|Walt and Deb atop El Castillo at Xunantunich|
We left our amazing jungle experience behind yesterday and made our way to Hopkins, a tiny Garifuna settlement on the Caribbean. While there was wifi at Table Rock, our jungle lodge, the satellite system they used didn't like Macs apparently, so I was forced off the grid for a week. That was a bit frustrating, but also helped me be even more present for the days we were out of touch.
Since you heard from me last we've visited the market in San Ignacio and eaten our first pupusas, climbed pyramids, explored Maya ruins, gone caving, gone zip lining, seen incredible butterflies and hummingbirds, wandered villages, fed howler monkeys in the wild, seen miles and miles of leaf cutter ants wending their way from trees to nests, held green iguanas, and spotted my elusive keel-billed toucan as it flew overhead, away from me. We lounged at the palapa of the lodge every afternoon, reading or taking notes on the day, being served lime juice on ice by Jose. We've eaten five star meals prepared by Chef George, and had orange juice squeezed from oranges grown at Table Rock. Our breakfasts were made from eggs laid on their farm, and the fruit came from surrounding villages. We've made friends, met people who have moved into our hearts to stay.
Leaving Table Rock was hard. We have never experienced such luxury. Yet we still felt like we were contributing to the health of Belize. Alan and Colleen built the place from jungle scrub with nothing but vision and grit and the labor force of a neighboring village. They are off the grid electrically and use only local foods. Water is conserved. There are no outlets in the rooms. But there is such a feeling of abundance, both materially and humanly, that we drove away overflowing with a sense of deep rightness and connection to life.
Our arrival at Hopkins was another huge culture shock. Partly it was being away from the family feeling of Table Rock. Partly it was the heat and return to a scrubby landscape. Partly it was being faced one more time with the incredible poverty in this country.
We had visions of a romantic week in our secluded cabana on the beach. Ingrid, our hostess, is a warm and lovely German woman whose English leaves me baffled frequently. At first glance, the cabana was everything we hoped for. After Ingrid left us to ourselves, however, the cracks began to show. The lovely beach front we had to ourselves was littered with garbage, and the sea breeze, while comforting at first, after a bit felt more like a blast furnace. The cabana itself was a bit beyond rustic. Which might all have been okay, except it did not cool down even a bit last night, and we woke up this morning groggy, grumpy, and not sure what to do next.
To make this long story shorter, Ingrid found us another place on the beach (she apparently manages a number of properties in Hopkins). We have gone from run down rustic to a room in a million dollar home, with access to the living room and kitchen of the suite next door because it's currently empty. It's beautiful here, more than we actually wanted, but the air conditioning is making us both very happy right now.
As we drove up to the place this afternoon after a day of adventuring in Placencia (where we had lobster for lunch that was caught this morning), we saw a very small girl, probably 7 or 8, riding a very large bike up and down the side of the property. I talked to her about the size of the bike and her prowess with it, and got great smiles. Her home is a wooden shack on stilts, right next to this house. The houses on the other side of us are much the same as hers. It's interesting that my first experience with Belize was the poverty, and the ending of my time here is surrounded by it as well.
It was Linda who commented on the last post that what seems so unusual at first will become familiar. And that's certainly been true of a lot of our experience in the last ten days. We've grown accustomed to the roads (which are worse in some places than the guide books warned). Walt has learned to drive like a local, which means passing cars in places and ways that seem insane at home. We've gotten used to the bugs (which really aren't as bad as we expected). We're moving slower, in part because of the heat and humidity, and in part because no one moves fast here. Our ears are more attuned to English spoken with a Spanish accent and I find myself hearing in my head the names of the places we've been, spoken with the most musical of lilts.
The poverty, too, is becoming more familiar. What it isn't becoming is comfortable. I don't know what to do with it. At every speed bump, and there are at least six for each village we go through, locals stand either waiting for the bus or selling food of some kind. Our car has to come to almost a complete stop to inch across the wide concrete barriers. I sit with my window open and beautiful brown people within arms's reach. So I smile and wave at the faces we pass. Some, most actually, smile and wave back. It's not enough, but right now, that bit of affection is the best I have to offer.
We have five more days here. I'm not sure what they'll bring. We have no specific plans for our remaining time in Belize beyond exploring, eating great food, and looking for whatever adventure presents itself at the next turn. I hope to post once more before we return home, but I've got so many stories just waiting to be told on the other side of this time. I can hardly wait to share.