Hey there, lovely readers!
Hope you’re enjoyed the guest postings by various members of the Whitman clan! I’m writing from The Lazy Iguana, our bed and breakfast here at beautiful Caye Caulker. This part of the week has definitely been more of the typical “vacation” that might come to mind when you think of Belize. Since we arrived on the caye yesterday, I’ve only seen one car. Most people drive bicycles and golf carts. Everyone walks around in bathing suits, and it’s not at all unusual to hop out of the ocean and walk into a bar and order a drink while you dry off. Caye Caulker is about a square mile, so it’s super easy to navigate, and the main three roads are Front Street, Middle Street, and Back Street. Tough, right? We’re staying at a more secluded B&B near Back Street. The big perks of this place are the bikes, the showers (have I mentioned that showering in PG has consisted of dumping tupperware containers of water over my head from the tub spout?), and–drumroll please–air conditioned rooms!!! We’re kiiind of in the lap of luxury. To top it all off–literally–is the rooftop deck of the house, which is topped with a thatched overhang and is the perfect place to sit with a Belikin and watch the sunset.
This morning, we said our goodbyes to Julie, as she boarded a Tropic Air plane headed to Belize International Airport. She’ll be back in the Forsyth Hospital ER tomorrow at 3 PM–such a dedicated nurse! When we dropped her off at the airport waiting area, we ran into Sharon Lee and her daughter Maia again, and we also met a super nice family from Texas. The man’s name was Hoss, which pretty much sold me on his awesomeness. HOSS…I mean, come on.
Today, we took things slow, which is how it’s done in Belize…especially here in Caye Caulker. We even saw a sign today that said something like, “Caye Caulker has lots of speed bumps, but NO hospital. Go slow.” All of the roads are made of sand, and as you walk down Front Street to “the split”–where most people go to swim–you pass lots of vendors grilling lobsters or selling conch shell jewelry or handmade bags. After we dropped off Julie, the boys and I biked to one of the food vendors who calls himself “The Budgetman.” Obviously, my dad has had his eye on this place since the moment we arrived, and we were eager to try his food. He never knows what he’s making until the night before when he talks to the local fishermen and finds out what’s been caught that day. Today, we lucked out because he was making whole grilled snapper and curry chicken, both served with rice and curry vegetables. I’ve never been a huge curry fan, but here it doesn’t imply spiciness as much as simply awesome flavor. Everything was delicious, and we washed it all down with some watermelon juice from a stand nearby.
We spent the rest of the afternoon napping, reading, and enjoying some entertaining family conversation up on the rooftop deck. We tried to watch the sunset, but unfortunately the clouds made it a little hard to see. We’ll reattempt tomorrow. Having my family here in Belize has definitely forced me to think a lot about what I’ve been up to and how I’ve changed from my time here. I’ve learned lots of lessons, and I’m excited to return to PG with a renewed sense of purpose. While I’m not sure which lessons will resonate with me the longest, I think that lately I’ve been realizing how much I’ve learned about judging others. But that’s for another post, if I remember to get to it… 🙂
Anway. What I really need to share is my hitchhiking adventure, which actually took place on Monday, and which has fulfilled a major check on my life’s to-do list and also increased my “awesome rebel” rating by about 250%. So here’s what happened.
On Monday, I got the whole Whitman family on board the bus heading north out of PG toward Belize City. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the bus rides here are pretty horrid. In any case, four and a half hours later, we made it to our destination, Hummingbird Haven, a lodge at Mile 29 off of the Hummingbird Highway. The place was pretty super rustic, and the high point was definitely the gorgeous creek that flowed around the entire property. My mom, Julie, and I sat in the water and let the little fish bite off our dead skin (which people pay huge amounts to do in the US!), and I also was super close to accidentally grabbing a sizable spider when I reached out to grab a log sticking out of the water. When I made the reservation for Hummingbird Haven, I inquired about access to food, and was told that there was one decent restaurant about a mile’s walk from the place, but that the best option was to bring your own food with you. We did bring along some snacks and some pasta, but the boys were wanting some beers, and we thought that pasta might not cut it as our only meal over 24 hours…heh. Knowing that buses pas along Hummingbird Highway fairly regularly, I offered to go out to the road with Julie and take it to the nearest town to pick up some additional groceries. It was around this point that I realized that this was my perfect opportunity to do something crazy.
As soon as Julie and I started walking out to the road, I informed her that we would not be aiming for the bus, but for the first car that drove by. I assumed my hitchhiking pose, which Julie told me was entirely inaccurate (giving a thumbs up and asking for a ride are apparently two different things). About three cars in, this HUGE truck rolls by and, to my complete shock, pulls over to the side of the road! I was ridiculously gleeful, and Julie was a combination of gleeful and peeing her pants with fear, and we ran up to the truck and hopped on in! The driver wasn’t very talkative, and when we got into the van, I just pointed forward and said we were looking to go to the next town. He nodded and started on the road. I felt as much like a truck driver as I’ll probably ever feel, and it was kind of awesome. So our driver, whose name was Alessandro, drives us through a couple of small villages that we thought might be the “town” that our Hummingbird Haven host had mentioned. But we weren’t sure, and Alessandro kept going, so we sat tight. When we’d gone something like five miles, I began to wonder if maybe we were not entirely on the same page with our good friend Alessandro. I asked him how many miles we had left, and he responded by telling me that he didn’t speak English! He was from Guatemala! Luckily, I happen to be ridiculously great at Spanish (extreeeeme exaggeration, haha, but I can make it work), so we began conversing in that language, and we figured out that Alessandro was taking us to Armenia, a town about ten miles further down the road. We realized that this was further than the place that our host had mentioned, but we decided to let it happen, and eventually Alessandro dropped us off at the Chinese grocery store next to the Armenia school. We were pretty eternally grateful to him, and I was just smiling from ear to ear to have not only hitchhiked, but also had a nice conversation with him in Spanish!
Our grocery store purchases included tortilla chips, salsa, beer, juice, ginger cookies, and garlic, which was a pretty good haul considering the fairly limited selection. The shopping took all of ten minutes and then it was back to the hotel. Fifteen miles away. We started walking with our bags, but I was feeling pretty super confident, and was quickly successful in flagging down a ride from–wait for it–a truck full of police officers!!! There were four of them, and they were already pretty squished into the vehicle, but they asked where we were going, and I told them that we wanted to get to the Mennonite Bakery about ten miles south of Armenia. (We passed the bakery in Alessandro’s truck, and I was determined to go there, even though Julie looked at me like I was insane for trying to make our adventure any longer). The police officers kindly welcomed us into their vehicle, and I was pretty much sitting on top of the one next to me, who, in addition to wearing camouflage, carried a big rifle. About a mile into our journey, the officer driving the car turned on the “Selena” soundtrack and blared the song “Dreaming Of You,” to which he knew all of the words. All I could do was laugh as we sped down the road.
The Mennonite bakery trip was a grand success, and resulted in some chocolate chip cookies and whole wheat bread, which would later be magically transformed into garlic bread by Julie and Padre. When we emerged from the bakery, it was a little rainy, and by “a little”, I mean that it was moving toward downpour status and actively thundering. Julie was, of course, fearing for her life, but we plodded down the road in our flip flops, and I stuck out my thumb every time I thought I heard a motor, which turned out to just be thunder most of the time. And then, what to my wondering eyes did appear, but a James Bus Line bus heading south! I hailed that baby down, we hopped on, and for the equivalent of 1 US dollar, we were back at Hummingbird Haven!
For those of you reading this who think I don’t do super rebellious things, may you all eat your hats–while I watch and laugh–and acknowledge my status as Hitchhiker of the Year!