To go back in time and experience my Belizean journey, read about the jungle, then what it was like coming to paradise and confronting my worst fear because I cannot turn down a dare. We traveled in the golf cart aroun San Pedro, panels made up the border for the roads. One rectangular section stood out to me. A pair of realistic eyes and eyebrows painted black, popping on a white background. VECINDAD BAJO VIGILANCIA was written below and the English translation was written above.
“We have to stop there on the way back,” I said, “that’s very Gatsby.” There was a more populated, established side to San Pedro and a more vacant, underdeveloped side. Two extremes within twenty-two miles. The less populated area is where we found ourselves on my quest to locate the tattoo shop with the best reviews. I’m an ink enthusiast, from the quill and the needle. I think it’s an interesting experience to collect art as I go. We parked on the side of the road, nearby men were playing basketball while barefoot. The shop was constructed of panels that were painted purple. My family did not want me adding to my collection but they were kind enough to indulge my intrigue. They helped me up the concrete steps and through the door. Yellowed flash was framed on display. “I love flash,” I said, surveying the sheets of traditional tattoo designs. “Hi,” I said, to the man who had walked up to the counter from the back.
“Hey, you looking to get a tattoo today?” He asked, there was a young kid minding his own sitting in one of the chairs in the waiting area, he was trying not to look at us.
“I might,” I said, conscious of the rug I was standing on, I can’t stand rugs, I didn’t want to trip on it. A ship in a bottle stood amongst the designs of roses, swords, and praying hands. I walked over to the counter. “I have a list of ideas and none of them would be quick,” I skimmed through the art portfolios they had, seeing who preferred to tattoo in what style. I could feel how uncomfortable my family felt. Mostly because they didn’t want me getting another tattoo, not today, not ever. I scrolled through my log of future tattoos. “We could do this,” I said, landing on a photo of Day of the Dead artwork that I’ve been eyeing for some time.
“Yeah, we could, where at?”
“My tricep,” when I moved my arm I realized that wouldn’t be happening. “Oh, I have sunburn.” He stepped back a bit.
“Yeah I don’t want to do that, it won’t come out well.” I sighed, he was right.
“No, it won’t. Maybe next time then.” To my family’s relief, we left the needles behind. “I would’ve done it somewhere else if you guys weren’t here,” I confessed. I do love tattoos.
“Really? In Belize? Who knows their sterilization policies.” It was probably a risk I shouldn’t take without doing my research. I guess I enjoy the thrill of it all.
It came time for my brother do to his end of the dare. I had swum with the savages of the sea, now he had to be a savage like me. My mom drove us both through the familiar route on the island, no traffic lights, only wooden signs as a guide to the rundown part of town. The golf cart bounced to the end of the gravel road once again. It was so hot. I was so excited. My brother wasn’t the least bit enthused. I introduced him to Marcos. Marcos is one of the kindest Crossfit coaches I’ve ever met, he’s always ready to go. He loves the relationships built through this unique style of training, as do I. He’s not a fan of the games themselves though. The competition style of CrossFit began in 2007, a playground designed for the Greek gods that walk the Earth to compete with one another to see who truly is, the fittest of them all. While at CrossFit Wolf, I did get to workout with a games competitor which was fun. It wasn’t until Marcos was explaining what he liked about Crossfit that I realized how narrow-minded I was about where I come from. There is more than one America, I knew this geographically of course but prior to our conversation, it hadn’t occurred to me to address the others. In my mind, there was only North America. After our talk, I started referring to my country as the states. It’s amazing what you learn when you listen. What a difference it was to live life in Central America compared to the states, the weather was infinitely better but the privilege, my gosh. The levels of privilege in the states are really something. I think of my class differently now after being in Belize with people like Marcos who act with their heart. That’s all I want. That’s what I want from humanity. Why don’t we live in love more often? Why does it take coming to a place like this that is so very wonderful yet so very poor, to feel sincere compassion from others? Not a few people, everyone. Anyone in San Pedro will stop what they’re doing to have a conversation. In San Pedro, people notice people rather than merely seeing them. Once, we lost the keys to the golf cart after going to the grocery store and the employees stopped what they were doing and helped us look until they were found. In the states, they would say they’ll call if someone finds them. In Belize, they’re happy to help, they prefer it. Kind people are happy to take a detour from themselves. I think I noticed the compassion because of how much I lack it, within myself and giving it to others. What a peaceful place this poor island is and what a lonely world the wealthy states are.
Why does it take coming to a place like this that is so very wonderful yet so very poor, to feel sincere compassion from others?-Genevieve Rose
The WOD was 21-15-9 deadlifts, pushups and rowing with an eighteen-minute cap. I was ready. I showed up sleeveless. Previously I had been wearing shirts from my home box but that day I had on a hot pink tank top with the Crossfit Wolf logo. No sleeves didn’t mean I was any less sweaty. It was consistently hot. Belize is where I learned there are many ways to feel damp. Sweat and swimming were the biggest. Forget a full face of makeup. Even at night, it would lose the fight to sweat. The strength portion was front squats, a favorite movement of mine. When I do those I hold the bar in the front rack position and squat over a bench. It was a good squat day, I got a PR. I think by the time the warmup was over my brother had mentally checked out. He did squats with a wallball but only when Marcos was looking. The WOD itself might kill him. That’s fair, the sharks could’ve killed me. Those deadlifts were tough but dang it, I love them. The arm work was intense between the pushups and the rowing. I finished in under 15 minutes, my brother forgot to keep track of his time. Next to his name on the whiteboard, Marcos drew a question mark. It amused him, he took a liking to my brother as most people do. We ended with stretching and then my brother and I took a picture by the rings to document the first day he tried Crossfit. He was so miserable he didn’t even want to smile. At least he held up his end of the dare. “I’d like to take a picture with you,” Marcos said.
“Awe, really?” I said, surprised by that. “Sure,” I stood next to him and we flexed.
“I’ve really enjoyed training with you.” He said, “when will you be back?”
“If It were up to me, I’d live here. Maybe Christmas? I don’t know.”
“Next year?” He asked
“Oh, yeah, hopefully. I’ll let you know. Thank you so much, for everything.”
“Of course, thank you.” After we said our goodbyes I wanted to try another coffee shop. That’s how we ended up at Flight Café. The color scheme was black and white and the decor was modeled after planes, which explained the name. We learned that the owners were from France and they fly from here to there often. I took a seat in the booth side of a table set up. Behind me on the black wall was plane illustrations and flight patterns painted in white. Clouds were on the black ceiling near the caramel colored fan blades that were shaped like sycamore seeds. My French breakfast was brought to the table. A chocolate croissant and a baguette with a side of jam and butter, paired with my cappuccino that was topped with a floral design.
“Excuse me,” I said to the waiter, “could I make a music request?” There was hardly anyone in here but us.
“Sure what can I play for you?” He asked.
“How do you feel about Michael Jackson?”
“Love him, he was a good man.”
“He certainly was,” I agreed.
“What do you want me to play?”
“Literally anything of his,” I said. There is not a single track I don’t appreciate. ‘Beat It’ came on through the speakers. I sipped foamy cappuccino. I was sitting in a French café located on an island of paradise listening to the greatest entertainer of all time with the people I love the most. How many people get to do things as lovely as that? After lunch, we found an outdoor flea market and I wandered from section to section looking at various trinkets and jewelry. “Oh wow,” a man in one of the sections said as I walked in. “You’re really beautiful,” I laughed.
“Yes, thank you.” I looked at the ceramic looking objects he had laid out.
“You married?” He asked. The man was probably in his late sixties but maybe all the tanning he’d done aged him.
“Not yet, are you?” I asked, figuring I should get out of here soon.
“Yeah, but I’d leave her for you.”
“What would your wife think of that?” I asked, giving him eye contact long enough to make my point. He shrugged.
“She would be okay,” he said, “it would be okay.”
“No, it wouldn’t actually, maybe for you but not me. I’m not that kind of woman. Go home and love your wife,” I told him and as I walked away I could hear him muttering still about how good looking I am. If he weren’t so old it would’ve been flattering. What someone’s sleazy husband reminded me of is a certain rule. My friend who lives in Spain told me about the 4/10 rule. When you may be a four in terms of attractiveness at home but when you go somewhere else, somewhere you’re considered exotic, you become a ten. After I bought a few gifts for friends, one of them was a hand-carved rosewood bowl that I watched get engraved, after my purchases from the woodworker he said,
“Slow down, we’re on island time.” Apparently, I rush without knowing. I made friends with some women sitting on a bench they had a big dog. I talked to them and pet the mild-mannered dog while my mom continued browsing. On some level, it was nice to not wear the label of; girl with the dog for a little bit. I saw a black t-shirt hanging on display. A ghostly design of a woman smoking and wearing a fedora. I walked over to see if they had one that would fit me. After some digging, she found one that was small enough. If I couldn’t shrink it, I could tie it. The smoking woman had her face painted like a clown and her eyes were emerald green, the only color in an otherwise black and gray scheme. The back of the shirt had a face too. It was a striking illustration that I had to have.
My mom and I left the outdoor market and my not so future husband to go explore some more. We found a resort that was its own town on the island. The color white was ubiquitous. It looked like what the housing for Fyre Festival was supposed to be before everything Billy McFarland did went up in flames. One place that was open to the public inside the resort was a chocolate and coffee shop, one of the many continuous bleached buildings. The dominant color being white made things feel sterile. There was a life-sized statue of a coffee bean outside the front of the shop. Forget the bean in Chicago, Belize is where it’s at.
We also drove past a cemetery that looked like none I’ve seen before. Nothing formal, just random boxes in size and color placed in a field of overgrown grass. A lone palm tree stood off to the side. Some of the boxes for the dead looked like dog houses. Chipped paint and grime on most of the containers. A rusted cross made of metal protruded from a burial box caked in dirt that closest to the front. Another burial plot had a small, dirty tombstone with a bouquet of yellow flowers resting on in. In the distance, cut into a gray wall was the outline of a tall and skinny cross. How strange it is that we all live and then we die. We wound up at a beach that was at open, snuck in and had the place to ourselves. I found a seashell and did a balancing act with it while my brother climbed to the top of a curved palm tree. Umbrellas and rainbow lounge chairs abound not a single stranger to be found.
Right as I walked in the door to luxury, I tripped, on the rug by the front door. The rug that did not need to be there. Do rugs ever need to be there? I can’t stand rugs, to me, it seems rugs solely exist so that I can’t stand. I didn’t fall that time. However, I did fall in love with the shower of my dreams again. There was a well-known seafood place we were going to. As fresh as could be. Tentacles and other sea creature appendages were on ice in front of the restaurant itself. You could make your own selection of seafood out of them. I’d never seen a squid tentacle up close like that. We ordered a round of lime juice, my favorite in Belize, it’s water with lime and sugar to taste. Coconut rice, stew chicken and plantains to eat, it doesn’t get better. There was a table close by full of loud, drunk patrons, one of them was more inebriated than the rest of his party and bumped into the waiter, nearly knocking him over. I looked away from the scene, thankful the waiter didn’t fall. It had rained hard while we ate and the seats of the golf cart were soaked. As we dried them, I looked across the street and saw the guy who was wasted dropping handfuls of change in front of the restaurant. Lord, get that man home safe. We found a homemade ice cream place owned by people from the states. The interior was covered with children’s drawings. Some of them were from the old TV show Hannah Montana. I loved that show. I tried samples of banana, mint, and custard. The creamy taste of each one was decadent. I settled on coffee ice cream and we enjoyed our dessert there. The owner told us how they had moved from somewhere freezing in the states and decided to start an ice cream business here. He explained how they get their product to the island. I could see the gears in both my parent’s brains cranking with inspiration.
As I said, our extravagantly cushioned seat in the lap of luxury was temporary resting place and too soon, it was time to step down from the throne. Our last day on the island had come. My activities mostly involved eating protein and extensive walking, to places that included Central Park, which looked nothing like the one in New York, near the park was a woman grilling food. We had a water taxi to board soon so I figured I should eat first.
“Hello,” I said as I walked up.
“Hi miss, how are you?”
“Wonderful thank you. Could I get some chicken please?” I asked.
“That’s good to hear, yes you can. Been making it here for years, my special recipe. Enjoy this weather today.” She handed me a to-go container of BBQ chicken and sides that had me salivating. The meal barely cost $5.
“Yeah? Good for you. This weather is amazing. Thank you so much, I love eating.” I took a seat on one of the circular benches that surrounded the trees in the park. There were a few others around. The water looked inviting. The playground was empty. Random dogs jogged around us. I missed my dog.
“Hurry up and eat. We have to leave soon,” my mom said.
“This is a lot of food,” I said, digging at the hunk of chicken with my spork. I had plenty of coconut rice to eat too. Why did it take coming to Belize for me to find genuinely compassionate people and coconut rice? I love coconut. People in the states love coconut. Why haven’t we put it in rice? I ate a little bit more and then we walked to the spot where the water taxi would be arriving shortly. I sat on a wooden bench with others waiting for their ride. I ditched the spork and went at my food like a savage because there wasn’t much time and I honestly prefer to eat with my hands. An island dog walked up, its fur was golden brown, sunshine eyes locked to mine, curious about my food. “No,” I said to the perky-eared pup. He turned around at once. At least the island dogs were obedient. He was a cute one too who was now sniffing a spot on the concrete.
“You finished? The taxi is pulling up,” my mom said. I wasn’t finished but I was full.
“Not really.” I needed time to wipe the sauce off my fingers. I whistled and the puppy pranced over. I really missed my dog. “Good boy, here you go.” I set the container on the ground and he dug into my leftovers. I wiped my hands and said so long to paradise. On the water taxi going back to Belize City, I sat next to a boy who looked to be about seven who was balled up in his seat and lost in a deep sleep with his mouth wide open. I tried not to laugh. I didn’t want to wake him up, he looked so innocent sleeping by the window, an oversized wristwatch wrapped around his espresso skin. On the other side of the boat, my mom could see I was amused and she pressed her index finger against her lips. I nodded. Then she pointed to my arms and flashed a thumbs up, I flexed an arm in my capped sleeved shirt. Between the sunshine dog and the beautiful boy, my heart was bleeding. I am a sucker for innocence. The taxi rode along the Caribbean and after awhile the shoreline came into view. I don’t think I was ready to go. I never am when it comes to vacation. We take such great trips it’s heart-wrenching to leave. I should really stop enjoying myself, it makes it hard to do daily life. I wasn’t ready to leave paradise. I wanted to live in that luxury for more than a few days, I didn’t want to come back to the states with all our stress, caffeine habits, phone addictions, and constant stimulation. I wanted peace more than anything. Don’t we all? Isn’t that why we accumulate the other stuff, we think that’ll bring us peace don’t we? I keep hearing it doesn’t. I wasn’t ready to leave but we were and so I expected that. Setting my mind for the arduous bus ride back to the worst country in the world. I didn’t care how late it was, I would be ready for the swindlers of Mexico. It wasn’t as much of a hassle going back as it was coming in. Before I was home again in the states, waiting in a seemingly endless line of international travelers, noticing how even in the customs agents in Chicago took an intense liking to me. Before I watched a female airport employee appear as of from nowhere with a Beagle that sniffed someone’s luggage and they were told they were led away as she told them the can’t travel with open meat. Who travels with meat? I don’t want to know why. Before I was sitting at a Starbucks extremely early in the morning and my mother noticed my entire left ankle was swollen, it had doubled in size without me feeling a thing, even as I stared at it. Before I was at the airport back home with the meat people, I had returned to the one in Cancun. “Hello again,” said the little French girl who we had flown with from Chicago to Cancun originally. It was sweet that she recognized my mom and rather bold of her to walk up like that. I’m terrible at recognizing people. That little girl knew her from the back, not even a face to confirm but she was right. My mother turned to her little friend and I watched them converse about the separate trips they had taken. In the waiting area, a woman was coming around with a survey for people to take. My mom agreed to participate.
“Can I ask you a few questions about your stay here?”
“Sure,” my mom said. As we were getting ready to board the plane, the surveyor asked her final question;
“Would you ever return to Mexico?”
“Absolutely not. I did not enjoy myself. This is a terrible, corrupt country.”
“Okay. Thank you,” said the surveyor.