The crack that now spanned the entire length of my phone’s screen and the one in the corner, did not bother me nearly as much as the unwanted bend in my fedora. It bugged me so much so that I tweeted the King of Pop’s former makeup artist and close friend, asking how he kept his iconic hats in pristine condition. Nobody wants a kink in their brim, I wrote. She liked my question and said he traveled with hat boxes and tour buses with people who cared for his attire. What I could glean from that is, become so widely known that I have teams of people to take care of my clothes or buy a hat box. Fortunately, most kinks straighten themselves out. We left the jungle of ancient pyramids and mystical caves. Part I extrapolates those adventures and more. We had to go back to Belize City but first, we stopped at a zoo.
I have mixed feelings about zoos. They’re great for me, seeing so many animals I wouldn’t have the chance to see or wouldn’t want to see in the wild. I love big cats and wolves. They’re beautiful but I’d rather not run into either in my everyday life. Even if I did, chances are I’d miss them. I love deer too but I barely ever get a glimpse, for every one I do see, there’s at least nine I drive right by. Once, a broad male donning a set of antlers I could have sit on like a throne, whose fur had undertones of cherry and overtones of maple, deliberately stopped where he stood in the brush on the side of the road and stared through the window of my car. I was mesmerized. The beautiful beast stood there long enough for the light to turn green and then he launched himself into the bushes on legs built as strong as I’m carving mine out to be. A euphoric moment. He was doing his thing and I was doing mine, then he thought he’d pause to say hello. Zoos don’t cater to the natural experience. Visiting both delights and saddens me because I get to see the artistry that God put into the creation of varied species but in order to do so, I have to look at them in cages. My feelings are torn. I don’t think I’d care much about zoos being good or bad if not for walking around with a Service Dog as I have been for the past thirteen years. It can make me feel like an attraction and I’d rather not be stared at. I try to keep in mind that those who stare are admiring beauty.
That’s why I wanted to go to the zoo in Belize, to see the beauty and such beauty I did see. Foliage all around, paths leading through what felt like a rainforest. A lizard ran across on two legs. Monkeys interacted with humanlike mannerisms. Toucans inspected us quizzically. Jungle cats jogged toward us. Pumas greeted one another like friends. A Jaguar lunged for my jugular. These interactions were all blocked by barriers of course, but the growl that erupts from the chest an angry Jaguar is hard to forget.
After returning the car and then taking a taxi, we waited for a water taxi at the station in Belize City that was more like an outdoor strip mall. They sold drinks, snacks, and Belize themed clothing. There was WiFi there but I didn’t bother accessing it. Travel stresses me out. I waited nervously for our next mode of transport to arrive. I kept my eyes on the water, I didn’t want to miss it.
“Hello, miss, welcome to Belize! Let me help you,” the men driving the water taxi were complete gentlemen. I took his hand and stepped onto the double-decker boat.
“Hi, thank you,” I tipped my fedora in his direction and found a seat below. I’d never been aboard a water taxi before. I didn’t even know they existed. The water was gorgeous, bright blue, the kind of blue that I wish the ocean by the Carolinas was. Majesty aside, the sea frightens me. It’s okay, I told myself, it’s a big boat, there are life vests, Jaws is not coming for you. Seated near an oval window, I watched the shoreline of the city get further and further away. The taxi glided through the waves of the Caribbean. As the wind cooled my face, I felt an eagerness rise up in me to reach a new place.
In between San Ignacio and San Pedro, the water taxi stopped at what is arguably the most relaxing party of the country, Caye Caulker. I didn’t visit there but where we stayed I think may be the most relaxing place I’ve ever been in my entire life, in terms of location that is, I have felt inexplicably at peace with certain people. It was evening when we arrived in San Pedro, Belize. Our ride was waiting to take us to where we were staying. “Where is your Service Dog?” He asked we had mentioned in the reservation that I’d be bringing him. I explained briefly that he was being cared for back in the states. It was nice to know this place would welcome him. It’s not Belize that worries me, it’s Mexico, can’t trust that place for a second. “Look up, you can see Mars,” he said as we crossed the beach. There it was in the night sky, red and clear. The planet briefly reminded me how much I disliked astronomy in college, a torturous experience mentally but seeing a Mars clearly while walking on the beach was awesome. At least until my brother chimed in saying we’d be able to see it that clearly back home too. Whatever, everything is better on a tropical island.
San Pedro is a twenty-two-mile island, there are cars but golf carts are the preferred mode of transportation. We had our own to drive during our stay, something that was really fun if you were good at it and jostling if you weren’t. We booked a condo at the D’amante resort and let me just say, walking in there felt like I had arrived. The front hall led into a grand living space, made up of the kitchen, dining area, and living room. High ceilings and plenty of space. Luxury built on the side of the sea. Tall glass doors to the balcony that overlooked the water. I still dream about it.
“Yes,” I said, plopping into an oversized rotating chair in the living room while our gracious hosts explained what we needed to know about the grounds. My brother studied the map of San Pedro spread out on the table, probably deciding what excursion he wanted to do first. I didn’t care if we never left here. I was busy touching all the soft things, the couch, all the pillows. I stood in front of the glass and looked past the conch shell that rested on the center of the outside table to the sea that was somehow still stunning at night. This is living. The hosts recommended places, taking us out the door and up a few steps, stopping in between levels so we could overlook the island. I put both hands on the thick, hard, white ledge. He pointed out where certain places were, saying it would be easy to see them in the morning. He asked where we were from and upon hearing Chicago he said many Belizeans love the Cubs. Back inside, I rushed to claim a bedroom.
“You’re all ready to stay, huh?” My mom laughed. She found me on my knees, speedily unpacking.
“Oh yes,” I said, laughing back. I paused with the piling of my shirts to lock eyes with her, “I have arrived.” At that moment, I was ecstatic. We were sitting in the lap of luxury and it was very, very temporary so I was determined to enjoy every second of it. I was also very excited to curl up in the giant, comfy, bed. Once all my clothes were in drawers I rested my fedora on the bedpost that would be on my side of the bed and then I visited all the rooms in the condo like a rambunctious puppy inspecting new territory. The master bedroom had its own door to the balcony, draped with white curtains. The master bath had a big tub. I ran my fingers across the dark hardwood table that stood against the wall under the hanging flatscreen. On it was a list of the TV stations. Other than the audio of Netflix that I listen to when falling asleep, I didn’t think I’d be spending my time watching TV. Stainless steel appliances filled the kitchen. A canvas picture of the teal blue sea hung on the wall by the dining table.
The bathroom I would be sharing across from the bedroom I had already unpacked in was huge. Its mirror was bordered in black and stretched to the ceiling, the lighting was great. An ivory toilet sat beside a wall made of what looked like little peach porcelain brinks that framed the walk-in shower. I peaked my head around to the inside, there was so much room, I could’ve fit seven of me in there comfortably. A shower like that with a mobile rinse would be great for washing the sand out of my dog’s fur. I put my shampoo and conditioner on the cutout ledge. It was so nice here. I didn’t know if I wanted to sleep or get clean first. I looked up and there it was, “oh my God.” Two shower heads, one on the wall and the other straight above, the kind where the water falls like rain. That’s it, that’s the dream. I took a video of it. I really had arrived. Decision made. I didn’t care that I didn’t need to shower, I stripped right there because I had to feel the raining shower head.
In the morning, I wanted to go to the only place on the island for Crossfit. I had looked it up before the trip and already contacted them about dropping in. According to my map, it was an eight-minute golf cart ride. We got the key and took the elevator down, I traveled the short purple ramp to the cart and stepped up. We followed street signs that were wooden boards with painted arrows. Most of the way was paved, some of it was gravel. It was hot and bright. We passed people and multicolor buildings, arriving at a big garage at the end of a gravel road.
“Hello,” I greeted the coach and told him who I was.
“Yes, I’m excited,” he said. His name is Marcos and he runs Crossfit Wolf, something he’d been doing for a short time before I visited. Their colors were blue and red and their equipment was plenty. They had a rig, rowers, dumbbells, bars, rings, boxes, more than you could ask for when it comes to Crossfit. A whiteboard hung on the center wall in between the two open garage doors that let the sun flood in.
New place, same grind. It was a class of about ten my first afternoon and we got started with a 7-7-7 x2 warmup involving running or rowing if you weren’t used to running through gravel, followed by a weighted carry. For strength, we did front squats. The WOD itself was a 16-minute EMOM with each movement lasting one minute, all max effort: chest-to-bar, thrusters, calorie row, rest. It was tons of fun. The only noticeable difference was the heat. Movement or not I was sweating. We ended with stretching which felt remarkably easy because of the heat. The people there were so welcoming. Crossfit has a wonderful camaraderie. My mom and I thanked Marcos and told him we’d see him again tomorrow. Then we hopped back in the golf cart. Post-WOD it dawned on me that I wasn’t in the states and I had no idea where to get my trusted recovery drink FITAID. It’s full of vitamins and does my body wonders. I texted my coach back home and she told me to focus on getting my protein in. We found a grocery store and I rushed to the cooler section, it took a while and ultimately, a mother’s gift of finding things to locate the protein drinks but I got them. I did end up tweeting LIFEAID, the company that makes FITAID, asking where the closest place to get them from Belize would be. Their response was Guatemala. I had already been there when I was standing on the pyramid talking to the rifle-wielding border guard. Protein will have to do. After another amazing shower, I was ready to eat and Belize has my kind of food.
On my plate were coconut rice, fried plantains, and chicken, a meal I could eat every day for the rest of my life. Carbs, a little bit of fat and protein. The best part was the freshness. Not a single thing I ordered in Belize ever tasted like it was processed. Actually, it might be because of Belize that I now know what processed food tastes like. Before that, I’m not even sure I recognized that there is a taste too processed food. The food was so fresh there that I still think about it. The real coconut in the rice, the tenderness of the stew chicken. I tried to recreate the taste once I got back home and couldn’t come close. Oh, how I miss the Belizean cuisine.
Our place was on the beach but we wanted to explore more of San Pedro so we planned to take the golf cart for a ride to a different beach. Before any adventure could begin, my brother was sent into the bank while we waited in a row of parked golf carts. He came out flashing the cash, singing a rap song about bills as he crossed the street. I was so terrified at the scene. I responded in anger. An American tourist peacocking a handful of cash. “Stop. Are you insane? Get in the car. Now.”
“It’s fine,” he laughed, getting in with a grin. I shook my head, scoffing. My heart was pounding.
“I’m gonna rob you man,” said someone nearby in what sounded like a Jamaican accent.
“See?” I gestured towards the voice that confirmed my point. “At least they told you. Most robbers don’t do that.” After avoiding a friendly thief, the family and I cruised along the island. It was a long way to go in a golf cart. Streets, people walking and smiling, mostly locals coming in and out of stores and talking to each other. We crossed a bridge and then it was trees and gravel. My legs stuck to the leather of the seat on the back of the cart that for some reason, faced the street. At times during the rough ride, I had to hold onto my hat. Soon, the family would be in the water and I would be lounging under palm trees watching our things while drinking tequila with lime, noticing a shirtless Leonardo DiCaprio near the trunk of a tree in the form of a cardboard cutout. He has property here.
“Are you drunk?” My mom asked, approaching in her bikini.
“Probably,” I said. Adjusting my sunglasses.
“Well I’m going in the water,” she said, “watch this,” she handed me another item. Numerous straps of bags were tethered to me. She walked down the beach past the rows of cinnamon lounge chairs. I stayed where I was listening to Freaky Friday play low in the background and rested under the palm trees, feeling the breeze.