Forever, it turns out, is a slippery concept: Goodbye, Belize

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My own opportunities to understand Belize are running out because I will be leaving the country shortly, probably forever.”

A “60 Minutes” piece from 1985 in which Morley Safer travels to Belize is cruising around the Internet. Like any 15-minute television essay on an entire country, it packs a little truth around a basket of cliches and misses more than half the story.

Tootling up and down the Belize River in a panga, Safer looks rather rakish in his rumpled white linen suit and black shirt — in a faded “Miami Vice” sort of way. He pronounces the country corruption-free, poor but not direly poor, filled with cheerful people from many backgrounds, a country comfortable with itself, a country ripe for exploitation, and on the cusp of great change.

Great change, from television.

He got that one right.

Safer also outlines what Belize is not — not a Banana Republic like many of its neighbors, not suffering under a brutal and despotic government like many of its neighbors, not overly exploited by the US like many of its neighbors.

A young Dean Barrow describes Belize as “fairly free from paranoia, fairly free from hysteria, and fairly free from excesses.”

Then came television, right?

Mind you, the country was officially less than five years old when Safer visited it. Thirty-five years later, Belize still seeks an identity of its own. I have been here just a bit more than four years and I feel less equipped to explain Belize to you now than when I first arrived.

Belize is still very much as Safer found it, and yet so much has changed.

The gentle mystery of Belize has grown into an intriguing enigma. And I love it all the more for the vast amount that I do not understand.

Yesterday I found a scrap of paper with an unattributed quote on it which expresses brilliantly the need for patience and persistence when trying to understand Belize. “(Do) not throw away a savory fruit because of the coarseness of its envelope.” Yes, Belize can be a “coarse envelope” but for those willing to dig in, the pleasures of discovery are immeasurable.

My own opportunities to understand Belize are running out because I will be leaving the country shortly, probably forever.

On April 15 I will enter the Immigration Office in San Pedro Town one last time and Marlon will flip through my passport filled with monthly stamps and curtly ask me how soon I am leaving Belize.

I used to say “Maybe never. I really like it here.” (Wrong answer.)

For once, I will give him an exact date, April 26.

I like to imagine that Marlon and I will both be a little sad that our game is coming to an end.

I won’t know for sure what I really think about Belize until I am far removed from it. Should somebody ask me tomorrow if they should move to Belize I would ask in return, “Are you curious to find out who you really are?”

If yes, then, by all means, move to Belize.

Belize isn’t some grueling trial by fire that beats you down like Marine Corps boot camp.

It is more a trial by inconvenience — but with sand, and palm trees, and incredible weather, and a beautiful blue sea, and a cold beer.

Mainly, it is not wherever it is that you came from. Not even close.

That can drive some folks crazy. How you deal with this stuff defines who you really are.

In the end, you may or may not like the answers, but you can’t deny their validity. You can’t hide from yourself in Belize. It strips away your pretenses, exposes your prejudices, crumbles your facades, challenges your illusions, magnifies your strengths and weaknesses.

If you are paying attention, Belize becomes the mirror you must stand before and say, “This is who I am. This is me.”

For example, I’m a lot more boring in real life than I ever imagined. Sometimes I write something people find interesting or enjoy and they mistakenly think I must be interesting and enjoyable when in fact, I’m not.

Which is most likely why I write.

To me, happy islanders are the ones who embrace such newfound revelations.

A real jerk now doing time in a Texas prison helped coin a phrase when he rampaged his wrecking-ball self through here: “If you were an asshole in Texas, you’ll still be an asshole in Belize.” Insert any state or nation. It still applies.

I was fairly shy and introverted in the states. Nothing has changed. I’m OK with that.

But let’s be real, most people don’t come here to discover themselves, or re-invent themselves, or run away from their old selves.

They come here because it is just a damn good place to live.

Even though I am moving on, I still feel Belize is a damn good place to live.

If there is a problem with living on a long narrow island such as Ambergris Caye, it is that pretty soon, the person you see coming toward you from the other direction is most often yourself.  Or, worse, you pass the same places so often that you stop seeing them entirely.

I no longer dole out tips for living successfully on a Caribbean island. I no longer assume everyone has the same interests, tolerances, weaknesses, dispositions as me.  I will say (again) duct tape, superglue and a hammer will get you past most every domestic infrastructure situation.

One more thing, if you must pass judgment on expats and locals, do it sparingly. Wait a few days and listen to all three sides to a story before doing so. You’ll be happier and your universe will grow larger.

Adam Marsland, a Los Angeles musician and self-proclaimed desert rat, recently observed, “I think all of us need some sense of a far horizon in our lives.”

For these past four years, the Caribbean island of Ambergris Caye off the coast of Belize has been our “far horizon.”

In all that time I couldn’t imagine a better “far horizon.”

Belize has fulfilled dreams and fantasies; opened up adventures, friendships, and discoveries; enabled growth and understanding — all of it beyond my limited horizons of a half-decade ago — and my even more-limited imagination.

Maybe it is because of all these things that I am now leaving Belize. I can never say I’ve grown too big for Belize but maybe the growth I have experienced has made tropical island life just a little too small.

For me, anyway.

If it is specifics you seek, on why I am leaving Belize (I never speak for Rose), you would hear a torrent of familiarities. All the usual cliches apply: lower cost of living, new cultural experiences, access to good medical services, closer to family, fewer bureaucratic hassles, more opportunities to travel elsewhere …

And on, and on. You have heard them all from the dozens of forever friends who left long before us. And they all apply.

One thing for which I will be forever grateful is how Belize taught me how very little I need to be happy.  Living simply in Belize is not deprivation. It is about eliminating all the material things and status markers that defined you in your past life. Like a mango, the more you peel away to get at the fruit, the happier you become.

And Belize has made me very happy. I have wanted for nothing in my time here.

Belize’s greatest gift, and one I probably squandered most, is time.  Time to sit and embrace the stillness, time to meditate, time to think, time to write, time to read, time to be, time to walk slowly, time to ride a bicycle, time to savor home-cooked meals (thank you, Rose), time to appreciate, time to fall in love all over again, time to recognize gratitude, time to be present.

But now there is only left time to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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19 thoughts on “Forever, it turns out, is a slippery concept: Goodbye, Belize

    Linda Czestochowski said:
    April 10, 2018 at 1:53 pm

    I am so sad to read that your adventure in Belize has come to an end. My husband and I travelled to this beautiful place 3 years ago — mostly due to reading your blog. We absolutely plan to return one day, but it’s a big old world out there and many places to explore! I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about your journey and wish you, Rose and Moppit the very best in life. Please keep your faithful readers posted on your next adventure! You write so eloquently and your lovely prose (& photos) brought Belize & Ambergris Caye to life in the most amazing ways 🙂 Happy trails to you!

    Liked by 2 people

    Connie Fournier-Nelson said:
    April 10, 2018 at 2:05 pm

    Will miss your missives Bob! Thank you so much for sharing your perceptions and experiences of San Pedro …you put life to the page. Wishing you and Rose every happiness in your next adventure.

    Liked by 2 people

    emilys72016 said:
    April 10, 2018 at 2:46 pm

    I must say I am surprised to read this post. I wish you all the best wherever you land, but if anyone was suited to expat life in Belize, which is indeed all the things you express above, I thought it was you. I hope you’ll write some followup blogs with your hindsights.

    Liked by 2 people

    sanpedroscoop said:
    April 10, 2018 at 2:49 pm

    Dang…I wish I had wrote that. Minus the part about leaving. I’m here for a while…you can never say forever. But you are so spot on. I SO hope you write all about Mexico and make me wildly and insanely jealous. I’ll miss you guys!

    Liked by 2 people

    Susan Watts said:
    April 10, 2018 at 3:09 pm

    Robert,

    I will sincerely miss you and Rose. I loved your posts and slant on life here. Your blog helped us decide to come live here. May God bless you all n your travels.

    Peace,

    Susan😘

    Sent from my iPad

    Liked by 2 people

    Karley York said:
    April 10, 2018 at 3:20 pm

    Happy Belated Birthday, Sir,

    You are quite a magnanimous/ altruistic fellow. And Rose truly embodies an Audry Hepburn Level of Grace! The both of you were within the small handful of my Saving Graces during my 3-year experience living on the island. I even celebrated my 42nd birthday 2015 at Los Feliz with you, Rose, Mike, and Wendy!
    The both of you were kind enough to spontaneously crack a fresh personally purchased bottle of champagne. ( ….wine and champagne are overly expensive in that region!)

    ~Good people. Good memories.~

    You have always been a favorite writer of mine. In fact, I recommended YOU to YOU before I knew you were the man behind the pen/keyboard. Haha. True story.
    You see me. I am a musician/writer/artist Hermit of sorts. Often people do not understand the gift of solitude and time. Much gratitude for those who can see the true spirit in things.
    Being perfectly fulfilled with alone time and making few social or public appearances is quite puzzling to many in such an ” ex-pat/vacationers social arena”.
    I do fly high the flag of sincere gratitude to our partners. My Felix, your Rose. They make reality bearable and actually quite delightful. Hats off to them. It takes a special sort to understand and love the eccentric idiosyncrasies of the writer mind.

    Ambergris Caye is most Definitely a Test of one’s Metal! A beautiful and well worthy character-building experience. Experience chips away at the empty block that is the sculpture of life.
    I am well aware that Metal Oxidizes quite Rapidly at Caribbean Sea level. Good thing I am so fond of patina, rusty metal, and texture.

    In closing, I am quite delighted to know that you are on to new adventures! I look forward to the First Episode of the “High Flying Hawkins” Next Season. Tease us with a trailer soon!

    Much Love.

    Stay Brave,
    Ms. York

    Liked by 2 people

    Scott Nebesky said:
    April 10, 2018 at 9:30 pm

    I’m sorry to hear that you will not be in Belize the next time I travel there. I have read your thoughtful blogs with great anticipation that one day I may have a cold one with you on the beach to explore the many perspectives that you shared with us. Keep all of us posted and looking forward to hearing of your next adventure.

    Liked by 2 people

    Tapestry Communications said:
    April 11, 2018 at 2:55 am

    Looking forward to more posts from your next adventure…have enjoyed these very much.

    Liked by 2 people

    Julia Smith said:
    April 11, 2018 at 7:09 am

    Bob, great blog! Loved visiting both of you over the past few years. Now onto your next adventure. Can’t wait to hear about your new home and adventure! Have a great trip on the Raggamuffin too! It’s an experience you will never forget as well. Safe travels to you and Rose! XOXOXO! – Julia

    Liked by 2 people

    Donald Quigley said:
    April 11, 2018 at 8:19 am

    We wish you, Rose and Moppitt nothing but the best. You were one of the first people Sharon and I met when we brought the garbage sticks to the island. Meeting you and reading your blog was one of the reasons we purchased our land. We plan on being permanent on September 1st. We are headed down for a visit toward the end of May and I was already planning on grabbing a copy of the Times for you. Best of luck and have a great day. Don & Sharon Quigley

    Liked by 2 people

    retiredrob1 said:
    April 11, 2018 at 10:25 am

    Rose hinted her desire to travel and reside in other countries, so it doesn’t come as a shock that you’re leaving so soon. You and Rose were the first people we met when we first traveled to Belize and enjoyed our brief get-togethers each time we were able to spend at our condo. Riki & I will miss the two of you now that our plans for the future on Ambergris Caye is finally coming to fruition. Our new villa/condo will be completed by the end of this year and our plans are to live there 4-6 months out of the year and the balance at our chalet in the PNW forest, using it as a base for travel. Residing in two different locations each year might be the secret to a less routine lifestyle. Our next visit won’t be until June, well after you leave, so we will miss you, but wish you, Rose & Moppitt the very best in your travels and new place.

    Liked by 2 people

    Jo sayer said:
    April 11, 2018 at 10:47 am

    Yep. Made me cry

    Liked by 2 people

    Mike Brunette said:
    April 11, 2018 at 11:54 am

    Bob, I really liked your heartfelt and insightful analysis and summary of what living and experiencing San Pedro has meant to you. It fairly well summarizes the experiences and feelings which those who call La Isla Bonita home, have in common. We all have our own stories like this, and who hasn’t learned that “right-now”, does not necessarily mean right now. We have been here for over a decade and agree with much of what you said in your blog. As I read your tale it reminded me of some insights we heard from a speakers at an event we attended during our first visit back in 1999. Emory King told a story about how he was shipwrecked in Belize many years ago, and decided to stay. He is deceased now, but Emory shared some interesting stories and insights with us, which have guided me through the trials and tribulations one encounters along the way. The first thing that stuck in my mind was when he reminded us that, “Belize was settled by pirates and became a haven for them, and the pirate mentality is still very much alive in Belize.” And the second statement he made which elicited laughs from the group, and has never left me was, “If you have patience when you come to Belize, you’re going to lose them…, and if you don’t have patience, you’re going to get them”. As you so beautifully said about living in San Pedro, “It is more a trial by inconvenience”. Your tale brought back memories for me, and reminded me that “far horizons” are beckoning us, as well. I must admit that I’m having a harder time letting go of some of the attachments here than I thought I would. But, we leave this jewel of the Caribbean with mixed feelings, and many happy and pleasant memories. We know that San Pedro and the friends we have made here, will always hold a special place in our hearts.

    Liked by 2 people

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      April 11, 2018 at 12:06 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts, Mike. Emory Kings must have been quite a character. I believe he is one of the folks Morey Safer interviews on the 60 Minutes piece. Those really big personalities are a rarity these days. We’ll be seeing you soon!

      Liked by 1 person

    magikal77 said:
    April 12, 2018 at 7:10 am

    Thank you so much for your honesty and your love for this most beautiful island. Blessings on your next adventure.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 2 people

    Bethe Dufresne said:
    April 12, 2018 at 12:18 pm

    A touching farewell – where are you headed next? Bethe & Marcel >

    Liked by 2 people

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      April 12, 2018 at 3:44 pm

      Hi Bethe!
      Thank you. We are moving to San Miguel de Allende, a 3.5-hour drive north of Mexico City. I can’t imagine a more different environment from the one we live in now. Can’t wait!

      Liked by 1 person

    Michael Capps said:
    April 19, 2018 at 2:32 pm

    Keep us posted on your new adventure. I have enjoyed your perspective on island life.
    Good luck.

    Liked by 1 person

    […] Getting to San Miguel de Allende with a little dog and six formidable suitcases in tow (still an estimate) will be quite a coup from my perspective.  I turn out to be very good at perspective, while Rose is, in fact, even better at actually scheduling things like planes (2) transport vans (2), and hotels (1). […]

    Liked by 1 person

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