For the third time in about as many years, we’re on vacation in Belize. We just keep coming back. I won’t say Belize is an undiscovered treasure. Jacques Cousteau blew that when he declared The Blue Hole and Belize’s barrier reef — the second largest in the world — one of the ten best diving spots in the world. But considering the overcrowded, commercial nature of most of the Caribbean, Belize is still an undiscovered paradise.It may be because Belize is not blessed with an abundance of spectacular sand beaches. Instead it has mangrove swamps and sea kelp beds that act as nurseries for the abundant life on the coral reefs.
That’s fine for us as we aren’t really beach people. Half a day of lying in the sand just about does it for us and then we’re bored. Andy, of course, would rather be diving. Having learned scuba diving in Scottish lochs where the only thrill was putting on a wet suit and breathing through a regulator, he finds any dive where he can actually see something and not risk hypothermia a major bonus. I prefer to stick to snorkeling since I’ve found, if you go to the right places, you can see everything the divers see without strapping on 40 lbs of gear. I also like to know I can see museums, archeological sites and take cultural excursions, after a day or two of snorkeling. Belize fits the bill even though it’s roughly the size of Massachusetts. On our last two trips, we traveled extensively — from the Maya Highlands at an Eco Camp to the elegant Victoria Inn on Ambergris Caye. We still haven’t seen it all.
So this trip, we’ll be stationed at Placencia. Our goal: to dive with the Whale Sharks who are just now in the midst of their seasonal migration just past Gladden Spit. Having discovered Garifuna music on my last trip, I’m looking forward to visiting some of the Garifuna settlements that are down this way. The Garinagu or Garifuna are a unique subculture — with their own rich language and musical tradition — formed when West African slaves escaped from a Jamaica-bound slave ship to the then unsettled island of St. Vincent and intermarried with the indigenous Caribs and Arawaks. At some point, the colonial masters of the area considered them a threat and force settled them to what was then considered the Back of Beyond, Belize, which was then British Honduras. Since the 1600s, they’ve thrived and maintained their culture although some of the largest populations are now in New York City, Miami and Los Angeles. In 2001 UNESCO proclaimed the language, dance and music of the Garifuna as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Belize. I hear the Garifuna are doing all they can to preserve their culture. And they are in the right place in Belize where large tracts of the country are designated wildlife preserves and the Audubon Society wields great political power. This is a country where much of the population seems committed to preserving what makes it unique.
But back to those Whale Sharks. They aren’t whales at all, but are “as big as”. And luckily for us, since Andy is mad to swim with them, they are gentle plankton feeders. We’re armed with an underwater still and video camera, so watch this space and hopefully you’ll see some great posts tomorrow.
That is, if I can get back into blogging. The last two weeks have seen simultaneous deadlines for final projects and final exams in all three of my classes. In fact, I took my last final (online) at midnight — four hours before we had to leave the house to catch an early flight. So none of
my usual pre-travel blogging. If you want to know more about my thoughts on Belize now, you’ll have to start here and here.
In fact, after two flights ending in a wild ride in a six seater, one pilot puddle jumper with Maya Airlines, I wasn’t good for much other than the complimentary rum drink when we arrived in Placencia.
I had to make like Eloise and sklathe myself across the bed. Luckily, our room had a very good bed for sklathing, which Eloise would probably tell you is a combination of collapse and faint and Sarah Bernhardt level dramatics. Very appropriate in Belize’s warm bathwater humidity.
That’s it. That’s the best I’ve got for now. Off to eat conch fritters.