June 20, 2008

Sun white sand blue ocean, this is truly paradise. Long slatted docks with sun-cracked wood, thatch huts, brightly painted concrete, streets of sand, vendors selling jewelry, tall, dark, and smiling men asking to dip me in honey (seriously), dreadlocks and reggae, barefoot and sunbleached and lizards and fish and crabs and stray dogs. We are staying in a hostel, our little wooden room accessed by a ladder, and then a cut-out hole in the wall, with views onto the Carribean on both sides, breeze sweeping over us at night, cooling the steamy air. To call the piece of foam atop my wooden bed a matress would be a wild exaggeration, but stiffness gets me up early to enjoy the day. This morning I awoke at 5:30am and drifted barefoot in the morning shade, determined to walk south and keep walking. I crossed the airstrip, where a boy bicycled, hands stretched out like wings. I passed little huts and the school (kids with dark skin and bright white shirts, blue shorts) and walked into the mangrove that inhabits the southern half of the island. After two or three miles and a doze on an abandoned dock, I returned to the village for pineapple and freshly-squeezed orange juice.

Yesterday we took a boat out to see the manatees, our guide named Chocolate, seventy-nine years old with tanned leather skin, quietly gazing down into the shallows where the sea cows munched on their sea grass. And then we sped to a tiny little sandy island, no more than twenty-five paces across, where we lunched and then went snorkeling out on the shallow reefs. So-bright fish, neon crabs, spikey anemonaes, and camoflauged bottom-dwellers, purple-leafy fans waving at everything passing by. I swam in an underwater corridor, white sand beneath me and boulders of coral to my right and left, the snorkel muffling my exclamations.

We spent our first two days in Bermudian Landing, a town of 150 people, where everyone knew everyone and spoke thick Creole and didn't seem to mind the heat. We canoed upstream on the Belize River, floating past iguanas and orioles, hawks and swallows, a baby crocodile, and several troops of monkeys, napping in the canopy. A little later, behind the school, Russell convinced a few of the younger monkeys to take leaves from our hands while the papa monkey grunted and howled so loudly it could be heard a mile away.

Amaya is a good traveling companion. She remembers which way is north, takes everything in stride, and can spot wildlife like nobody's business. We make fun of each other mercilously and laugh ourselves to sleep.

Tomorrow, we head for the jungle.

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