The diversion factory called Truck Stop has come up with a corker

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Amy Knox of Wild Mango’s bites into her finisher medal at last Saturday’s “Amazing Race: San Pedro Edition.”

If you can imagine this, lots of people who live on tropical islands complain about the lack of diversion in their lives.

You hear things like:

“There are only so many spectacular sunsets that I’m going to sit through.” and “Sunrises? Do you really think I’m going to get up that early?”

“Oh look. Another flock of gloriously pink and retro roseate spoonbills feeding in the marsh. Which reminds me, what are we doing for lunch?”

Truck Stop’s Ben Popik as his “Amazing Race” winds down on Saturday. You can see he is already thinking, “Crap, how are we going to top this one?” A mildly crazed audience, seeking fresh diversions, awaits your answer, Ben….

“Oh, god. Another damned Belikin beer.”

“You want to bicycle to the north end of the island? Again? Really?”

“No, I haven’t been on the reef in months. I mean, a fish is a fish and besides, it is all dying anyway.”

“Sure I’ve been to the mainland. A couple of times. Stay out of Belize City.”

“Everytime I walk up the beach, I see the same chunks of plastic. That stuff hasn’t moved in months. I just won’t walk there anymore.”

“I’d love to go on your snorkel cruise to Caye Caulker but I’m binge-watching ‘Paradise Lost’ on Netflix.”

“Really? Belikin? That is all you serve here?”

Where am I going with all this? You know, I’m not sure anymore. It sort of started out in a light-hearted vein but now I’m so depressed I think I’ll go back to bed.

Wait a minute. I’m going to turn off the “Best of Chicago” album and see if I can’t refocus.

Hang on a sec. I’ll be right back. (He says as he steps away, singing “only the beginning, only just the start, hey, hey, hey, hey….”)

A post-Amazing Race crowd regroups at the Truck Stop on Ambergris Caye, Belize.



Still with me?

Let’s recoup the moment, shall we?

Diversions mean something else entirely on a tropical island where scenes of breathtaking beauty, moments of serene silence and overwhelming feelings of gratitude can become the norm.

So, diversions can be a nice break. It is not like in America where your whole life is spent battling through diversions to get done the bloody thing you started out doing.

Here, diversions help you to appreciate the everyday glory that unfolds before your eyes (if you let it).

For example: The Truck Stop on Ambergris Caye in Belize. Here is a nice collection of restaurants with an attached ice cream parlor and a bar, about a mile north of the bridge. (We only have one bridge. If you think I’m going to write out “The Sir Barry Bowen Memorial Bridge” every time I cross it — literary-wise — forget it).

Anyhow. An easy jog north of the bridge, what with the concrete road and all.

Team Finish With Dignity Intact: left to right, Rose Alcantara, Brent Kirkman, Janet Woollam and the author.

The Truck Stop, despite the intrinsically high value it offers in food, drink and staff, has become something of a diversion factory in its brief two-year history. It’s output in fun and interesting things to do (besides eat and drink) rivals the output of a boiler-room selling ready-to-build lots in a Belize subdivision.

I imagine it started with the Sunday pig roast. Since roasting a pig is a slow and tedious process that the average person can watch for no more than 11 minutes tops, somebody came up with the idea of a cornhole tournament to fill time. Suddenly the tournament became a Big Deal, carrying loads of pressure and enthusiasm way beyond its fighting weight. It began drawing crowds. Drinking crowds. People actually PRACTICE to win the cornhole tournament. And some give SERIOUS THOUGHT to the names of their teams.

For cornhole.

All eyes are on the target as rival team member Ed Butterick tosses a ping-pong ball at a set of cups on the wall at Maxi’s in San Pedro, Belize during an Amazing Race challenge. (Even the picture on the wall was intrigued.) This challenge was hard, too.

That must have triggered something in the merry pranksters who created this shop — Ben and Joanna Popik and Adam and Jackie Feldman. (And working with them is their own Steve Bannon of Creative Diversions, a master of ceremonies in his own right, Joe Chung!)

Next thing you know, there are interesting movies being screened right out on the lagoon under star-lit skies on Wednesday nights. And now there are family movies on Friday nights, too.

And soon enough there are swings, outdoor games and lounging opportunities between the lagoon and the restaurants.

And for a while this was enough.

I think the first Christmas tree-lighting party with Santa and photos might have inspired this gang.  It was an event. A one-off diversion. Something folks flocked to and talked about and photographed. And it made the community feel good. The next event was the monthly Farmers Market, something badly needed on this island. And soon copied by a resort that has made a religion out of copying everything else that is good on the island. (A sure sign you have a good idea is when that place announces its own version of the Exact Same Thing.)

Rose Alcantara takes a leap of faith at Caribbean Villas during an Amazing Race challenge in San Pedro, Belize.

Truck Stop Trivia on Thursdays improves on the half-dozen others on the island by adding video challenges and often times, planned or unplanned, comic relief. They were also in the vanguard of the monthly Poker Run North.

Lately, the Truck Stop has been spinning out diversions in a dizzying array — all modeled after campy television programs. Unlike the weekly fare, these things pop up maybe once a month, once in a blue moon, or maybe once in a lifetime. You just never know until the next one is announced.

So far, they have launched versions of “San Pedro Family Feud” and “The Price is Right San Pedro Edition.” The former surveys locals and expats, which can lead to some pretty wild answers. The latter pulls products off local shelves — and good luck thinking rationally about prices.

Rose Alcantara takes a leap of faith at Caribbean Villas during a Amazing Race challenge in San Pedro, Belize.

The sets mimic television in an often deliberately cheesy way and the humor generated is genuine and sidesplitting. We’ve seen several of these shows but never jumped into the contestant pool. Being shy types and all.

Last Saturday, however, Truck Stop’s Chuck Barris-mates-with-Merv Griffin Crew came up with a hoot of a game. One I couldn’t say no to because my lovely and courageous wife, Rose Alcantara, and our friends Brent Kirkman and Janet Woollam had already committed us as a foursome.

The game? “The Amazing Race: San Pedro Edition.”

The appeal to me was, we were not stage center where my ability to nervously flop-sweat is often most noticeable.

The unappealing side? Hmmm. None really.

Rose Alcantara takes a leap of faith at Caribbean Villas during a Amazing Race challenge in San Pedro, Belize.

I mean, how hard can it be? You race around the island like escapees from the bin, performing rudimentary acts of skill, while deciphering only moderately hard clues to your next destination. And if you are lucky and a skill performance takes longer than expected, you can order up a gin-and-tonic from the ever-nearby drinkologist. Some of those skill things did take a while ….

The cool thing about this game is that it unlocks previously unknown sides to personalities in the heat of the chase. I mean, before Saturday, I would never thought to say, “Slow down Brent! You are driving like a mad man!” In fact, what I actually said was something like, “Faster, Brent! Faster!” Though he didn’t need any direction from me. And Janet proved a savvy intelligence gatherer and clue deducer. And Rose, when all others hesitated to launch off on a zipline to grab a clue floating on a buoy off Caribbean Villas? Well, she not only did it but struck several balletic poses during her hell-bent plunge into the sea.

My greatest contribution was to look at a picture clue and say, “No, that’s not a mahogany tree; is is a banyan” which altered our trajectory and shot us straight to Banyan Bay Resort.

The Amazing Race winners and master of ceremonies Adam Feldman back at the Truck Stop.

Meanwhile, 16 other teams were doing roughly the same thing. Some in front of us and some behind.

And just like any typical  American soccer or T-ball league — everyone got medals for finishing! And free shots, which kid soccer and T-ball leagues definitely do not hand out.

We did fail our biggest challenge of the day: Coming up with a suitable name for our team.

I did think of one much later (my usual modus), one I cribbed from my marathon days when people always ask my how I expected to do: Finish with dignity intact, was my unshakable reply. (Sometimes I amended that to “Upright and with dignity intact,” but you get my drift.

So, mates, I do posthumously — or posthumorously — dub us: Team Dignity Intact.

All good?

One thought on “The diversion factory called Truck Stop has come up with a corker

    philrll said:
    August 15, 2017 at 2:15 pm

    Great post, love your writing!
    Would love to have something fun and clever like that in Placencia!


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