Thursday, December 12, 2013

Jungle Whorehouse Deathtrap

On our final morning in Belmopan, we broke fast with an RN from the US who had come to know Belize through the Peace Corps. He was very impressed at how much we had traveled already. When we mentioned that we were on our honeymoon he said very seriously, "It seems like it." I wasn't sure whether he meant that we seemed happy or in love, or whether he was referring to the fact that his room was right next to ours.

After breakfast, we showered and packed the remainder of our things. When it was time to go, Anna and Tim came out to give us hugs and see us off. Anna jokingly asked if Charlie had packed Smokey into one of our backpacks. We thanked them for everything and then Adrian drove us to the airport. There we would be picked up by another driver and travel 30 miles north to the Maruba Resort Jungle Spa, just a couple miles north of the tiny village of Maskall on the Old Northern Highway. We arrived at the airport a little before noon just to make sure we wouldn't miss the driver, and then ended up waiting half an hour before the car even appeared. 

One of the resort's owners, Melanie, had come into town with the van. She was festively dressed in a Santa hat and was accompanied by her two young children and a wiener dog named Maya. We sat in the van and waited another half hour for more guests who had just arrived but had been held up at customs. We were tired and pretty annoyed by having to wait so long when we had been made to think that we had arranged and paid for private transportation.

Finally, the two guests in question climbed into the van. They were a middle-aged woman named Deborah and her 20-something son, Tracy. We began chatting with them and learned that we were all from Washington State. Deborah was very sweet and seemed somewhat new to traveling and a bit anxious about it. We tried to set her mind at ease. Melanie gave us some general information about this particular region of Belize as we traveled north on the rough and unpredictable Old Northern Highway. The driver was a maniac and I thought we'd be lucky to make it to the resort at all considering the way he sped along the narrow, tooth-shattering road. We had a couple of close calls with oncoming traffic around blind bends, but fortunately made it in one piece.

We were escorted to the covered open-air dining, bar and lounge area at the center of the resort grounds. We were given welcome drinks, signed our releases, and then were taken around for orientation. When I had booked our room several months before, the owners had graciously offered us a free upgrade to a junior suite since it was our honeymoon. Melanie began leading us to our room and, just as we were about to turn down the path that would take us there, she asked us to wait a moment and then disappeared. She came back a few minutes later with a different room key and informed us that she was upgrading us again, this time to the penthouse, as a honeymoon gift. The exterior of our building was cloaked top to bottom in a thick layer of shiny, silver paint, as if clad in tinfoil. 

Our tinfoil building

We walked up three flights of stairs to the penthouse and entered through the large wooden, French style double doors, which were decorated with some kind of perilously sharp metal art sculpture.

Artsy doors and balcony

The penthouse was also painted silver on the inside, and decorated like a bohemian whorehouse, with linens, drapes, and pillows in various shades of blue, purple, and red. A red chandelier with a whore-sign red lightbulb at its center hung over the bed. Red hibiscus flowers had been positioned on top of every towel, table, toilet tank, and even the toilet paper. You had to remove them from anything you wanted to touch. The bed and sheets were awesomely soft, although they smelled a bit mildewy, as one might expect them to in such a damp jungle environment. Overall it was very nice, even if a bit garish. I made Charlie pose suggestively on the bed.

Did someone order a hot slab of man?

Colorful room furnishings

Facing the door

Mosaic tiled bathroom

We dropped off our baggage and then returned to the restaurant to collect the Belizean chicken plates that we had ordered upon arrival. We climbed into the treehouse dining area and had a great meal. We returned to our room, Cha had a nap and I played FreeCell. Then we decided to set out and explore the grounds in order to better orient ourselves in this jungle maze. The resort had two pools, a hot tub, hookah lounge, and spa area, plus a small chapel. It was during this exploratory walk that we discovered that the entire resort is a broken hip waiting to happen. It had been raining steadily so everything was wet. The designer had chosen the slipperiest tiles with which to pave every walkway, pool side, pool interior, bathtub, and bathroom flooring. We had to watch our step at all times. Not only that, but you had to watch out for all the sharp decorative flourishes just waiting to reach out and stab you. No wonder they had us sign a release!

Hookah lounge

Pool 1

Pool 2

Lizard at the pool side

Stylish flip-flops provided by the resort

Cha relaxing in the hot tub

We had dinner at the restaurant, which for some reason was bathed in black light. It was flattering neither to the occupants nor the food. Fortunately, everything but the desert was good and we were thankful that they didn't gouge us on the prices, considering that we had no alternative because of how remote the place was. We returned to our penthouse and Cha smoked on the veranda while I crawled into the soft bed and attempted to read, falling asleep twice. He eventually joined me and we called it a night.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Into the Dark, Watery Unknown

Today was the day of cave tubing. I had slept fitfully, anxious about the expedition. All the local bacteria had finally caught up to me and I had visited the toilet at least six times over the previous 12 hours. I reluctantly took another anti-diarrheal (nothing like feeling like you need to poop and not being able to). I didn't want to leave an unpleasant trail behind me while floating through the Nohoch Che'en Caves Branch on the Caves Branch River. I wasn't able to take any pictures because my camera would have drowned, but the link above will give you and idea of the experience.

We ate breakfast quickly and got a daypack together, just to end up waiting half an hour for our late driver. Smokey did his best to entertain us while we waited, but I was almost ill with anxiety about the expedition. It had been raining lightly but steadily since we awoke, and we had heard stories of people drowning in the caves due to flash floods. The driver finally rolled up in a loud, diesel powered van that already contained a middle-aged English tourist named Caroline who would be going along with us. Our driver's name was Bruce. I immediately asked him about the safety of the impending trip but he did not seem concerned.

We were one of the first groups to arrive at the head of the river trail. Bruce explained to us that we would first have to walk about 45 minutes in the steady rain and then would get in the river. Caroline, who was beginning to seem more and more high-maintenance, complained that she had not been informed of this part of the trek and suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. Ultimately, she decided to tough it out.

Charlie asked me if I was excited, to which I responded, "No, I'm scared." But I figured I could always walk back if the river looked too crazy. We were provided with dingy life vests, headlamps on elastic straps, and standard black tire inner tubes with long metal valves, perfect for goosing occupants in sensitive areas. We could tell from the state of our gear that our guide was maybe a little less than official. Most other tour groups we saw had large, comfortable looking bright yellow chair-like tubes, nice helmets with lamps, and newer reflective life vests.

Gear in hand, we walked to a place on the river where we would have to cross to get to the trail. My anxiety immediately dissipated. The water was moving so slowly that it almost looked like a swimming pool. Bruce pointed to a red rope that was strung horizontally across the river, several feet above the surface of the water. He explained that cave tubing was only canceled if the water rose to the level of the rope. The biggest challenge in crossing here was the slippery rocks.

The trek was slightly hilly and there were a few stairs here and there, but it wasn't a particularly strenuous journey. After only 15 minutes or so in the constant rain, we were as soaked as if we had already been swimming. I was thankful for the rain because it kept me cool and kept the bugs away. I knew that in fine whether I would have been just as soaked with my own sweat and eaten alive by mosquitos. Besides, the sound and appearance of the gently falling rain made the trek through the lush, green rainforest an almost magical experience. It was like a live action version of the movie FernGully, minus the fairies of course.

Along the way, we stopped to explore a couple of cool, dry caves, their interesting geological formations, and the resident fauna (bats, frogs, and moths). Bruce also pointed out a few interesting plants along the way. One was called mimosa, known colloquially as "sensitive plant" or even "shame plant" because as a defense mechanism, its leaves recoil inward when the plant is touched or disturbed in any way. Bruce also pointed out wild bananas, pineapple, and quinine, which is used to prevent and cure malaria.

During the trek, we passed a couple of large tour groups that had been been bussed in from cruise ships. One of their guides made a comment about how at this time the previous year everyone was worried about the end of the world. One American woman hollered back, "If Obama stays president, it will be the end of the world!" A few people in the group quietly and politely protested, asking what had happened to their agreement not to discuss politics. One woman ran up to the loud idiot and gave her a hug in a show of solidarity. Charlie said audibly, "I think that just made me stupider," and a woman next to him smiled. Remember folks, the concept of free speech does not travel abroad with you. Kindly keep your mouth shut so that everyone can have a good time.

We got to the place in the river where we would put in at the very same moment another of the large, well-equipped (and well-coddled) tour groups was getting in. We waited for them to push off and I noticed that their tubes were all lashed together like a large raft. Their guide held on to one side of the mass and walked or swam to drive them along.

Then it was our turn. Bruce helped us get off the metal platform on the river bank and into our tubes. Caroline fell while attempting this transition and I felt bad for her. Luckily she only scraped her arm. Bruce hooked his feet onto Caroline's tube in order to guide her down the river, while Charlie and I free-floated on our own nearby, setting off into the first cave.

The water was so calm the whole way that we had to paddle a bit to get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time. By the end of the long, slow journey, our arms were burning from all the paddling. We leaned our heads back to point our headlamps at the rock formations on the cave ceilings so that we could examine them. The voices of the other groups melded into a weird, echoey mush over our heads. It was trippy and beautiful.

We emerged from the first cave, accelerated slightly over a few gentle "rapids", and then entered the next cave. This one had a high ceiling covered with stalactites, with varying flowstones and columns along the walls. A tiny waterfall flowed in from one side, its sound so amplified that it felt as if we were right next to Niagara Falls. Bats chirped as they darted overhead.

We exited the second cave and spent the remainder of the journey being sprinkled with cool rain. We worked our shoulders to death trying to stay together and avoid obstacles in the river. I managed to ram into a branch protruding from the water in a fast moving area. It whipped me around 180º degrees but fortunately did not damage my tube. In a couple of areas we actually had to get out of our tubes and walk because the water was too shallow to float on.

Finally, we reached the place with the rope where we had originally crossed to get to the trail. Some American tourists were jumping off of a small cliff and into the river in an area that was certainly too shallow for this to be safe. They had to be told repeatedly to wait to jump so that they didn't land on Charlie and I as we floated by. As we climbed out of the river, Charlie wondered out loud why on earth they would even be engaging in such an activity. "Because they're American," Caroline offered. We laughed and agreed.

We found our van, grabbed our change of clothes, and headed into the restrooms to change. Our arrival time that morning had apparently been perfect for avoiding the crowds because the parking lot was now completely full of tour busses shuttling in hoards of people from the cruise ships. Bruce had brought some box lunches for us, but the picnic areas were all soaked, so we ate in the van. After seeing how the more official groups seemed to operate, we were glad we had experienced the river as the tiny foursome that we were. We had much more freedom to explore our surroundings and enjoy the ride compared to the well-outfitted groups.

Bruce returned us to Twin Palms by one o'clock. When we entered our spotless room, we discovered that the folks at the B&B had left us a pitcher of freshly squeezed orange juice in our mini-fridge, along with a few cokes. They were so dang nice that I felt like I never wanted to leave. We were physically exhausted and attempted a nap, but it was cut short by an alert sound on our borrowed mobile phone upon the arrival of a spam text message. We lazed around, packed our belongings for the next leg of our trip, and watched TV. For dinner, we ordered beans and rice for delivery from Caladium, although we really missed not having the Marie Sharps Exotic Sauce that was supplied at every table in the restaurant. Even so, we happily ate and watched South Park until it was time for bed.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Making Ourselves at Home

We got up crazy early to get first dibs on the 7:30 AM breakfast. My back was still bothering me, but not as badly as the day before. We furiously scratched our newly acquired crop of mosquito bites. Breakfast that morning was coffee, scrambled eggs, sausage, fresh bread, and fruit. The only other guest joined us around eight o'clock. This man was also in Belize for the Zamorano School's conference and was a coffee farmer from El Salvador. We had a nice long conversation about the industry and then parted ways for the day.

Charlie and I sat outside in the midmorning heat, writing, reading, and playing with frisky Smokey. Meanwhile, a smiley member of the staff cleaned our room to perfection. A green bug disguised as a leaf perched on the wall near our door for the better part of the day.

Leaf bug

Charlie and Smokey

Baby bananas

When our room was clean, we went in to get out of the heat for a bit. We prepared some ramen in the microwave and watched some TV. A downpour had started outside. Once it began to subside, we set out to run some errands. The air was fresh and cool from the recent rain, and the roadway and shoulder were punctuated by large reflective puddles that we did our best to avoid. Our first stop was another Chinese-owned convenience store where we wanted to buy bug spray. The vendor handed us an already used spray can of the stuff and then charged us an exorbitantly large sum of money for it. There was not enough common linguistic ground to complain or make any demands, so we accepted this and left. As we exited the store, a large dusty pickup truck pulled into the parking area. It was pulling a trailer that held several enormous steer. From the cab and truck bed emerged several Menonites dressed in slacks, button-up shirts, suspenders, and flat hats, and who may have been even dustier than their truck. From the looks of them, they had been working hard and had not bathed recently. They busily worked some ropes and tethers to secure and the other items they were hauling in the truck bed.

We walked to a nearby bank to withdraw some cash from the ATM and then returned to Twin Palms.

Smart gecko catching bugs in an outdoor light fixture

We didn't accomplish much for the rest of the day. We mostly just sat around and watched some TV, managing to catch Die Hard 2 and Jurassic Park. I hadn't seen Jurassic Park since I was a child and forgot just how scary it was. Right at the moment the tyrannosaurus rex was attacking the jeep, there was a loud bang outside that made us jump. Someone was setting off fireworks.

We ordered food from Adrian's Deli, which was run by Anna and Tim's son Adrian, who, we suspect, made sandwiches out of their home kitchen. He delivered the food to our door, we ate, and went to bed. We had to get up earlier than usual the next morning to go cave tubing (mainly so that we could sufficiently caffeinate and rid our bodies of poop before leaving the B&B). 

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Best Little Zoo in the World

I woke at six o'clock in the morning, feeling refreshed despite the early hour thanks to going to bed early the night before. I sat in bed playing FreeCell and waited for Cha to wake up. In doing so, I managed to throw my back out simply by slouching over the game. I guess I'm getting to that age. Once Cha was up, we lumbered sleepily over to the big house for a delicious breakfast of fresh-made tortillas, beans, eggs, and bacon, along with fruit, homemade bread, butter, jam, freshly squeezed juice, and coffee. The elderly Honduran couple didn't join us until we were nearly finished with our meals. The wife and I chatted in Spanish about the climates in our respective hometowns. I translated for Charlie only occasionally because I always assume he knows more Spanish than he does.

We excused ourselves from the table and returned to our room to shower and slather on sunblock and bug spray in preparation for our trip to the Belize Zoo. Anna and Tim had arranged the outing for us, and at ten o'clock sharp a Suzuki SUV rolled up to the B&B, driven by our friendly guide for the day, Ángel. For $42.50 USD he would drive us the 30 minutes to the zoo, wait up to two hours, and then drive us back. He was a very nice, talkative fellow, and gave us lots of good info about activities in the area and in Belize in general.

When we arrived at the zoo, he walked us to the admission window and then gave us a quick rundown of the path we should take to see it all. The zoo was awesome: a steamy jungle of large, low-fenced enclosures that tempted patrons to reach out and touch the nearly tame wildlife. We had arrived shortly before feeding time, so the tapirs, deer, and an otter enthusiastically drew near to us when we approached their enclosures. There were barely any visitors that morning, and most of the visitors were adults. It was a nice change from all of the other zoos I had visited that are so overrun with screaming children that you can barely even approach the cages to see the animals. Also, the animals seemed to be much more relaxed and happy than animals at the many other zoos I have visited over the years. Zoos are usually a mixture of neat and depressing, and this one was just neat.

Tapir chilling in the shade

One small white-tailed deer maneuvered its tongue through the chainlink fence, trying to snag a leaf that was lying just outside. But it only managed to scare out the small frog that had been hiding underneath it. I took pity on it and nudged the leaf just far enough through the diamond shaped gap that the deer could pull it into its mouth. It munched happily.

We visited the spider monkeys and watched one swing by its tail.


Spider monkey chilling on a branch

Then we returned to the tapirs and deer just as lunch was being served. One tapir appeared to smile as it munched on a handful of leaves with its eyes closed.


Tapir siesta

Red brocket deer going after some leaves

White-tailed deer with antlers resembling melted candle wax 

We checked out the colorful toucan, which cocked its head to and fro to get a better look at us.

Toucan

Snoozing ocelot

Margay sleeping in croissant formation

We walked by a small enclosure containing a pond, out of which a very busy and excited otter leapt to greet us at the chain link. He anxiously paced up and down the fence, grunting and chirping, diving into the water and leaping out again. At one point, he floated upright in the water, looked us in the eyes, and rapidly clacked his teeth together as if to say, "I'm hungry!" I couldn't tell if he was actually starving or if that was just his normal excitable personality. He didn't look underfed, so I wasn't too worried about him.

Busy otter buddy evades good photography

We arrived at the area where the pumas lived and they were nowhere to be seen. The black jaguar's head was barely visible from where he rested deep in the leafy shade of his enclosure. We finally spotted a huge, yellow and black sleeping jaguar, nearly walking right by it without noticing. I spotted its spotted butt through the bars and pointed it out to Charlie, who exclaimed, "Jesus!" The sleepy beast raised its head to see who was making all that racket, and then placed it down again to resume his nap.

Sleepy kitty

Far on the other side of the neighboring cage I thought I could see black and white animal spots, but I wasn't certain. As we rounded the corner of the enclosure, Charlie split off from me to go check out a crocodile. I gasped and called him back to bear witness to the giant sleeping baby I had found, spotted belly turned to the sky, mouth agape. We cooed so loudly that it disturbed the slumberer who pressed his paws to his nose to resist waking, the same way my house cats do when we disturb their naps.

Awwwwwwwwww

Lights out

We were nearly finished with the zoo and I was glad, even though I was enjoying seeing these semi-tame animals so close-up. It was almost noon and the air was so steamy hot that I felt like I was suffocating any time I inhaled. Once again the sweat faucet had been turned on over my head, drenching my face and neck. Big tears of sweat rolled down my cheeks.

Our last stop was the harpy eagles where one of the largest, most beautiful birds I have ever seen, posed in a stately fashion. Indeed, the American harpy eagle is the largest bird in the world, known for picking full grown sloths out of trees for dinner. Her claws were bigger than my own hands, one of which she lifted and balled into a triumphant fist to show just what an epic creature she was. The only aspect of her that contradicted her appearance was the sweet chick-like "peep" sound that she made. I heard a nearby tour guide say that she was "Larger than Panama." I wondered if this was a direct translation of a Spanish expression that I had never heard. But as we moved on past the female harpy eagle's cage, I saw that the neighboring male harpy eagle was named "Panama." Best not to overthink things.

The harpy eagle makes the bald eagle look like a wimpy seagull.

Ángel found us as we neared the end of the walking path that wound through the zoo grounds. We visited the gift shop briefly and then quickly made our exit when we saw a hoard of tourists approach. I was starting to feel woozy from the heat, so I was glad when we were back in the air conditioned car. Ángel suggested we stop for lunch at a friends restaurant, but I told him that I was not feeling up for it. Charlie suggested maybe stopping for quick street food instead and Ángel said he knew of a small deli where we could go instead.

In a few minutes, we pulled into the driveway of a sturdy looking white rectangular house with green trim. It was smaller than a single-wide trailer and surrounded by boxes and parts of machinery. At the point where the driveway met the Western Highway stood a corrugated metal lean-to where three short women worked to clean up after a recent meal service. This, I realized, was the deli. We got out and Ángel inquired about food. The oldest of the women informed him that they did not serve lunch and generally ran out of food in the morning. All they had left at that moment was burritos. We all agreed that this would be fine, if they would be so kind to serve us. They obliged us with a smile. We took a seat at one of the brightly painted blue picnic tables and drank coke while we waited for our food. I noted the campout-like setup of the deli. They had a large sink hooked up to plumbing with two-inch PVC piping, where one woman stood washing dishes. There was also a rectangular table with two gas burners, on top of which sat large but lightweight dutch oven style cookware. To one side stood a prep table where the eldest woman, who seemed to be the boss, oiled a large plastic tupperware lid with her fingers. She would then use it to form tortillas.

One woman emerged from the house carrying a small bowl that contained 3 balls of dough. The eldest flattened them out in the oiled tupperware lid and cooked them on the electric griddle. I could hear the sizzling of the refried beans and chicken that would fill the burritos. The girl who had brought out the drinks and dough grated cheese into the open tortillas. After a couple of minutes we were served. These were far from gigantic American style burritos. They were more like flautas with just enough of a smearing of refried beans to glue the thing closed, plus a few shreds of stewed chicken. This was actually perfect considering that I felt too ill from the heat to eat much of anything.

After we had finished eating, we inquired about the price and offered to buy Ángel's lunch too. The total bill for three burritos and three drinks amounted to about $3.75 USD. When we got back to Twin Palms, we paid Ángel for his time and thanked him for being so awesome. As we got out of the car, we were greeted by Anna, Tim, and their three large, friendly dogs (the same ones I had heard snarling menacingly when unknown persons approached the property). They offered to arrange the cave-tubing trip we wanted to take that week and then invited us to some of their leftover turkey soup from dinner the night before. We thanked them and said maybe later, returning to our room. I decided to lie down for a while to try to recover from heat sickness and the nagging back pain I had acquired that morning. Charlie headed out to the pool to smoke and, when he was done, we swam for a while. After we showered, we returned to the big house, interrupting Anna and Tim's dinner to take them up on their turkey soup offer. Anna gave us two large bowls of it, with a couple slices of homemade bread. We ate at the poolside while mosquitos ate us. The soup was delicious, and we started a game of Qwirkle while we ate. Once we had finished, I walked up to the big house to return our bowls. I rang the bell, but no one answered. However, Smokey had seen me approach the door, walked up meowing excitedly, and then slid the door open with his paw to let himself in. I decided to follow and quietly left our soup bowls in the kitchen.

Can you spot the green and red humming bird?

Gecko regrowing its tail (probably lost in a battle with Smokey)

I see you!

Charlie and the terrifying guard dog

"Clyde Frog" hunting under the garden lamps

Another view of Clyde Frog

An armored locust-type insect

Charlie managed to beat me at Qwirkle by only one point, and afterward we headed inside to watch Planet Earth. On this particular episode, killer whales were killing baby seals. We found that we had run out of bottled water, so we devised a plan to microwave the hell out of the local tap water. I don't know whether or not our science was sound, but we didn't die of either dehydration or giardia, so I guess it was okay. After Planet Earth, we tuned in to a little bit of South Park, and then went to sleep.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Belmopan Freeze

We only slept about as well as one would expect when in a new place and a new bed. The room was comfy and the A/C was nice and quiet, a welcome contrast to the crashing sounds going on all night at the previous resort. It was also nice to wake up without a bunch of new bites all over my lower legs and feet. We rose and readied ourselves for the early communal breakfast that was served in the big house. As we approached the house, Smokey the cat kept pace with us and then, to our amazement, opened the house's sliding screen door with his paw and sauntered inside. We followed him into the house without knocking and when Anna greeted us we explained that Smokey had invited us in. An elderly couple stood at the drink table considering their options. The wife said to her husband, "Sírvame" (Serve me). This was a phrase we heard her say to him multiple times after that. As he complied, she began to complain to him in Spanish that the mosquitos had been "biting her ass" all night. I smirked, and she looked at me suspiciously, probably trying to figure out whether I had understood what she had just said. They soon joined us at the table, and we learned that they were Honduran and were in town to attend the Zamorano Pan-American Agricultural School's 50th Anniversary Conference. Our only other table mate that morning was a young woman who was a doctoral candidate in school psychology. We drank coffee and ate potatoes and breakfast sandwiches while getting to know one another in a bilingual fashion.

We returned to our quarters intending to take a mid-morning nap, but then decided to swim instead.

Applying sunscreen is serious business


Cha approaching the pool, guesthouse in the background


Brightly colored flowers where numerous hummingbirds flitted around to feed surrounded the pool. Gentle butterflies fluttered by while menacing insects buzzed my head every time I surfaced for air. New birdsongs I had never heard filled the air. Geckos skittered around on the rocks lining the flowerbeds and climbed the building walls, feasting on bugs.


Charlie doing his muscleman pose

Thoughtful Charlie

Skillful swimming

Skillfully standing on one foot

The owners' home next to the pool



Flowering ginger

Coconuts

Charlie's daily activities

Fan palm

After our swim we did manage a short nap, and then consulted Anna on the details of our planned excursion to town. She informed us that a baptism would be taking place in the pool that afternoon and apologized for it being temporarily unavailable. We told her it was no problem; we were certainly more fascinated than put out. We strolled into town at a leisurely pace, meeting the stares of the occupants of each passing car. At one point we passed two tiny, barefoot Mayans, standing well shy of five feet tall and bearing heavy loads on their backs. We quietly marveled at their slightness; next to them we were giants. Then we stopped into a Chinese-owned grocery store, the back aisle of which literally smelled like dog shit. There we gathered soda, chips, hotdogs, ramen, tortillas, and cheese, and then paid the woman behind the counter, who acted like she didn't want us there. In fact, she talked on the phone during the entire transaction, collected our money without thanks, placed a plastic bag on the counter for us to carry out victuals, and nonchalantly walked away. 

This, along with the previous day's interactions with locals, led us into a discussion about how people in Belmopan seemed to regard us with either apathy or suspicion. In contrast with the people we had encountered on Ambergris Caye, these folks had better things to do that worry about whether rich tourists were having a good time. Their every move did not depend on the tips they might earn for it. We couldn't even get a smile or a greeting from anyone the way we had during the previous days, when people bent over backward to make sure we had what we wanted. It didn't really bother us though, and we chocked it up to cultural differences, although it didn't actually differ much from our day-to-day experiences in frigid Seattle. Charlie and I are both fairly introverted, so I can't say we enjoyed constantly being hit up by all the enthusiastic vendors of one thing or another (rides, trinkets, weed). We generally liked to be left alone and the residents of Belmopan were all too happy to oblige.

When we reached the town center, almost everything was closed. An open-air market stood smack in the middle of the big central plaza, where a few stalls were still open. We found one food stall still serving a couple of patrons. I inquired as to whether they were still serving food and an angry-looking young woman informed me that all they had left was beans, rice, and chicken. We accepted this fact and sat at a table while she and a few other women busied themselves in what appeared to be a reasonably clean kitchen. The angry young woman brought us two large plates of food and water, and we ate very quickly and quietly, not wanting to enrage her further. The food was good, but I envisioned myself becoming violently ill later on, hearing the voice of the knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as he matter-of-factly states, "He chose... poorly."

We stood to leave and I addressed the angry woman to inquire about how much we owed. I handed her the equivalent of $10 USD and we awkwardly took our leave, wanting to get out of the eerily quiet town center as soon as possible. As we walked back to Twin Palms, no one except potential cab drivers paid us any mind. At one point we passed a skinny man, who was clearly a career substance user, scolding by way of gesture a younger man for being covered in tattoos. Either the older man was deaf and/or mute, or they didn't speak the same language because the only words uttered in the exchange were the younger man demanding, "Why, why, why?!" In turn, he gestured a reprimand toward the older man, criticizing him for sniffing glue. It was a fascinating exchange.

The humidity that day was so severe that, even though I didn't feel particularly hot, I sweated so profusely that it was if I were standing under a drizzling faucet. By the time we reached the B&B, my shirt front and hair were soaked. As we walked down the private drive to Twin Palms, two wild green parrots flew overhead. I had never seen parrots that weren't someone's house pet so this was pretty exciting. We paused uncertainly as we entered the property, having arrived right in the middle of a pre-baptismal prayer at the pool. We could see a small group of people gathered around, heads bowed, along with a recently baptized individual sitting at the pool's edge in wet clothes. We waited for the sound of a quiet "Amen," the splash of another baptismal candidate being dunked, and the subsequent applause before proceeding across the patio into our room.

I immediately stripped off my damp clothes and lay down on the bed under the cool breeze of the A/C. We waited a while for the religious folk to clear out and then I donned my swimming gear again. Cha marveled at the fact that I wanted to swim again so soon. "I just got dry," he said. He reluctantly waited at the poolside in his trunks, insisting that he didn't want to get in, and then surprised me by suddenly tipping into the water, head first, from a sitting position. To be fair, it was kind of cold. We swam a short while and then went in to shower. We compared tans, and then Cha drenched himself in bug spray and went out to smoke a cigar while I stayed in and placed FreeCell. After a while I went outside again and found Charlie chatting with Anna and her husband, Tim, who were sweetly cuddled up together in the patio swing with Smokey the cat lying at their feet. I sat down with Cha and saw a little frog jump out into the light of the garden lamp to hunt bugs. Suddenly, its gummy tongue launched outward and snagged a tiny winged created. I was super excited because it was the first time I had seen a frog tongue in action in real life.