By Aaron Smith, Contributing Reporter
BELIZE – “White skin brother from a different mother,” resident poet Cecil, crafting verse for his supper on Caye Caulker, would greet me. This idyllic, Caribbean island paradise was our stopping off point to dive the world-famous Blue Hole. After a couple of days it was all high fives with the local Rastafarians, like we’d been there for ever.
Cecil was different; he wasn’t peddling contraband or shell bracelets. He was just a fellow scribe trying to get by, so after each donation, he’d give us a line of verse when we passed his corner of the sandy, two street town of 1,200 Garifunas, Creoles and ex-pats.
After bouncing through yet another border on a chicken bus, we soon realized that Belize skipped to the beat of a different drum than the rest of Central America, a Calypso steel drum to be exact. Part of the English Commonwealth, Belize was originally a Spanish colony. With a population of ex-British pirates turned mahogany loggers, it was a relief when England defeated the Spanish Armada in 1798 and claimed the territory.
The rhythm of life encapsulated in Cecil’s poetry was everywhere, from the island motto of “Go Slow”, where the smiling gun-free police putted around in golf carts, to the beach bars’ ”Happy hour till everybody happy,” and two for one “Panty Rippa” cocktails oiled the evenings. Even the island weather forecast waxed lyrically:
“Coconut shadow, it be sunny,
Coconut no shadow, it be cloudy,
Coconut wet, it be raining,
Coconut moving, it be windy,
No coconut, it be hurricane.”
However it wasn’t coconuts we’d come to Caye Caulker for but rather a reef atoll surrounding a volcanic sinkhole. At 300 meters wide and 130 deep, the Blue Hole was a challenging dive and after completing her diving certification in Honduras, Vivi had a taste for this new adventure. But she nearly bit off more than she could chew, as we sank into the seemingly bottomless blue – out of which appeared circling sharks. I could almost hear her swearing in Portuguese underwater, during her first encounter with the world’s most feared predator.
Fringed by the worlds’ second biggest reef, this experience doesn’t come cheap, but Belize was not as expensive as everyone complains. We kept to the basic lodgings of pastel colored weatherboard shacks and ate seasonally, which meant lobster prepared in more ways than can be imagined, from kebabs, burgers, pasta to even lobster flavored ice cream. We just stuck to our favorite; barbecue lobster, and at US$10 for one so big it couldn’t fit on our plate, we were happily eating it twice a day.
If Brazil’s language were English, played cricket instead of soccer, had a population of 300,000 and was pocket size, it would be Belize. It was the first time since leaving Rio that we felt so at home, the ethnic mix of African and European; the fun-loving, carefree, beach attitude and self-deprecating sense of humor warmed the cockles of our hearts. They even made a decent caipirinha with Caribbean white rum and lime to wash down all that lobster.
Senhor and Senhora Smith are from different worlds; he, Aaron Smith, an Australian travel writer, still idolizes his childhood idol, Indiana Jones, and she, Viviane Silva, is a sassy Carioca ‘Sex in the City’ girl. They have decided to embark upon a trans-continental four-month honeymoon BEFORE they get married, from Bogota to New York, the Far East and Australia by bus, boat and donkey. Follow them along the Gringo Trail – it’s an epic Clash of the Titans journey to (hopefully) marital bliss at the end of the road.