Paradise on Earth? You Better Belize It
“We want you to feel at home in Belize”
In what is said to be record rainfall this year in Belize, California is ready to declare a state of emergency from their driest year in recent history. Belize is a third world country, so yes, it’s going to have high theft areas of crime. Thankfully, there are just as many safe havens full of the nicest people of any high traffic tourist area. The people of Belize are limited in traveling only across near borders. Without a visa, the furthest they can go north is Mexico, and thus they depend on the tourism industry to meet people from around the world. Ambergris Caye is the place a lot of the mainland people move because of the serenity of the island. It sure feels like paradise when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing off the shore. They may be seeing record rainfall, but the sun is still shining hard every day periodically between what I know from living on the west coast as pineapple express weather.
Most people know Belize through the hit television show Breaking Bad mentioning it as an analogy for murdering someone. Luckily, my trip to Belize didn’t have such a drastic ending. People either catch this reference, don’t have any idea what or where Belize is, or have been to Belize themselves and know of the paradise with a lack of infrastructure. This emerging getaway has seen many people including Harrison Ford and Madonna come and go. It’s undeveloped compared to that of the Myan Riviera, or Cancun, which is perfect for baby boomers looking for nostalgia. Beach bars blast Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones while people bet on horseshoes or eat at the adjacent barbeque. The amount of diversity is astounding and everyone is eager to mingle with each other tourists and locals alike.
This island was compared to paradise from all the locals I encountered, people from the mainland who saved for years to come to the emerging island get away, American Army vets looking for a place to retire. The Ambergris Caye is located off the east coast of the mainland of Belize, only a fifteen minute plane ride away. This small island is only a mile wide, allowing you to see the sea on both the east and west coast simultaneously. The crystal blue waters include a river through the island resulting in a lagoon as well as the vast beautiful turquois ocean, the Caribbean Sea. The beach is composed of coral reef sediment sprouting from the second largest reef in the world just off the coast of the island, if you focus on the horizon you can see where the waves crash upon the summit of the reef to ease the waters heading into the Caye. Many citizens of San Pedros own boats and other aquatic craft to navigate the local area efficiently as well as go to the mainland for food, supplies, etc. Most bars are on the beach, some even featuring jet –ski access. The popular clubs of San Pedros are located in the high traffic tourist area, and the locals will be keep you partying there all night if you let them. The most popular club on the island is called “Jaguars” featuring an awesome entrance that’s intriguingly welcoming as you enter the mouth of a Jaguar next to the city center clock tower.
At home in Canada, a dollar doesn’t go very far anymore. In fact, unless you go to a dollar store or settle for subpar quality, you can’t even get a soda for a dollar anymore. Ironically enough, most dollar stores are even bumping their rates to $1.25. But in Belize, your dollar goes a bit further into the realm of minor refreshments and beyond. Your American dollar is worth double in Belize, and though this may sound appealing, there is a price we the tourists pay, then another price for the locals that can’t afford as much. In some cases locals will trade things with each other, such as fishermen trading for produce. This allows for some old fashioned bartering with the right establishments. In souvenir shops, for example, where cheesy shirts say “You Better Belize It!” or “UnBelizeable” which is eye candy to tourists, but not necessarily appealing if the price tag exceeds the novelty.
In Mexico or Jamaica, you might come across people desperately trying to convince you to enter their establishment or buy some product in an attempt to make ends meet. While I always felt uncomfortable being led into random, sometimes sketchy places, you won’t encounter much of that in San Pedros. People here are not pushy. They may ask if you would like to have dinner at their restaurant but they leave you alone at no. If you show interest, they might show you the menu before directing you into the establishment, still allowing you to decide for yourself. Most of the time, people greet you in the streets and ask you how you are enjoying Belize. They don’t necessarily want your money, they’re genuinely glad to meet you and are always willing to strike up a conversation to a passerby.
Belize has a struggling economy, due to the world economic struggle and their attempts and enticing more people to come to Belize thwarted by the fact that money is going into the wrong areas of town, funding seems to get lost in translation. Despite the rap that parts of the mainland have cases of crime, one thing is for certain, the people of Belize, at least the people of the Ambergris Caye, are welcoming people that are very kind. There is no stigma of keeping to yourself so as not to defend the wrong people like in North America. This spreads the feeling of community, a feeling that even just as a tourist that you’re a part of something bigger and better when you can just walk up to anyone on the street and strike up a conversation, provided you speak enough English or Spanish. That kind of thing doesn’t happen here without being branded as out of the ordinary, despite the fact that humans were made to be communal beings. That all got lost in translation in a lot of places it seems, but you better believe that it hasn’t happened here in Belize.