Here we are...on time even!
After the four-hour "nap," we were up and out of the door. As we stood bewildered on the Metro platform waiting for one of the morning's first cars, reality started to sink in. "We're finally going on vacation!" Even before we got on the plane, Mark started experiencing his firsts. Almost in disbelief I heard him say he had never seen the inside of Reagan National. "Surely that can't be true," I thought, but come to think of it, he's probably only picked up passengers but never saw the interior. He flew to San Francisco from Dulles and Kansas City from BWI, so there you have it.
We glided through security and were whisked over to Miami where we had a short layover. Splotches of gilded marine formations were embedded in the tiles. We passed at least three Au Bon Pains
before settling on the third one for breakfast or lunch or whatever you call an airport feeding at that stage.
Our first glimpse of Belize
We sat on the right side of the plane and didn't see much until we spotted coast about 45 minutes before landing in Belize. It was the northeastern part of the Yucatan in Mexico. From the air, Belize was palm trees, forests and muddy rivers inland and marshy islands off the coast. As we taxied down the runway toward the gate after landing, I saw the Belikin
Brewery across the fence. I was to see that name ubiquitously throughout the next week and a half, and was to wish I had one within seconds of stepping off the plane.
The heat slapped us across our bodies as if an oven door had been propelled open. With no bags to pick up and no real worries about changing money (the Belize dollar was set to the US dollar 2:1), we grabbed a taxi to the bus station for $25 US. Within minutes of exiting the cab, we were on sticky green plastic seats in an old yellow school bus with all the windows down and bound for San Ignacio.
Mark on Burns Avenue, San Ignacio
Mark sat in front of me since there were no two free seats next to each other. A friendly Belizean across the aisle helped Mark put his bag in an overhead shelf and we chit-chatted off and on the whole way. His name was Gilbert and I think he appreciated that we were traveling the local way, all hot and sweaty like the rest of the populace. Later we met Dorian, who was a natural resource management major at the university. Between them both, we knew where to eat dinner and even managed to broach the typically taboo subjects of religion and politics. Not bad for a couple hours into a new country.
We came into town with a bang--literally. I thought a bomb had exploded, but it was the right rear tire, and it happened in the middle of the street just before the turn into the bus station in San Ignacio
. Dorian bailed on the bus and escorted us to our hotel, the Venus
, which took only about 2 minutes on foot from where the bus came to a halt.
My first Belikin
The hotel was on the main street of town, which was just one of six spokes that radiated out from the nucleus that was the center of town. Everything was about 5 minutes walk from that point. It was even hotter here. We checked into a small room with an even smaller bathroom. There was a ceiling fan and a standing fan that oscillated. Neither proved to be enough to cool us off that night.
At this point we were more interested in eating than cleaning up, so we headed to a place that Dorian had called Hannah's but had recently been renamed "Let's Go Eat"
in a Mayan dialect that still had the syllable "han" in it. We sat at a table next to a fan and perused the menus. We ordered our first of many Belikins.
Welcome to San Ignacio
We clinked glasses, the sweat from the bottle cascading over our wrists. The beer was cold and absolutely delicious in the present circumstances. We ordered from the specials menu and shared stew pork, rice and a black bean soup. For dessert we tried a slice of thick homemade banana bread. After a filling meal, we strolled around the downtown area, stopping at a stone gazebo across from the police station and landmark Hawksworth Bridge
that crosses the Macal River
eastbound into Santa Elena
town. Past the town hall, we turned down a street that passed by a nightclub and a few stores. We browsed through one of the stores, which was a typical mishmash of products from major appliances to cheap Chinese towels to shampoos and a display of electronic devices.
Enjoying a couple brews at Mr. Greedy's
No compelling reason brought us in the store, but it was interesting observation for both of us to realize that most of what we packed we could have just purchased here if needed.
After cooling showers, we went across the street and had some beers at Mr. Greedy's
, a bar with the best happy hour in town and popular with expats. We tried a Lighthouse Lager
, another product from the Belikin brewery (all beers in the country are brewed there), then switched back to regular Belikin. It was still hot and muggy, but exciting to be away from the sterile suburbs and bustle of the city. It would be one of the best vacations we ever had.