Just writing this has me yawning and longing for a nap!
10.03.2015 - 26.04.2015 89 °F
Main Street- Where all the action is!
Belize is known for its quirky personality as much as for its diverse environments including the Mayan jungles and its Caribbean slow life on the cayes (islands). I'm in yet a different setting. I am living in a small fishing village. In addition to fishing, boat building is the major industry. Tourism is also starting to contribute to the local economy, but it is growing slowly. More commonly, snowbirds from Canada are buying up land for vacation homes. They usually expand the village population between January and Easter.
This boat is being built just one block from where I live so I get to see the process which is...s l o w.
Sandwiched between jungle and the sea, there are a series of natural water wells that have always made the area attractive for settlements, but the original Mayan pyramids are long gone.This current community consists of Mestizos of Yucateca Mayan ancestry that relocated here during the Caste wars though later, quite a few families also came from Honduras and El Salvador during the conflicts there. Therefore, Spanish is the primary language, but most locals know some English corresponding with their level of education (school classes are taught in English). However, the Spanish here has its own unique flavor; some locals do not have complete command of either Spanish or English. Only a few of the elderly still speak Mayan.
While somewhat isolated, the village can be reached by small private plane, bus or boat. The road is rough and washes out in the rainy season and a 4-wheel drive is recommended for intrepid travelers. The bus is a challenge, both for the bad road, the bad buses and a schedule that is geared to the local fishermen needing to commute to Belize City. The four daily buses leave each morning at 3:00 am, 4:00 am, 5:00 am, and 6:00 am. Yep, you'd better get up early like the locals! The forty mile distance to the first real town can take up to two hours.
This is actually the bus station, but no one goes there. The bus makes a loop around town before it hits the road so you can get picked up most anywhere in town and you pay on board. These are old Bluebird school buses that were bought used. Air-conditioning? If you can pry open the window!
For a little more money, the easiest and most pleasant way to get here is by boat. There is a ferry service that passes by when it goes from a mainland town to one of the cayes (islands) popular with tourists. When I was here last, a stop at the village was by special request, but there is enough business to make it a regular stop now. And it's not just people who board and disembark, mail and other deliveries are part of the service. My last trip,we were accompanied by a full-sized refrigerator and a large wooden wardrobe.
The Thunderbolt ferry- it makes two daily stops- one going east in the morning and one going west in the afternoon. One day it didn't arrive...OMG. The police found a package of marijuana among the cargo. When none of the passengers admitted to being the owner (duh!), they arrested the captain. The Thunderbolt was impounded. Big drama, but the Thunderbolt was back on track with the usual captain the next day.
The population is somewhere between 2-3000, but it sometimes feels even smaller as the men and older boys are gone for long periods of time according to the fishing season. Many families also temporarily relocate to the cities (Belmopan or Belize City) when their children want to study beyond high school or to get vocational training; they usually can't afford to sustain two households.
There are currently only two guesthouses with no more than 2-5 rooms each, but there is a new home stay program and a backpacker place with camping and cabins has opened up just outside of town . When I was here about a half-dozen years ago, I didn't see another tourist and the only foreigner I observed was a fundamentalist missionary who approached me right after I had arrived. This time there are quite a few tourists and tons of seasonal expats. Tourists don't stay long as there isn't much to do. The younger ones are eager to move on to a place with a real beach, but stay long enough to visit a nearby nature reserve. The older ones are generally expats who own or rent temporary housing and stay for a few months each year to escape cold weather in the US and Canada. Their main contribution to the local economy seems to be buying alcohol in large quantities (but that's just my biased view).
Lots of restaurants have come and gone over the years, but there are never more than a few at a time-- they just don't get enough business. Pablito's and Ritchi's cater to the drinking ex-pat types who want (and can afford) booze and a meal with fish or meat with beans and rice or french fries. The primary place is Liz Fast Food which sells the local snacks of tacos, tostadas, garnachos, salbutes and the occasional burger which at $3.50BZ (or $1.75US) is one of the more expensive items (it's the only item with beef). Best of all, they are open from 6:30 am to 2 pm and then 6 pm to 10 pm everyday. It's a good place to hangout to watch Mexican telenovelas (soap operas) and gossip with the 'girls'. This is where locals come.
After a few days, I'm able to work out a schedule and figure out how to take advantage of the limited local resources. On Wednesdays, a Mennonite from a (relatively) nearby community comes with a pickup load of produce and eggs. On Sundays, there's a plastic salesman (buckets, pans, containers). On Saturdays and occasional Thursdays, a senora sells homemade chicken tamales wrapped in banana leaves, but you'd better get there early. A local guy drives around in his pickup a few times a week to sell fruit and miscellaneous produce. Yesterday, he had grapes from Chile, two papayas, cheap local oranges, plantains, chayote (a type of watery squash), some sad shriveled carrots and a few pricey limes (the lime crops in Mexico and Central America are currently infected-- reducing availability and raising costs).
The Mennonite's usual transport is a horse and cart, but he hires a local to drive him to the village.
Delivery trucks parked in front of the 'super' market.
There's a bakery that's just a year old; it sells basic white bread and Mexican style sweetbreads. A tortilla factory sells tortillas and tostadas; I've seen another tortilla place with a sign, but I haven't found it open yet. One of the tiny stores that has been around for awhile has grown into a "super" market by local standards. But pickings are still slim and geared toward basics. This is basically a poor (and isolated) community and those that can afford specialty items tend to make occasional shopping trips to Corozal or Orange walk though I didn't see much in the stores there either.
Locals know where to go, so many businesses don't bother with a sign. Everyone knows G.B. opens her window in her home in the evenings and sells oil, rice and other basics as well as a few homemade baked goods. I saw a lemon meringue pie on the counter of one little store and some small Valentine cakes at another; local ladies trying to make a little extra money. On Friday evenings, members of a church set up a small table and sell baked goods and garnachos (essentially tostadas topped with re-fried beans and a bit of cabbage and tomato). Some places only open for a few hours in the evening. Others stay open all the time since it is essentially part of their house and there is always at least one family member to make the sale. Tucked away in dark hallways, I have caught glimpses of what might be toy/party store and a 'gift' shop.
I stumbled across another large grocery store at the opposite end of the village from where I'm staying. It was almost as large as the super store, but had even less variety. There was no sign and they keep the lights inside turned off-- not sure if it is to keep it cool or for thrift. As I said, no sign, but everyone calls it Chino's. This guy also runs a takeout business from the back of his store (again nothing to indicate the service). He sells fried chicken, Chow Mein and Chop Suey. None of these dishes bears resemblance to actual Chinese food, but no one here would know that and he seems to do a pretty brisk business with the chicken in the evening. In this case, the owner really is Chinese (and doesn't speak English or Spanish), but even if he was Korean, Japanese or any other Asian ethnicity, they would still call him El Chino. There seems to be at least one "Chino" store in every community however small. Where other stores close for lunch and holidays-- El Chino is always open all day and never closes on any day.
And sometimes, the business comes to your house. No Fuller Brush or Amway type sales here. Just a low quiet call of 'tarde', the local shorthand for buenas tardes. If you come to the door, you will find them standing a polite distance away with their product held out for you to see. I have been offered homemade coconut candy, used clothing, hammocks, watermelon, oranges, and packets of spice. There's also a casual exchange of free offerings if you are in the right place at the right time. This usually involves fruit from the trees in a yard. I have been the recipient of limes, green mangos, plums and a fruit that resembles a mamay (but lacks the divine flavor and texture).
There are a few tiny nods to tourism. Chuy's Souvenir and Art Center (the son of a fisherman I met a few years back added a room on to his father's house to sell his paintings); a cyber-net cafe sign claims internet and copy machine services (I went to check it out, but found it closed); and Brisa's Bike Rentals has a few battered offerings if someone else doesn't get there first. A few other signs hang by the one for bike rentals-- remnants of previously attempted and failed businesses-- one for a restaurant and another for a barbershop. That last one must have inspired the neighbor as I see him occasionally cutting someone's hair on his porch. Hmmm... I may have to pay him a visit.
For the locals there is a center that has limited health services for people and organizes the occasional "It's Hip to Snip" clinics for pets . There's a police department near the public dock that doesn't see much business. Eight churches- all equally tiny in size and only one is Catholic- are scattered mostly along the main road. A library is being constructed slowly over time and there's a sign requesting volunteer labor. A bike ride to the far side of town uncovered a Nazerine elementary school and two high schools, one Baptist and one Catholic. A rough sports field was nearby. A quiet woman and her little boy make rounds on a horse-drawn cart; she's the garbage collector.
The Police Department is by the main pier with a great view of the water.
Yep, it's the slow life here. The only excitement I anticipate is eventually seeing the toucans that eat Mabi's blackberries. My primary entertainments are reading library e-books on my android, sitting by the sea watching the sunset, borrowing Mabi's bike for a spin around town and occasionally dropping in at Liz's. Sometime between 3-5 in the afternoon, I walk to the dock to take my daily swim.
Yep, it's the slow life. Very slooooooowwwwwww. Yet my writing is not forthcoming because my mind has become slooooowwww too! And because it's the slow life, I am doing my own laundry by hand, doing my own cooking from scratch on a two-burner stove-top and walking wherever my errands take me. Strangely, I never seem to have much free time...