This was my first trip to Central America. I had arrived with intentions of writing a fly-fishing and kayaking story on Glovers Reef with friend and fellow photographer Paul Kerrison, who had made arrangements with a local adventure company for the expedition. Hungry for some Caribbean sun and relaxation, I flew down a week before Paul's planned arrival. Another friend of mine, Jim Mercure, owned a small plot of beachfront property in Placencia (said to mean “peaceful point”), a village in southern Belize. He welcomed me to stay there but warned of unsure conditions. An unwanted guest had arrived in October 2001, by the name of Iris. Iris began as a tropical storm way out in the Caribbean Sea, but just before making landfall it quickly gathered strength and grew into a monster category four hurricane, with its sights set on Placencia. I wasn’t sure how the storm’s aftermath would affect my plans.
Have you ever opened a doorway and stepped blindly into another world? Of course I had read books, seen photos and discussed this place, but none of that mattered. I was here, and the adventure had abruptly taken over. I watched helplessly as my plans changed with the scenery. My travel partner bailed at the last minute, depriving me of the fly-fishing and kayaking expedition he had arranged. So what the hell, I thought, I'm going solo for a month in the tropics of Belize. Damn, life is good!
Not everyone agreed with me. "Stay away from Belize City at night," my physical therapist warned in between adjustments. "It's not a safe place when the sun goes down."
"Neither is New York City," I said sarcastically.
"There are a lot of parents trying to find out what happened to their beloved Billy or Brittany, who were last seen gallivanting in Belize City,” he said. “It's not the same as here, it's different; stick to the beach and everything be cool and calm, mon. And try not to strain your back while you're down there!"
His words echoed in my head as I stepped off the plane, feeling a little more than buzzed from the flight attendants generous pours of Bacardi rum. A blast of balmy tropical heat greeted my staggering body like an open oven. "Welcome to Belize!" announced a sign above the airport terminal, a brilliantly colored adobe structure reflecting the blazing sun. "Welcome to Belize City, now get the hell outta here fast!" I thought to myself, and laughed.
I climbed into a taxicab straight out of the Brady Bunch sitcom, then sat back and held on tightly as the beastly station wagon accelerated down the narrow city streets, screeching and bouncing all the way. Pedestrians passed by so closely I could have lit their cigarettes. The cabbie must have noticed the whites of my knuckles and turned to me with a broad smile.
"Relax mon, you're on Belize time now."