooking the street. I wasn’t overly hungry, but had some wonderful jalapeño poppers. It was moderately busy, but one of the nice things was, that as a solo diner, I wasn’t just shoved off in the corner somewhere. Didn’t feel like I was taking up space at a table for four. While I was there, the staff brought small glasses of some cocktail to everyone for free. White, dark, and coconut rums with orange and mango.
By that time, the booze was catching up with me. I wandered back to the hotel, lay on the bed, and was asleep before 8pm.
My first non-travel day. I was clearly on holiday for the first two days, but with all the moving around, planes, buses and water taxis, I can’t say I was properly relaxed. There was a point at the beach bar, where I just sighed and could feel the travelling drift away.
I woke at 6am. Well, I woke at 2am first and considered that it was too early to get up, so went back to sleep. At 5am, I woke up and heard the rain on the trees and roofs (shouldn’t that be rooves?). At six, the rain had stopped. I put on last night’s tshirt and decided not to shower: there was a big ass Caribbean Sea just 20 feet or so from my room.
There were only a people on the beach. A gringo woman having a walk, a couple of local chaps jogging, another dude having a slow walk. He stopped to talk. Ordinarily, I’d've happily chatted, but I kept my answers short. It was 6am, dammit, nobody goes to the beach at that time for a chat. I was there to just let my eyes relax, watch the early morning sun behind the clouds, and empty my brain. I rolled a cigarette. The guy continued his walk. And I stood with my feet in the warm clear calm water. A shark! Oh my- oh, no, it’s a dolphin. Hola, Flipper! He went under the water then resurfaced a bit further along. He did that three or four times. He must’ve realised I put my camera away, cos that’s when he leapt out of the water, doing that dolphiny thing. I audibly “wow”-ed. I’d never seen that not-on-telly before.
I had a swim. One of the big regrets in my life is having let my interest in swimming drift away. I was alright at it when I was a kid (bronze medal 50 metres freestyle Lincoln Pentaqua swimming club, yo). As with the boy scouts, it somehow got away from me in my teens. I swam for a bit, then just crouched in the shallow water for a while. I find it difficult to relax in general, but there, in the water, without my spectacles, or a device that could link to the Internet, I felt relatively relaxed.
Coffee and breakfast (a relatively boring omelette), and I was ready for the day. And as luck would have it, it was a couple of minutes to eleven, so I went to the bar, had a few stouts, sat around and watched the local expats congregate. I get the feeling that retiring to Belize would be terrible for your liver.
Realising I’d spent most of my awake time in Placencia at same bar, I decided to check out another bar. Yoli’s is a thatched kinda palapa thing on stilts over the water on the southern end of the peninsular. A good twenty minute saunter away. Exercise! I walked past the football field one corner of the field had a backstop for playing baseball. When I was here in 2012, there were kids playing baseball. Now, home plate is the only patch of dirt that remains. (Later, I asked someone about it, and they said girls used to play softball but not anymore because, he said, “they got fat.”)
Sometimes you have a brief interaction with a stranger that reminds you that humans are, fundamentally, good. A brief interaction that makes you and the other party smile. I was walking down a dirt track towards Yoli’s and an older couple in a golf cart (a popular mode of transport here) pulled up alongside me and asked if they could give me a lift. I told them that, thanks, it’s not necessary, cos I’m just going to Yoli’s, a few yards away. I told the guy I liked his accent (Texas) and he said the same about mine and asked where in England I was from. “Lincoln.” I explained in vague geographical terms where it was and dropped the tedious “joke” I always tend to tell Americans: we leant our name to one of your presidents. He laughed and said, well, being American, I guess we just stole it. We all laughed, said goodbye and wished each other a good day.
At Yoli’s, there was just one customer and a barman. They were chatting. As I walked up the steps, the customer shouted, “Liverpool!” referring to my LFC shirt. He was a Londoner, a Chelsea fan. Worked in computers. Moved around all over the world. One of those people who was kinda vague about his work and method of supporting his lifestyle. Nice bloke, though.
A huge silver-fronted black shelf of cloud was covering the peninsula as I left Yoli’s. Time for food. I walked back along the Sidewalk, and felt a drop of rain. A full ten seconds later, I was drenched. It was like the heavens was water cannoning me. I did what I could to protect my iPod and wallet from turning to mush, covering them with my hand inside my pocket. I nipped into Barefoot Bar to escape the rain. Had a beer and a moment or two later, the power went off. And it stayed off in the village for over an hour. At least that meant the shitty light inoffensive beach-y reggae was off, too.
It got dark, and I was sat there in my sunglasses, hoping it’d stop raining soon so I could go and put on my regular specs. There are few minor niggles I hate more than wearing my sunglasses when it gets dark. A soaked German guy came in and sat beside me. He asked what beer is good. I told him the choices are pretty limited. It’s Belikin or Belikin stout unless you wanna fork out for imported Heineken. He was a tour operated based in Berlin. He’d spent the last month going around Central America checking out places to bring German tourists next year. Seems like the best job in the world, that. He chugged his beer down, said goodbye and was soon replaced by an American drinking rum and Fanta.
Hungry, I went to a Chinese restaurant called Dragonfly Moon. There are lots of Chinese people in Belize, and lots of Chinese restaurants. To be honest, the Chinese food I’ve had in Belize before has been pretty ropey. Big plates of sodium. Dragonfly Moon was great, though. I ordered a cheap boring dish (chicken fried rice) not really wanting to spend a lot of money on crappy food, but it was delicious. No need to smother it in hot sauce or soy sauce. Fresh with loads of tasty vegetables.
Back at the hotel, my neighbours were watching telly. Loud telly. As often seems to be the case, the telly in the next room in any hotel seems to be showing some sort of car chase. But if Belizean telly is anything like Mexican telly, there is always one of the Fast and Furious films on one of the channels at any given time. In Mexico, it always seems to be the one set in Rio de Janeiro. I’ve seen that so many times, just because I can’t be arsed to search for anything else to watch. Earlier at the bar, the rum and Fanta dude was joined by a couple of women. They were chatting away about various things, and Vin Diesel came up. Both of the women agreed: they preferred The Rock.
A good solid eight hours sleep, up at 5.15am to get the 6.15am bus. Shower, dressed, sweating virtually from the off. It’s good being a hot-blooded English human when I’m in cold countries, but as soon as I get to somewhere humid, it kills me and any pretence I have that I might look good. How can you look good when your shirt is sweaty from the moment you wake up?
The buses in Belize are great. If you are child-size. They are yer actual genuine Blue Bird buses. The American school buses that you know well if you are American, and know from films and telly if you are not American. At Corozal, there were about ten of us on the bus. On the way out of town, it stopped every few hundred yards to pick up more people. It was frustratingly slow, by normal life standards, but I am on holiday, so not too much of a worry. After leaving Corozal, the bus kept stopping, but less frequently. Where roads from villages met the main highway, there would be people waiting or getting off. As we got close to Orange Walk, one of Belize’s bigger towns, the bus was full of children going to school. At Orange Walk, a couple of Mennonite dudes got on. Long trousers, long shirts, long beards, tall wide-brimmed hats. One of them was drinking a Coke. It seemed odd to see that (says the ill-informed blogger).
I listened to Coldplay. Yes, I know. But ever since my travels in 2008, I always associate bus travel with listening to and enjoying their music. I do it now almost of out of habit. It’s comforting somehow.
Some of the people who got on the bus at 6.15 in Corozal were still on the bus as we entered Belize City, three hours later. And judging by their business attire, they must work there. A six hour round trip to work every day.
At the Belize City bus station, I got off the bus and onto the bus right next to it, to head further south. The bus was already fairly full, and I sat in an aisle seat. Ordinarily, I like window seats, cos, y’know, the view. But on these tiny school buses, an aisle seat wasn’t so bad. I could stretch one leg. The woman in front of me was reading a Kindle. Over her shoulder it was something that featured characters called Aubrey and Max. A beach house was mentioned too.
I listened to some of an audio book. Somewhere along the way, I lost the physical copy of In Patagonia by Bruce a couple of years ago before I’d had chance to read it. And because I’d already bought it, I didn’t feel guilty recently, when I torrented the audio book. I’m about half way through. I wanted to read/hear it because, well, I still dream of being a travel writer, and this is one of the books that’s always mentioned amongst the best of the genre. To be perfectly honest, so far, it doesn’t seem as great as I assumed it would be. I mean, it’s enjoyable for sure, but it’s not blowing me away.
The highway system in Belize is minimal. There’s one from the north, via Orange Walk, to Belize City. Another that goes west towards Guatemala, and another than goes from the capital, Belmopan (about halfway along the western highway) east and towards Dangriga, then south to Punta Gorda. I was on the bus that stopped at Belmopan. It emptied and filled up again with passengers and we kept on truckin’ towards Dangriga, where the landscape changed from flat to a bit hilly. Lovely jungle-y stuff going on on either side, which allowed me to ignore the guy who kept falling asleep on my shoulder.
An oldish guy across the aisle with a Milwaukee Brewers cap and a splendid moustache was chatting with anyone who would listen. At one stop, he stood up, went to the door, and chucked his empty Coke bottle onto the grass verge. So *that’s* why there’s so much trash in Belize…
A woman and her two sons sat down on the seat in front of me. The kids spent a lot of time staring at me. I crossed my eyes at one of them. He hid his head. Then looked up again. I crossed one eye (it’s a talent, y’know). He hid again and looked a bit scared. I did it again and smiled. Nope, even smiling doesn’t work. But it did stop him staring at me, so one-nil Craig.
I’d not had a piss since 6am. As we left Dangriga, at 12.15pm, I realised that I really should’ve used the five minutes that we were stopped there to have a wee. Still another hour and a half to go. I saw road signs that told me we were getting closer. It was good to know. We pulled into the new bus station at Independence (a bit further out of town than the old one; taxi drivers rejoice). I got in a cab and took the five dollar ride to the Hokey Pokey water taxi station. Joy: a good long piss.
Relieved, I went to buy the US$5 ticket for the water taxi to Placencia and as luck would have it, the TV in the cage above the ticket window was showing the second half of the Liverpool v Real Madrid game. As luck wouldn’t have it, Real were 3-0 up and looking like they could’ve utterly crushed Liverpool had they been bothered about doing so.
In the water taxi, I sat behind a couple of Dutch guys who were talking as loudly as people talk when they realise nobody understands what they are saying. They were both in their mid-forties, ie. my age, but they were dressed in that mid-forties way that is best described as Borisbeckerian. Spiked and gelled hair. Earrings. Ill-advised tribal tattoos under flamboyant shirts. Sporty shades.
Ten minutes of water taxiing (a joy, actually: across the lagoon, loads of birds and mangrove) and I take a slow sweaty stroll along the Sidewalk (referred to as a road, but actually, it’s just a concrete path raised an inch or two above the sand), to the hotel that I booked at the border the day before.
I checked in, had a shower, a couple of glugs of mezcal from my hip flask, then went out to the Barefoot Bar, a beach bar, a short walk along the beach from the hotel. I drank Belikin stout and chatted with the older couple at the next table. They were retired hospital workers from Wheatland, Wyoming who bought a house down here. They seemed genuinely happy to be living in Belize for seven months a year. They thought I was nuts for living in Mexico City. I googled Wheatland, Wyoming. It has a population of 3,627. It makes sense that Wheatland natives would think living in DF was nuts.
A band started up. Just a guy with a guitar, singing, and his mate playing a bongo and a cymbal. They started up with a cover of With or Without You. They said they had a spare bass and harmonica if anyone wanted to join their “fun” and “funky” “jam session.” Without needing to be asked twice, I stepped up to the plate, grabbed the bass guitar and sang a few Police songs. The locals clapped. The ovation lasted for several minutes. I went back to my beer. Men wanted to shake my hand, woman wanted to shake other bits of me.
Obviously, that’s not what happened. They played Eagles, Pretenders, Bob Marley covers. Enough was enough. I paid up and went back to the hotel. I could hear the jammers jamming from my room. Black Hole Sun. I watched a good twenty minutes of Children of Men on my iPad and fell asleep before 9pm. I kinda like how Belize does that to me. I wake up dead early and go to bed dead early too.
You always worry when you’ve got an early flight. You have to wake up earlier than normal, so you try to go to bed earlier than normal. That last bit never works. I was in bed at 9pm, but didn’t sleep til gone 11. And that worrying about missing a flight is never necessary. I’d set my alarm for 3am, but woke up naturally at 2.58am. I gave myself an hour before the taxi was due. Again, though, that was unnecessary. You only need an hour to get ready if you are unprepared and like to hit the snooze button. The snooze button is something I haven’t used since I was in my twenties. If I need to get up, I get up.
Buzzer / yes? / taxi / I’ll be right down / goodbye to girlfriend / in taxi / empty roads / pay / receipt / check in / last smoke / security / wait / plane.
The guy sat in front of me snored like a bastard. He sounded like he was trying to snort gravel through a straw.
An expensive taxi from Chetumal airport to the border and there I am, ready to do my favourite thing in the world: cross an international border on foot. At the Mexico side of the border, you have to pay 300 pesos to leave. Paid the money, gracias, then walked over the bridge above the river at separates Mexico and Belize.
The first time I made this journey, two years ago, I was naive, and got a 15 US dollar taxi. On subsequent trips, I’ve not been stupid. There are small buses, like VW van-size, that charge two or three Belizean dollars (US$1=BZ$2). It’s a ten minute walk from the bridge to immigration on the Belize side. A guy in a van pulled up alongside and told me it was three dollars to go to Corozal, my destination, about ten miles or so away. Sweet. I gave him the dollars, he drove me to immigration, and said I’ll wait for you on the other side.
Immigration is a stand alone building that, until last year, was just a few wooden desk and some relaxed dudes with ink pads and a stamp. Now, though, those desks have perspex screens and cameras and the officers seem more uptight. Not sure if it’s true, but I’ve heard that the US government paid for the security upgrades.
The officer looked at my passport, asked why I had been in Mexico for so long. I told her. She asked where I was going in Belize. I told her. She asked if I had hotel reservations. I told her that, I had reservations for a couple of places, but not for a couple of others. She asked to see the reservations. I told her that I did them online and don’t have print outs. She asked about Placencia, a place where I didn’t have a reservation. Well, it’s not tourist season, so I figured I’d just arrive and find somewhere (this is something I like to do; arriving in a place and not knowing where you will sleep in kinda exciting.) She pushed my passport back through the hole and said, I can’t let you in if you don’t have somewhere to stay. I asked what I was supposed to do, she gave me a look, and turned away. Okay then, thanks for your help, ma’am.
Very very fortunately, there was a tourism desk at the entrance. I told the guy what had happened, and that I’d previously stayed at Sea Spray and One World in Placencia, so maybe I could try one of those. He looked at his screen, went to the Sea Spray website and used his own private cell phone to call them. Yes, they have vacancies (obvs). I spoke to someone on the phone, who was nice and friendly, telling me the difference between the rooms (prices, A/C, telly, sea view, etc). This was all fine, but just gimme a room. I told her my credit card details, and gave the phone back to the tourism dude. I heard his end of the convo. He told her that, yes, I think we have a fax machine. Pause. Well, if you can do it soon, because this gentleman is waiting to get into the country. When he ended the call, he said that she said that she would fax confirmation in 15 minutes.
15 minutes is a long time when you are in limbo. I went outside for a smoke. It was humid. I was sweating. I went back inside and chatted with the tourism guy. He was called Bernard. He asked where I was in Mexico. When I told him, he looked at me like I was nuts to live somewhere like DF. We chatted about our lives, his ex-wife, my girlfriend, his job, my job. All in all, he was the perfect person to be stuck dealing with this situation. Laid back and friendly.
After 20 minutes, the fax came through. I shook Bernard’s hand, thanked him for being so helpful, and went back to the immigration desk. By this time, a different person was there. A man about my age. I told him that his colleague had insisted I have a hotel in Placencia. He didn’t even look at the fax. He asked how long I’d be in Belize, then stamped my passport and wished me a good stay. Obviously, the three dollar bus guy had gone by the time I left immigration.
In Corozal I stayed, again, at the Sea Breeze Hotel. It’s my third time there. It’s cheap, basic, but I like it. The owner is a Welsh former roadie. He’s got plenty of tales to tell, which, depending on how he feels about you, he seems willing to tell after a couple of beers. If this hotel was on the Gordon Ramsay show Hotel Hell, it’d be fun to see who would punch who first. The problem, though, with watching that show is it kinda makes you paranoid about every hotel.
After a quick shower, I borrowed one of the hotel bicycles and went for some breakfast. Went to Al’s Cafe, a place I’d not been before, but had seen recommended on a blog about Belize. Eleven o’clock, though, was too late for breakfast. I had lunch. Rice, beans, stewed chicken. Average.
While I was eating, this guy came and sat next to me. He kinda looked like a curly-haired version of Neymar. Handsome chap. He started his pitch. He carves wood. He showed me his hands. They looked like he carves wood. He told me he’s not a bad guy, not begging for money. He told me he didn’t ask me for money when he saw me ten minutes earlier, so “you know I’m not just a beggar.” Then he asked me for money. Just a couple of dollar so that he can get the bus to Belize City, so he can sell his carvings to the people getting off cruise ships. I didn’t give him money.
Next stop was Primos’, a bar near the water in the south of the town. When I say that, you probably think I went a decent way on the bicycle, but no, it’s a small town, and it was only a few minutes on the bike. Like a lot of Belizean buildings, it was wood. Open sides. Loads of flags hanging from the roof: Belize, USA, Mexico, Canada, Panama, Honduras. Pretty much all North and Central America represented. Tiny white ants ran across the bar. A Canadian woman sat near me played whack-a-mole with them. Killing ants with her thumb. Here, there, here, there. She had quite the task. I talked to her male companion. A bug eyed man (he had beautiful blue eyes, actually) with a nicotine stained moustache. We chatted about life. He told me they’d been in Belize for four months, yet he spoke with all the weariness of someone who had lived here for decades. He was from that part of Canada where they frack. He told me that a few shitty companies have ruined fracking’s reputation for everyone. If done responsibly, he said, it’s not dangerous. But, of course, this is a man who has retired in his fifties after fracking for twenty-odd years, so I’m inclined to feel he has an interest in fracking’s reputation.
As mentioned above, this was my third time in Corozal. The first time I was there, the best food I had was at a place in the centre of town called Purple Toucan. The next time I visited, Purple Toucan had closed and the delightful Mexican-Belizean couple who owned it had moved their restaurant to their own home, about a fifteen minute bike ride into the countryside away. It was renamed Tucan Mexicana. I took the bike in the midday sun and sweated my way out there. It was closed. And looked like it wasn’t functioning anymore. None of the seating and tables were outside the front. In their place, just the concrete ground and several loud barking dogs. Belize is always the same, but always different.
I returned to Primos’. Club sandwich and another Belikin. Fun fact: Belikin beer has had a redesign. And as with most redesigns, it’s not as nice as it was before. I was tired and a bit sleepy. I returned to the hotel, had a lie down, but my brain stopped me from having a nap. I watched the Barcelona-Ajax game for a bit, and then went out for supplies: water and custard cream biscuits.
I got stuck back into the Belikins at the hotel. The owner was sick. He had food poisoning. I sat alone in the bar, marking down the beers I drank. He came out occasionally, groaning about his dodgy tummy and arse. I flicked through the channels on the telly, and eventually found a channel showing game one of the World Series and spend the next couple of hours participating in the NotGraphs live chat.
When my iPad battery died, I retired to my room and watched about ten minutes of the remaining innings before falling asleep.
A few days ago, I did a drawing of a flower and lots of things in the earth. I’ve updated it. I have a feeling this drawing could grow and grow.