BreakAway is largely about travel, obviously, though Mgt sometimes get hitchhiked down adjacent paths. We DO still travel—if not lately in the career-break, 3-months-away model. A recent trip, though, sparked reminders of why travel is vital, and how many cool places are a mere 12-hour travel day away. : /
Like, Belize, which remains off most travel radars. It is small, after all (pop. 320,000), even though Madonna made its #1 destination, island San Pedro, famous with her 1987 hit “La Isla Bonita.” The island still embraces that nickname, of course! Belize is young, too; they only stopped being the British Honduras in 1981! Tourists will encounter some 3rd world conditions, and drugs allegedly float through.
Reality checklist recognized, Belize is charming. And booming. Waterside construction is common. And for the Retiree RE Speculators of America, it’s become a red-hot spot—with mega-developments popping up all over. Belize also happens to host the #2 coral reef on earth. So Belize offers a perfect place to thaw a northerner’s soul, re-juice the travel jones, and inspire reminders of why many of us love to travel in the first place.
Although many travelers arrive with a must-see/to-do schedule, snowbirds know better when simply seeking warmth. I’ll confess: I had a sight-seeing agenda of sorts. But I think it blew off my lap and into the water I first hit the beach. That’s when you kmow you’re on vacation.
I’ve seen more stunning tropical scenery. But who cares? Belize offers quintessential Caribbean beauty; the surrounding palm trees, iguanas, puffy clouds, and aqua water were magical. And have you ever noticed how your senses notice things more keenly when exploring beyond everyday avenues.
When I boarded the packed ferry from the mainland to San Pedro, I ended up on the sunny but uncomfortable stern. Where I come from, you can’t sit there. So I asked the Creole gentlemen next to me, “Can I sit here?” Our sunglasses met, and he cheerfully answered, “DEES BOAT EES FAH WE!”
Having gotten rusty on my Carib patois—and forgotten that Belize is not so much Spanish or English after all—I replied, “For who?” “FAH WE!,” he sang, in classic Caribbean patois, “SEET DOWN AND EEN-JOY DA RIDE!” So I did, salty spray and all.
Waitresses were sunny and funny. Cab drivers discussed history—the country’s and their own—and offered logistical tips. And I again experienced that travel truism: It often seems that people who have less seem to enjoy what they have more. As natives on other islands have explained to me, just about all locals have family, food (fresh fish, fruit, and vegetables!), and a place to sleep. They consider that bounteous.
Belizeans appeared to be genuinely kind, happy to be alive, and grateful to be there.
Belize (or what I saw) showed few signs of crime, unrest, or violence (never saw a cop). Still, locals sometimes urged caution and offered safety tips—and were deadly SERIOUS about not wanting guests to become a crocodile snack!
I come from the land of Minnesota Nice. Yet we can as cold and harried as anyone anywhere. So it sure was fun to experience festive and gregarious strangers all over—like these condo neighbors from Toronto. Hey, we had OJ, they had vodka. Any questions?
On the first morning, I headed out with a friend to explore the island via golf cart (which comprise ~90% of the vehicles on San Pedro). Our first stop was a beach bar. Naturally, the owner/bartender was from MN—and had procured the bar’s namesake (Paco the giant wooden monkey) from a Twin Cities Trader Joe’s.
Small world, or what!?! Well, the next person to sit down and chat had not only grown up on my hometown, but had gone to my high school. SCREEEEEEAM!
In Belize, it’s all about the barrier reef. Oh sure, many tourists are happy just to bask in sun, sand, and surf. But only Australia has a bigger reef. So the dive boats are omnipresent, as is the dive chatter.
(Worth noting: Partying comes a close second in popular activities. To paraphrase the t-shirt of every warm sailing/surfing/diving destination, “Belize is a drinking island with a diving problem.”
Sure, the sports bars (or any place with cold beer and a functional TV) were rocking for the NFL playoff games that Sunday night. And Saturday night brought all revelers—tourists and locals alike—downtown for the bars and clubs. But the MAIN event was Sunday’s super-blood-wolf total eclipse of the full moon, courtesy of a clear sky and brilliant reflections.
Warm-weather vacations are a big thing for North Americans. But remember: When you go south, it’s winter there too. So while January temps range from ~65 – 85, you’ll likely experience varying conditions. Thank goodness for the local coconut weather-caster to help us make sense of the shifting weather!
San Pedro caters largely to northern tastes. Yet local color rules. And most eateries served creations with Caribbean twists. Flavors aren’t shy, and fresh ingredients abound; a stop at a F&V stand will land you a football-sized papaya for around $2. And as for seafood? It’s so fresh you might eat it raw—like this sublime tuna poke on crispy plantain cakes at Rojo Lounge and Beach Bar.
As vacation days fade away, workaday worries feel much less relevant than, say, kicking back poolside. In fact, that book may go untouched due to the urgent distraction of repose. The clock disappears and Island Timegently kicks in. Nothing better.
Like some of these pics, vacations quickly seem blurry. After a few days of January chill back home, the left brain rightly asks, “Did that just happen?”
Well yes, it did. And God willing, it will again. So embrace the souvenirs and stare at the pictures. And of course, start scheming the next vacation, the next destination, the next BreakAway…