The One Country That Stuck
I think we can all agree that we're living in unprecedented times as 2020 has proven to be one of the most unforgettable years to date and it's only mid-March. So many of us, while we're sitting in our respective homes waiting out the days of quarantine, are wondering how much longer we'll have to practice #socialdistancing before we can actually socialize with our families and loved ones again especially as the weather gets warmer, the flowers begin to bloom and summer is only a few months away.
As I sit at home baby gazing at my newborn Josiah, I too find myself reflecting on having just become a mother while also having just celebrated my one year wedding anniversary to my amazing husband. I find myself looking back on 12 months ago when this time last year, my husband and I were living our best lives on a tiny, remote island off the coast of Belize called Caye (pronounced "KEY") Caulker.
Now, I recognize that as a 30-something with a passport, lots of us have travelled around the world, experienced different people & cultures and even discovered new places that we imagine we could one day call home. After traveling to many different countries myself and living pretty extensively in France (Paris & Toulon to be exact), this one place that we visited simply...STUCK.
What do I mean by that?
By "stuck", I mean that when it was time to return to the US, I cried like a baby on the ferry back to mainland Belize, all the way through the airport, all the way back to the US, and finally in the Uber all the way home.
By "stuck", I mean, it took me over a week to fully re-acclimate to American culture and the old way of life after spending only 4 days on this remote Belizean island.
By "stuck", I mean, this small island truly and unequivocally changed my life and below I'll detail a few reasons why:
1. Equity not Equality
When you pull up to the main dock of Caye Caulker, the locals are the first to greet you. They aren't trying to hustle you or sell you anything, they are literally there, welcoming you to the island. Upon arrival, what you'll notice are a few things: Belizeans are Black. The technical term for indigenous Belizeans are "Garifuna" people, which are the descendants of slaves who were brought to the island centuries ago. In addition to the Garifuna people, there are tons of immigrants from neighboring countries (Guatemala, Nicaragua, etc.) who have moved to the island for a variety of professional and/or academic reasons.
So what you see is a beautiful marriage of Black and Brown people all of whom have real stake in property & business on the island. They OWN the island; the restaurants, the bars, the hotels, the local shops, the tourist companies, etc. It was fantastic to witness because so often we see locals being shoved out of their own communities while big European companies take over the island, capitalizing on the resources and the natives' inexpensive labor. In Caye Caulker, however, the locals live AMONG the tourists rather than being marginalized to the outskirts where tourists rarely go. As soon as you step foot on this island, you step foot in THEIR home. You eat what they eat, drink what they drink, socialize how they socialize and live right next door to the rich & the poor. This was the first time I bore witness to the difference between equity & equality and truthfully, it was so refreshing.
2. Go Slow // A Motto
Everywhere on the island, you'll see signs that read "Go Slow".
On an island where there are two cemeteries and no hospital, it's a running joke that "you better be safe" because the closest hospital is in Belize City which is nearly two hours away by ferry. What this also means is that the pace of the island is simply...slow. Note: cars aren't allowed on the island so you can either use a bike or a golf cart to get around or you can walk of course. You may be surprised to see people walking around barefoot, but hey, that's the way of life and it's perfectly normal. People greet each other by name all over the island because it's only 5 miles long and 1 mile across so needless to say, everyone knows each other. What we quickly had to get used to was the fact that food takes nearly 30-40 minutes to prepare because everything is made to order. Pre-packaged and/or processed foods seem to not exist on the island as everything is made super fresh, including the beverages so it was quite a relief to eat so clean for a few days. I first learned what soursop was at a small, quaint restaurant on the water and my.life.changed. Later I found out that soursop is considered to be 10x more effective in fighting cancer than chemotherapy!
3. Inexpensive Luxury
Imagine staying in a hotel suite with a huge balcony overlooking the semi-busy streets of the downtown area with a continental breakfast included for only $75 per night. You heard me.
Hard to imagine? Okay let's try this...
Imagine eating a 3 course dinner in what feels like a treehouse restaurant under the stars (which by the way look so close you feel as if you're in a planetarium) with made-to-order Belizean dishes & cocktails for a total of no more than $40 per person. Hard to believe...I know...but it's true.
We spent the least amount of money for the most incredible accommodations, food & recreation and this was another reason why Belize simply stuck.
All in all, from the breathtaking views, the hospitality of such a beautiful people, the slow, relaxed pace of the every day on an island that is so close-knit (btw recreational marijuana was legalized 2 years ago), Caye Caulker, stuck with me in a way that no other country and no other trip ever has. I strongly recommend it to those who are looking for a quick getaway to be totally immersed into a local culture & way of life that is welcoming, relaxing down-to-earth and diverse.
Caye Caulker, I love you and I'll never forget you.