Belize was a place of wonder. I came to learn about its culture, to admire its natural beauty, to bestow some good to the people who live there, and not be some passing stranger. As much as I gave for the house-building program, I got back a lot more in return. Every day has been adventure. I do something new, I see someone new, and all the while have been outside my comfort zone every step of the way and have been grateful. But my trip and my times in Belize are not yet over, and there was just enough time for one more adventure.
It is now Friday afternoon and the Belize crew is running late! Spending so much time admiring the Maya temples we were going to be late for our water taxi to our last vacation location, Caye Caulker. Caye Caulker is one of the many islands in reach of Belizean shores. Unfortunately, for us the boats don’t take requests or reservations. Either you are on board during business hours, or you are not. Coupled with the fact we were about an hour out from Belize City on a bumpy dirt road did not help matters. Thankfully, we already had our overnight bags loaded in the car before we left that morning.
It was a long, bumpy trip, but we made it safely to dock with time to spare. When it was time to board, some of us took a seat on the upper deck, where we got a clear view of our boat ride. As we sat on the deck, we took in the scenery like none found in Kentucky. As we traveled, we admired the crystal-clear ocean, and the scenery on the islands we passed. We enjoyed the jet blast of clean, cool ocean air as our boat rocketed toward our destination.
An hour later, we had arrived on Caye Caulker. As our crew disembarked from the boat and walked down the rocky streets, several words came to mind about the small community there: peaceful, scenic, serene. The main street that made up most of the community had rows of shops of various sorts and touristy attractions to keep visitors occupied. Just in our first pass in the street, I saw an open-air movie theater, a small library, convenience stores, restaurants, souvenir stands, and high-class hotels like the one where we were going to be staying for the night. That’s right! We were going to spend one night and most of the next day on this tropical island to relax and have fun.
Before we did anything, our crew checked into our hotel to drop off our stuff and then have some free time before having dinner at our first restaurant in a while. I choose to reserve my own room and decompress for a while after the long boat ride was over. After I was rested. I joined up with members of my crew to see what the Caye had to offer us. We saw lots of souvenir shops with lots of incredible keepsakes, but I wanted to browse my options first. I still had a plane ride home to consider so couldn’t get something as delicate as a sculpture made from a conch shell or something too big to fit in my bag, like a hammock. My group eventually came across the edge of the island the locals call The Split. The Split is the area of Caye Calker that was affected by a hurricane a couple of years back. The storm was so mighty, it split the island in half, dividing the Caye like a sliced birthday cake. One side was reserved for tourists while the other was reserved for natives. On our side, the residents erected a party shack where party-goers could enjoy the beach, have something to eat and get something to drink. Alcoholic, preferably.
The whole crew got back together and ended the night by going out to eat at a restaurant for the first time since we had come to Belize. The restaurant specialized in seafood, naturally. But the unique thing about the menu here was that the customer could choose exactly which fish, crab, or lobster was to be cooked for their dinner from their catch-of-the day display.
The next morning the crew and I woke up bright and early. We were eager to enjoy our limited time on this island resort. To start our day, our leader scheduled an underwater snorkeling trip in the Belizean coral reefs. To those of use that had the stomach for the adventure, we set off to Caye Caulker’s coral reefs, untouched for years. A good thing too for our tour guide has warned us that the reefs themselves were razor sharp. The three hours we spent on the tour seemed to pass as fluidly as the crystal clear water we swam in. We spent hours swimming, looking down, and admiring the natural underwater artistry that no fish tank could ever reproduce. We got to see several kinds of the fish that call the reefs home, including rainbow trout, barracuda, and fish I have never seen before. Given that I’m no marine biologist, that’s no surprise. Before it was time to go back a shore, we spent the remaining time free swimming and interacting with some of the local stingrays and nurse sharks.
After our tour of the ocean, it was for lunch and time to review our game plan for the rest of the day. Our water taxi was due to pick us up around 4:30 pm. What we did until then was up to us. So after we ate, the crew split up again and went about doing whatever we felt like we needed before heading back home. My group started going through some shops, taking pictures, buying souvenirs to remind us our time in Caye Caulker, and rescuing a baby hermit crab that accidently wandered from the water the to the busy streets.
Before we knew it, it was time to go. With much reluctance, we loaded onto the taxi and set off for another hour-long trip back to Belize City and the Starfish House.
Before we settled in for the night, Mr. Panton came by once more for thank us for donating our time, money, and backs to make HHM house #243 a success. Mr. Panton was also there to take part in a so-called Thorns and Roses evaluation for the trip. Thorns and Roses is just another way of listing an individual’s best experience (the Rose) and the individual’s worst experience (the Thorn). The idea is to make improvements for ensuing work crews. Everyone in the crew got a turn recalling their experiences of what did work versus what didn’t without being deemed selfish. When it was my turn, my rose was that I was given to opportunity to come into another country and leave behind some good. My only complaint however, is the amount of time I had to spend looking for something to do on the work site. I hate being useless. I hate not being part of the solution. And I hate it more when I see something that can be done, but I don’t know how. When my group was done cutting all the parts we needed at the time, we were left hanging because we didn’t know what the next step next. Nobody sat down with us and explained what the steps in the project and how it was to accomplish them. Again, I remind you that I am not talented in curbing my opinions.
My complaints were not without a suggestion or two. My suggestion to Mr. Panton was that maybe the build team could have some blueprints to know which planks went where and the saw team could have a list of lumber to cut.
With our praises and our grumps noted, Mr. Panton thanked us again and left us to prepare for Belize Crew 2014 last trip, the flight back to Kentucky.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and we reluctantly began to pack up our belongings. Packing up to go to someplace was the easy part, but packing up what we own and finding safe place for all of our souvenirs was a bit of a challenge. I was in a different country; I couldn’t help but spurge a little! My bag was heavy with personal effects and memorable keepsakes to remind me of my times in Belize. Some of the memorabilia weren’t just for me; some were for my family as well. I bought hand-woven purse for my mom, two bottles of Belize’s local beer for my dad, a tea set for Katie (my sister is a collector of sorts for tea and porcelain), a fabric wall decoration of a cat for Sara (my other sister is a fan of cats and cute things), and a hand-carved cross from Frank’s shop for my grandparents.
Among my collection of things for me was a Y Cross from Frank’s place, a stone-carved Mayan calendar from the Caye, a small artistic knife, and one of my favorite pieces, a House Memorial Board. Each member of Belize Crew 2014 collected a leftover plank from the house we built. We painted it with our house’s colors, glued a group photo and then decorated it with all of our signatures. Truly this was a treasure among all the other knick-knacks that I have collected over the years.
My stay was only a week, but my visit felt like I have been there longer. I wish I could have stayed longer. But I know I’ll be going on an expedition like this again.