Time-Travel 1977, Belize Say You Will: Faded Glory, Pan-Carib, Cuba Libre…

Continued from previous…

March 1977

The border crossing from Guatemala is no big deal, and the countryside of Belize (British Honduras) is largely empty, prime territory for Mennonite immigrants.  Got cheese?  We go through the Brasilia-like planned-capital of Belmopan, which is tidy, but no one lives there.  That’s why it’s tidy.

BELIZE   3/3-5

Belize City is something of an eye-opener, the first time at least.  This is prime Caribbean culture, plopped down smack into Central America.  By this time I’m hanging with a couple of American guys, and everybody’s trying to be ‘more reggae than thou,’ this being the Classic Era for reggae, and ‘Roots Rock Reggae’ the hottest thing on the charts.  One of the guys befriends a local, who’s gonna’ show us the sights, i.e. shantytown.  And it’s an eye-opener to be sure, tin-roofed shacks and rolling spliffs mixed with tobacco.

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Welcome to Jamaica

Night time’s a little better, going to all the juke joints and drinking rum.  Our local friend drinks gin with milk… okay.  Other locals get in on the act.  “Buy me a beer!”  Okay.  So Belize City is interesting enough, but it’s not especially cheap comparatively—five dollars a night!  And that’s not really what Belize is all about anyway.  Belize is all about islands… and the second-longest barrier reef in the world, second only to Australia’s.  That’s where I want to go.  To get there you book a long-distance motorboat, and hope for the best.

CAYE CAULKER   3/5-9

If Panajachel defined one aspect of paradise, and Puerto Escondido another, then the Belizean ‘keys’ define still another.  On the Pacific you play in the waves, maybe body surf if you’ve got no board.  In the Caribbean you dive… or at least snorkel.  And you can spear fish, too, if you can bear to kill them.  They’re all beautiful… and tasty.  They flash their bright bold colors at you, and then prepare to die, ready for the Friday-night fry.

Conch is the specialty, so go blow your horn, but fish is the staple, holding your hunger at bay, and your desires at sea.  The Caribbean is one big swimming pool, azure gonna’ like it.  I could get used to this.  I imagine all the countries across the way, claiming the pool-side seats—Jamaica, of course, and Barbados, Grenada, Trinidad and more, not least of all Cuba, lying in wait.  I’ll be back, one way or another, one place or another, or maybe all in a row…

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But the contrast is part of the excitement, and the process is part of the beauty.  All good things must come to an end—but there’s probably something else right around the corner.  So I catch a bus north to the Mexican border.  Belize would be dirt-poor, but for British colonial support, noblesse oblige from a country largely fallen from grace, and unable to pay its debts.  Poverty rules the countryside and people scramble for crumbs to eat…

But that could be changing, one day soon, what with a revolution in Cuba now a quarter century old, and Sandinistas making steady gains against the Somocistas in Nicaragua.  And it’s a whole new ballgame when Socialists are winning democratic elections in Chile.  The US can’t crush them all; Vietnam proved that.  Time will tell.  Me, I’m drinking rum and cola to chase the demons away—Cuba libre!  It’s easy: the road beckons, and the border with Mexico…

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