Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Belizing is Believing

Michelle and I are still recovering from a short jog to southern North America, viz., Mexico, Honduras and Belize. A few comments on the latter nation. . . .

Back when I was a kid, I used to collect stamps from around the world. My favorites were the colonial stamps issued by France, Belgium, Portugal, Holland, and especially Great Britain. Portrayed in elegant, detailed etchings were the scenic beauty of the colony itself, the flora and fauna found there, the historic buildings, and, of course, the subjects who lived in these exotic places. Typical of the English colonial stamps were those from British Honduras. The stamps were ornate and gorgeous and each gave me a snapshot of life in that country. I never thought I would ever get to a place like British Honduras . . . and I never did. But I did make Belize, which is what the tiny country was named after the Brits left in 1981.

Belize is a very poor country. Crime is rife. Nothing is doing. As I looked into the miserable huts and shops of the capital, Belize City, I wondered if Belizians don’t secretly long for the bad old days when the British kept the economy running. Blacks congregate in the cities and the descendants of the Mayas seem to rule the countryside. Dreadful as the urban areas are, if one can get beyond the cities to the jungles and highlands they are in for a treat. Jaguars, tapirs, sloths, parrots, toucans, leaf-cutter ants—truly one has reached the tropics when they venture here.

Other than scuba diving, one of the neat things to do in Belize is cave tubing (above). For over a mile Michelle and I floated underground on a crystal clear river as it gently carried us through a system of enormous caves; since I have been in a lot of caves it was a very odd feeling to be riding on water past stalactites and stalagmites rather than walking.  At times, the only sounds were of the water dripping down from the cave ceiling.  Occasionally, the current would carry us into a clearing and our senses would be blasted by a bright blaze of greens, golds and blues.  Then we would reenter the cool darkness of the caves again.  It was wonderful.

My reverie ended quickly when we suddenly burst into another jungle clearing and our local guide pointed to a spot at the water's edge and said he had sighted a 20’ python a few days before “right over there.” If a guide waits this long, I thought to myself, to tell us about huge snakes nearby why wouldn't he wait just as long to tell us about piranhas in this very river where our butts are now so exposed in these tubes? Plus, Belize is home to the deadly Fer de lance, the so-called “three-step snake”—three steps being about as far as you can go after one bites you.

All in all, Belize, with its mahogany and coconuts is an exotic slice of the world but not a place Michelle and I plan on relocating to any time too soon.


Stamp of the Day