September 07, 2006
Charming, authentic Flores, enticing is its entrance from the bridge that connects its center to the surrounding strip, which lay sprawling in lush green hills. What a welcoming sight – and feel – after Belize City, for all of its cultural and colorful offerings, lacks the kind of soul and warmth found in nearly every nook of Guatemala.
Perhaps I’m just more comfortable on third world soil that smells and behaves like what it is rather than trying to be something its not. With it often comes a complicity and tenderness that the 1st world lacks and Belize, doesn’t really have much of either.
Sure the coastal villages of Placencia and Dangriga have a distinct personality and Creole drumming can be heard in either at certain times of the year. Off-season is more ghost-town like however than the Jersey shore in January.
And sure, I’ll revel in the memory of seeing manatee close to the shore of Coppola’s resort on my last day, the same morning I was thrown off balance by a five foot iguana, only moments after I swam over the most beautiful starfish I’ve ever seen.
I found kindred pals in bartenders Noel and Jacob, who laughed at my hesitation to hoist the bright orange starfish onto the handmade rock table which faced the sea. Using a rake, I reversed the motion to bring him back to his rightful home before the blazing sun dried him up and ultimately took away his life source.
The day before that, I finished two books cover-to-cover in a bright turquoise knit hammock, hung between two palm trees no more than four feet from the water’s edge at high tide. Freshly blended mango and papaya in a plastic cup sat between my legs and coconut flesh rested in the palm of my left hand, which I nursed while my right hand slowly turned the pages.
The pace and tone of off-season seaside Belize was what my body needed after days of town excursions, village markets and jungle hikes in the highlands.
Placencia’s big night out of the town was Sunday, when the entire village showed up at a local beach bar to dance or sway, depending on how much tequila you drank, to a Carribbean-style band that played a mix of Reggae-style hits and 1970s rock.
Two blocks away, the Seahorse Internet café, which is run by two young Belizian boys on the verge of becoming men, played soul and hip hop, which echoed into the night. They just integrated Vonage and were offering 15 minute calls to the U.S. for $2.50 and an hour online for $4.00.
Of the eight PCs available, the only one which grinded to a half after ever refresh was the one which still housed Internet Explorer as its default, whereas the twice as efficient machines sailed using Firefox.
I had to laugh as he proudly informed me that he loaded every system with Norton and Spybot, more than some people I know have at home. All of their computer skills were self-taught, as was their entrepreneurial spirit.
The food was marginal and the bike rentals at $12 a day consisted of uncomfortable bounding over speed bumps on a heavy fuel-fumed dirt road. Since we were on the far edge of the strip, the only direction was north, north or north.
I rented one a few times during my stay, my favorite being a girly pink bike with a bell that didn’t work, a large wire basket in the front and foot breaks, something I haven’t experienced since Africa many moons ago, and before that, when I was ten in upstate New York.
It was thundering hot during every ride, so in addition to factor thirty, I wore a colonial looking straw hat with a fashionable black ribbon, made and purchased in Sydney Australia.
The bike alone made me feel like an Colonial somehow and Belize has no shortage of British colonial remnants, now mixed with American influenced restaurants, stores, even banks. The latter has dramatically contributed to the country’s soaring prices.
While I tend to stay clear of resort culture, particularly in the third world, discovering Coppola’s place was a godsend, for with its discovery came Noel, the starfish, and a sea green pool shaped like a pond, which devoured my body daily. Not to mention the fabulous Chardonnay on a candlelit veranda, nothing between you and the ocean except for a warm breeze and perhaps that five foot iguana.
His decorative style for this property (one of three in this region), was mostly Indonesian. Having spent time there, I recognized the Balinese tapestries and wall hangings, the sculpture and the intricate details of the woodwork.
The bathroom was my favorite public space, with fresh daily flower petals scattered in each stall and a sink where water would spout from hand-carved dog’s tongues on both sides.
I divided my last couple of days between conversations with Noel, mango shakes, green pool swims and lazy hammock reading on the porch of our rented pink and white wooden beach house, a 25 minute walk along the sea’s edge to the south.
The village lacked high season energy and the few shops and hawkers around, occasionally made a feeble attempt to sell us ‘something,’ – anything, all of which was made in Guatemala, not Belize.
I was hard pressed to find anything hand crafted in Belize although I’m certain if we had spent more time in Belize City or a rural village to the east, we would have come across bowls, baskets and handmade drums, perhaps made by some of the students at Dangriga’s Drumming School.
Belizian Terry, who I warmed to immediately, spoke of dancing and drums, and how prevalent it was along the coast, yet we didn’t encounter much of it. Low season perhaps? Female energy prevailed at Placencia’s Sunday night outing, and I relished in watching four girls ranging between 18 and 23, dance like men -- pretending to be men, imitating men and exemplifying a men's sexual movements.
To the rhythm of the music, the girls quite realistically ‘humped each other,’ and this would continue at high energy levels through an hour of five to six minute songs. Never showing sign of fatigue, it was amazing how well they were able to mock men in such a feminine and innocent way, as if they were doing nothing but building castles in a sandbox nearby. Their joy was addictive and electrifying and their ability to entertain and engage was remarkable.
I reflected on all of my Belize experiences as I strolled through Flores, the closest main town to Guatemala’s Tikal jungle. My traveling companion and I both agreed that Flores aired an eclectic mix of Latin America and the Mediterranean architecture, both in shops and restaurant fronts. Some faced Lake Peten Itza, where fish was abundant on nearly every menu, as were Guatemalan ‘comida tipicas’ (typical dishes), and salads con tomate y hongo omelets. Its coffee was worth the dose of caffeine, even if you avoid it in your regular life.
The leisurely stroll reminded both of us that the end to our journey was not only evident, but close, and left us with that looming feeling when you know a fabulous thing is about to end. The promise of 1st world chaos and tension on every street corner within a matter of days.
“I’m over here,” one voice says while the other fights the voice and says, “I’ll keep this life, thanks…..” While the pace picked up slightly in the last couple of days, it was still Guatemala, so reserving energy was more evident than expending it.
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