For his first foray to a foreign country, I dragged my husband (aka “the Hillbilly”) to Placencia, Belize. Belize is known worldwide to divers as “heaven on earth” because it is home to the world’s second largest barrier reef and a series of cays (keez – small islands) along the coast. It’s also home to the “Blue Hole” which is legendary in diving circles.
It was an enlightening trip for both of us, but it became apparent to me that Google maps was not the new miracle of travel planning that I had thought it was. Yes, we landed at the airport in Belize City, and yes, we found our reserved rental car, and yes, we hit the correct road (there are NO highways in Belize, only roads) to get us to Placencia. But, after a designated turn onto our planned route, I realized why the road trip went deep into the heartland before heading back toward the coast – the coast road was a dirt road, and not a terribly reliable one, in that it kind of, “came and went.”
So okay, “The Hummingbird Highway” down the middle of the country takes a little longer, but at least it’s a “reliably paved road.” And, yes, the topes appear out of nowhere and force you to a virtual stop in order to pass these “bumps” in the road, and this slows any real progress to about 30 miles per hour, but it’s a reliably paved road. That is, until it’s not! About half-way, we came upon a construction area where they were in the process of paving the reliably paved road, and by the time we hit the construction area, it was dark. And, this section of the reliably paved road was dirt and gravel with road signs noticeable by their total absence. Because of this dearth of road signs, we stopped and asked directions of everyone we saw on the road. This entailed talking to three people – yep, that is the total number of vehicles we passed on a dirt road in unknown territory, in the dark, in the jungle, and after a half-hour, lost as a goose.
By the time we finally hit the pavement again, at the top end of the Placencia peninsula, I had threatened to kill Marv and throw his body behind one of the ubiquitous piles of gravel that had lined the “road” the entire trip. “I’ll never do any time,” I told him, “Animals will come eat your body before it begins to stink, so no one will ever find you!”
I was at my stress limit. When we finally got to the resort, I gulped down my free drink (some frou-frou thing with rum that went down like Kool-Aid), and had two more before we even went to the condo. This kind of marital interaction explains why the Hillbilly and I are still a couple after thirteen years – he’s totally unflappable, even in the face of his wife’s “Type A Personality” hysterics. I don’t know how he does it – sometimes, I wonder if he’s really conscious, even though when I check, his eyes are open – usually.
We spent five gorgeous days, practically by ourselves. There was a big influx of people for a “Valentine’s Dance” on Saturday evening, but other than that, we were only one of two guest rooms rented and after Thursday, we were the only ones until Saturday afternoon. Since we had only brought dress-down clothes, we passed on the Valentine soiree, but we could tell the next day that everybody had a great time ’cause they all got up real late, and looked real rough.
Placencia, the town!
Belizeans like to point out how there are two Belizean dollars to one US dollar. This actually means nothing. The price of anything that might even possibly be bought by a tourist is double or more what it costs in the US. And, this was during the off-season! There was virtually no one around except us!! The other thing that Belize uses as a draw for tourists is the fact that English is the “official” language of the country. And, it’s true most people speak English – it was British Honduras for decades and the language is about the only British legacy. Like southern Mexico, the culture has been heavily influenced by the Spanish conquerors, and the Mayan culture that was predominant for several centuries. When the British left, it was more or less a case of “good riddance” and their culture was tossed out the door after them.
The Return Trip to Belize City to catch a plane home!
After six glorious days with white sand beaches on the Caribbean Ocean, we departed Placencia for the drive back to Belize City. It was totally eye-opening how benign everything that had been so terrifying in the dark was in the light. It was, in fact, breathtakingly beautiful.
We got to Belize City with about three hours to spare, so we tooled around town and found a place to eat. Belize City is a large slum. I don’t know what it was like before Hurricane Hattie devastated it in 1961, but it’s big city of poor people now, with the concomitant trash, stray animals and misery. The capital was moved inland to Belmopan in 1970, so except for the international airport, Belize City does not have much to recommend it. These days, it’s just the gateway to the rest of the country – but, a gateway to a fabulous place to be.