Tag Archives: Belize

Street Scenes

Uh, guys, you’re missing the Eiffel Tower. No, really, you’re practically in its shadow.

Across Paternoster Square from St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is a public “lav”.  That’s where I happened to be when an elegantly dressed British businessman bustled in and approached the restroom attendant.  “Could you clean me off, mate?  A pigeon has gone and mucked all over me.”

Apparently pigeon droppings on men’s suits were not an uncommon occurrence here; the attendant responded, “Twenty pence.”  The businessman impatiently agreed to the price for emergency cleaning, saying “Yeah, yeah.  Filthy beasts.”

One can plan a visit to a major attraction like St. Paul’s, or the Tower of Pisa, or Zion National Park, but you can’t make advance arrangements for moments like that.  They just happen, and those chance encounters are bonuses that enrich the fund of memories, as in “We’ll always have Paris — and that funny waiter.”  Here’s that story…

Our friend Chris Plutte was living in Paris; he took Sally and me to a restaurant called Le Gamin.  The waiter had a dry sense of humor; he enjoyed acting the part of a stereotypically rude Parisian.  We’d ask for something, like more water, and he’d huff “non”… and then would smile and get it for us. 

After the meal, Chris wanted coffee, and told the waiter to bring the “special coffee” for madame.  He returned a couple of minutes later with a cup and saucer; as the waiter started to place it in front of Sally, he pretended to stumble.  The cup and saucer clattered, and for a split second it looked like she would get showered with hot coffee… but the cup was empty.  We all laughed, and the waiter was pleased that his little joke had worked again, for what must have been the thousandth time he had pulled it on someone.

Here’s another travel experience that had nothing to do with the scenery:  While waiting for a ferry boat on Ambergris Caye in Belize, a guy in a ragged T-shirt and swimming trunks struck up a conversation.  Well, it was more of a monologue, really — he went on at length about how great it was to live in Belize with its natural beauty, fantastic dive spots, friendly people, etc.

He told us that he had sold all his belongings back in the States but had no regrets, because he was loving the life he’d made here in Belize.  I asked him how long he’d been living here.  “A week,” he said.

Several hours later we were in the vicinity of that same ferry dock in San Pedro Town again.  As we were wandering by a beach bar ironically called Amigos del Mar, we heard two guys snarling at each other:  “Go away.”  “No, you go away.”  “Yeah?  Let’s see you make me.”  It went on in that vein; as we passed, we noticed that one of the combatants was the guy who had moved here from the U.S. a week ago.

Every trip seems to have memorable street scenes like that, but for now I’ll conclude with an experience in New York City that had figurative and literal resonance for me.

In the massive subway station under Times Square I heard what was, for me, an unmistakable sound:  A guy was playing a saw with a violin bow.  My dad had played the saw, although not nearly as well as this old black man in the subway.  I put some cash in the street musician’s tip container, partly in appreciation for bringing back a memory of my childhood, even though I was many miles (and many years) away from home.

Blackout in Belize


Hard to imagine, but this Belize airport was once a jungle

Hard to imagine, but this Belize airport was once a jungle

 Belize (formerly British Honduras) is a small Central American country on the Caribbean coast.  It has a lot to offer in the way of natural beauty, but not much in the way of infrastructure, like paved roads or reliable electricity.  Belize has no generating plants, for example — it buys all its power from neighboring Mexico.  In spite of those liabilities, it somehow became a trendy place to go for honeymoons and so-called destination weddings.   One of the places we stayed was full of guests who were there for those reasons; none of us had been told before we arrived that the lodge where we were staying was under repair due to a recent fire that had destroyed much of the “resort”.  The following is an entry from my travel journal, dated May 16, 2003:

…Several of us attended the marriage of guests Frank and Claire.  Even the workmen took a break from their incessant hammering and sawing to watch the proceedings.  Once the ceremony was over, we jumped back in the swimming pool, there being no reception.  When we got back to the room, we had neither water nor power, so Sally and I sat on our porch, drank a beer, and enjoyed each other’s company.

Eventually a trickle of water came out of the shower head, so we were able to wash off the sunscreen and bug repellent and chlorine and perspiration.  Then we went back out on the porch.  While we were there, two little boys came by on a bicycle.  Suspended on the handlebars were two coolers filled with coconut bread and pies that their mother had made.  We invested a dollar (BZ) in their enterprise, and enjoyed a very tasty small round loaf of still-warm bread.

It was now late afternoon and the power was still off.  The owner of the lodge passed by and informed us that the power was out in the entire country!  They expected it to be back on between 6:30 and 7:00 p.m.  Sure enough, it came back on at 6:32.  And failed again two minutes later.  We were served dinner by hurricane lamp.  Frank and Claire sat with us on their wedding night.  They were supposed to get a romantic dinner on the beach, but since the power was out it was going to be too dangerous for employees to bring them dinner without lights.  They were stuck making small talk with us.

We were given candles and matches to take to our rooms, since no one knew for sure when we’d have electricity again.  Sally and I sat on the beach and admired the play of moonlight on the water.  The juice came back on about 8:15 p.m.  Way up the coast we could see that the rest of Belize was getting power back, too…