Sunday, January 30, 2005

Belize: Day 1 - Belize City

There is nothing quite like the clouds over the tropics when seen from an airplane. They are tall like ragged mushroom clouds or spotty like spilled cotton balls. Either way, you know you're not in Oregon any more. We were flying in to Belize City, and I had not much concept of what to expect, as I had been busy with work and had not even cracked a guidebook. Our trip (Lee's and mine) began on January 30, 2005, the date I'm using for this post. But as I upload the photos and begin to write, the date is actually March 18, 2008.

I just received my copy of The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman's Fight to Save the World's Most Beautiful Bird by Bruce Barcott. That "one woman" is Sharon Matola. Because I have a passion for tapirs (also victims of the dam); because I have worked with Sharon for tapir conservation; because I admire her so much for her amazing contributions to the preservation of wildlife; because I have met Sharon in person both in the US and in Belize; because we have shared so many e-mails, some struggles and some good laughs; because I wanted to revisit the images and sensations of Lee's and my trip; and maybe more than anything, because I was anxious to know the full story behind the cause to which my Tapir Preservation Fund and its donors had contributed, I knew I had to read this book. I could tell from the reviews, the subject, and the initial brief quote I'd seen online that it would be fascinating. It occurred to me to add, if nothing else, a few photos to the experience of the book. I'll leave the big descriptions alone and will steal (with credit) a few words to guide the pictures. Looking back at the photos helps me visualize the descriptions in the book. But I won't give anything away - you do have to read it!

Under the clouds - beautiful!

Landing in Belize City. The thick jungle gave way to sparser and lower vegetation near the coast.

Coming down across the Belize River. We began to see white herons and wondered if there were any tapirs between us and the horizon.

Finally eye-level with Belize. This is the airport. I had expected the trees to look more like jungle vegetation.

Our first view of the city was also not as imagined. Bike racers streaked past, looking very purple though the darkened windows of the cab.

The white building near the center is where Bruce Barcott stayed - the Chateau Caribbean. Click through to the larger picture and you may be able to make out the name. Read the book for an interesting description of the park and the hotel. This is the place whose name no one seemed to recognize in the book, although it was a stone's throw from the Radisson. When we were there they were having a concert and political speeches in the park. It was colorful, peaceful, and warm bordering on hot.

Everyone recognized the Radisson, "the only business-class hotel in Belize City" according to Barcott. This is where we stayed. The corridors were long, and thankfully at least some of the hotel was air-conditioned. It was worn, cozy, and lazily cosmopolitan. It felt patrician, like an English compound in a far-flung outpost. Guests seemed to recognize one another with surprising regularity.

A less travel-brochure-looking view of the Radisson, which was right on the beach. Upscale, it even had guards and attendants.

This is the road along the waterfront just outside the Radisson. Barcott notes that although Belizeans exclaim their love for the Caribbean, not much is made of the city's proximity to the water. Below, there are a few picturesque docks for tourist boats, but we didn't have much time to learn about Belize City, where the asphalt meets the sea.

After barely unpacking, we took advantage of what light was left to stroll through the old Colonial quarter near our hotel. This is Lee. I was hoarding the camera, taking quick photos on the move, and wondering at culture that seemed so mixed and unexpected.

Only paces away, even the Chinese Embassy - the representation of how many millions of people - was unassuming, apparently unguarded, worn out, and empty. It was like walking up to your grandmother's house. There was no fanfare except for the gold number on the post and a flag still flying.

The colorful city hall. Again, no fanfare, it was . . . just there. The red lettering in the upper right of the photo indicates a small cultural center where Belizean handcrafts and souvenirs are sold. We found it open after our trip through the country as we passed through the city again before leaving. Here I found one of the few really touristy-looking tapirs of the trip.

Sunset in Belize City.

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