Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Sunday, June 19, 2011
When I was 22 I was in college in San Francisco and working as a waitress in a Mexican restaurant. Of course in the moment I am never aware of this, but I think I was content. Life was manageable and with the structure of university and it seemed anything was possible as long as I applied myself. With lofty goals in mind I created a laundry list of them to accomplish my age 30. 8 years seemed forever away.
Well, it wasn't and that day has arrived (almost). With just 5 short weeks until saying goodbye to my twenties I am able to put another notch in my lipstick case. There were several bullet points on this list that fell by the wayside, but my travel plans did not. As of last week, I traveled to 20 countries in my twenties. Perhaps for some of you more Euro-inspired folks this seems easy breezy, but for someone who didn't leave the country until 24 and works three jobs regularly, this feels like success.
This morning I landed in Belize City and as soon as my feet hit the tarmac, I accomplished yet another goal. With 30 just over a month away, visiting my 20th country in my twenties can be checked off of the proverbial to do list. I find, sitting here in my beach side cabana this trip feels extraordinarily different than those before it and that is largely due to the fact that on this, my seemingly most important country to date, I am not solo. I invited my mother and my big sister to accompany me on this trip and immediately thereafter questioned my sanity. This speaks much more to the drastic changes that take place when traveling in a group, and much less to the company I am keeping.
One of my favorite things about traveling is the adventure of meeting new people and, when you bring sand to the beach, things are bound to be altered. This is not to say it stopped me from chatting up our Captain Jack inspired gold-toothed cab driver George, but with mom and sis along for the ride, my innate flirtation is kept at bay.
With English as the official language of the country of Belize, a little of the foreign romance is diminished, but it made the conversation much more free flowing.
George brought us to a puddle jumper plane seemingly propelled by wind up power, as he insisted the flight was comparable in price to the hour boat ride to which we only later found out was a complete and total lie. My guess is that George had some major stake in the airport and therefore directs all of his unsuspecting passengers there. Oh well, as the trip was short and a new experience for me, a novelty that is always welcomed.
Once safe on the sandy ground of Caye Caulker, I was immediately not only reminded of Costa Rica and a small Caribbean town I fell instantly in love with just over a year or so ago, but I was at ease. Saying this town was chill is an understatement. Snorkeling the reef and smoking reefer seem to be the two major past times here and, since this was a family affair, snorkeling the reef it was. Some local burnouts and a smattering of Canadian travelers make up the population here and, with only 4 miles of island to populate you are bound to cross paths with one of these inhabitants multiple times a day.
Once settled in our cabana we went to grab some lunch which left my taste buds longing for more but satiated another sense, piping excellent 90s hits through the outdoor eatery. Candlebox and Salt N Pepa; does it get any better? One of the pages on the menu offered snorkeling trips so, once done with our glucose and nostalgia fix we moved on to meet Salvador, our Belizean guide by way of El Salvador for our 3 hour tour. With my sister's lack of aquatic acumen Salvador made use to offer her extra assistance as my mother sported floaties and bobbed in the sea like a buoy, I got to check out the 2nd largest coral reef in the world, pet a sting rays and catch some vitamin d rays. The boat ride was the perfect way to start an easy breezy trip to the Caribbean coast.
After deboarding the speed boat we meandered back to our beach front property and got spruced up for dinner. For me, this means braiding my dirty hair and putting on a sand-less dress. For my sister this mean lip gloss and heels. She will never cease to amuse me. We walked the main strip and chose a restaurant based on the salesmanship of the men out front in addition to the options for dinner being displayed out front on the grill. It was here that I sampled Belikin, the national beer, which I found to be bitter and strong, but the food was delicious and offered me just enough sustenance to allowed a drunken fisherman to sweat out some beer on me and banter with a stoner ex pat. An ice cream cone filled with empty calories topped off the day and it was early to bed in hopes of early to rise.
There are few better wayts to start off a day than with a jog in a foreign country. I have long cherished these morning traditions of waking a town wake up to the soundtrack of my choosing. The sultry weather always makes me feel like I am getting a better workout than I actually am and with my taborexia in relapse, the imix of sweat and sunshine was welcomed. An Elvis inspired breakfast of peanut butter and banana toast was had just prior to heading back to the water taxi to the neighboring island of San Pedro. Almost upon arrival my sister was chatted up by a local "artist" by the name of Blackenoh and was convinced to buy his CD after listening to the first track with a pair of headphones attached to his nokia call phone. He and his posse made some racial statement about having black in me and when I fired back with some witty retort my mother guffawed, acting as if she has not seen me be inappropriate throughout my entire existence. If i didn't make lewd comments, I just wouldn't be me.
Not long after our musical intermission, we crossed paths with Russell, a dark skinned, blindingly white toothed man who wore mustard colored shorts that complemented his complexion so well, I couldn't help but sign up for the private boat tour. My mother, square in nature, was a bit hesitant to hand over money to a man without a uniform or letterhead, but she acquiesced and we spent the day, just the 4 of us, swimming and fishing and drinking Lighthouse beers, the far superior sister beer to Belekin. Can I also made note here that my superior fishing skills put the native to shame and I even baited my own hook! I made plans to meet up with white-toothed Russell later to go salsa dancing, but opted to instead head back to Caulker with my familial travel mates.
The meal from the previous evening had been fantastic, but with my mix it up attitude we chose to try something new in the form of Cafe Femi. Femi was well equipped with swings at the bar in lieu of being equipped with ingredients for meals and drinks offered on the menu or staff with time devices, signaling them to their increasingly impatient patrons. Nearly 90 minutes after being seated we were served sub par Mc'y D cast offs and although the managers smile was endearing, we made our exit, meals untouched. Back in our room, I am eagerly awaiting a trip to the jungle tomorrow for which I must rise with the sun.
Wish me luck.
As I dangle my feet over the Caribbean Sea waiting for the water taxi back to Belize City, I am, as always, sad to leave. Yesterday was an inland adventure as we were at a neighboring dock by 7am to head to Belize City and embark upon our adventure to the jungle and the ancient ruins, Lamanai. Victorino Jr. was our amiable guide for the first leg. He brought along his trusty sidekick, Ruben, who was a welcomed addition based much more on the fact that he had telenovela good looks and much less for his gift of gab. Perhaps because of the use of English here, I can safely say that sarcasm i living strong in this Central American country. The hour long car ride offered me the option to polish my Spanish nonetheless, as it seems that is still spoken in many homes and amongst family members. The drivers had been told that one of their passengers for the day would be wearing big earrings and speaking Spanish. I certainly didn't disappoint, at least in one of the categories.
The car ride brought us to yet another boat. Once deposited at the dock, Javier, and his son Javier Junior, acted as our guide down the river to see monkeys, and crocodiles and bats. My maternal instincts were on high alert, as I paid much more attention to the 5 year old on board than most anything else. After an hour on the boat I was ready to be on solid ground again, and it we were served the traditional Belizean meal of beans, rice, chicken and plantains cooked by the Javier's mother. With beans and rice coursing through my white girl veins, I have to admit, that these paled in comparison to their Dominican counterpart. After a brief rainstorm we made our way up the oldest/highest Mayan temple and traversed 2 more before getting back on the boat, to the car, to the boat. It was like 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles for Latinos.' While en route back to Belize City Victorino jested, asking if I wanted to drive his 12 passenger van down a rural Belizean highway, and how was I to resist? The adventure of driving stick in a foreign country was not only an adventure on which I had never before embarked upon, it was also one I absolutely loved! My manual transmission skills had stood the test of time, even if I did drive like an abuela.
With only hours left in this tropical paradise I am sitting by the sea and breathing in the thick, fragrant air before it is back to New York city and back to reality. Now, accomplished in visiting my 20 countries in my 20s, I feel great. I feel like I made a choice to change my life and have changed who I am in return. I am, however, now more than ever I am determined to set a new travel goal for the thirties. Suggestions are welcomed...