The purpose of life is to live it, to taste the experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences. – Eleanor Roosevelt
Each new day that I awake on this wonderful new chapter in my life I am reminded of how fortunate I am to indulge in new and richer experiences. Only tossing a few times in the night, I awake from a deep sleep at 7:30am, almost not remembering where I am, I take just a brief second, laying there, staring up at the ceiling, I tell myself, you are in Belize. I quietly reflect upon this thought and joy fills my soul.
Since we appear to be running just a bit behind schedule, I decide to forego a shower. Sliding my arms through the straps and feeling the weight hit my shoulders I am ready for the 7-minute walk down the dirt road that brought me to the Crescent Moon Apartments yesterday. When we reach the main paved road I experience the first bit of excitement of my travels, about thirty feet from us a pickup truck has collided with a motorcycle wedging it underneath the front, amazingly there is no injuries. A few moments later I am climbing in my first chicken bus–an old yellow school bus complete with the green seats–I can’t help but notice that we are the only white people aboard and the stares can be felt in every direction as Clara leads me down the narrow aisle of the bus which is already in motion. Unfazed by my observation since she has ridden these buses with their respective routes for months probably recognizing many of the faces even though there is no acknowledgment from either party, she finds us an empty seat towards the back and begins to explain how they operate. Payment is not requested upon entering through the accordion style folding doors, but while the bus is in motion there is a money collector that moves up and down the aisles without failure to miss a single person. I ask her prior to boarding, so I already have my fare in hand even though it is in American currency, $2 BZD ($1 USD) for the twenty-minute ride to the center of Belize City. As the bus brings us closer to the narrow streets of the sprawling metropolis, Clara begins to point out different landmarks. Belcan Junction, a busy roundabout that is full of ecstatic individuals holding signs encouraging drivers to honk in agreement of their cause, she explains that they are poll-workers, whom in the final days are trying to persuade voters in the upcoming Thursday election. Winding through more city streets I am reminded of Tijuna, Mexico and Kingston, Jamaica all rolled into one–a mixture of poverty and chaos. Before I know it we reach Fort George District and my trusty guide has us off the bus and is leading me in the direction of Belize Harbor. Upon arriving at the first of several water taxi companies, Clara is already late for her 9:30am meeting, and in her true fashion, apologizes that she is not able to stay with me longer. I assure her that she has already done so much and I cannot thank her enough for being such a wonderful host. Hugs are quickly exchanged before she disappears among a sea of people and I am left to navigate my mainland departure among the various options.
As the time for departure grows closer, more passengers begin to arrive and the benches amid the narrow boardwalk begin to fill up. Silently watching the conversations and interactions among the crowd, my eyes become fixed upon a very pretty brunette with mocha colored skin and a soft complexion. I cannot tell if she is alone, nor am I concerned since I feel as though I am still adjusting to my new surroundings where I am content with the silence, daring not to break it but to embrace this solemn moment. When the water taxi arrives I continue to keep to myself, enjoying the landmass growing smaller and more distant on the horizon as we make our way towards the open blue waters of the Western Caribbean. Thirty minutes later and we are docking on Caye Caulker. Within minutes off walking the rickety wooden planks that lead to the white shoreline, the backpackers quickly find one another and before I know it I am clustered together with a couple of Kiwis, two guys from Australia, and three girls from Sweden. Looking around seeing all of us standing there representing our own unique location from around the globe, a feeling of warmth overtakes me as though I am home–uncanny in nature, the emotion that suddenly comes rushing back has been absent from memory over the passing years and was last present years ago as I backpacked through Europe alone. After warm introductions are exchanged, our entire group is being lead away on bicycle by Wild Bill, an eccentric local that has more stories than teeth, and so I can’t help but smile as he leads us through the gate of Bellas, a place that I will grow to love.
Sharing the lack of company, we decide to venture out and explore the island together. We begin with a stroll along the ocean on a road that is just wide enough for golf carts to pass alongside as we share glances with other people moving in the opposite direction. Slowing our pace to those around us, we are quickly reminded that no one here is in any hurry. When you can walk around the entire island in two hours and the sound of traffic is nonexistent as the most rapid movement you feel is the breeze coming off the Caribbean Sea and even that continues to remind you to slow down, life begins to appear with more clarity. Our walk is cut short as the raindrops begin to fall, causing us to seek shelter in an upstairs café. Torrential rains begin to come down in massive sheets, reducing the visibility from our highly perched protected tree house where the sea was visible just moments before, this gives us an opportunity to have a late lunch and get to know one another more. She shares with me that she has been traveling for more than 5 months–Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, just to name a few, and in a matter of weeks she will be back in London. We soon realize that we share a commonality in age, both being thirty years old I feel a bit relieved to have someone to relate to so quickly and before I know it our personalities and sense of humor is right on par. After a few cheeseburgers, that are hardly what you would expect back in the States, the rain lets up just enough to continue our walk for another forty-five minutes before the clouds begin to open up yet again. We are promised by a local that the rain should dissipate by tomorrow despite the weather stating a fifty percent chance of precipitation, either way, rain or shine, we are both determined to hit the beach in the morning. Even in spite of the rain, the weather is still quite warm and a jacket is unnecessary unless you are planning to stay dry, which in my opinion is not much of an option. Returning to the hostel the backs of our legs are covered with small white blotches of mud from the soil that makes up the island, and I’m not sure why this stands out so vividly in my memory, maybe it’s because I have never seen mud get kicked up so high on the backs of your legs from walking at a snails pace through shallow puddles or the fact that it’s such a bleach white tone, either way it is a new memory. I continue to be overwhelmed at experiencing what I was truly hoping for in these first few days, which is the opportunity to relax after all of the exhaustion both physically and mentally of wrapping up my previous life, trying to make sure that I was crossing every t and dotting every i, and with that final comment I am going to retire with a siesta at 4pm in the afternoon.