Daily Archives: October 4, 2014

Belize – travel writing.

Standard

I arrived in Belize one sunny morning in August. There was a brisk sea breeze up. The launch sailed right up to a small wooden jetty. Out we hopped onto the sun whitened wood. The gnarled beams had been better days and creaked ominously as the passengers disembarked the boat. The jetty led to a small buff building which was the Belizean immigration post. The walls and ceilings were white. The border official was a lissom, young, black woman. She has tidy dreadlocks tied up behind her. She greeted me warmly in a winsome Calypso accent. I was surprised that she called me by my Christian name.  I got the instant impression that the people of Belize are unaffected and very relaxed. These are two deeply appealing traits. She warned me that a hurricane was coming. I was taken aback. My immediate thought was to get as far inland as possible.

I briefly walked around that tiny town. The wooden houses were never more than bungalows. They were painted all colours but the paint was flaking off them. The streets were not all paved. I had a decent snack and waited for the bus to Belmopan. That was the only town of note that the bus went to. I had a careful read through my guide book. Belmopan is the capital of the country. It is situated smack in the middle of Belize. The capital was shifted from Belize City – which is on the coast – precisely because it was so vulnerable to hurricanes.  The squall was gathering as I read.

The bus came along and on I got. It had a low ceiling and was the type that had been used in the United States many years before.  I spent six hours on that bus. It is difficult to limn the scene. The countryside was almost uniformly flat. Pastures dominated much of the countryside. There were a few trees but never enough to amount to a forest. The houses were low, plain and pale.  Indian cattle grazed in the verdant and well watered fields. The highlight of the trip was jumping out at a petrol station to empty my bladder. The other passengers were a mixem gatherum of black, white, Hispanic and native American. Of course many people were of mixed ancestry. So far as I am aware Belize has no racial animosity. In this sense it is a model for many other lands. I had read about the Mennonites in this country. These people originated in Germany a way back in the 17th century. There were an ultra Protestant sect. I do not mean this in the sense that they were very anti-Catholic only that they were anti ritualistic and they were highly puritanical. The Mennonites are pacifists. their refusal to do military service angered the militaristic rulers of many German states. They moved to Canada and the United States. Some went to Mexico and even Belize to evade the draft in the United States. They wore beards and still dressed in very old fashioned clothes. Some rejected technology but others were Modern Mennonites who allowed technologies that they felt did not lead to sin.

A Mennonite man stepped on the bus. He sat beside me. He was tall, lean and middle aged. An auburn beard hung down from his pinched face. A straw hat adorned his reverend head. I asked him, ”Sprechen Sie deutsch?” He was evidently bowled over by my gambit.  He asked me ”Sind Sie deutsch?” Any German could tell within half a sentence that I am not German. The fact that this man thought I might be a German indicates just how isolated the Mennonites are. they never watch television and so they have no idea how people in Germany now speak. We conversed inTeutonic. I asked him whether they read the Bible only in German. He misheard the question but answered with great enthusiasm, ”Ja, wir lesen die Bibel!”

After many tedious hours the bus pulled into Belmopan. It is an unsightly town. It is a straggle of very unimaginative grey government buildings with serve very grey purposes. Buildings are well back from the roads so there is at least ample green space. The hurricane was being foreshadowed by the wind rising and the odd rain shower. I leapt out at the bus station and tried to find out about buses to higher ground.

I had to wait in the bus station for a while. I even considered riding out the storm in Belmopan. I asked at a hotel but it was all booked up. I returned to the filthy and bad looking bus station. It was swarming with people. I felt I had more in common with the black people. They were people from the Old World. They were also more likely to speak English. I spoke to a hefty Hispanic woman in English. It turned out that she had no English so we carried on our conversation in her language. It turned out that she was Belizean. I was  exceedingly surprised that there were people of this nationality who could not speak the English tongue.

At last it was time to board the bus. It was crammed. The departure was not a moment too soon as the rain started bucketing down and the four winds began to howl. Night soon fell and the road became a stream. Mercifully, the tempest eased off considerably by the time we reached the inland town. I cannot for the life of me remember what it was called. It was some miles west of Belmopan and it was close to the border with Guatemala. It was bisected by a small river at the bottom of a shallow gully.

The town was very busy for the time of night and also bearing in mind that there was still a little rain with the promise of far more to come. I walked the streets with a backpack on. I saw a two storey white hotel with the sign ”rooms available”. My heart leapt as I did not fancy sleeping rough in a hurricane. I bounded up the steps to the reception only to be told it was full. I told them fruitily what I thought of them having a sign out telling passersby that there were vacant rooms when this was not the fact of the matter. In time’s nick I found a hotel at the far end of the town. It was a delightful place with an open air reception and dining area. It was run by a British Belizean family. There was mum, her two adult sons but no dad. I presume he had met his Maker. I checked in with alacrity and proceeded to my chalet. It was larger than it need have been. Staying in a wooden house on stilts was an alluring experience in itself. They still had a bucket for arse wipe paper to be dropped into. I later discovered that a Dutch couple had moved their children out of this room  and into their own room to make space for me.

I had a bite to eat at their restaurant. The hotel was full. There was a group of middle aged Americans on a guided tour all through Central America. I spoke to a Texan who must have been about three score years. This white man was slim – especially for one from his state. He was personable and not flinty or fanatical as people from the Lone Star stated are reputed to be. The chap taking them on this tour was a half white half Hispanic man of about 40. He was dressed all in denim and spoke with an American accent. I shall call him Hamish. Hamish was British on his fathers side and Nicaraguan on his mother’s side. He had a fascinating life story. His father had moved from Scotland to Bluefields. I remember the town because it is so curious to find an English language place name in a Spanish speaking nation.

I met a black man who was about 30. In fact I figured out his precise age from other biodata he had given me but I do not recall it now. He was lofty and had not a pinch of fat on him. I shall dub him Augustus. Augustus was from St Lucia but lived in the United States. He was a doctor who specialised in minorly invasive surgery. There was but a vestige of his mellifluous Caribbean accent there yet. He spoke more standard American. He was charismatic and gentle as the day is long.

 

We had to hang around for a meeting in the restaurant. One of the brothers running the hotel told us the score. It was about the hurricane and the force it was expected to have. It boiled down to – stay in your room tonight. I shall call this youth Sylvester as that, oddly, is the first name that pops into my cranium when I had to invent a Christian name for him. Sylvester was good natured with a sincere smile. He was just right for the job. He had a baseball cap backwards on his head but apart from that he dressed the part. His good looks and natural tan would surely make him a hit with the ladies. He had a brother was was gruff and not so handsome. Everyone though the brother who was a bit of a farouche was older than Augustus. I asked Augustus and in fact he was the elder of the twain.

I went to my room as slept as best I could. The storm rose to a furious crescendo. There were shrieking winds and torrents of rain for hours. Towards dawn the winds slowed and the rain slackened. I got up well after sunlight and the storm had passed. The grass was soaked but no damage was done.

I had breakfast and then a walk around the grounds of this hotel. At the far end of the unkept garden was a wire fence. I could see the land rolling down to a gushing stream. I decided not to vault the low fence. I asked Sylvester about security there. He said there were few robberies. They had a security guard on patrol all night but he had no gun. They did not believe in guns because if they had a gun that would compel a robber to shoot them.

It was a misty morning but as this cleared I met Augustus. I suggested a walk into town. We went at a leisurely pace and filled they time with animated banter. The river was swollen and the streets were even muddier than usual. Soon Augustus wanted to return to the hotel. I carried on alone. On the main street I found an internet cafe. The connection was irritatingly slow. I managed to fire off a few emails. The interent connection kept cutting out. My incessant urge to send emails and receive them underline my need to communicate. I ought to have become a motormouth on the radio. There was a fairly old white American who was working as a waitress. She was upbeat but run off her feet with the spate of orders. At one point she spun around and exclaimed, ”Am I in Kansas yet?” This witticism did not make me chortle but I got the allusion to The Wizard of Oz.

Later I strode back to the hotel through the clammy weather. I heard that Belize City was badly beaten up by the storm so I judged is sage to leave it another day before heading to Belize City. I met a chubby American in his 50s. This white man had a wife from the Far East – I do not recall which land. I shall call the man Stesichorus because I only found out about the name of the world’s first poet lately and I am bursting to call this American chap something altogether inapposite. There were some ancient Mayan temples not far from the hotel. there has been some such zigguarts in Guatemala that I had considered visiting but I had been dashing through the nation. I decided to avail myself of the opportunity to pay a visit to these ancient monuments here. Stesichorus was going anyway so I tagged along in return for contributing to the cab fare.

 

It was only a ten minute drive out of town in a southerly direction. It is quite astonishing that I can remember which point of the compass we travelled towards. The hills rose abruptly into dense forests. We turned off the paved roads. Deep in the jungle we came to the looming temple. The land was cleared around it so there was a little lawn. The steps on the stone temple were steep and moss covered many of the platforms. It was an imposing and almost a handome edifice. We walked up and down it. The Mayans were an advanced civilisation in that they could construct something to mighty and complex. Stesichorus said he had a house in Guam. He told me, ”The Japs used to have it until we took it off them in W W 2.” I did not find Stesichorus to be companionable.

The next day it was time to leave. I caught the bus to Belmopan and thence to Belize City. I think there is no train service in this realm.

Belize City is not an imposing city at all. It is remarkably lacking in grandeur. The fact that it is a manageable size has appeal – for a while. Many houses are wooden but the paint had faded in the unrelenting sunlight. The city was in very good shape considering there had been a hurricane two days before. The weather could not be more different now – there was blazing sunshine and the few puddles left from the tempest were rapidly evaporating. Electricity was functioning which I had feared it would not. I quickly found a charming hotel. It was a small building made of wood and on two storeys. There was a verandah at the front and a view of the Caribbean at the back. I dropped my baggage and set off for a long stroll. I had spent too much of the past few pays in a sedentrary attitude. I found the Anglican Cathedral. It was tiny for a cathedral but visiting was a treat. There were many plaques to colonial administrators. It was not lavish inside but it was welcoming and far from dull. I noticed one memorial to a long deceased servant of Empire which listed his birthplace as ”North Britain”. Outside the palm trees swayed in the brisk wind.

On the street a lofty black man with a venerable mane of dreadlocks approached me. He had a broad yet faintly sinister smile. He asked me for money. I declined. He said my outlook reminded Belizeans of ”slavery and whippings”. I said, ”If you think I feel guilty about that – I don’t.” Which is true. Slavery was an abomination but I was not responsible for it. I feel terribly sorry for the savagely exploited slaves but not for their ancestor 170 years later.

That evening I walked down by the sea. I went along by the harbour wall. I was surprised to see an embassy of the Republic of China. No, not the People’s Republic of China. The Republic of China is better known as Taiwan. Taiwan is recognised by only a handful of countries. They get generous aid packages in return but maybe this means that China does not treat them so well. I wonder whey Taiwan is so eager to have full diplomatci relations with various countries. All the countries that matter recognise mainland China as the real China. Taiwan is still able to trade with all these lands that recognise the government in Beijing as the real government of China which indeed it is. Keeping embassies open in miniscule countries does very little to prevent Taiwan from eventually be reaborbed into China.

By a mole I was approached by a puny black man who must have been at least ten years older than me. His had a thin beard. He was meek yet amiable. He told me a few facts about Belize and how the Queen also ruled this country. Then he asked me for money because he had only just been released from prison. It seemed to me that he spoke the truth but I dismissed him and refused to give him anything. He persisted and I asked him his offence and sentence. He told me but I have long forgotten his answer so it cannot have been monstrous. It was unwise of him to declare that he had been in gaol because that is likely to turn people against him rather than engender sympathy. My guidebook had told me people will unashamedly beg and this book was even more truthful than I had expected.

There was a little park with short and grim grass overlooking the water. I remember seeing a tiny white propeller plane come in and land. It seemed to low to the ground that I could almost touch it. It must have been taking people from one of the minor islands. I felt blissful that tranquil evening.

Back at my hotel that warm night I sat on the porch on the first floor. Crickets chorused in the undergrowth and I chatted to the slender, mixed race old woman who ran the place. She had never met an Irishman. Her Caribbean accent was winsome. She moaned lyrically about the Chinese who had moved from Hong Kong before the handover. She unironically used the term ”Chinaman” for them. She cursed them for putting ”buckets of shit” on the street and she decried their sharp business practices. I am in no sense Sinophobic and I did not believe everything she said about the innate wickedry of the Chinese. There was also an old Belizean man staying in the hotel. I shall call him Wystan because I have always wanted to call someone by the name that only Auden bore. He was a lean black man with a very sanguine personality. He wore glassed and he had his hair cropped short. He told me of his life as a truck driver – plying the muddy roads of Central America. He said that he mantra to himself had been TNT. ”What did that stand for?”, I asked perplexed because TNT is usually an explosive. He chanted triumphantly, ”Travel – Nigger – Travel.” I was taken aback that he should use this racial slur against himself. Though apparently amongst black people this word has been defused and it utterly acceptable. Wystan told me of his several children and his putative several more children from his many lovers across Central America. Some of his progeny had moved to the United States. He could go and stay with them in the USA any time he wanted and would be received like a king.

A, energetic, slim, youngish black man came along that night – he was outside on the street and looked up at us. He courteously and cheerfully asked me to give him a few dollars. I refused and he hurried on. Wystan told me that that man was his half brother! He commented that I had been right not to give the man an ob. I sensed that it would not be safe to walk the streets at a late hour.

Next morn I decided it was time to visit one of the islands. I checked out of this homely hotel and lumped by rucksack along the streets to the ferry terminal. Ferry is perhaps too grandiose a word.

================

THE ISLAND.

 

I waited in the open air terminal. Plenty of people were milling around. A minority were tourists. I bought a ticket to a certain island – I forget which. Then a ferry pulled up that was heading to Cay Caulker. I deiced to board it simply because it was sailing sooner than mine. I hurried to the gate where a press of passengers stood. I showed a ticket and boarded hurriedly.

The crew kept count of the passengers. Then an anomaly was noticed. One of the sailor remarked loudly, ”there is only supposed to be 36 people aboard and we got 37. Who is on de wrong boat?” I stayed stoney silent. They asked again. There was a tense pause. Then they shrugged it off. We would depart anyway. Perhaps they suspected themselves of miscounting.

The sea worn ferry’s engine burbled into life and we slowly pulled out and away from the pontoon – turned around and made our laboured way across the swell. I had a good view of this sleepy city from the seaward side. The sky was perfectly cerulean that day.

For about half an hour we ploughed through the Caribbean. As Belize City became a smear on the horizon an island hoved into view: Cay Caulker. Cay is pronounced ”key” and is a Caribbean word for an island. I remember Mr Black reading us a novella entitled ”the Cay” when I was 8. It is set in the Antilles in the Second World War. A Dutch boy is blinded and marooned on an island. An elderly black man is there. The kindly old black fellow takes care of the Dutch child. In the end the black gentleman sacrifices his life to save the boy. Maybe that was too caring of him. Anyway – I was going to such an island as was described in that tale. Caulker is someone who caulks boats – as in waterproofs them by putting tar on the underside.

The boat went around Cay Caulker to the side of the island furthest from the mainland. The boat slowed as we drew up to the wooden jetty. People hopped off in a sprightly manner. The weather was calm and the scene was almost idyllic. There were not as many palm trees as one could hope. I was off the boat in a flash and lumping my rucksack towards the centre of town. There were many single storey wooden houses. What I liked about it was that this place was not overdeveloped. It was the real Caribbean and not a tourist bubble. To be fair there were plenty of tourists but things were not done to such a high standard that it was inauthentic. This was a beach bum hangout rather than a luxury resort. I had picked somewhere out of let’s go. I wound my way around the sandy streets and I checked in. The hotel was all made of wood and painted white and pastel colours. The wood was weathered by the unremitting sunshine. I flung my stuff down. I put some sun tan lotion on myself. I was getting into my trunks when I heard French being spoken outside. I came out and greeted a young woman in French. She was about 30 – short and stubby. We conversed briefly. She divined that I was not a Frenchman and asked where I was from. She was poleaxed to learn I was Irish. She was a Quebecoise and her boyfriend was Irish. He was not with her at that time. I met more and more people from La Francophonie. Gradually I discovered this was because it was mentioned in Guide Routard – the main French language guide book.

I headed straight for the beach. I was eager to get into the brine as it was several days since I had been swimming. I went to the sea right beside the wooden pontoon where I had landed. It was midday and the beach was almost empty. Reams of dark seaweed had been washed up on the almost white sand. I strode into the water. A few little black children were gamboling in the sea. As I can near them one angelic little girl called out enthusiastically, ”thank you for the chocolotes.” I was perplexed and told her, ”I did not give you any chocolates.” I spoke to her a little more. It seemed someone roughly resembling me had given them this gift. I moved on since it looks suspect to be anywhere near children in the sea or in a pool.

I found I had been sunburnt that day. I could not reach all areas of my back with sun tan lotion. MY skin was beetroot red and was pulsating. I felt my skin had been desiccated and my flesh beneath it had stretched to break out of it like the incedible hulk. I went to the pharmacy and bought some sun tan lotion. The pharmacist was a merciful woman who rubbed in the after sun on the worst affected spots.

It may have been that night that I was walking back to my hotel when I heard French being spoken and who did I spot? Florent and Thierry! They greeted me with delight. They were also staying in my hotel – French guide book you see. I had met them in the coach from Managua to El Salvador. Florent and Thierry had hired a black man of about 30 to carry some of their bags. I cannot remember his name but he was smiley and bearded. He had a perfect American accent because he has spent some time in the United States. He expressed sympathy for my suffering due to my woeful sunburn. I spent an evening with Florent and Thierry at some pub. It was down by the beach and all built of wood and dried palms. There was a sand floor and a live band. It was a fantastic experience.

There were men black boys wanting to pick up white girls and many had success. I did not see any black girls chasing us white boys sadly. There was a black woman who hung around that pub. She was youngish and too thin for my taste. She patently had problems. I saw her dancing drunkenly and saying to herself, ”I am 29 and I still got it.” If I had been that eager for a shag she would have been a fairly easy target. Perhaps I was foolish not to go for it.

The next day I spent a lot of time with Florent and Thierry,. We swam, lolled on the strand and chewed the fat. Thierry was 30 and Florent was 29. Whilst we were there Thierry turned 31. They were on a year long trip from the tip of South America right up to the United States. They passed through almost every country on the way including most of the Caribbean countries. They must have saved up a lot of money for this odyssey. This is the sort of thing that would not appeal to me. I like my trips short but regular. I am so restless. They had been in Paraguay and they thought it was ghastly. They had bought a car in Bolivia but not been able to take it out so tey just left it there. They could not legally sell it either. They introduced me to two French girls whom I shall dub Laetitia and Pilar. They were both about 28. Laetitia was an utter beauty in the mode of Ludivine Sagnier. She had dark blonde hair and ivory skin. She was petite and perfectly proportioned. She was feminine and elegant without being in any way precious of pretentious. Pilar was half Spanish and she had much darker skin. She was rather skinny but still good looking. She smoked which did not help her case in relation to me – not that she had the hots for me. I was soon to discover whom she did have the hots for. We conversed in French and all got on fine. They were staying in the same hotel as us. Laetitia was a social worker with young delinquents. I cannot recall what Pilar did.

I met a young Italian couple on the beach. I spoke to them in their language. The boy was 22 and had just finished a science degree. He was thinking of going on to do medicine like his father. He girlfriend was about his age. She was lissom but more reserved. The boy was very good looking in a surfer sort of way with tonnes of dark brown hair and a body that was almost muscular. I wish I could have had his looks and his girl.

There was another island just separated from Cay Caulker by a channel of about 30 metres. In fact it was once part of Cay Caulker but a mightly storm had forced the sea through thus splitting the island. There was a bar beside this gap. I sat there with a drink. Pilar was near me. A hefty black man in his 30s was there and he serenaded her, ”A Belizean man met a beautiful French lady and she took him back to Paris with her.” Pilar was amused but not taken by his wiles.

That night I walked to the far end of the island. There were small paths to follow. I saw the shanties that many of the local people lived in. I saw a little boy crying and he had just been spanked. I felt terribly sorry for the child but I knew I should not intervene. I did not know what he had done to deserve such condign punishment.

I got to the far end of the island and there was no light there. I there was a little light from the houses some distance away. There was an airfield which I believed was never used. There were no buildings buy it. I walked the lenght of the runway just for some light exercise. There were rushes and marshes on either side of the runway. A boat came by. The fisherman called to me, ”Watch out for de crocs.” I was frightened. ”Are there really crocodiles around here?” He answerd, ”Oh yeah mon. Me is seein’ big one right now!” He sounded like he was being genuine. I carried on with my walk but I walked in a zig zag fashion and right in the middle of the runway. I kept looking behind me. I am not sure if this man was scaring me just as a thrill for him. I spoke to other Belizeans who said there were salt water crocs there but that they stayed at that end of the island and never came snapping at the tourists. These crocs ate dogs and had learnt to bark like dogs to lure hounds into an ambush. I am doubtful about that one.

It always struck me how decent many black Belizeans were to whites when black people there had suffered abominably at the hands of whites and even since freedom been subjected to contumely.

I went back to the same sand floored bar by the sea each night. I met three white American girls there. They told me they were from Utah. I noticed they were drinking non-alcoholic beverages. I asked if they were Mormons and they were. I was surprised that they were in a bar at all. They were dressed in ordinary clothes – a little bit glamorous but nothing risque. Later they all danced with Belizean boys.

Each morning I had breakfast in a small wooden cafe run by a middle aged little Dutchwoman. A hulking black woman was here assistant. I tried out my ten words of Dutch on her and she decorously pretended to be impressed.

The next day I went snorkelling. I waited at one of the beachside stalls that sold tickets. A half dozen other people were there. We boarded the small boat and got to know each other. There was an American father and son – the father was in his 50s and his son was about 30. Both were bearded. There was a young Dutch couple – both were tall and very slim. The Dutch girl was effortlessly glamorous. The boat took us a few hundred metres to another beachside stall – more people waded out to get into the boat. I had thought theese two stalls were rivals but in fact they were in cahoots. It was a scorching day and when we got a few hundred metres off shore I was glad to get into the salt water.

There were several grey sting rays swirling around near my feet. The two Belizean guides had told us not to fret. These beasts would not attack us unless we harmed them. I was still circumspect. It was not long since Steve Irwin ”Crocodile Hunter” had grabbed one sting ray too many and been stung to death. Anyway, I waded gingerly among them. The rays soon grew bored of us having investigated us sufficiently and these curious animals withdrew.

We then lowered ourselves into the water until we were mostly submerged and off we swam. We swam in a pod. The water grew deep and I could see a marvelous array of acquatic life. There were fish of every hue and many types of coral and seaweed. It was a splendid treat. In the distance I saw a small shark – perhaps only a metre long and it was 50 metres off. That was about as far as one could see. It was heading away from us. I am an outright coward but this shark was so puny that it did not worry me. Besides, I had taken the precaution of ensuring I was in the middle of the group and thus the least likely to be munched by any monster of the deep.

We would stop every few hundred metres and the guids would ensure we were all there. They would comment on what we had seen and give some instructions. We carried on like this for perhaps an hour before reboarding the boat by a sandbar. There was a reef a little further out. Thence we sailed back to shore.

That afternoon I was chatting with my French and Swiss companions. The bearded young American approached us. He joined our group and asked if I was French. I informed him that I am Irish, ”but you speak French though.” We chanegd our conversation to English. In fact Pilar and Laetitia could not hold their own in that langauge. The SWiss boys could. Bizarrely they could not converse in German but could comprehend it when I gabbled it at them. The Swiss are like that – learning English rather than the other major language of their nation. Methinks that the language is not important to their identity since none of these languages are exclusive to Switzerland and nor are they originally Swiss – well apart from Romansch.

That night we repaired to the same pub as before. I had several beers. They played the same song as every night – La Isla Bonita by Madonna. They all sang ”Cay Caulker” rather than the real words to it.  They claimed that the song was really about their isle. There was black Mexican fisherman who sang El Mono C olorado. I had not known there were black Mexicans.

There was a most utterly ravishing Dutch girl. She was about 27 and had thick golden tresses. Bizarrely I cannot remember her name so I shall call her Marlene and I cannot but compose a paean to her. Her fair skin was just slightly tanned from her holiday. Marlene was well above average height and she had large big bright blue eyes and an ample and shapely bosom. She had a milkmaid’s glowing beauty. She wore a simple top which only implied cleavage and did not show it. She wore a denim skirt till half way down her thick thighs and flipflops. She was the perfect mix of sex appeal and demureness. Her figure was heavenly and her radiant personality made her irresistible. She was upbeat, intelligent, self-assured and extrovert. She was warm and uberous  yet she was not coquetting. I was smitten by her. I asked her to dance and she cheerfully said, ”of course” in her charming Dutch accent. She was just being friendly and fun. I asked Marlene if she could consider things getting hotter between us. I cannot remember how I phrased it. They way I have just put it is indecorous and I could not have asked about a relationship. She told me plaintively that she had just come out of a relationship and could not consider another one. It would be tormenting myself to spend more time with her if I could not have what I wanted. I kissed her hand and said farewell. I do not think I made her feel gauche. She had never led me on just to humiliate me. We were talking at cross purposes. She just wanted to be genial and have a good time. I saw her as the most magnificent potential girlfriend. I can only wish her all the best.

I lost sight of Thierry, Florent and the French girls. There was a black boy about my age whom I had spoken to a little over the past couple of nights. He came up to me and said, ”I been nice to you all week won’t you give me some money?” He was utterly unashamed and I was equally barefaced in saying no. He had not been THAT nice to me. Was he begging? He was spending his dosh on beer so patently he was not too hard up.

I went home crestfallen. Next morning I was awoken from my drunken slumbers by a slight shaking. Was there a minor earthquake? The tremors only seemed to shake the ebd and not the furniture. It went on for about a minute.

Later I got up and went to ask Thierry something. I knocked on his door. Who answered it but Pilar! Thierry had had a good night. Later I discovered that Florent had bedded Laetitia. The shaking of the bed had been from him boning Laetitia. I later tolf the boys this and they though it droll. Thierry quipped that that one minute had been all of the other fellow’s lovemaking.

It was time to leave the island. We all got the ferry back to Belize City. We hung around the terminal for a while. A black woman came up to us. She spoke to Florent with utter sincerity and pleaded with him for some money ebcause seh had seven children and she was stricken with AIDS. My jaw dropped. She did not look to ill but she gave a very strong impression of honesty. She hurried on her way. I regret not giving her something.

Later I was buying a snack from a stall. A plump man beckoned me over. This corpulent black chap asked me if I would like some weed. It was the only time I had been offered drugs on the whole trip. I said no.

The Swiss boys were snogging their girlfriend when the taxi came. Poor me – I had not chappess. The Hispanic driver drove us half the length of the country – up to the Mexican border. The cost of a cab between three was cheaper than a bus ticket each. The Swiss had been smoking cannabis on Caye Caulker. I asked them if they had chcuked it out of their bags since we were about to cross a border. ”Non, c’esr dans le tien” joked Thierry. We passed an HSBC cash machine both that had been grown off its foundations by the hurricane a few days earlier. I wonder if theives had managed to plunder the cash from within. Florent insisted on stopping to take a photo. He thought it very mirthful especiallt since his company had HSBC as a client.

Belize is a fabulous country with so much to offer in terms of landscape and activities. It should be much more widely known.

Advertisements

Guatemala – travel writing.

Standard

I crossed the frontier on a bulky and commodious bus. It was an early August on a bright afternoon. The bus sped on over the narrow road that goes by the misleading name ‘The Panamerican Highway.’ There were many bungalows with outbuildings. These outbuildings were likely to be places of easement. Indoor plumbing is still not the norm in Guatemala. This was a country about which I knew precious little. I only knew the facts common to other Central American states. It is a Spanish-speaking republic with a large number of people who are paupers.

Night had fallen by the time our bus became snarled in the ghastly traffic of Guatemala City – that being the capital of Guatemala. I was soon to discover that in that country the capital city is known as ”Guate” – pronounced ”Gwatay”. The city was fairly high rise and perhaps more developed than the other Central American capitals. The very fact that it was choked with traffic indicated a higher level of prosperity. There were at least grass margins dividing the lanes of traffic going in one direction from those flowing in the other direction. This suggested urban planning that had some concern for aesthetics.

I hopped out at the bus station. I had selected a place to stay from my guidebook. It was a youth hostel with a twist. This one was historic and full of character. Che Guevara had stayed there but I did not let that put me off. This war mongering Communist tyrant gets a disgustingly good press from the naive and the malicious in Western countries. I got a taxi to the hostel.

It had only one floor – and that was a bare stone but highly polished one. The walls were gleaming white. It was perhaps the cleanest building I saw in this subcontinent. They were not lackadaisical here.  Can I call Central American a subcontinent? It is not exactly part of North American nor is it really part of South America yet is too small to count as a continent in its own right. Forgive my parenthetical digression. I cheerily checked in. I had a room to myself not far from the courtyard.

 

There was a pingpong table and a quickfire game was in progress. I flung my stuff down and my bed and took a much needed shower. Later I went to the bar there. Numerous dog eared books left by previous guests lined the walls. I chatted to a young Guatemalan. I shall dub him Hernando. He was quite swarthy, slender and about 18. He told me he was from the city. I asked him why he was staying in a hostel. ”Problemas in la casa.” We played ping pong and I held my own against him which is quite something since I have poor hand eye co-ordination.

 

Later I saw a dark haired nubile girl hanging her tiny knickers to out dry. I asked her her name – Jorgelina. She was an Argentine travelling the length of the continent. I also chatted to her in the bar later. Curiously, I do not remember flirting with her. I probably would have been rebuffed but her delicate beauty would have been well worth risking humiliation for.

I walked around a little. My back was aching from all those sedentary hours. To my astonishment I saw a Chinese temple on the street. Further along I saw a pair of very sexy and very leggy transvestites lolling by a street corner. These tranny street hookers were wearing the raciest lingerie imaginable.

The next morning I awoke at a decent hour. I heard someone speaking Spanish with a blatant German accent. I came out and introduced myself to him. ”Gruss Gott”, I began. I chuckled at that. Alexander was a Berliner and my Bavarian salutation was as quaint to him as saying ”ee oop” in London. He was tall and lean. His mid brown hair was carefully slicked back. He was undemonstrative and deliberate. I did not speak to him much more. That day I had a good walk around Guatemala City.The first place on the itinerary was that Chinese temple just down the street. The glittering of the twelve carat gold and the incense did not do much for me. It had no stunning sites but the central business district was in better shape than one would have anticipated. I was surprised to see a statue in the middle of a road – Romulus and Remus. It was a reference to this being a former colony of Spain which is a former colony of Rome whence the Spanish language developed. It was Sunday and the streets were largely deserted.

The next day I took a bus to a a nearby city named Antigua. No, not the island. Antigua – meaning ”the old one” – was the capital of Guatemala until it was struck by a devastating earthquake in the 19th century. I took a rickety bus for the bone chattering one hour journey over bumpy roads. The pulsating city gave way to bucolic scenes with remarkable speed. Antigua was in hillier country. The landscape was covered by only sparse vegetation. I got out at the shambles that passed for a bus station. The place was too small to be very polluted.  This small city held more allure for me than Guate. The pale buildings were prime examples of colonial architecture. It was all human scale. There was so little traffic that pavements were not needed. Some of the buildings were derelict. I paid to go into an old monastery. In the small town square some little boys had horses one could hire for a quick hack. I courteously declined. I asked these angel faced children what the word for ”to ride” is in Spanish. I had to explain that in Spanish. This town was a gladsome diversion from the traffic exhausts and noise of Guate. It was only a day trip though. Back to Guate.

 

Next day I headed for the coast. The bus station in Guate seemed to have no centre. Buses left from several streets in one district of the city. It was not too far a walk from my hostel. I lumped my rucksack there. With great difficulty I managed to locate the street from which my bus was departing. I caught a coach to Puerto Barrios.  The coach was half empty to I had ample room.

Soon we were out of Guate. The country was a shining green. Low hills rose a small distance from the major road. After a couple of hours we stopped at a service station where I was able to have a snack. The service station was very swish and not at all what one would expect for Guatemala. I do not wish to come across as being disparaging about Guatemala – there are good things about the country but everyone knows it is not highly developed.

After a few hours I reached Puerto Barrios. It was a cool evening and the sun had not quite set. I was not on the Caribbean Coast. I had hoped to cross by boat to Belize that night but I had missed the last one. Therefore I had to find lodgings. I checked in to a small hotel which was a clapboard building. It was raised a little off the grown which made me think there must be snakes about. The grass blades were broad and waxy on the lawn outside. I had a good stretch of the legs around the town. Hardly any building was more than a single storey. I noticed a white wooden church  – the sign on the outside said it was a Mormon one. Lusty signing rang out from within. The streets were unpaved and this drowsy town was more welcoming than perhaps anywhere else I had seen in Central America. By the jetty I met a brown skinned Cuban chap. He wore a blue shirt and slacks. He spoke excellent English with a noticeable Hispanic accent. He had fled Cuba some years before and become an American citizen. He told me, ”I do not like the American Government.” We discussed the possibility of Cuba ridding itself of the Communist dictatorship. He wanted this in some ways but was wary of American corporations setting up in Cuba, ”they want to take advantage.” I explained that businesses need to turn a profit and that is a good thing. I realise that excessive profiteering with no regard for any negative impact left by irresponsible businesses is a wicked thing.

The next morning I went down to the water. It was a blistering hot day. After a short while and open boat pulled up. A handful of passengers boarded. Soon I met another Irishman aboard. He was in his 40s and had grey hair. I shall dub him Aodh since no one else is known by that Irish name and there is also a marvelous reason for picking such a name since I have long since forgotten his real one. He was a little jowelly and a very calm sort. He was a Mancunian of Irish parentage. He had been superb at a sport – I forget which. He went for a trial for England. His father was irate that he did not seek a trial with Ireland. I can sympathise with Aodh’s father a little. My child will not have the same identity that I do – he is half Eastern European and he will send little or no time in Ireland. I want him to regard himself as being Irish as well as British. But if one’s child grows up in a different country from oneself one must accept that one’s child will be shaped by different experience. Moreover, when Aodh was a teenager the troubles would have been raging. It seems that Aodh’s father was one of those etremely unreasonable and ungrateful Irish republicans who lives in England but is anti-English. Aodh then compounded his father’s anguish. He had been in the Royal Marines and posted to Belize. Belize is a realm of Elizabeth II. Guatemala has often claimed Belize and threatened to invade. Belize is a tiny country and incapable of defending itself. The Royal Marines were dispatched there to persuade the Guatemalans of the unwisdom of attacking. It also doubles as a means of training the marines in jungle warfare. Aodh has been back in Guatemala as a charity worker for the Voluntary Missionary Movement. VMM was a Catholic Church organisation. As there are few clergy the laity took it over. Now it had nothing to do with the Roman Catholic church. It is run by the Irish Government.

Aodh was doing charity work still. He was working against the use of underage prostitutes. He said they would start wo work in brothesl aged 14. The police could easily be paid off to give the girl an ID card saying she is 18. Aodh said he is not moralising – he has no objection to prostitution but they should be of legal age. I agreed with Aodh but he is wrong to say that he is nor moralising. Underage prostitution is immoral. If adults wish to work as prozzies then that is just dandy-o.

We were skimming the waves. A little spume came off the Bay of Arnatique. Aodh remarked how drug barons ran this place. The Guatemalan police were in their pay but occasionally they would come close to being caught by the Belizean police so they would throw a bail of cocaine out of a boat and float on the sea.  The Guatemalan gangsters allowed to let the police to catch people now and again because it looked bad for the police to never apprehend anyone. Someone within the organisation who had fallen into disfavour would be set up to be arrested. ”People are expendable to these drug traffickers”, Aodh explained.

After perhaps only half an hour whizzing over the brine we came to the coast of Belize.