The Journal  

15 December 2005

Belize City

Author: Jeremiah

Photographer: Holly


Belize City , Belize , Belize

December 3-5

“Good morning, sir,” the Belizean customs agent greeted me. His salutation came in English. We left our Spanish behind as we left Mexico , the tiny Central American country being unique in that English is its primary language, a fact it owes to its heritage as a former British colony. After nearly a month in Mexico , we were struck by our native language everywhere as we entered Belize . As we crossed the border, we were greeted by Texaco and Century 21 Realty signs, speed limits posted in miles per hour and red octagonal signs that said “Stop” instead of “Alto.”

You can pass through a nation with a population of less than a quarter of a million and a land mass smaller than the state of Massachusetts quickly. Two hours after leaving Mexico , we were half way through the country and at our hotel in Belize City .

  When we arrived in Belize City we pulled up beside Ma Ma Chan's Guest House to stay. A woman and her children came out to see the bike and Jeremiah let the girls try on his helmet as we unpacked.

Belize City on a Saturday night turned out to be the most vibrant place we had visited so far, with streets packed with a writhing, vibrant Afro-Caribbean culture. Gas is expensive in Belize at nearly five U.S. dollars per gallon (we also left the metric system at the border), but everything else is cheap. You can get two plates of excellent rice, beans and chicken tamales, along with a Coke, for less than the price of a gallon of gas. The locals are friendly, outgoing and helpful, many offering a “Welcome to Belize ,” as we walked down the street.

  The Belize Bank. Not much to it, just thought it looked nice lit up for Christmas.

Early Sunday morning we wandered around downtown Belize City , searching in vain for an open restaurant where we could have breakfast. I approached a group of men standing on a street corner and asked for a recommendation. “I know where there's a place that's open,” one man volunteered. “I'll show you. No money.” We followed him down a side street as he introduced himself as Harry Longfellow. The restaurant Harry took us to was closed. He banged on the door until someone appeared, it who told him the place didn't open until eight. “How about a cup of coffee,” Harry requested. “We're closed,” came the reply as the door shut.

  Our self-proclaimed guide Harry Longfellow (left) tries to organize a boat ride for us with some men who owned a private boat to Caye Caulker. Most trips didn't leave until 8 a.m.

Over the next half an hour Harry proceeded to give us a walking tour of downtown Belize City . The 52-year-old, American-educated fisherman showed us the oldest buildings and gave us a history of the town. We stopped at several other restaurants, all closed. The streets were empty, except for the occasional bicyclist, who all seemed to know Harry, and the sounds of hymns being sung in the churches. We ended up parting with Harry after we bought him and ourselves a cup of coffee from a street vendor at the marine terminal, where we bought tickets for a boat ride to Caye Caulker.

  The boat to Caye Caulker was filled with a mix of locals and tourists. This woman and her child ate a breakfast of biscuits before dozing off for the remainder of the ride.

  This woman and her son were well-tanned locals riding with the father who helped the boat captain.

The coast of Belize is lined by the second largest barrier reef in the world. Small islands, or cayes, also line the coast, most a few hundred yards from the reef. The water is shallow, and perfect for snorkeling, which was the purpose of our Sunday morning trip. We took the hour's ride to Caye Caulker and then snorkeled along the reef and on the edge of a deepening channel. At one point our boat operator threw out bait, attracting a crowd of sting rays and nurse sharks. My foot brushed against the leathery, sandpaper surface of a ray as I swam.

  We purchased a cheap underwater camera to document our snorkeling trip at Caye Caulker. The depth of the water ranged anywhere from 5 to 15 feet along the reef.

  Our boat operator, José, also served as an underwater guide. He identified types of coral, fish and crustaceans like this huge hermit crab to the seven of us snorkelers on the trip.

  The reef had many different types of coral and a multitude of brilliantly colored fish. The camera had a four feet minimum shooting distance so close-ups were impossible to take.

  Jeremiah took the camera to close-in on a nurse shark that was scouting the boat for scraps of bait that José threw out to attract them.

  This girl ducks a sand ball that was thrown at her. After snorkeling we spent the rest of the afternoon lounging around Caye Caulker, which is what the rest of the islanders were doing on a Sunday.

  Along the boat docks kids played in the shallow water. One boy weaved his Styrofoam boats quietly around the pilings.

  These men grin as I take a picture of them carving up freshly caught lobster at the docks.

  A pelican breezes past us at the docks.

  The "Jeremiah" was tied to the dock a short distance from Jeremiah who was beached in the shade at Caye Caulker.

That evening, we returned to Belize City to find the downtown area still closed up. We were staying at a place called Ma Ma Chan's Guest House and when we asked the proprietor where to find an open place to eat, she offered to fix us chow mein. In twenty minutes we were eating heaping plates of noodles along with Taiwanese tea.

  Ma Ma Chan's home cookin'.

All photographs © Holly Marcus / Page design by Robin Marcus