Our last day in Central America is bittersweet. Bitter because we’re forced to spend it in Cancun (aside from partying twentysomethings, who comes here?!). Sweet because we have fallen in love with Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize.
After the surprising sophistication of southern Mexico and the indefatigable hospitality of Guatemala, we thought Belize would be a bit of a let down. We were delightfully mistaken. Belize is paradise! A funky, Creole-speaking paradise where dreadlocked ice cream vendors greet you with an “Aight sistah” each morning and where, even in the smallest of villages, young men sport their big ol’ NBA jerseys. Western Belize was a cultivated jungle; the past British presence is obvious in how tamed the ceiba and palm trees are. But that past of pirate logging (yup, Belize was colonized by British pirates) means it is now quite easy to traverse the jungle in a few hours. We did just that, chasing waterfalls and toucans the whole way.
But the highlights of Belize are its coastal towns. Everything you’ve heard about the Belizean Caribbean is true: the water is incredible translucent shades of aquamarine and teal and azure. It is crystal clear, lapping warmly against your feet on the beach, even when it’s pounding your boat as you head out to the reef. And oh, the reef. Despite Ross’s initial protests (“Are you sure there aren’t sharks in these waters?” and “My skin can’t handle a day in the ocean!”), we went snorkeling. Many times. And the rewards of reef life quickly won out over Ross’s practical concerns. In the span of a few days, we snorkeled with manatees, nurse sharks (who swim right up to you, even playing with you, if you’re lucky), all kinds of eels, electric colored fish, sting rays. The highlight, however, was the ten-foot ray (spotted, light in color, and round…can anyone name that species?) who glided past our boat. Luckily, I was one of the last snorkelers aboard. So while everyone else watched his ginormous shadow from above, I stared dumbfoundedly as this creature—twice my size—glided directly under me, making eye contact the whole way.
Caye Caulker, in the Northern Cayes, is a funky little mangrove island inhabited by laid-back locals, shy iguanas, backpackers, and attacking blue crabs. A great base for marine adventures. But our favorite town—in Belize, and in our whole trip—was Hopkins. In Southern Belize, Hopkins is a one-street town right on the Gulf of Honduras. Streets are lined with coconut palms and chickens, and the dirt road is more of a beach cruiser bike highway than an actual vehicle thoroughfare. In Hopkins, everybody knows who you are within 24 hours. It is home to the Garifuna, a people descended from African slaves and the Arawak Indians of St. Vincent island. They speak a language that is a mix of French, Arawak, Spanish, English, and Swahili. They play amazing drums, make delicious lobster, and host their guests graciously. We were lucky to spend many an evening just hanging with local Garifuna Hopkins residents, even dining at the home of Therese and Shirlette, who worked for our guesthouse. Needless to say, we plan on returning to Hopkins.
What more can be said? I love Mexico, Guatemala, Belize. But the real world calls, and so homeward bound I am.
While living in Mexico, I joked that speaking Spanish forced me to be far more Zen about life: Since I could only speak in the present tense, I was forced to just live in that present tense.
Like what you see? That's mostly Ross Freshwater. Check out my talented partner-in-life's photo gallery.