Things I Learned in Belize
It’s pouring down with the most intense tropical storm imaginable, so while I wait to find out if my snorkel trip is going to be cancelled or rescheduled, it’s a good time for a review. So here’s a recap of important things I’ve learned on this vacation:
1) Stop worrying about 2012.
Anyone who’s seen the trailer for the disaster movie is no doubt aware that the Mayan Long Count calendar ends in 2012. According to certain Hollywood producers, that means floods, planetary misalignment and a world of hurt for John Cusack. Well, my guide at the Mayan ruins of Lamanai is part Maya and he says he’s talked to contemporary Mayan shamen. They all concur that the end of the calendar just signifies the end of a religious cycle and the start of another. No calamities are predicted.
2) Speaking of the Maya, they were the fittest people in the world.
While the average Mayan must have been about 5 feet, the steps on their pyramids would be a long stretch even for an NBA player. Add that to all the canoeing the Mayans did up and down the river and these guys must have been solid muscle with lungs that never quit.
3) Time is relative.
Belize Time is measured in Belize Minutes, which can be as long or as short as you want them to be. This can be useful, say, in the case of happy hour.
4) The Jaguar is the King of the Jungle, at least in this Hemisphere.
Males can weigh up to 350 lbs and grow to six feet long, excluding the tail. Only the lion and tiger are larger. The Jaguar is also the world’s largest spotted cat. While most big cats kill by severing the vertibrae in the neck, the Jaguar goes right for a head-bite and cracks the skull of its prey. Ouch. It’s believed this technique developed when much of the Jaguar’s diet came from turtles. It still hasn’t been explained to me what this magnificent animal has to do with a British luxury car.
5) It doesn’t matter if it rains on your Belize vacation.
You are going to be wet even in the dry season. Wet with sweat that is, the minute you get 50 yards off the beach and back into steamy tropical weather. Since we’re here at the tail-end of the rainy season, we’ve had drenching downpours every day. They last about ten minutes, then the sun is so hot it completely dries you out. Until you are drenched with sweat again. You really start to look forward to the rain.
6) It is possible to create country-wide support for environmentalism.
Somehow the Belizeans managed to do it. And it’s not just government policy. Every tour-guide preaches respect for Belize’s environment, there’s hardly a speck of trash to be seen anywhere (unlike most of the Caribbean which has always featured large landfills just outside of tourist areas), and many environmental programs are community, rather than government, sponsored. One such program is the Community Baboon Sanctuary which started as a joint grassroots project between landowners and communities. Only after self-policing conservation policies were enacted and innovative programs such as the building of “baboon bridges” to let the animals safely cross roadways did the government step in and make it official. And you’ve got to love a country where the Audubon Society is one of the power brokers.
7) Snorkelers are at no disadvantage in Belize
Sure you can’t snorkel the Blue Hole, but I’m questioning how much fun it is to spend a whole dive getting down to a huge pressure zone only to turn right around and start the slow process of ascending and decompressing. Many of the best coral formations are in areas less than 30 feet deep. If you are snorkeling on the surface, you can see everything the divers can see. Probably better. So who needs to strap on all the equipment and fuss with regulators. Plus, you get to stay well above the nurse sharks.
8 ) Nurse Sharks, harmless? Depends how you define that term.
Everyone around here always says that the abundant nurse sharks are harmless. And there don’t seem to be any attacks or bites that I’ve heard about. Still, the nurse shark feeds on crustaceans and shellfish and has jaws strong enough to crush them. So while nurse sharks are said to be safe “unless provoked”, I’m not going to test at which stage a nurse shark might feel provoked.
9) Ambergris Caye claims to be La Isla Bonita of Madonna video fame.
The lyrics do mention a tropical island and San Pedro, which is the only town on the Caye. So Ambergris has as good a claim to it as anyplace. However, I’ve been all through the town (there are only about four streets) and haven’t once seen anyone in a red flamenco dress or any little mermaid boys cavorting off the beach.
10) Belize is the Best!
I’ve been to my share of Caribbean destinations: the Windward Islands of St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenada; the Leeward Islands of Anguilla, St. Barth’s, St. Martin & Antigua; as well as the Cayman Islands. I’d have to say Belize is my favorite Caribbean destination, edging out my former favorite, Grenada. Both Grenada and Belize have some of the same high scores on my Caribbeo Meter: lots of varied terrain, nice beaches, interesting culture, friendly people and lack of high-rise hotels and mass tourism. Both countries let you experience everything from the beach to rainforests to traditional cutlures. On our last trip to Belize, we stayed mostly in an eco-lodge up in the jungle highlands (the excellent Lodge at Chaa Creek) with a short few days jaunt down to the beaches. This time, we parked ourselves on the Caye and I made a day trip to the jungle. In a country the size of New Hampshire, seeing everything is pretty easy. Belize has also edged ahead of Grenada due to their commitment to eco-tourism and environmental stewardship. And the friendliness of Grenadans notwithstanding, I think the Belizeans have them beat in their constantly upbeat and friendly attitudes. Then there are all those Mayan ruins.
Go Belize. And go to Belize!