Gary Guinn

Literature of the Ozarks

Month: February 2016

Last Day, Hopkins, Belize

The quiet has a different quality here. It is driven by the rhythm of the surf. The constant washing of the waves on the shore–not the pounding surf of California, the East Coast, but the lighter, brighter sound of smaller waves. In the mornings, just after sunrise, the waves are subdued. The birds take over, screeching, whistling, chattering. And the doves’ low calling back and forth in the canopy around us.

The sounds don’t change the fundamental nature of the quiet. We are a mile south of the village of Hopkins on the southern coast of Belize, a one hour ferry and three hour bus ride from Caye Caulker. It’s a small village with only a few shops and bars, maybe three stores. This aging resort with the flamboyant name of “Jungle Jeanie’s” stands alone on this stretch of beach. Whatever nightlife happens in Hopkins does not reach us down the coast. A little further south, several large resorts claim a half mile of shoreline, but their noise also does not register here.

We play a little, relax a lot. We zip lined in the jungle, visited Mayan ruins, kayaked, and paddle boarded. We should have snorkeled, alas. But the deck of the little cabana, pink and stilted, twenty yards from the surf, kept calling us back, luring us into naps and books and cold Belikin Beer, and occasional glasses of One Barrel rum, made in Belize. Or the chair on the beach as the sun set behind us. The frigate-birds, pelicans, sea gulls, and herons. The fish and chicken and pork and rice and beans and plantains and fry jacks and tortillas.

We walk up the surf line to Sandy Beach Restaurant, a half mile or so, where Ms Merlene, a sweet old Belizean woman, grills “Jack” fish and serves rice molded into a heart, and beans, always beans, and Belikin Beer. The hot sauce is made by the “Sandy Beach Women’s Cooperative Society, Limited,” Ms Merlene Castillo, Chair Lady. Her beautiful gap-toothed smile and colorful headscarf. We buy a bottle.

And Barbara, an old hippy, living in an ancient school bus a hundred yards off the beach among the palm and papaya trees. Her tiny shop in the front of the bus, “Sew Much Hemp,” where she sells hand-sewn hemp clothing and essential oils and natural bug repellent. The smell of citronella and fabric, her gravelly voice and leathery skin, the old dog at the door whining for a touch.

Tonight our last hurrah. A bike ride up to the village for Garifuna drumming. No matter how loud the cabana deck calls me, I’m going to hear the Garifuna drumming.

Tomorrow Belize City. Thursday home.


Last Day at Caye Caulker

The sea breeze runs through the palms, and the palm fronds whisper and chitter above us. A fresh wind that cools the skin. Sun bright on the water, shades of aquamarine, stretching out to the barrier reef, a long white line of surf before the dark blue deep. Sitting, looking, breathing is a sensual experience. The scent of the sea, the white sand, the scattered kelp along the shore. Our last day on Caye Caulker.

Every morning dark Belizean coffee from Maureen at Ice-n-Beans, just behind the grove of palms we idle under. Just before noon a Bellikin Beer, Belize’s own brew, to cool our palate, stir the belly for lunch. Street vendors–Kareem at his grill, Raul at his cart, Andre and Chenille at their shack by the street–the food so good we moan and groan as we eat. Chicken and pork and rice and beans and slaw and plantains and homemade tortillas–we buy one plate, eat our fill, and give leftovers to the dogs. Five American dollars, nine at the most. Always the talk and laughter with the vendors, and walking away feeling sweet, alive.

Each night the old wooden dock jutting out through the mangroves on the back side of the island into open water. A dozen people sitting and talking quietly, watching the sun slip slowly into the water beyond the sailboats anchored in the bay. A round surge of orange, a bright trail running toward us, the scattered dark grey clouds tinged with pink and red. A Belizean man standing in a flat skiff paddles by, framed by the scene, cameras clicking from the dock.

And tonight, Maurice, a wizard with blackened snapper, honey-brandy sauce, and grilled vegetables, here at Wish Willy’s in the yard of the cabana. Red and white strings of lights laced above the tables. Music drifting, easy laughter, the smoke from the grill, the aroma of chicken and fish. Everyone sipping a Bellikin. Maurice cruising, slow, keeping it going for thirty people. Island life.

Tomorrow the ferry to the mainland, Belize City, then a bus down to Hopkins, a village on the southern coast, south of Dangriga. I miss Caye Caulker. It got under our skin. That first morning, a week ago, when I woke up and stepped out onto the porch, Marvin, big smile and dreads, raking the sand, said to me, “Don’t worry, be happy.” So we didn’t, and we were.


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