"Abroad is the place where we stay up late, follow impulse & find ourselves as wide open as we are in love."
-- Pico Iyer
The taxi halted a block away from el puerto & I emerged into the blinding, midday light. A porter emerged from a shaded porch to transport our two roller bags the short distance. He was disturbingly thin and dark-skinned, with bulging eyes, yellow teeth & skinny dreadlocks. He looked stereotypically Caribbean/Garifuna (a group of Belizean people).
The short, Rastafarian porter removed my luggage from the taxi’s trunk, but I politely declined his help. He ignored my request while I paid the driver. When he picked up my suitcase again, I insisted he not help… but the porter was persistent too! I knew this cat-and-mouse game having visited peddling countries before. To the inexperienced traveler this sect of workers seems so friendly, helpful & nearby, until one of two scenarios ensued. Either 1) you unknowingly were sucked in by their hospitality but wasted too much of their time. Upon the peddler’s first realization that you are oblivious, he/she cuts all bullshit & gets right to the point (as it was bluntly phrased to my boyfriend in Belize, “Do you smoke pot-marijuana?”). Or 2) you vociferously refuse their aid, leave the area, and – because they are so persistent – usually end up ignoring them. Basically, you are forced to be the rude tourist.
Through the port’s gates laid the sea.
Let the record state I have taken a ferry to the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, the remote island of Elba & Kelley’s Island in Lake Erie, and never have seen a “ferry” like this. Ready to take on the expansive Caribbean Sea was a minuscule speedboat that accommodated 20 pieces of luggage & the same number of people. Though the day was hot and sunny, I silently prayed it would remain this way for the duration of my boat ride.
Passengers crammed onto el barco a.k.a. the boat. Those seated in the stern were subjected to the sun’s brutal rays. In an effort to protect my pale, wintry skin I tried to sit under the hard top at the bow. Though sheltered from the sun’s rays, the cover acted like an oven. Within a minute I felt like I was suffocating. No air circulated & I was squished in between other warm bodies.
Finally, the speedboat pulled away from el puerto & I could breathe again. The air was salty; the waves bumpy. I watched Belize City’s buildings shrink and tiny islands sprouted everywhere. How the driver knew one block of sand from another or navigated this route at night seemed baffling. About an hour later I succumbed to success and relief: I made it to my final destination of Caye Caulker, a 8 x 1.5 kilometers (5 x 1 mile) island northeast of the capital.
El chico drove us to the office to check in, then to my abode: Hummingbird Cabin. When the golf cart stopped outside la casita a.k.a. the little house, our chauffeur stated "five dollars." Ugh. When I made the reservation with Caye Caulker Rentals I specifically recalled declining a taxi service. As much as I wanted to be a cheapskate & argue the deceit, admittedly, I was exhausted & the property was a significant distance from the port/office so I coughed up the money. Just like in Puerto Rico, I was getting nickle-and-dimed to death on Day 1!
Hummingbird Cabin was so stuffy inside it felt like a sauna. I did not open the windows nor door in an effort to keep the bugs out -- particularly the Malaria-spreading mozzies. The kitchen was equipped with Culligan-sized bottled water & a ceiling fan that only circulated the heat. There was one saving grace: the bedroom had a window air-conditioning unit!
With the A.C. on "Max", I feared if I laid on the bed for a single second, I would immediately fall asleep. I stepped outside, barefoot. In the shade, I took in the jungle view and unwound. Hummingbird Cabin overlooked a sandy lot dotted with palm plants on display like a peacock's tail. The same held true for my boyfriend as I found him already adjusting to "go slow", island life: shirt off, snoozing on the deck's hammock.
I prepared to drag myself out of the house in search of cena a.k.a. dinner & wiped my oily face off with a paper towel. My boyfriend showered & within minutes I heard "ahhhh shit." Remember my past entry about precautions in Belize? Remember how I trained to keep even a droplet of water away from my orifices? We were both flogged & the shower was so rejuvenating that my boyfriend habitually drenched his face -- mouth included -- with tainted island water. About ten minutes later, I brushed my teeth and accidentally rinsed my toothbrush with tap water. Ten minutes in the cabin & we both -- potentially -- could have Typhoid.
On foot, we wandered the sandy streets (no asphalt or bitumen here) toward the coast where there was a steady, refreshing breeze. I strolled past anchored boats & heard only lapping waves, gusts of wind & rustling palm leaves. This was intoxicating & nothing like February in Ohio. My boyfriend couldn't resist Happy Hour from the first, deserted hut in sight. For $2.50 BZD a.k.a. $1.25 USD he purchased two rum + Cokes, but there was one problem. Each cocktail bathed in ice cubes -- another item to avoid to prevent travel sickness. It was hot, we were delirious from traveling -- literally -- all day, and had already exposed ourselves to whatever bacteria was in Caye Caulker's water "Fuck it" he proclaimed as he chugged half of the drink (it turned out to be "1 Barrel": a delicious, Gold rum).
One, sprawling village comprised the entirety of Caye Caulker and the main road was alive at this cooler, evening hour. Chickens dodged legs and the occasional golf cart, people and stray dogs socialized, the beachside tables displayed their souvenirs, and colorful light from the tiendas a.k.a. stores permeated the streets. At a small restaurant, I sat down at a picnic table & looked over the menu. It all sounded delicious. If my boyfriend was going to contract Hepatitis A then I planned on being miserable with him & ordered two frozen pina coladas for the insane price of $6 BZD/$3 USD. More importantly, I was on vacation! While one does not need to lose all precaution, I was willing to take this risk in order to relax. Plus, Caye Caulker hardly looked menacing. I saw tons of people drinking on patios. They couldn't all be wrong, could they?
Remember my past entry about precautions in Belize? Remember how I trained to keep even a droplet of water away from my orifices? Double drinks in hand, here was our train of thought: we've both had Caye Caulker's supposedly infectious water #1 in our mouths; #2 on our bodies; #3 in our holes; #4 now inside our intestines. "Go slow"? We were sprinting down this road to hell & by God we were going out with a bang & fireworks! After I ordered salad (unrinsed vegetables) & fruit (raw produce grown with local water) I felt like I had just stuck my tongue out & taunted "nana nana boo boo" to the devil himself.