The big move is finally upon us!
We touched down in Belize City on August 14th with three large pieces of luggage, two carry-on bags and two daypacks between the two of us. We’ll be residing in the compact Central American nation of Belize (formerly British Honduras) for at least one year.
What will we be doing here, you ask? That depends on the day of the week and time of day I suppose, but if you’re talking productive sorts of things like job/etc. (as that is what Americans really mean when they ask that question, right?), we’ll be attached primarily to a small NGO medical clinic in the south called Hillside Health Care International. Lori will be serving as the third director of rehabilitation. I’ll be assisting here and there, but also have some projects coming down the pike with the usual suspects which will likely keep me about as busy as I’d want to be.
August 14th was the culmination of nearly four years of communication and preparation. Lori had been approached regarding the opportunity with Hillside over a year ago, but the timing wasn’t quite right, but Hillside ended up with a fantastic rehab director in the interim and Lori was able to come on the following year. Currently, Lori’s learning the ropes via a two-week overlap orientation period with the outgoing director, ultimately taking the reigns this Monday.
So, I’m realizing as I write this that much of this post is about Lori, but most of the photos are of me as Lori’s been taking most of the pics since we arrived. Not my preferred side of the camera to be on, but got to mix it up every once in a while I suppose.
A little bit about Belize to get you started. First off, Belize is NOT an island. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this from folks in the States. A bit reminiscent of when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Mozambique and everyone kept thinking I was living in Madagascar. Not quite the same situation, I know, but similar feeling. If you don’t believe me that Belize is not an island, please refer to the handy maps I’ve provided at the beginning of this post. Belize is a small country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north, Guatemala to the west and south, and the Caribbean to the east. It’s about the size of Vermont (as is El Salvador), but with a population of just under 400,000 (while El Salvador has a population of about 6 million in the same space!). Even Vermont exceeds Belize in population with 650,000.
While the bulk of Belize isn’t an island, it does HAVE islands, lots of islands called cayes (pronunced ‘keys,’ like the Florida variety). And in fact the majority of tourists who visit Belize never set foot on the mainland (if only to change flights or stretch there legs while calling at port). Most end up in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, while many others flock to numerous other Belizean islands for world class diving, snorkeling, fishing and beaches.
Needless to say, friends, family and acquaintances proved an endless source for all sorts of cheeky comments related in one way or another to making the “difficult” move to paradise (a la “sounds like a tough gig”), and indeed we’ve been inundated with folks wanting to come and visit for a period of time — which of course is FANTASTIC!
I must reiterate, as I have tried to for some time, that the Belize in which we’ll be residing is not the same “Belize” as most visitors experience. We’re living in a modest wood house about 4 miles from the southern town of Punta Gorda. This is about as far from San Pedro as one can get and still be in Belize (both geographically and culturally). And let me say after a little over a week of living here I can already tell that in many ways it is paradise. However, though we are a mere three miles from the sea, there are no white sands beaches here, and it gets pretty darn hot, and rains a lot too (most of the year). But life is slow and easy going. First World problems tend to bow to real issues. But Toledo (PG’s district) is simply like no place I’ve been, and most certainly the real deal. We knew most of this prior to arriving, but still have been pleasantly surprised in a number of ways, mostly with people and accessibility to certain goods (more to come on that later).
Make no mistake, we WANT visitors. We LOVE visitors! And Belize is a small enough country where you can have your beaches and visit us in the same trip with some finagling. But if you come down to Eldridgeville/PG/Toledo, come seeking the real Belize and a little adventure and I promise you, you won’t be disappointed. With that said, there is a magnificent white sands beach at Placencia about 1.5 hours to the north, and, from what I hear some pretty amazing islands a short boat ride away… Just sayin.
A few more things worth knowing about Belize. It was colonized by those crazy British for a while, but English is about the only immediately noticeable remnant of that whole affair (though people speak a variety of languages in addition to English here). Belize is a diverse little country, and Toledo district (where we are) is arguably the most diverse and an ethnographer’s dream. Mayan (Kek’chi), Kriols, Garifuna, [East/Asian] Indians, Chinese, white people (Hispanic and otherwise) and of course a mix of all of the above. You want Mayan culture, Toledo’s got that. You want Caribbean/Rastafarian, Toledo’s got that. You want Chinese food? They’ve got that too.
And the local food is great. How can you go wrong with lobster, shrimp, tasty fish, coconut, chilis and spice, curries and rum? You really can’t.
Oh, and the national beer is Belikin. It sells for $1.50-$2.00 USD for a 284ml (~10 fl. oz) and comes in regular (“beer”), stout, Lighthouse (lighter variety) and premium, which I haven’t tried yet. It’s pretty good (when cold, which it usually is), along the lines of Peruvian beers — not a standout beer, but not disappointing either. My favorite so far is the stout.
I’ve just realized I’ve posted all of these photos of Belize City here but keep blabbering on about Toledo and Punta Gorda. Ok, the deal with these is that we arrived on Wednesday (8/14) and spent a couple of days in Belize City, which, incidentally is not the capital but is Belize’s largest “city” weighing in at around 70,000 people! The plan was to spend a night in the City, then hightail it to Caye Caulker and get a taste for island life. As our luck would have it, Belize was experiencing a Tropical Storm, Depression or General Malaise –whatever you might call it– which didn’t make for ideal island hopping weather. So, we stayed an extra day in Belize City (against the suggestion of every guide book out there which unequivocally state that one day is more than enough for anyone), and made it out to Caulker the following Friday.
During our time in Belize City, we took in the national museum, Fort district, commercial district, and a few restaurants, bars and coffee shops. When we returned from Caye Caulker on Saturday, we caught the James Express bus from the main bus terminal (aka Novelo’s bus terminal) which arrived at 3:30pm and promptly departed as scheduled at 3:45. To our utter astonishment (given our experience that “Express” is a word frequently thrown around by bus companies throughout the world) we arrived at the PG bus terminal exactly on time, at 8:45pm sharp.
A nice little place in Belize City for sipping a beer and watching the fish boats come in with the day’s catch is Marlin’s on Haulover Creek near the swing bridge. If you stay for the sunset, remember your mosqey repellant!