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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My tolerance for boors in Belize? Two days

Have you ever attended a function and been stuck at a table with a braggart? Or flown cross-country confined next to Chatty Cathy—with pictures of her pet parakeets? You endured it because you saw the end. Once the evening was over or you deplaned, you’d never have to see the boor again.

Welcome to our first two days in Belize.

Flight delays get us in late, with just enough time to drop our bags and splash water on our faces before dinner. We’re staying at a small place where guests dine family style.

Molly, who arrived early that day, had already started her meal. She regaled us with her relaxing day by the pool, having staffers cater her glasses of wine.

She’s used to being waited on, not waiting for: When the driver who collected her from the airport asked if she’d mind waiting half an hour for another couple (us), she told him she intended to begin her vacation right away. Without apology, she tells us she refused to wait. Never mind that the transfer from the airport is 80 minutes. Thank goodness we arrived late.

She is a retired teacher from the Northwest wintering in Florida—“So this is a vacation from a vacation,” she boasts. When she leaves here, she’s off on a 12-day snorkeling cruise. Oh, she loves to snorkel. And ski too. She can’t walk well. Bad knees, she admits. But she can still ski. She loves to ski. Loves it.

Molly and Mark and I are all visiting Tikal tomorrow, across the border in Guatemala. Tikal is one of the largest sites of ancient Mayan civilization. The lodge owner tells us that we’ll leave at 6 a.m.

For the three transfers to Tikal, Molly perches in the passenger seat. She is nonstop talk with the drivers. Asking the names of each river we cross, of trees we pass.

In our four-hour transfer, we see several cop cars. “Po-LEET-cia!” Molly chirps. Each driver corrects her, “Po-li-SEE-a.” Molly repeats, “Po-LEE-cia” She drops the t sound but doesn’t change the accented syllable. And the next time a police car approaches? “Po-LEET-cia!”

To further impress us, she explains, “I spend a lot of time in Italy. My Italian creeps into my Spanish.”

Our driver, Edgar, leaves his vehicle in Belize; fumigation and inspection would take too long. So we walk across the border to a new driver.

Edgar hops in the passenger seat of the van. Molly protests. Edgar holds his ground, and Molly climbs into the front bench seat. I have the next, Mark the next, and there’s still another behind.

We take off, and Molly can’t settle, making a show of how awkward it is for her to sit somewhere besides the passenger seat. She asks if the middle part of the front, between driver and passenger, can fold down because she’s claustrophobic. Edgar says something in Spanish to the driver, the van stops, Edgar and Molly get out and Molly maneuvers into the passenger seat. Edgar shifts himself behind Mark.

Molly’s so satisfied, sitting up front. However, her discomfort is obvious again as she reaches all around. “Can’t this seat go back?” she calls. Edgar says it can’t. Molly harrumphs.

Our driver speaks no English. This lack of audience slows Molly’s chatter but she manages to engage him some: “Po-LEET-cia!”

“Po-li-SEE-a,” he corrects.

“Po-LEE-cia.” She ignores him.

At Tikal Molly hires a vehicle from which to tour the park. Mark and I hike it. We meet up four hours later for a meal, which is included for tour groups. Molly impresses upon us that she had to wait for us “for 40 minutes!” She likely tried to pay Edgar to take her back without us.

He convinced her to relax in one of the hammocks there to ease her wait. With a sharp turn of attitude, Molly says her rest “was wonderful!”

Tonight our lodge serves fajitas. On our plates sits a mound of rice surrounded by a stew of veggies and meat. Molly squawks to the proprietors, who are eating with us, “I thought we were having fajitas? This isn’t fajitas.”

“It’s the Belizean version of fajitas.”

Molly complains further, “It’s not what I expected.”

“I’m sorry. I should have told you that some of the dishes we serve are variations of what you’re used to.”

“It’s very good!”

I roll my eyes.

With a disgusted look on her face and tone in her voice, Molly continues, “This wine is NOT good.”

The owners tell her it’s from the same bottle from which she drank yesterday, about which she exclaimed only good. She seems unconvinced yet lets the subject drop.

Sitting next to Molly, the owners’ five year old coughs twice. “Is he sick? Because I can’t be sick for my 12-day snorkeling cruise. We’re going to all these different islands and ports, and I can’t be sick.”

Eying her child, who lowers his head and grins, the mother assures Molly, “This is a new development.” She looks at the father, who shrugs. “If he were sick, we wouldn’t have joined you for dinner.”

I remind myself that Molly’s here only half a day more.

Molly was tolerable for two days. She’s now a joke, a caricature of how many in the world view American tourists. Over dinner, we and the owners talk of Molly, relieving ourselves of the frustration and shared pain. It’s fun. For the next few days, the staff and drivers join the fun too. Molly made an impression.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

At-home comfort in the Belizean jungle

For nine nights straight we had ice cream for dessert. Sometimes with a piece of cake or brownie. I felt not the least guilty for the indulgence because each dessert capped an adventurous day’s activities, like hiking or riding horseback through the jungle, snorkeling, rappelling from a cliff, advancing through a cave in chest-high water or climbing ancient Mayan temples.

We were in Central America at the Belize Jungle Dome, a perfect, inland, rural location within driving or walking distance of all our activities. The Dome (an actual geodome) is intimate with five rooms, most of which are set for as many as four guests. Most do not stay as long as Mark and I. In our nine nights, guests stayed for two, three, four and even one night, though the proprietor told me that ordinarily the Dome does not accommodate one-night bookings. An exception was made in that case because it was a family of six reserving two rooms.

The proprietors of Jungle Dome, Simone and Andy Hunt, live next door, and one or the other ate dinner with us most nights, asking about our daily adventures and sharing theirs. They have two boys, 8 and 5. Three or four nights of our stay, the whole family joined us for pizza, barbeque chicken, stir fry, fish, whatever was served. They’ve flown a chef in a couple times to work with the Jungle Dome Latina cooks, and it’s obvious. All the freshly made dishes have a local taste with European flair.

Before guests retire for the evening, Simone or Andy confirms the following day’s activities: what time they are getting picked up, by which driver, what time they would like breakfast. For our free day, which I’d scheduled between all the action, I confirmed with Simone a relatively late breakfast and mentioned that I’d let it settle before doing yoga at 9 a.m. She asked if she could join me. We practiced on the large porch that fronted Mark’s and my room. It was like having a friend over, which made me feel even more at home.

Our free day was a Saturday so the whole family was about. Mark and I took to passing our ring in the front field. (I’ve mentioned our ring in previous stories. It’s like a Frisbee but is a ring, not a disc, and can be thrown accurately for greater distance.) Soon eight-year old Lucas joined us and quickly perfected the throwing technique. Lucas liked the ring so much, we left it for him.

One later morning Mark and Lucas passed the ring for 20 minutes, and little Aidan joined too, before Andy drove them to school. When the boys returned from school, we all walked down to the river than runs behind the Dome.

We’d earlier heard stories of Lucas pulling in loads of catfish. Lucas and David, a pleasant El Salvadorian staffer, cut pieces off a small fish for bait and then cast their lines. Aidan chanted in his made-up language and danced, or trekked around the corner in grass up to his shoulders and came back to tell us of his adventures with the werewolf and vampire he’d encountered. Or, he’d climb a tree or get dangerously close to the river’s edge before his dad would call him back.

Later Simone came to hang out. It was a perfect scene that I think we all wanted to prolong. But the bugs pushed our tolerance beyond the limit. Back to the Dome after an hour. We had to clean up before dinner anyway.

Belize Jungle Dome is a comfortable place made more so by owners Simone and Andy Hunt. The hired helpers made our experience tops too. I’ve mentioned David. He was so accommodating, making sure we were comfortable and safe. Once, he drove us and his wife to a local market. After perusing the offerings, we couples, like long-time friends, had a double-date lunch at a sit-down restaurant near.

We spent hours in the van with Albert, a friendly, freelance tour guide who took us to and from the airport and many of our adventures. Through him, we learned about Belize’s history, flora and fauna.

Also making us feel welcome our entire stay were Rocky and Dinero, the two dogs who hung out on our porch or laid nearby as we read by the pool.

Staying at the Belize Jungle Dome is like vacationing with friends. For a trip customized to your interests, e-mail the Hunts at info@belizejungledome.com. If your cruise ship is visiting, arrange a personalized day of fun at Albert_Garbutt@yahoo.com.