April 8, 2004
Story by Mike Buettell
Photos by Mike and Sue Buettell
Details of Belize Christmas Trips
Sue lifts herself onto one elbow and whispers in the dark. “There’s a bug on the ceiling.”
I am lying on my side, almost asleep; a light tropical breeze is blowing through the palms. The gentle surf is curling to the foot of our beach cabana; and I have two beers in my belly. I pretend not to hear her.
“There’s a bug on the ceiling!”
After 26 years of marriage, I recognize the tone in her voice. It means: “I know you’re not asleep. Get up and do your male macho thing and protect me.”
The sounds of the surf, the warm breeze, the moon playing hide and seek with Central American rain clouds, not to mention the beers, have made me about as active as a steer at a Valium salt lick. I fully realize that I’m pushing my luck, but once again I pretend not to hear her.
Silence. Ah, maybe she’ll roll over and go to sleep.
Nope. Not a chance. Not in a million years. I feel it.
Long-married husbands know exactly what I’m talking about. Eyes, like laser beams, bore into the back of my head. Even in the darkness, I know that she is staring at me and all hell is about to break loose.
“Sue, there’s no bugs on the ceiling. There are hardly any bugs on the whole island. That’s why it was selected as a resort. This place is famous for taking good care of the guests. Just lie down, relax, listen to the waves and you’ll be asleep in two seconds. I’ll bet no bug has ever fallen on anyone here.”
Oops! Another classic husband mistake, saying something stupid without thinking, I feel her tension build. Eight years before, also on Christmas vacation, also in Central America, also on one of my “crazy” trips, a rhinoceros beetle the size and consistency of a day-old chocolate doughnut, chose to fall out of the darkness, off the ceiling, onto Sue’s chest. I won’t elaborate, because the result was predictable and not pretty.
The tone has reached the crisis stage. I get up, put on a T-shirt backward and stumble trying to find a light. Easier said than done. Long Caye, a part of an 82-square-mile shallow lagoon called Glover’s Reef, is 35 miles off the coast of Belize and has no electricity. Well, not electricity as we know it, with wall switches, light bulbs and the usual household accoutrements.
They have a wonderfully efficient wind generator and some solar panels that keep the beer cold when the sun is out or the wind blowing strongly, and batteries for night, if you can find the light.
As I step on a conch shell in the middle of the floor, the question flashes through my mind: How do I get myself into these messes?
The trip had started benignly enough, with the standard two-hour cattle call and strip-search at LAX followed by a cramped flight on TACA Airlines. (My friends call TACA Take a Chance Airline, but I have found them no more unpleasant than any American carrier and usually serving better food). Clearing customs, and immigration, and claiming our baggage once in Belize was a piece of cake. It reminded me of the days of the old Orange County Airport and Air California. It helped that Belize is an English-speaking country. A lot of people don’t realize this.
After a get-together soft drink with Charlie, our guide, and our group of 15, ranging in age from braces and firm thighs to the leading edge of the baby boom (me), we boarded a high-speed boat, undoubtedly borrowed from one of those old “Miami Vice” TV shows for a three-hour blast out to Long Caye for our Belize kayaking adventure. A hint to those choosing to make this trip: Don’t drink a lot of coffee or soft drinks before boarding the boat. There is no “restroom” facility. A few of us resolved this issue but I’ll spare the details.
Sue had been apprehensive about traveling to Belize (she’s apprehensive about all my trips) but the promise of warm water, snorkeling reefs so azure blue one feels they are floating in space, and the chance to kayak and wind surf to her hearts content won her over. The charm of Long Caye is that it is a water-lover’s paradise. They have sea kayaks, surf kayaks, windsurfing, snorkeling and certified scuba all at your disposal. Picture a group of 10-year-olds in a toy store and told, “play with anything you want,” and you get the idea.
Evenings found the competitive types playing volleyball, but I preferred watching the sunset lounging in a hammock. The food was so good that despite all the physical activity, most of us gained weight (except for Sue; she never gains weight). Some guests blamed the weight gain on the unlimited beer, soft drinks, and rum punch but they couldn’t possibly be correct. Beer and desserts on vacation have no calories, right? I could go into a lot more detail, but anyone interested can check out the website for themselves (http://www.slickrock.com/longcayebelize.html). I’m not too worried about the place being overrun with tourists, this is one exotic vacation spot. Max capacity is 28 and the boat only runs twice a week. Compare that to Ambergris Caye, where about 90% of the tourists in Belize visit, which has 65 hotels with a capacity of 2,000 guests and 4,000 year-round residents.
Since there are no TVs, video games or movies on the island, evenings were interesting. We actually had to talk to each other. Kids played board games and the adults engaged in thought-provoking discussions. One night we pondered the existence of God. Another night we went around the table describing our “perfect” fantasy romantic weekend. (This one cost me two nights at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, but it was worth it). Other nights, the women ganged up on the single and divorced guys giving them “advice” on dating, finding the “right” woman, what to do on dates, etc. We married guys were smart enough to stay away from these discussions and give our advice when the women weren’t around, otherwise we’d probably have spent a few nights sleeping with the hermit crabs.
Speaking of hermit crabs, one tradition on Long Caye is a hermit crab race. Everybody, young and old, scours the island to find their own “racing crab.” Next the crabs are put into training. Conditioning regimens varied from short hill climbs to total rest. I chose carbo-loading for “Studly.” I gave him part of a cheeseburger and a dish of beer. (He actually came in second). The crabs are then placed on the middle of a huge circle and the first one to the edge wins. You would have thought we were at the Kentucky Derby. People went nuts cheering for their favorites. I don’t know how much Belize money changed hands, but it looked considerable. Sue’s little lean and mean “Squeaky” took the trophy with a masterful performance right out of “Chariots of Fire.”
All in all, it was a pretty fun trip. We were beached for a couple of days because of high winds, but no one looked too bored. A good book, a cold drink and a hammock is hard to beat on a private island vacation. This isn’t a trip for the “anything less than two showerheads is unacceptable” crowd, but everyone seemed satisfied with the outside showers and toilets. In fact, the compositing toilet was once featured on the cover of Outside magazine.
Oh, the “bug” on the ceiling? Well, after I found a light, bandaged my foot and started looking, it turned out there never was a bug. The ceiling and roof of the cabana is thatched palm fronds. The gentle breeze that night had a few fronds rubbing together.