Two Weeks South of the Border: Part One
Guess who not only has 50 research papers to grade in the next week but also has the honor of serving as a witness in a big ole lesbian wedding extravaganzapalooza this weekend? I even get to give a toast at the reception (something along the lines of “May you always wear the same size and, therefore, enjoy double the wardrobe from this day forth”).
While I’m off grading and toasting, I leave you with the first installation of a travelogue written in 1990, when I was 22 and traveled to Belize to visit my sister, Kirsten, during her first tour as a volunteer in the Peace Corps. What you’ll read here is my 22-year-old voice, typed directly from a letter I sent out upon my return.
By the way, although most of my weeks in Central America were spent in Belize, I actually flew into and out of Cancun, as plane fare was drastically cheaper to that tourist spot. So don’t be confused: even though there should be, there’s no Cancun, Belize.
Here ya go:
As I sit here wilting in a Cancun hotel, it seems as good a time as any to record my recent adventures. Actually, Kirsten asked me to compose some thoughts about my visit to Belize, thoughts that might supplement her less-objective observations. Seeing as she’s the sister who used to sit on me and engage her unwilling sibling in “let’s-see-who-can-slap-the-hardest” fights, I’ll comply with her request. Childhood conditioning sticks.
I flew into Cancun on February 19 and was met by our favorite Peace Corps volunteer. I’d been told by Mom that Kirsten’s hair was falling out due to the anti-malarial pills she had to take; my sigh of relief that she didn’t resemble Don Rickles was audible. You’ll be happy to know that our near 3-year absence from each other didn’t keep us from settling down in front of the t.v. as soon as we hit the hotel. We spent two nights in a gorgeous tourist haven on the beach, swam in that unnaturally aqua and clear sea, wandered the markets, drank the two twelve-packs of pop I brought on the plane as a gift, and, uh, watched t.v. Kirsten speaks Spanish like a native–all the cab drivers told us–so don’t let her beg off otherwise.
1990: The year when glasses frames and hoop earrings were literally interchangeable. Let’s all congratulate my sister, at this juncture, for getting contact lenses and leaving those specs behind. The earrings, however? Totally Beyonce in 2008. I was ahead of my time.
We also spent a rather depressing hour and a half at Cancun’s Hard Rock Cafe, stuck at the same table with a Canadian named Larry, a sorry and recently-separated 34-year-old chain smoker who wanted nothing more than to “party with some babes.” Unfortunately, Kirsten and I had to go back to the hotel and, you know, watch t.v.
Bravely, I wore a long white skirt to the Hard Rock, a place where the nachos have been known to attack lesser womenswear. The gladiator sandals I’m wearing, though? Totally Lindsay Lohan in 2008. Seriously, these photos are convincing me that I was a fashion visionary.
On the third day, a college buddy of mine, John (Juan) flew down to escape the boredom of a post-B.A. pastry chef’s position. We three hopped a taxi to Playa del Carmen, ate pizza, and then jumped on a boat to Cozumel, a little island town that, despite being overrun with gringos, feels like Mexico. We ate dinner at Carlos & Charlie’s, the type of tourist restaurant where, if you don’t seal your lips, you’re apt to find a tap of wine shoved down your throat. Kirsten charmed yet another waiter with her accent; I hear the pitter-patter of little accents already. The tables at Carlos & Charlie’s have butcher paper and chalk laid out for the customers’ doodling pleasure, so, somewhere in Mexico is a piece of paper that proclaims “Mi hermana habla espanol muy bien.” Look for it.
The next day, we taxied out to a resort/beach place for the day where Kirst and I snorkeled for the first time, shrieking with delight after we got over our initial fear of the big, bad fish right there, brushing up against us. We don’t even eat ’em, much less submerge our faces where they, um, do, you know, their business. John disappeared with a book for several hours, reappearing with tawdry tales of flirtation not fit for mixed company. That night we took our su8nburns to Neptuno, “the” disco, and shook our booties while the waiters shook their heads. They played “The Lambada” a kazillion times (the natives are wild for it, but because that dance has some barkin’ choreography, not a one can actually reproduce the moves they’ve seen in the video). I’m pretty sure if “The Twist” were spun at the disco, and Chubby Checker was yodeling away, yet everyone stood rock still, fingers snapping, agreeing “Muy groovy tune, Chubby.”
Finally, it was Friday, and we were ready to ease into Belize. To be honest, I don’t really remember what happened that day–it’s all a nightmarish jumble of hellish bush rides and bruised buttocks. What I do recall is surprise, surprise that there is a definite demarcation between Mexico and Belize (and, as I was later to find, Guatemala). Contrary to my expectations of “Central America as A Country,” we had to stop on each side of the border, fill out forms, go through customs, and get our passports stamped. It was in marked contrast to traveling in Europe, where the countries all seem to mesh together. And there’s a marked change in the look and feel of each country, althoug separated by only 10 feet. Many Belizian homes resemble the Clampetts’ shack before Jed struck Texas Tea, so you can imagine my relief when Kirsten told the bus driver to pull over in front of a relatively-palatial house. Indeed, Kirsten’s Belizian home is pretty nice, if you don’t mind only one sink in the place (in the bathroom; a kitchen sink is overrated), no hot water, and minimal water pressure. Sometimes I’d hold the handle down for a flush for so long that I’d have to go again before the bowl had emptied or refilled. Bathing in her house is best accomplished by heating a pot of water on the stove and adding that to a big bucket of cold water; it is a process called “mixing.” The next step is to take a little bowl, scoop it into the mix, and dump it over your head. I smelled of slightly-rancid yum on this trip.
Because my pal John reads this blog, I have carefully selected this photo of him for inclusion. He’s still that damn cute, even when–especially when!–he washes his unmentionables in the shower, as we had to in Belize.
The day after we got to Kirsten’s house in Corozal, we leapt joyfully back onto another thumpity bus and headed south to Cayo District where a couple other Peace Corps volunteers are stationed. We ate that night at an ex-British soldier’s restaurant where I tried my first Belizian beer and, indirectly, my first extended coupling with the toilet. It soon passed, in a manner of speaking, but it put a damper on the reggae/soca dance we attended that night. All of the songs at the dance were at least half an hour long, which not only gave us an aerobic workout but also allowed me to go have a squat and then come back to twirl, all during the same tune.
Up next: we run out of gas.