Surviving Belize

We’re back from Belize, and – surprise! – we’re alive. If you missed my initial post “Preparing to Die in Belize,” you missed a whole lot of anxiety over not much of anything, but as a parent, that feels kind of normal. Is that mosquito bite on little Jimmy’s neck actually from a tick infected with Lyme? Is Suzy’s weird Texas-shaped birthmark a sign that she’ll end up a Republican? A week long international trip without my three small children was bound to invoke a little paranoia.

But good news, everyone:  Belize is amazing, and it turns out the “numerous threats” I spent days fretting over were blown slightly out of proportion:

Mosquitoes (a.k.a. Malaria)

Within the first twenty minutes, a mosquito found my ankle, and all I could picture were the $92 Malarone tablets still sitting at the pharmacy. I doused myself in the travel sized bottle of bug repellent and crossed my fingers. Although I picked up a few more bites (one that immediately turned bright purple?), I feel pretty good. There are between 4 and 6 days left before I’m in the clear, so my fingers will remain crossed until Tuesday.

Illnesses – Hep A and Typhoid

For all we know, every bite of food was sprinkled with fecal particles, but it sure was delicious.

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Thank God for immunizations. Right before leaving, we read that the U.S. is reporting increased cases of Hep A, so it turns out my husband and I are safe to travel the states, as well.

Spiders, snakes and other creepy crawlies

Snakes, bullet ants and poisonous dart frogs definitely inhabit Central American jungles, but we were spared any personal encounters. The spiders, however, offered some startling “hellos.”

I had barely dropped my bags on the bed of our first accommodation when I heard my husband shout and recoil across the 12 x 12 room. With sweat-soaked shirts clinging to our pasty bodies, we needed to change into fresh clothes and began untying the curtains for privacy. Thank God he had a hold of the one with the spider.

I turned to see what the howling was about and spotted eight spindly legs splayed across the light blue fabric of our window dressings. The bug was clinging sideways against the curtain, its feet anchored perpendicular to its body, bulging black eyes sat atop its head.

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We pondered the situation while I danced around on tip-toes in the middle of the room trying to get a better look while fearing I might get a better look. What was our approach? How could we knock it off its perch without losing it altogether? My husband decided to swipe it to the floor to get a better vantage point for the final blow – but the spider would not be moved. It gripped the curtain, running underneath to the backside, then peeked at us over the top. It was like lightning.

My hero grabbed a flip-flop and swatted the giant(ish) bug against the curtain rod, knocking it to the floor where he finished it off. The video is slightly less dramatic than what I have recounted here, but the version in my mind feels more accurate. Warning:  there might be a few obscenities…

This was followed by a half hour search through every curtain, towel, corner and ceiling tile in the tiny room, and still, I sat upright in bed for three hours that night convinced its buddies were coming for us.

After finally giving in to sleep, I awoke in a semi-conscious state and watched a giant black spider crawl from one corner of our ceiling to our headboard. I sprang out of bed and stood paralyzed, gasping for air, trying to form words to alert my husband.

In a daze himself, my husband turned on the light to reveal bare white walls. My eyes darted from corner to corner. Where did it go? Where was it hiding? Why couldn’t I stop crying? My husband, used to my night terrors, assured me I was dreaming and could safely return to bed. Two hours passed before my heart found its way back inside my chest, and I closed my eyes.

The following day, we encountered an actual tarantula in the jungle along the Caves Branch River, the back half of its fuzzy body peeking out of its hole. This spider did not, in fact, “do me in” as I was anticipating and was far less horrifying than the one hiding in our curtains.

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Things that swim

On our half day snorkeling trip, we did spot fire coral and a scorpion fish, both dangerous but neither of which were anywhere close to touching us. Aside from choking on a mouthful of salt water when a giant sting ray cruised past my ankle, it was smooth sailing.

Drunken drownings

The rum punch was flowing – and so were the pina coladas, bloody marys and Belikins – but given that we are a solid ten plus years from our college days, we made it home without incident. I did capture some glassy eyed pics of my husband the last few days on the beach, but I get along better with that version of him anyways.

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Other people

So here’s the thing – interacting with people from other places and cultures is the number one reason why I travel. Hands down. It challenges me to reevaluate the way I live my own life, the values I cling to, and my perception of others.

Other people were also my biggest fear when heading into this past trip – because people can be scary, too – and the articles I had been reading described some pretty scary people hanging out in Belize.

These were not the people we encountered on our vacation. The Belizeans we met were warm and welcoming. They were interested in sharing the stories of their country, and we were more than happy to listen. (It’s a good rule of travel – to listen more than you speak – which is hard for me at home, I’ll admit, but on the road, I try to shut up).

Belize is a melting pot of cultures – “like a soup,” one Belizean explained. We learned about the Mestizos and Creoles, the few remaining Mayan tribes, the Mennonite populations that occupy fertile farmlands around areas like Spanish Lookout and Upper Barton Creek, Chinese and Indian merchants, and the growing number of ex-pats from all over the world looking for a slower pace, some sunshine and either a new start or a glorious end.

We watched the different groups intermingle, pair off, collide. We experienced these interwoven cultures through the brilliant food, art and language. We observed an aging Mestizo woman scream at a young grocer to “go back to China if [he didn’t] like Belize people.” The simultaneous beauty and anger felt familiar.

We heard about crimes against visitors just trying explore a new corner of the world. This felt familiar, too. Assaults do happen. Robberies and murders do occur. They do everywhere.

People can be scary, much scarier than anything lurking beneath the ocean waves or hiding in the jungle. Within 12 hours of being home, back on good old American soil, I awoke to the news of another school shooting. Children and teachers murdered, without provocation, without reason, and without a plan to protect anyone from this happening again tomorrow. A flood of fear washed over me. I could drown in it.

But as I concluded in my pre-Belize post, if I sank into the depths of that fear, I’d never see anything but the four walls of my house and neither would my children – so I choose faith. I choose to have faith in my tiny bottle of bug spray, in the pin prick of modern medicine, and in my husband’s ability to kill a rogue spider. Above all else, I choose to have faith in the beauty and goodness of other people, even when our ugliness blocks out the sun. I choose to have faith in the warmth I’ve felt from people down the street, across the country, throughout Belize and every other place I’ve visited. Other people are the reason I started traveling in the first place, and I won’t allow them to be the reason why I stop.

Subscribe here to learn more about this Belizean adventure and many more. Itinerary details and ‘must see’ spots throughout this tropical country coming soon!

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