Island life: Essentials for your tropical island survival kit to get over your days of malaise

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A lovely view on one of my daily walks with Moppit. But in truth, to the left or right of the frame, you would see trash. Not a lot. Just enough to mar the scene. Finding beauty in the midst of island trash is a gift, an essential talent to continue enjoying the tropical island experience.

Nothing is going to help you survive life on a tropical island if you don’t go into the whole thing with the right attitude.

No amount of local rum or chocolate will get you over the days of malaise brought on by the lack of a national holiday to celebrate with a parade, the end of lobster season,  the start of rainy season, the deja vu feeling you get hanging out at the same drinking spots day after day after day after …

Well, no need to belabor the point. Life on a tropical island has ups and downs, just like living in other strange foreign countries, like the United States since January 2017.

Another nice view. Here’s an island survival tip: frame your views between two objects, like palm trees.

Only less scary. And warmer. And cleaner. And the water is really nice. And the people are friendlier.  And, oh, look! A pelican. No! Wait. A whole formation of pelicans!

Even the clouds seem to arrive from a better class of atmosphere than the one you were used to,  wherever it is you were from. Our clouds are more ethnically diverse. Fluffier. Stratospherically variegated. You can even pick out more puppy faces and troll profiles and unicorn ponies in our clouds than yours. No kidding. I’ve tested this extensively and find it to be true.

But all this means nothing if you aren’t willing to let your Costco membership card lapse. If not, you will always have that gnawing hunger for things like the bright lights and chlorinated smell of the fresh meat counter; the shockingly hefty promise of the 10-pound crunchy peanut butter container; the breathtakingly inexpensive acquisition of 180-rolls of ridiculously soft toilet paper; or the thrill of finding that very last Instant Pot LUX60 tucked behind the tower of $19.99 120-piece toolkits.

None of this will happen on an island, well, on this island — Ambergris Caye in Belize.

Except for the chlorine smell around the fresh-meat counters.

Here is the only calendar you will need on the tropic island of Ambergris Caye, until next year. Just kidding. I have no less than five variations on the 2018 calendar and they all include such practical things as days, months, holidays and weekends. Surprisingly helpful, even for people like me who rarely wear shoes. (This “island calendar” was a prop in Central Park, San Pedro, for the public New Year’s Eve celebration.

Mainly it won’t happen because there is no Costco or other big box stores, although the SuperBuy market on Back Street seems headed in that direction.

Shopping is a small-ball game here.

But I didn’t mean to start this blog post out by telling you how much better island life is than your own. You probably already know, otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading things online that start with the words “island life.” Am I right?  I mean, today, for example, how far below zero did the mercury go on your thermometer?

Just asking for a friend.

A friend who lives here on the island.

The island where it is going to be about 80 degrees and sunny today — and I know this without even looking outside — with a breeze coming from the west. Bringing a gentle calmness and clarity to the waters on the reef — which means that snorkeling will be at its optimum for … Oh.My.Gosh! Is that a school of Horse-eye jacks swirling around like a silver carousel? Forget that. Look at the Rainbow Parrotfish over by the coral formation. Holy cow! Four white-spotted eagle rays at six o’clock!

Look at that. I’ve completely lost my thread.

One of my all-time favorite places on Ambergris Caye, Victoria House Resort & Spa. Survival on a tropic island means getting out of your comfort zone and spending time in other parts of the island. That is why we spent New Year’s Eve with some close friends at Victoria House. It is unlike any other resort on the island.

What was I going to write about today?

Oh, yes. A tropical island survival kit for those malaise days.

Or to put it in a “Family Feud” frame of reference: The No. 1 question most often asked by visitors is . . .

“What do you do with all your spare time?”

To which I most often respond: Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

Another view of Victoria House on Ambergris Caye, Belize. I’d like to say that this is a time-lapse image of the fledgling full moon as it rose on New Year’s Eve but everyone knows my full moon photos never rise above the size of a pinprick.

Switching gears, did you know that possession of small amounts of pot is legal now in Belize? You can’t sell it and you can’t buy it.

But you can possess it.

And, I assume, that implies that you can consume it. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, California, with all your newly legal weed shops and regulations and anxiety over how much you’ll be able to collect in taxes. So stress-inducing.

Actually, the Belize way — possession through immaculate conception — is not as weed-weird as it sounds.

Since the prohibition was lifted, I have twice found small packets of pot on the ground.

True story.

And, no, I’m not going to tell you where. And, no, it is not the one you dropped. Forget it.

I don’t want to imply that the streets of Ambergris Caye are paved with pot. I mean, they’re hardly paved at all. Perhaps someday they will be paved by pot revenue. But not any day soon.

So maybe the first item in a tropical island survival kit should be a small amount of objet trouve marijuana.

Just so you know, this is the only known and authorized picture of me ever taken in my four years on Ambergris Caye. I suppose I’ll have to reapply for the Witness Protection Program’s relocation assistance service. The point is, getting off the island can sometimes be the best survival strategy ever. And getting off in a kayak or sailboat is simply the best.

The second item for our survival kit would be island loyalty cards. They seem to be proliferating like rabbits. Only we don’t have rabbits. Maybe, proliferating like iguanas in a mango tree orchard.

I have a loyalty card for Delices de France, the wonderful French bakery by the airport. Buy nine baguette sandwiches and a tenth one is free.  At Paradice Cream I need only buy seven ice cream cones for the eighth one to be free. At Belize Fitness, nine protein shakes will earn me a tenth one free. At San Pedro Belize Express, my membership card gives me a discount on water taxi fares and a free trip after 10 rides.  I just have to remember to bring these cards with me when I make purchases.

The newest reward card comes from the local commuter air service Tropic Air, which will now reward bonus trips based on the number of flights you take in a calendar year. My understanding is that this means the end of the “locals only” 10 percent discount on flights, which we all appreciated when getting off the island.

I have not seen the new TropicMiles redemption rules, but Gold Status requires 10,000 miles or 100 trip segments in a calendar year. Yikes! The only people I know who could possibly do that are Tropic Air pilots and government employees.

The other name for the TropicMiles campaign might be “Push customers to our competitor, the lower-priced Maya Island Air.” A long name but doable.

Right here, I am reminded of Herman Wouk’s experience-inspired island-life novel, “Don’t Stop the Carnival.”  Wouk lived on a Caribbean island for about six years, running a small hotel and writing great novels. Crazy stuff happened. He describes his tale as “a farce comedy of pain.”

On the strength of that description alone, I’d recommend including Wouk’s novel in a tropic island survival kit, if only because so many people have recommended that I read it.

Several people have even threatened to loan me their copy of “Don’t Stop the Carnival.” Good thing because, as far as I know, there is no e-book version. This transaction has never occurred, possibly because it always seems to take place in a bar after too many rums-and-something-or-other.

After you have found that your 1,000-piece puzzle only has 999 and your deck of cards adds up to 51, you will want to grab an intricately drawn picture like this one and some very sharp color pencils and start filling in the spaces. This is actually a picture of a friend catamaran, run through the Prism app. It was pulled up into the bush just before Hurricane Earl in 2016 and before long, nature tried to reclaim it for spare parts.

So someday I will actually read Wouk’s book. And when that day comes, I’ll let you know if you should keep the book in your survival kit. I suspect you will.

Jimmy Buffett read it and loved it so much that he and Wouk collaborated on a play based on the novel. Buffett wrote his own Caribbean island novel, “A Salty Piece of Land,” in which you will find a number of iconic spots still operating on Ambergris Caye. And it is pretty good, too. I read that one. Let’s put it in our survival kit, shall we?

Meanwhile, by all means, put a Kindle in your kit and read whatever moves you. Because you have all the time in the world.

I, for example, am currently reading a Kurt Vonnegut collection of short stories; a story of two white men “discovering” Maya temples in the 1800’s; a Douglas Adams novel (again); a travel memoir on England; a book about the year 1969, which I lived through but just can’t remember the details; a biography of Thomas Jefferson; and the beautifully sad short-stories of Frank O’Connor. (Irish, of course.) There are scores more titles behind these waiting for their chance in the spotlight.

Imagine toting all these books around in hardcopy. I’d be spreading mold and termites all over the island.

One of my favorite places to read my Kindle is while standing in line at Belize Bank, on a Monday or Friday. I can put a serious dent in any novel. Thank you, bank.

One of the favorite occupations of many island friends is something they call “binge watching.” My wife, for example, is binge-watching “Game of Thrones.” That will consume 73 hours of her life. Looking at it in other ways: three entire days; or 9.1 working days (“if it was your job”); or 36.4 nights. if she watches it for two hours per night.

I will miss her.

Wayo’s, a popular Boca del Rio beach bar, is soon to become the latest over-the-water palapa bar on the island of Ambergris Caye. True fact, beer tastes better when you are drinking it over the water and beneath a palapa roof.

But you are probably asking, “Bob? How did you know that GoT (as hopelessly addicted fans call it), will consume that much time — and in so many colorful ways?”

Simple, my friends. I went to the one app that got this whole ridiculous column going earlier this morning and calculated the damage binge-watching tolls. The app goes by the colorful name AT&T Internet Data Calculator  — a name clearly conceived by consensus around a very long table by many people in dark gray suits.

It is actually pretty cool for an app.

The app’s list is based on on the most-searched TV shows on Google through June 2017. If you are in the business of counting your download data, it will come in handy. If you are in the business of self-loathing because of your gluttonous TV viewing habits, it will also help lend specificity to your loathing.

OK, I now see this island survival kit thing is a total bust. I was going to include things like 1,000-piece puzzles, 52-card decks, and super-fast WiFi — none of which exist as advertised, that is, in their entirety, on the island.

Let’s see, the final thing is to start a collection of some sort. For example, I have an excellent collection of bits of rope found while walking my dog on the beach. Someday I will tie them into an intricate pattern of webbing onto which I will hang eight small life-like models of sea turtles, which currently reside on an end table.

It will look amazing. Probably the greatest piece of collected found-art in history. People tell me it will be so, so it must be true.

If you have a magnifier you can spot the pelican in this picture. Distant bird photos are only second to full moon shots on my list of compulsive behaviors. I know they will end badly but I can’t resist shooting them.

Now then, let me turn it all around. What essentials would you include in a tropical island survival kit? Post your answers below.

If we get 100 answers, there will be a prize for the best answer.

And I’m told it will be huge.


10 thoughts on “Island life: Essentials for your tropical island survival kit to get over your days of malaise

    Joan Frances Pedrotti said:
    January 2, 2018 at 2:46 pm

    The tropical island survival app.


    Elizabeth Jewell said:
    January 2, 2018 at 2:55 pm

    A thoughtful post. I know all those places from my walks there, too, the heart-stopping sunrises from my apartment next door to yours and the unsightly wash-ups, potholes, and poverty as well. I choose Belize. It lends a sadness to my stay there to realize that much of the island, several helpers and friends that I know by name, struggle every day for their livelihoods. But this–having friends from all parts of the island– only increases my love for the place.
    I met a young boy when I was walking near (your photo of) the pontoon boat. He was trying to sell a large painting. I asked him if he went to school. He said he did, until his sister ran away, and now they look for her. This conversation have not have happened in a gated community, in a “Sandals” resort. But it was a beautiful and authentic moment that I took home with me. Life is short. I want it to experience it with my mind and eyes and also my heart. In the unhurried pace of Belize, this can happen.


      Gerry said:
      January 2, 2018 at 6:01 pm

      I love that picture of the Hobie Cat ( Shalom ) It used to be mine. I have seen it back on the water recently. Much better than seeing it rot in the bushes.


        robertjhawkins1 responded:
        January 2, 2018 at 6:22 pm

        Definitely, Gerry. I was glad to see that it was gone and the sand trails lead directly to the water. Long may it sail! And long may you sail! Loved reading and seeing the pics from the fleet sail to Caye Caulker!


      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      January 2, 2018 at 6:19 pm

      Thanks, Liz. Beautiful experience. It has always amazed me how these island stories are told. The suffering is an inescapable part of life here. The authentic moments are here for those who only stop to listen, offer compassion, and eschew judgment. (Look up the sometimes non-fiction stories of island life a local writer, Tia Chocalate. Powerful.) Hope to see you and Ira again soon!


    emilys72016 said:
    January 3, 2018 at 7:41 am

    Read the Wouk book — it’s really good! Enjoyed this post; thanks Bob, and Happy New Year to you and Rose.


    Joan Pedrotti said:
    January 4, 2018 at 9:54 am

    come on … the tropical island survival app was funny … because my phone doesn’t work when i’m there!!! We are looking at a quick trip in February, missed Lobsterfest 2017, but we already have 2018 scheduled. Hope to bump into you while we are there.


    David Gregorio said:
    January 4, 2018 at 11:40 am

    Do I need a snow shovel?


      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      January 4, 2018 at 7:34 pm

      Sand shovel, and a little bucket, maybe… How are you coping, Dave? Cold enough?


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