Belize Expedition–Day 1

April 11-12, 2014

Last minute shopping in San Luis Obispo—two Whisperlite stoves because John phoned from Dangriga and said the outfitters were wrong, there’s no butane available for the stoves we have—and coffee because Joe phoned from Idaho and said he forgot it. I exist in three places at once. Jan and I walk the dog while Ian’s at Seahawks swim practise and then go to the airport restaurant for dinner.  Depart 7:55 p.m., sleep on floor in LAX and Houston. On the Belize flight sit next to C… age 2 and his mom, S…, a native Belizean living in L.A. heading home for a funeral. She works for County Mental Health processing children in foster homes. She got an AA degree as a paralegal but couldn’t find work before getting a government job with great benefits. A single mom, she’s now back in school studying computer science because present job is too depressing.

Reading Coral Reefs in a Microbial Sea (2010) on the Kindle–a book that combines a funny anecdotal narrative about goofy Oceanographic researchers with pretty hard science on the ecology of coral reefs and activist manifesto about climate change and overfishing. The reefs are in decline worldwide because of rising ocean temperatures and and acidification.  They are created by polyps (tiny animals) in symbiosis with algal zooxanthellae that generate energy through photosynthesis to build the calcium carbonate structures of the reef. Recalling the sadness of snorkeling at Playa del Carmen and Cozumel where I witnessed the bleached and crumbling coral five years ago during our trip for Emma’s wedding, the book reinforces my sense that we are in for a last chance experience, since there are some reefs where we are going still in good shape.

The Belize City airport is bustling, yet friendly and inexpensive. Joe comes through the gate an hour and a half after I arrive—both of us sleep deprived and relieved to have completed challenging projects just before departure. A half hour transfer flight over jungle, savannah, meandering rivers and lagoons and citrus groves takes us to Dangriga.

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Our taxi driver Manuel gives us a rundown on this “Cultural Capital of Belize,” whose delapidated buildings and roads and inhabitants seem supremely picturesque to my prosperity-satiated eyes.

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Living areas of most houses are raised on pilings to get more air circulation, a necessity in the heat when the breeze stops. As he’s about to let us off at Pal’s Guesthouse, his cellphone rings and he says, “You left your backpack with your passport” at the airport.  On the twenty minute return trip he tells us about the many churches we pass—all religions get along well here—and the capsule history of the Garifuna, the majority of local inhabitants who stem from the eighteenth century interbreeding of Carib and Arawak native Islanders and African escaped slaves.

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P4120041.JPG At Pal’s we learn that the five other members of our group are out on an excursion, so we unpack and wander through the fascinating streets toward the river.

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At a little outdoor café we order Belikin beer and conch (pronounced Conk) cevice and fish fajitas cooked and served by a beautiful, sad-eyed Creole woman and watch the locals fishing for bait and enjoying the evening on the water.

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Back at Pal’s we meet up with the rest of the gang of travellers, which, for the first time in its twenty year history, includes two members of the next generation, Joe, 43, and Eman, 19.

Some people stay up late, but I’m out like a light.

More photos and movies here
Slideshow here

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