Thursday, February 7, 2013

Nurse the Hate: So What's Belize Like?

As I mentioned earlier on my post about the abrupt life change I have made to become “among the best trained scuba diver in the world”, I went on a trip to Belize with my dashing female companion.  Belize is a place I have always wanted to go as I had heard so much about the quality of the beaches and waters.  Plus, I also like the idea of going somewhere new.  I wasn’t even positive where Belize was, so that’s generally a good sign for when you want to get away. 

For the record, Belize is south of Mexico and East/North of Guatemala in Central America.  The Guatemalans are still pissy about how the English swiped Belize back in the days when the sun never set on the English Empire, so there’s a constant border squabble going on.  Some dude named Miguel told me about spending 8 months in the army taking potshots at Guatemalans in the jungle.  Belize at this point is independent, but sort of like an English commonwealth much like Puerto Rico is to the United States.  The British have 1400 troops on Belize so if the Guatemalans get too chippy the British will drop the hammer.  All and all, it’s a pretty together place for Central America.

You fly into Belize City, the capital and largest airport.  This means there is one runway and six gates all kept in one medium sized cinderblock building.  A sad little band plays some version of salsa as you pluck your bags off the rickety baggage carrier.  Customs was a bigger hassle than I expected, as almost anywhere south of the United States is primarily concerned about exporting illegal things.  Who runs drugs into Belize from the US?  Are they concerned about me bringing guns?  What is it exactly they think I might have?  Counterfeit Pizza Hut coupons? 

The third flight was on Tropic Air in a plane about the size of the Whiskey Wagon band van.  While the plane was probably the same model of the one Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper went down on, everyone else climbed in so I did too.  It’s a quick flight to Ambergris Caye, a small island off the coast.  Even at the modest altitude, the water is a shining turquoise that you seldom see anywhere in America.  The “city” is San Pedro and after a 15 minute flight you touch down at their airport.  This airport is about the size of an abandoned bank branch, and you retrieve your bags from basically an open garage.  Some guy in a filthy Che Guevara t-shirt gave us a ride to our accommodations at the Victoria House in his golf cart.

The Victoria House is widely recognized as the best hotel on the island.  The level of hotel in Belize can vary widely.  A cab driver told me about how excited he was to buy a small house that he would divide into four rental rooms at $75BZ a month.  This would get you basic shelter and electricity.  I wouldn’t count on your own bathroom though.  The Victoria House is a major step up from some of the Spartan places in San Pedro.  We had our own private Casita on the beach with all the modern conveniences one expects as a soft American.  The restaurant was excellent, our private infinity pool cool, the beach steps from the Casita, the poster bed wrapped in decorative mosquito netting, and the dock jutting out into the ocean let you see to the crystal clear bottom.  This place is highly recommended.  With only 30 rooms it is small to begin with, but the availability of amenities and outstanding level of service make it seem like it is your own private beach residence.

The Belizean people are really great.  They are genuinely nice.  Often on vacation destinations in third world locations you feel The Hustle is on.  I always feel uncomfortable when a bellboy is laughing like a hyena at a joke I told that really isn’t that funny.  I always feel slightly unclean tipping these guys out.  Maybe the Belizean folks are just master grifters, but I always felt like they were just doing their thing with pride and grace.  It’s not a mega tourist location like a Cancun or Acapulco, but rather a ticky tacky beach town that everyone involved knows is a great spot and they are all happy to be there.

One of the great truths of travel is no matter where you are there is probably an OK beer.  The beer situation in Belize is interesting.  Belikin is the national beer of Belize.  I assume that some sort of Central American “agreement” was reached to make them a monopoly.  By “agreement” I mean that people may have had arms cut off by machetes or maybe just good old fashioned government legislation that made new breweries all but impossible to open.  Regardless, Belikin is a pretty good crisp lager.  They make “Belikin Premium” which is like a Modelo to the regular Belikin.  There is a Belikin Stout which is meant to combat the Guinness that has been imported for the British troops.  While somewhat drinkable, I may have been the only one that ordered one of these during the week in which I was in residence.   

This brings me to Lighthouse.  I made a cultural misstep in an El Salvadoran “papuseria” by ordering a “Lighthouse”.  I learned moments later from the bartender this is the “gay beer”.  Apparently my good friends at Belikin decided to make their version of Bud Light with Lighthouse, and the stereotypical Latin male culture immediately decided it was “gay” as it had less calories and alcohol.  The interesting thing is that I asked men, women, and children later what they knew about Lighthouse.  Every single one of them responded, “That’s the gay beer”.  I would suggest that Belikin has themselves a real brand image problem with Lighthouse, unless of course the underground homosexual culture of San Pedro is much more robust than it appears to the casual observer.  Maybe there is a giant dance club somewhere that has lots of dudes knocking back massive amounts of Lighthouse.  I can’t really say. 

By the way, the papusa is a food of the people.  This is a Salvadorian version of a taco.  It’s like a johnnycake with whatever fillings you want cooked into it on a flattop grill.  I went with the “mixed” which is beans, cheese, and chicken.  After they are cooked, you shovel on coleslaw and a generous topping of habanera sauce.  At about $2.50 BZ each ($1.25), they are eaten by pretty much everyone which might explain why every single native woman is five feet tall and about 170 pounds.  The two competing papuserias are across a tiny street from each other with Waruguma being the reigning champ.  The places look pretty much identical as do the fireplug women doing the cooking, but I’ll be damned if Waruguma’s aren’t a little better. 

There is not much night life on Ambergris Caye.  There are plenty of beach bars, but they all close by around 10pm.  With most patrons having traveled down to fish or dive, people tend to all get up early in the morning.  This explains why the big party event on the island is “The Chicken Drop” at Wahoo’s which starts at around 5pm on Thursday.  Clearly the highlight of the nightlife week, The Chicken Drop is an event where customers buy squares on a board for $1-$10 depending on the game.  A chicken is released onto the board, and whatever number he shits on gets the money in the pot.  This is big budget entertainment in Central America and probably replaced cockfighting to lure in otherwise squeamish tourists.  A woman staying at the Victoria House won $100, and she may have been more excited than if she had won a car on The Price Is Right.   

There’s a pretty good place to buy wine on the island called Wine de Vine.  Normally if you try to buy wine anywhere south of Florida they pound it up your ass with a mallet.  Here the markups are considerable, but are at a level that are at least justifiable.  We had a sub appellation Burgundy from Jadot that was OK, and got a 2008 Tiganello at a really decent price.  This joint even has artisan cheeses and meats, so it’s a pretty good hang while you have your bottle.  The main event there is the Friday Wine Tasting where all the expats that live nearby see the same old faces and air the same old grievances.  We were the exciting strangers, and met some pretty wacky people including some pasty Irish investors, the self appointed “curmudgeon of the island”, a middle aged female masseuse that was interested in group sex, and some plastic surgery disasters.  The best was the guy who was a master diver that was excited about my scuba certification that day.  This led us to our next destination onboard our new friend’s golf cart. 

The next stop was a bar called “AJ’s” where I engaged in conversation with the elderly retired American sniper that told me stories about blowing out the back of skulls from “targets” from the Khmer Rouge and in Laos.  “I never really felt bad about it.  I don’t know.  A lot of my ex-wives said I don’t have any emotions.  Maybe I don’t.  I don’t know.  It was just a job I did for awhile.  Hey, you want another beer?”  This bar was a plywood shack with a deep fryer and featured a cement platform patio where a reggae band played standards to the seven people that sat on plastic chairs.  Let me also correct the term “band”, as it was really one guy singing while the other guy played keyboards along to prepared drum tracks on his computer.  I didn’t go to “the bathroom” there, but I think it was a hole dug in the sand. 

I spent most of my time diving (or learning how to), so as far as I can tell everyone on the island is involved with fishing, diving, or serving people drinks that are laying around their casitas.  Of all the places I have ever been, Belize probably offers the best combination of people/ocean quality/value.  It's not a super upscale place in general like Turks, so you have to be ready for that fucked up Central American/Mexico thing.  Personally, I like it when things are a little odd or if people are doing more with less.  Attitude goes a long way, and the people are really awesome.   I’d go back here in a second and look forward to making my next excuse to do so. 



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At December 13, 2013 at 1:24:00 AM EST , Blogger Rubys Inn Bryce can said...

Even though Victoria House is not so big compare to other hotel in some cities but I think it is very good place since thjis was located in an island, so fresh and clean to looks on... interesting for a vacation.

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