... but four bottles of it were by the time we all left the airport yesterday. And a fifth after the bus ride. Let's just say archaeologists have a reputation and this crowd seems more than happy to live up to it.
Anyway, here's what I wrote before I went to bed last night:
Arrival day continued...
We landed ahead of schedule at the tiny Belize City airport. And by tiny, I mean I didn’t know they made international airports that small. We got off the plane directly onto the tarmac, and it was hot and sticky and windy, and the guy I was walking with (named Kevan, whom I’d met when we got on the plane) said “It feels just like I thought it would.” I noted palm trees, which I haven’t seen since the Riviera, I suppose.
We go inside under the “Welcome to Belize” sign, and it was right about then that I became acutely aware that we are in a third-world country. Mostly because it was right about then that I noticed the size of the airport. Immigration is literally right inside the door—you walk in and are in line—and it consists of four tall tables with agents sitting behind them, and lines painted on the floor to indicate where the queues should form. Behind them is a single baggage claim carousel, and when you’ve retrieved your bag you turn back and realize that customs is just behind and to the right of immigration. Just behind them is the door to the rest of the airport: about four or five ticket counters, three or four tiny shops, a doorway I assume leads to security and the boarding area, and a staircase up to a second floor that contains a restaurant and a screened “waving area” above the waiting planes. That’s it. I didn’t notice, but Kevan said there were only about six planes outside when ours landed.
Immigration and customs were more pointless than anywhere I’ve been before. The immigration lady looked at my papers, asked if I had an address in San Ignacio (I didn’t know it, so I gave the name of the Midas Resort Hotel), wrote something down, and stamped my passport for thirty days. The end. The customs lady took my form, asked where I was going, wrote something down, and sent me on my way. Apparently they just don’t ask a lot of questions here.
There were already a bunch of BVAR people waiting in the restaurant upstairs drinking beer, so we joined them. Since I don’t drink beer, I instead had the best rum and coke I have ever drunk in my life. And let’s face it, I’ve had many a rum and coke. There was also a bottle (well, multiple bottles, one after the other) of amber-colored Belizean rum making the rounds (watch us all get mono) that I swear tastes like lightly spiced maple syrup. It was delicious.
We waited about four hours after I got there for the last flight with BVAR students on it to come in, because it got delayed by an hour. Then we lugged all our stuff outside for a bus ride somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours west to San Ignacio.
Sometimes the road is nicely paved and painted. Other times it is less paved, unmarked, and narrow enough that God help you if your hand is outside the window when your bus passes another bus. “Bus” in Belize appears not to denote anything other than a colorful school bus with dirty windows. Also, theses buses move faster than I thought it possible for school buses to move. (Kevan: “So, is there a speed limit here, or is it just anything goes?” The question remains unanswered, but I’m thinking the latter.) Rarely does the road (I say that as if there is only one because I am so far unconvinced that that isn’t the case) cross or meet another road that isn’t dirt. The Belizean method of conquering speed bumps, which do exist here in the form of slightly raised pavement indicating a designated crosswalk (yes, those exist too) seems to be to fly up to it, stop and roll gently over it, and then speed away again. Sometimes only to do it again in a few hundred yards.
Fortunately for speeding buses, The Road is very flat for most of the trip between Belize City and San Ignacio. And by that I mean Ohio has nothing on Belize. But it was okay, because here there were mountains in the distance. And not pussy mountains, either. Or maybe they just looked that way in comparison to everything else.
I didn’t quite notice when we reached said mountains. They came up really fast, apparently, because first they were off in the distance and then all of a sudden they were right outside my window. I did not observe them come closer in the interim. I did observe that it was at that point that things started to look jungle-y to me. Before that, after the initial fascination had worn off, I’d been noticing that for the most part what I saw didn’t look that much different from the coastal forests of southeastern North Carolina. It seemed different, but I couldn’t have told you why, other than to point to specific plants and say “I’ve never seen these before.” The overall impression just wasn’t that unfamiliar. Someone else looking out the window said “Dude, it’s [Belize is] like 80% jungle” and I thought, “Huh? I don’t see any jungle.” Here in Cayo I see it, though.
There are horses and dogs everywhere here, including dogs wandering the grounds of the Midas and in and out of the open-air restaurant where we had dinner, and the horses are just as likely as the dogs to be found by the side of the road instead of behind a fence. Except for a bony specimen grazing next to the road, Belizean horses seem to be beautiful. Belizean dogs, not so much. The dogs, with just a few exceptions, also seem to be all roughly the same size and shape, and come in a limited range of colors. I think all of the females have puppies stashed somewhere.
Things I have yet to see include: an mammal other than a dog, horse, cow, or goat (cows, by the way, are not Holsteins or Anguses or Jerseys; I’d forgotten what I learned in France about livestock not, in fact, being the same everywhere); a white Belizean; anything made of brick or stone; a building higher than two stories (stilts not included), or maybe three; and a naturally occurring color other than brown or green.
The Midas is cute. There’s the main building, which has a patio with tables and chairs out back, and a tiny bar that has beer and soda and bottled water. A long (concrete!) path leads from it down across the rest of the property (maybe a hundred yards long) and all along it are little individual cabanas, some square and some round, and one very nice-looking building that I think contains four connect rooms. They are painted pretty colors, and they all have little porches and some of the porches have hammocks. They also all have non-functioning air conditioners. But it cools off enough at night that with a fan and open windows (they’re screened well, precisely so this can be done) it’s bearable. Each cabana has its own bathroom, a little desk, and a TV, which I haven’t yet tried. I and three roommates have the very last room, on the end. There is a population of leaf-cutter ants living in front of it, it is apparently too far from the wireless router for me to have internet inside it or on the porch, and there are wonderful insect sounds surrounding it at night. It also originally contained a double bed and a single bed, and while we all agreed we had no problem sharing beds, we DID have a problem sharing single beds. We explained the situation to the lady who gave us the key and who I think owns the place, and she tried to move us to a different room, which turned out to have the same arrangement. The solution was the move the single bed from that room into the original room and put it between the other two beds (since that was the only realistic place to put it) basically creating one giant bed across an entire side of the building. The guy who moved the bed for us, not allowing us to help, is named Tomas, and he was born across the river in Santa Elena, where he still lives, and he speaks English and Spanish and the local creole (which he gave me the impression is the main mode of communication among Belizeans), and he hung around on our porch talking to me and Suzanne for a while after moving the beds. He seems really nice. He wants to learn French and I told him I want to learn Spanish, and what little bit I know I picked up fairly easily because I already know French. He said Spanish is very easy to learn.
My roommates are Holly, Suzanne, and Tori. Tori is from Nevada, but I don’t remember where the others are from. I played cards with Tori in the airport, and drank rum with Holly in the airport, and didn’t meet Suzanne until we got to San Ignacio because she’s already been in Belize for a week hanging out. She seems older than most of the rest of us, and I can’t decide whether it’s because she is or if she’s just mature and prematurely aged. There doesn’t seem to be a non-awkward way to ask. I like her, though. I think I like Holly, but she might annoy me. I really liked Tori at first and was glad we were going to be roommates, but now I’m not sure anymore. She may be another Sara, for those of you who know how that went. There is likely to be some shifting around of rooms during the month, and I think that regardless of how we get along it would be nice to have some shifting of roommates, too. I don’t know if they’ll want to do that, though, since keeping track of all of us is probably an organizational nightmare.
I think they are going to feed us well. We eat breakfast and dinner at a restaurant right down the road, which has a shelter over it, very high up, but is lacking in walls other than where the eating area meets the owner’s house on one side and the kitchen area on the other. We wandered in for dinner and sat down at long tables and a fat Indian-looking lady brought us plates of enormous amounts of food—barbecue chicken and rice and plantains and something I wasn’t sure of and didn’t touch, not that I needed to, since I couldn’t eat everything else.
Now it is morning, still cool out, but sticky. It's very quiet except for more bird and insect sounds than I've ever heard in one place before. Tori said she saw a monkey this morning. We all woke up at six even though this was our one morning to sleep in--they scheduled breakfast for 8 instead of 6:45 to let us get over traveling. Stupid time difference. I'm sitting on the patio of the main building at the Midas, where the wireless internet seems to work beautifully. There's a lot of activity this early in the morning. Workers and guests talking in both English and Spanish, a flurry of breakfasting, lots of coming and going.
Something I forgot to note last night: Seeing the sun ready to set at 6:30 pm was kind of a shocker. I'd forgotten how much closer to the equator I am now.
Today after breakfast we have some orientation activities and then after lunch, a field trip to Xunantunich.