Ages ago, when I was in my early twenties, I decided to travel down to Mexico with a group of friends. We were young and full of adventurous spirit and we wanted to do everything the hard way. The last thing we wanted to do was to travel like adults in luxury and comfort, so we bought second class tickets to Mexico City on the train in Mexicali and prepared for the trip of our lives. We hoped we would get as far as Guatemala, but the country that really captured our imagination was Belize.
A friend of mine had visited Belize in the early seventies and came back raving about it. Belize was a tropical paradise, she told me, with unspoiled beaches, lush forests, Mayan ruins, and an incredible network of caves. The people in Belize were kind and friendly and interested in the visitors who came to see their country. Mexicans, sad to say, tended to be overwhelmed by too many tourists and a bit jaded. But best of all, in Belize they spoke English.
The cheapest way to get to Belize at the time was by bus through the Yucatan rain forest, along a very bumpy road – or so we were told. The idea was that we would travel from Mexico City to Chetumal and take the bus from there.
All the way to Mexico City, we fanned ourselves and tried to keep cool while we listened eagerly to the stories other travellers told us. The best stories came from the people who had been to Belize. There were howler monkeys and parrots in the rain forest. The people sounded like Jamaicans and looked like Americans. The food was delicious, the beaches were heavenly, there were dozens of interesting places to visit. There was a barrier reef in Belize too, they told us, the second biggest in the world. Did we know that? No, we did not. The more we travelled, the more we heard, and the more we heard, the better those stories got.
Mexico City was sprawling, polluted, chaotic and crazy. We found a very cheap travellers’ hotel, checked in, and met other young backpackers like ourselves. They told us even more good stories about Belize, describing in detail the Mask Temple and High Temple in Lamanai, the incredible ruins. There were orchids there too, and keel-billed toucans with brightly colored curved beaks.
I could hardly wait to get out of Mexico and into Belize.
But before we could buy our bus tickets, I succumbed to la turista and got terribly ill. I spent the better part of three days in Mexico City in a hotel bed, half out of my mind with a 104-degree fever. My friends went to see the pyramids just outside of Mexico City. They came back to the hotel and told me all about them.
Tossing and turning in bed, I dreamed of Belize. I could see crystal clear water, swaying palms, customs officials in khaki uniforms, a carpet of flowers like so many scattered jewels. I could hear Jamaican accents, the slap of waves on sand, the boom and chime of kriol music, the carefree laughter of friendly people who spoke English.
I lost eighteen pounds in Mexico and managed to learn a fair amount of Spanish. I love the sound of Spanish, and in spite of my illness, I enjoyed my trip in Mexico.
But to this day, I dream of going to Belize.