Monday

Belize Survivor, part 56

Heat waves shimmered on the asphalt surface ahead, creating a distant mirage of water as the old step-van rumbled through the arid desert of northern Mexico. Although the U.S. border lay only a few miles behind, the landscape was already abysmally bleak. A solitary piece of tumbleweed blew across the road, providing a brief distraction from the desolate landscape of sagebrush, cactus, and sand. Max drove, keeping his hands firmly on the wheel, his eyes forward as Alexis sat in the passenger seat holding little Jordan, now nine months old. Uncomfortable in the intense heat and dust, he fussed and fidgeted as he nursed. Without air conditioning, the open windows provided nothing more than fresh blasts of hot gritty dust.

Alexis wiped the sweat from his face and neck and thought about the mound of cotton diapers accumulating in the sealed plastic bucket in the back of the truck, wondering when and where she’d able to wash them now that they were out of the land of coin-operated laundries. Glutted with milk at last, Jordan's head dropped sleepily to the side. She carried him to the crib secured in the rear of the step-van and put him on his stomach inside the protective padded bars.

"Well, Alexis," said Max cheerfully. "We've made it. No more U.S.A. No more taxes, traffic, or industrial pollution. We're free. Free to go where we want, find our special corner of the world and carve out our little empire, just like we said. Damn, I feel good."

The adventure had begun, all right. Did it feel good? Alexis wasn't sure. After all, wasn’t she bound to find the unspoiled natural paradise that had always seemed just outside her grasp? She remembered the conversation on the Yuba River about the ideal place to live, Danny's comments about Mexico, and what they’d heard about Belize and Costa Rica. Now it was happening. The anticipation was great, the prospect exciting; yet many things frightened her. Max frightened her, and the despair expressed by her father and mother still echoed in her head.

The ambitious Christmas sales project at the mall in Harrisburg had been a huge success. She and Max had cleared over just over six thousand dollars. It wasn't much of a nest egg, but enough for a couple of young people with a dream. After the holiday they'd visited Alexis' parents in Pennsylvania. Only years later would she really understand what her parents must have gone through in those final days before their great trek south. Dropping out of college and going to Florida was one thing, but now they were headed to another country.

"What about money?" Frank asked anxiously. First Max had taken his daughter and now he was taking his new grandson; they were going far away to a land and a lifestyle that were incomprehensible to him.

"I told you, Dad," Max said, making Frank cringe at the familiar term. "We'll buy a small piece of land and set up a homestead, growing what we need and selling the overflow for cash. I've got a good agricultural background."

"What about medical care?"

"I've done research," Max said. "The British Army has troops posted in Belize. If the local medical care isn't up to snuff, we can rely on the army. Of course, we may end up in Costa Rica instead. From what I've read it's even more civilized than Belize."

There was no point in rhetoric. No amount of challenging by Frank would make Max change and no explanation could ease her father's mind.

"What about earthquakes?" asked Liz.

"Come on, Mum," he said. "You could trip in the street and drown in a mud puddle, or get hit by a train, or struck by lightning. People die in automobile accidents every day. If we were flying to Central America instead of driving there, you'd be worried about a plane crash. Relax. There aren't going to be any earthquakes."

In the end there was nothing Frank and Liz could do, other than to give the young family their blessings. But part of their world died when the van pulled out of their driveway in January of 1976.