Rested, well fed and eager to explore San Pedro I rolled out of bed and just barely remembered to throw on my swimming trunks before stumbling out into the open 2nd story porch area that led to my room. With sleep still heavy in my eyes I wandered over to the railing and looked out – taking in the beauty of the ocean, the long docks with their splintered, old gray boards and the plethora of sailing and motorized boats that sat along the coast.
As I stood watching the water, a group approached the tour operator’s booth at the bottom of the dock immediately in front of my hotel. As tidbits of the conversation drifted up to me, I realized it must be just shy of 9 o’clock. Curious, I kicked on my flip-flops and made my way down to the booth. Asked a few lazy questions and then had to make an immediate decision as the woman informed me that the last boat for the morning trips was just pushing off. I opted to wait until the afternoon and waved the boat along, eager to compare pricing and ask around for tips on which trip to take.
Eager to explore I set off down the beach. Heading in the direction that led me away from town. The plethora of docks and boats stretched into the distance and remained largely the same. However, the buildings along my right hand side – nestled just off the beach – quickly changed from wooden buildings to lush resorts decorated with vibrant tropical plants and palm trees sandwiched into every spare inch.
Eventually tiring of the beach I cut inland to the main road that runs parallel to the beach. From there I made my way around the small, local, airport which serves Mayan and Tropic Airlines. Beyond the airport I quickly found myself on hardened sand streets populated largely by golf carts. The homes were a mishmash of building materials, thrown together into colorful and often teetering structures built on tall stilts. As I wandered the small streets I quickly became familiar with the multitude of roaming rasta-men.
Their approach varied, but the general gist was always the same. Money. From pleas and sob stories about how they just got out of jail and were no longer selling drugs (which inevitably was followed up by an offer to purchase drugs when I refused them money), to seemingly inquiries to help me find whatever I was looking for (the helpful good Samaritan who inevitably would end up asking for a tip) and the more blatant who skipped a story all together and just offered drugs under their breath. Though unfortunate and at times slightly uncomfortable I quickly learned what to expect and how best (and safely) to send them along their way lamenting the lack of a handout or sale.
The truly unfortunate thing is that unlike the rastamen most Belizeans are incredibly helpful. I say unfortunate because the rastamen make it difficult to differentiate between who’s sincere and who’s just looking for a few extra dollars – leaving tourists uncomfortable and often resulting in a much more defensive response to the local’s innate charity and helpfulness than is deserved. Most of the Belizeans I met were truly the embodiment of what I’ve always pictured the people of the Caribbean as. They are eager to help, eager to lend the minute or two it takes to walk you down the street to whatever you’re looking for and happy to talk and share stories with perfect strangers. So, travel tip: If you find yourself in Belize – make the effort to give them the chance. At times it means you’ll have to give an uncomfortable no…but most of the time it’s well worth the added risk!
As I continued to explore I stumbled upon a booming taco stand. The place had a number of golf carts parked in front and a disorganized group of people standing at the window jostling for position. The place was one of the busiest restaurants I’d seen in the whole city and looked to be the preferred lunch place for the local community. As I stepped up and ordered 5 tacos I quickly learned why.
The lady looked at me quizzically, frowned and asked in a slightly rushed but patient voice, “You know that the tacos are 3 for $1 BSD ($.50 USD), right?” – I chuckled slightly embarrassed and ordered 12 with a drink. As I watched them being prepared I realized that they were slightly smaller than normal street tacos and made of stewed chicken with coleslaw wrapped in a normal sized corn tortilla. They were delicious – and after another plate of 6 I knew I’d found what would become my favorite hole in the wall in San Pedro.
Eager for a nap I made my way back to the hotel, settled in for a quick snooze and then made my way down to the dock at 2PM to book my snorkeling trip. The cost was $35 which included fins, mask and guide. More on that to come soon! Stay tuned!