Why I Loved My Terrible Vacation in Belize - Page 2

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Home in San Jose, Belize
Home in San Jose, Belize  (Renee Johnson)

When I’d started this whole trip in Punta Gorda—the jumping-off point for exploring “the forgotten land” of Maya and Garifuna villages scattered in the Toledo District—the only instruction I received was to ask for Felipe when I arrived at San Jose. It struck me as a strange thing to do, akin to turning up at someone’s house unannounced and expecting them to be both there and ready for you. Francis Ford Coppola wouldn’t let me do this. Felipe, I hoped, would.

The bus ride from Punta Gorda to San Jose tossed us passengers about like a malfunctioning carnival ride, swerving to avoid potholes decades deep and animals I couldn’t identify. But I found an odd sense of familiarity perched on the ripped brown seat of an old Blue Bird U.S. school bus, its telltale yellow color peeking through the peeling mint-green paint job.

It was the last time I would feel comfortable for a while.

Now, having connected with Felipe, who directed me to my guesthouse in San Jose and set up the tortilla-making class, I’m greeted at my door by my dinner host for the evening. He’s a complete stranger, but I’m so excited to eat at his house tonight… partly because I haven’t had a proper meal in 48 hours, and mostly because I look forward to getting to know a local family.

Night falls while we walk to his house for dinner, bringing the lightning bugs out. They dance through the air in a captivating performance, under the watchful eye of a sky full of stars—in a town without electricity, light pollution is never a problem.

I walk through the door, expecting a bustling scene of people around a table, but instead there’s no one. Off in the corner, on a small desk holding a candle is a cloth embroidered in bright colors with a plate decorated in a pink flower design. Beans, eggs, and slices of tomatoes each take up a third of the plate, with a container of tortillas and a pitcher of tea off to the side.

“You aren’t eating?” I ask my host.

“No, we already ate,” he says, then settles into a hammock in the center of the room and closes his eyes.

I can barely reach the table from my low lawn chair. I eat quickly, examining the artifacts around me: a Winnie-the-Pooh clock, fake red flowers, dozens of trophies for achievements in ecotourism. The tea is warm but sweet, and I guzzle as much of it as I have room for and finish my plate. My host is still dozing. My eyes scan the room for more to look at, but without much light, vague shapes are all I can make out. I shift in my chair to make a little noise. It doesn’t do the trick. Still dozing. I slip out and head back to my guesthouse alone.

Later that night, I envy the man’s ability to sleep. I’m bundled in the warmest clothing I’ve brought with me, shivering under the singular sheet that’s been provided. I’m questioning my choice of “vacation,” getting irritated is putting it mildly. “A blanket would be nice right about now,” I think, as my clock informs me that it’s 58 degrees and just past midnight. “And, oh, I don’t know, some LIGHT.” The four hours I spent reading by candlelight were strained, as it constantly flickered because of the wind outside—which may as well have been inside, given that the walls don’t quite reach the roof. Shivering or not, it was nice to have such a long stretch of guilt-free reading time, and I relished it as long as my fatigued eyes allowed.

I’ve retreated from the rainbow-colored hammock in the middle of the cabin to the bunk bed area, where a mattress and pillow are laid out, situated inside a gauzy pink mosquito net. There’s room for seven more, but I’m the only one who’s been here in a month. Now I see why, I grumble to myself before finally dozing off.

A round of cock-a-doodle-doos snaps me out of my fitful slumber, and I’m grateful that morning has come. Except that it hasn’t—it’s only 2 a.m. “Those roosters are probably as cold as I am,” I tell myself, teeth chattering. “But at least they’re not going through Internet withdrawals.”

At 4 a.m., I wake up happy. I’ve just dreamt that I found a way out of the village and to a heat source before the next scheduled bus departure in 24 hours, and I drift back to sleep pleased by my ingenuity.

What feels like a few minutes later, an intense banging noise begins.

“Harry? Harry? It is morning!” Felipe yells to me from outside. He can’t make the “l” sound in my name, Haley, but, in all fairness, I can’t speak his native language of Mopan, so I let it slide. Like most in the village, he is short and slightly round, ambling along in a cotton T-shirt tucked into dress pants tucked into rain boots. It’s not even 6 a.m. “Why you not up?” he spits out as I stumble to the door.

“I, I don’t have breakfast scheduled until 7,” I stammer.

His tanned face crinkles with laughter. “You need help getting up. Maybe I help you tomorrow.”

Tomorrow. I realize my dream about escaping was just that, a dream. But, determined to turn this around, I try to think of tomorrow as another chance to prove I can hack this.

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