I have been in Belize for 6 hours and, as yet, no one has answered the most pressing question I have about the place.
To whit, why is there a fucking tarantula in the box next to the coffee machine?
Most people would assume that a box next to the coffee machine would contain beverage related items. They’d imagine the mesh lid would be to keep flies off the things within. Perhaps some sugar and tea bags. Maybe, if we get really lucky, a few packets of biscuits. These would be the things that normally I would expect to find in a box on a table next to the coffee machine.
But no. There is a fecking tarantula. Approximately 5 inches of sulking black arachnid, hunched in readiness next to the spot where the box flips open. Perhaps he wants out. Perhaps he wants a coffee. Perhaps Belizeans sprinkle spiders on the foam of cappuccinos, like squirmy furious chocolate flakes. Who knows?
Belize is insane.
First off, Belize appears to be in the wrong place. With a small population who speak mainly English or Creole, its political and social stability, and its very Caribbean feel, Belize is an anomaly in the Spanish-speaking politically-treacherous Central America.
It makes up for this apparent stability by being completely barking. We discover this at border control where we, being the diligent and boring Anglos that we are, are overtaken in the immigration queue by two cowboys, a Caribbean woman who shouts “where else do I look like I am from” when asked to produce her passport, two young men intent chat up the immigration lady in her booth and who stare over her shoulder with interest at the passports of everyone coming through, and a Beauty Queen, complete with tiara, sash and retinue of eight giggling staff.
Once in the country, it gets a little more chaotic. Caving in San Ignacio we discover that when Belizeans say “abseiling” they mean “skidding down a sheer mud slope with no harness, while holding a sodden rope and peeing yourself in terror” and when they say “guided” they mean “eight hours of us screaming “be careful not to die”’ and when they say “fun” they think this means making the activities as dangerous as possible.
Three hours under the mountain they show us a burial cave, complete with a human skull. They say this is where the Mayans came to offer sacrifices to their Gods, but I suspect it may be someone from their last tour who failed to grip the rope right.
Away from the mountains and out on the island of Caye Caulker it is stunning, but not that much saner. Lobster is so abundant here they put it on everything, with a lobster omelette costing the same as ham and cheese. Bars serve beers you can take straight into the crystal clear water, and watch as the locals persuade swooping frigates to take chips from between their lips. Stunning dreadlocked men flash their dazzling smiles at you, even more so if you are a white woman with no partner about.
(Incidentally, if you are looking for the white woman’s version of Thailand, where you can be smothered with attention by a hot-bodied Adonis half your age, try Belize, the Caribbean or Kusadasi in Turkey. The locals are stunning and not after payment, just a shag and maybe a nice meal out. As an added bonus you don‘t need to watch out for boy-ladies. Jus‘ sayin‘.)
Boats offer to take you snorkelling off the reef, the second biggest in the world, where you can see manatees and green turtles. Our boat, which was billed as snorkelling and beer, decides that it would be fun to hurl large quantities of food over the side to attract nurse sharks BEFORE we jump in. I can hear the voices of my ancestors bitching. “Millions of years we spent AVOIDING these things - we left the ocean to get away from them - and now you go straight back IN. Fine. Go extinct then.” Twenty minutes later, our snorkelling guide hauls a huge and gurning eel from its hole in a rock and waves it at us. Do we want to touch it? I look at the baleful eyeballs and strong jaws and decide I am not yet that crazy, thanks.
That night, mercifully unbitten, we eat barbecued lobster on the beach. Belize, for all that it is insane, is beautiful. The enthusiasm and laid-back friendliness of the people is irresistible, even as they try to persuade you to throw caution to the wind and do something really bloody stupid. The landscape varies from lush mountain jungles to Caribbean blues seas and reefs, with no boring bits in the middle. It brings out the adventurer in the quietest of individuals, and rewards a leap of faith with amazing experiences, if you are brave enough to try them.
Belize, like many of my friend’s ex-girlfriends, is beautiful but insane. And I can see why people like it that way. I’m just not sure about the tarantula coffee.