Sandy and I are not usually that outgoing on our vacations, we don't just talk with random strangers. But Belize seems to foster a very outgoing attitude. We ended up chatting with a bunch of different people while we were in Belize, fellow tourists, ex-pats, and native Belizians. A lot of interesting stories.
A security guy at Chabil Mar. Leo lives in a town on the mainland near Placencia, but stays in the hotel employee lodging while working his stints at the hotel. Friendly guy, he was helping some of our fellow guests do some fishing and we talked to him while hanging out on the pier by the water. He used to be in the army / Belize Defense Force. He was selected to be eligible for the British Army (Belize is a commonwealth country) so he traveled to England for training. He decided that the cold cloudy weather was not for him so he came back to Belize.
Owner of Placencia Diving Service. Shane lived in the US (San Diego?) Shane came back to Belize and I think was running a resturant, but was a diver. He decided to change gears and bought out someone's dive operation license and opened his shop. He and his partner seemed to be a bit more interested in spear fishing than running a tour, but we still had a good morning of snorkeling at a decent price. You could do worse than dive/snorkle with Shane.
Slate carvers, near San Ignacio.
15 years ago, we bought a couple slate carvings from a 12 year old boy on the side of the road on our way to the Xunantinich Mayan Ruins. We took a picture of the kid with the slates we bought and have really appreciated the works since then. Since we were going to the same location I thought it was possible that we might actually run into the kid again, so I downloaded a copy of the picture to my camera. Sure enough, on our first night in the country, I ran into a guy selling slates at our hotel. He looked similar, but that could have just been the Mayan influence. I showed him the picture and asked if he knew who that was. "That looks like my brother". When do you think that picture was taken? "That looks like 10 or 15 years ago.". I'm a sucker for a personal connection, and the guy had some nice slates so I bought one from him. Next day, we go to Xunantunich. First guy who comes up to my car looks like an older version of the kid. I ask "How long have you been carving slates?" He says about 15 years. I show him my phone, "Does this look familiar?" Yup, that is him, Hansel. We buy some more souvenirs.
Dawn, owner of Grill and Go, Placencia
Dawn is a second generation resturantaur in Belize. Her family owns an other resturant, in town, the Galley. We were looking for a good simple fish dinner in town and Grill and Go was recommended by some other people we met. A good simple grilled snapper dinner at a good price. After dinner Dawn came out of the kitchen and chatted with us and another American couple who where there. Dawn was a lovely lady who really loved cooking. She reminisced about working as a waitress in the family resturant and living it up in her younger days. She said that she was a "fun and happy" waitress and that several times her family decided she should have the day off because she was "too happy" that evening. :-) She had several children some who lived in the US, and some who were still in Belize. Her grand daughter asked her recently what her favorite food was, and she was still pondering that... she didn't know if she could say just one thing. She mentioned talked up her deserts that she had flown in from a bakery in Belize city, and were glad that we had the cheesecake.
Belize Defense Force
We were at the Xunantunich ruins outside of San Ignacio, which is very close to the Guatemalan border when we met 2 BDF soldiers. They were stationed there for the day on patrol, but were enjoying the scenery and wildlife (Howler monkey troop) as much as the tourists were. From the top of El Castillo, the main pyramid, we were able to see the Belize Guatemalan border and we listened in as another pair of tourists talked to them about their job. The BDF had to protect the border from illegal logging and harvesting of plants from Guatemalans. That job was made tougher by the remoteness of the border and the fact that the British govt. just pulled out their helicopter/airborne support that they had been providing to the county in the 3 decades since Belize's independence from Britain. They were armed with US M16 rifles, and seemed like a competent and trustworthy pair of soldiers. I guess if someone were intimidate by armed soldiers it might been a bit alarming, but it seemed like a good thing to me given where we were.
Chinese market owners
We didn't actually chat with any of these business owners, but pretty much every supermarket / bodega that we saw in Belize seemed to be owned by ethnic Chinese. The Chinese are one of the major ethnic groups in Belize. (Mayans, Caribbean blacks, While Mennonites, and Chinese)
Belize attracts a large number of US and Canadian Ex-pats who choose to come to the country to either escape the rat race or just retire.
Kevin, owner of Pasquales Pizza, Belmopan.
We needed a lunch break on our drive from Xunantunich to Placencia, and also wanted to stop in Belmopan, the somewhat sleepy capital city of Belize. Pasquales Pizza was listed in the guide book and seemed to fit the bill. Near the highway, and it sounded quick. It happened to be located across the street from the national police training academy so I decided to take a couple pictures while we were waiting for our pizza. Kevin came out and started talking to Sandy. He and his wife decided to get out of the rat race and spend more time with their young son, probably about 6-7 years old. The past year they left their professional jobs in Chicago, bought Pasquales in Belmopan. Kevin was pretty happy with their decision. Belize wasn't perfect, but they were enjoying their new life. Belmopan was a good choice for them... It has decent police, hospitals, and infrastructure, but was still low key and affordable. Kevin and his wife re-sell local crafts, not so much to make money on them, but more to help support fellow Belizans. We bought a necklace for one of my nieces. Kevin gave us his cell phone number and told us to give him a call if we ran into any difficulties and needed a hand. That was very nice of him. Pasquales is convenient to the highway if you are passing by Belmopan, we recommend them, they were listed in our guide book.
Alex, Placencia Dive Services
Alex is a pretty, but hippy looking Italian blond girl with dreads. But in Belize, that description doesn't sound that out of place. She moved to Belize 5 years ago with her daughter, it sounds she went there to join the daughter's father. She has been running the office side of the dive shop since Shane doesn't seem to be a detail oriented kind of guy. She loves Belize, but seems to miss Italy a bit. She goes back each year during the Belize slow season. She is thinking it might be time to go back to Italy now that her daughter is entering grade school, but knows it will be a bit of an adjustment to go back to a faster pace of life.
Wendy, Purple Space Monkey
Wendy, her boyfriend, and her son own and operate the Purple Space Monkey bar in Placencia. The first night that we were in town we were drawn to the bar by the non-stop reggae drum jam that was going on. Wendy and crew were from Winnepeg Alberta CA. In spite of being a native Canadian, Wendy hated the cold, and lets face it, when you live north of Minnesota US, it is friggin cold. Wendy decided that she never wanted to see snow again, and said that she was moving south, preferrably with boyfriend and 18 year old son, but without them if needed. They did some internet research, picked Placencia as a destination, sold everything, bought an RV and headed south. Once they reached Placencia, they found a bar that was going under, the Purple Space Monkey and bought out the previous owner. They are currently still temporary residents of Belize, which means they have to renew their residency visas 30 days at a time until they have been there for 12 or 18 months, and then they can apply for permanent residency. The space monkey was our favorite bar in Placencia, Belikan beer on tap, free Wi-FI, music, and TV.
On the run
While at the space monkey, we met an ex-Marine who had moved to Belize and was applying for his permanent residency. He was a little concerned about the criminal records check since he was pretty much on the lam from an "assault on a police officer" charge in the US. As he put it, "I'm not going to Leavenworth for 5 years for that, the cop deserved what he got and more".
I won't judge him since I don't know the full story, but he was living off either his savings or a military pension, he had served his country in both Somalia and Afghanistan, so at the very least, he has that going for him. It sounded like one of his buddies with him was a US Vietnam Vet who had lost a leg in that war. Makes me think of Forest Gump and Lt. Dan. Glad they have a country like Belize to fall back on.
Most of the tourists we met were from the US. At Chabil Mar, most were well established people our age or older, or younger couples who were there as a treat with their parents. In San Ignacio, half the guests were part of a church missionary trip.
In Placencia we met a couple at Grill and Go who were pretty fun. He was a charter boat captain in FLA, she worked the office. Nice people, there to celebrate the wife's 50th birthday. They thought we were adventurous for renting a car and driving... We thought they were adventurous for taking a Belize bus to get to Placencia
Toby the volunteer
Toby was a young guy from the UK volunteering at the zoo. He worked at a zoo in England, and thought the Belize zoo was much nicer for the animals. When we were looking at the mountain lion, I mentioned how we still had those in the US and they would occasionally attack joggers in California. He was surprised that we still had big predators like that in the US. He was looking forward to a a week at the end of his stay where he could get out and see the country.
Hal, the meteorite guy.
We met a gentleman while renting a car who was heading to San Ignacio the same day we were. He had been to the San Ignacio before and asked if we wanted any directions or wanted to follow him. We said thanks but we wanted to feel free to stop places. We passed by him when we were driving around town. Then met him again in the airport returning to the US. Turns out he is from Columbus, but wasn't on our same flight out of Miami. He was in Belize looking for tektite meteor fragments. He has a book about them.
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