The last time I was in Belize, in 1991, I sat in a kayak as the rasta man in the power boat towing me back to land leaned over a fuel can with a long ash dangling at the end of his fat spliff.
Its a long story. Suffice it to say that my return visit this past week, the “Epic Belize” trip hosted by Island Expeditions, was much more fun.
My trip mates (5 adventuresome travelers from California and Canada) and I spent the first night at the Bonefish Hotel in Dangriga, a funky beach town and jumping off point for trips to several off shore islands (known as “cays”) just a 15 minute flight from Belize City. After checking into the Bonefish, I took a short walk along the beach and stumbled upon the Tiana Garifuna, a restaurant, bar and guest house where a DJ was setting up for a party that evening, blasting out snatches of reggae and Garifuna music, a derivative of the West African music brought to Belize by shipwrecked slaves at the end of the 18th Century. It looked like a promising place to stop for a beer and a snack.
The frosty beer came right away, the snack took longer. What I thought would be a bag of potato chips turned out to be fresh, homemade plantain chips. The owner, a woman in her 40s, then came over to my table and asked me if I wanted to dance. I — an overweight, aging white boy too self-conscious to dance in front of the several people at the bar with what I presumed, pardon the stereotype, was natural rythym — demurred, but promised her a dance when I came back later that evening for dinner.
The next morning we left on a very wet boat ride to Glover’s Reef a hour or so offshore for the first third of our weeklong trip. The set up on the island looked promising — big comfy tents with beds on the beach, a bar and restaurant just a few seconds walk away, lots of palm trees swaying in the stiff breeze (more on that shortly), and a spanking clean compost toilet within a minute walk (or less, depending on urgency and speed) away.
The weather wasn’t great. It was cloudy and windy, but I sort of appreciated the break from the unrelenting sunshine of Venice Beach where I live. The wind-whipped palms added an element of drama to the picture of paradise.
We were able to get out in the afternoon for an hour or so of drift snorkeling beyond the reef, though the clouds above and the murk below, stirred up by the winds and waves, did not make for great snorkeling. But the sensation of drifting in slow flight above the world on the reef below more than made up for the muted color of the fish and coral. The winds roared that night, so the next morning was taken up with “coconut school,” a two hour presentation by Budge, one of the guides on the island, on everything you ever wanted to know and much, much more about, what else, coconuts. Now that might not sound promising, but if Lenny Bruce was a Rastafarian Jimmy Buffet, that would approximate Budge’s comic style. His presentation was informative, funny and even contained nuggets of wisdom — e.g., “you gotta know which nuts to pick,” sage advise that is just as relevant to picking friends as it is to picking coconuts. I’m not sure that was what Budge had in mind, but it was as good advice as I’ve heard in recent years.
In the afternoon I took a walk around the island and had a beer at the over-the-water bar in the adjoining resort with another guest and learned almost as much about “applied biology” as I did about coconuts. More beers with another guest and a lively conversation about politics and religion — we agreed on almost everything so the conversation worked out much better than one might expect — rounded out the rest of the afternoon.
After dinner, Budge and the other guides and staff entertained us with Garifuna music, featuring lots of drumming and dancing. One of the dances involved pretty much all of the members of the audience, about 30 people, taking turns looking as foolish as you might expect. I took my turn, trying to turn my white boy shuffle into something more energetic. I figure I didn’t look sillier than most everybody else, so I actually enjoyed it. I was even looking forward to taking another turn when the dance ended.
The weather turned glorious the next day so we took the kayaks out in the lagoon to Jesus Island, a sandbar just below the surface of the water. Walking on the sandbar looks like walking on water, ergo the name. I adapted my white boy shuffle to the circumstances (to avoid painfully stepping on sting rays buried in the sand), demonstrating that Jesus wasn’t the only Jew that could walk on water.
We then put up sails on the kayak and sailed back to the beach, the highlight of the trip to this point. After lunch, as we waited for the boat to take us back to Dangriga for the second stage of our “Epic” trip, a large Spotted Eagle Ray swam by the dock where we waited to wish us bon voyage — or more likely, hoping we would toss him (her?) something to eat.
From there, it was on to Bocawina Rainforest Resort for a couple of days of rappelling, zip lining and fine dining…honest. More on that soon.