Saturday

Belize Survivor, part 61

At the dawning of the following day, a new world came into focus. The menacing gloom gave way to a bright landscape, revealing fields of sugarcane bordered by fruit trees and palms. In the distance they could see the sun sparkling on the ocean just beyond the town of Corozal. The little town was named after the coroso, the American Oil Palm, which grew in abundance. Unlike the modest fronds of coconut palms, the leaves of the coroso grew up to sixty feet, and instead of coconuts, the trees bore clusters of egg-shaped cohune nuts that hung on thick stalks from the base of the fronds.

From the scant information they'd found on Belize, Max and Alexis had decided to skip the flatlands of the north. Their plan was to pass through Belize City on the coast and head toward the western district, which claimed to have the best climate and the greatest number of American inhabitants. Deciding was one thing, getting there would be another. The route south from Corozal to Orange Walk Town was a decent stretch of highway. With sugarcane as its main export, the Public Works Department of the northern districts maintained a good road for the cane trucks to deliver to the sugar factory at Libertad. But once south of Orange Walk, the road became a dangerous winding track surrounded by scrub and bug-infested undergrowth. It dwindled abruptly to a single lane of broken asphalt with potholes deep enough to break a spring even at twenty miles per hour. The lane of blacktop was so narrow that when a vehicle approached from the other direction, Max had to pull completely off the crumbled tarmac, and the drop to the dusty white shoulder was a full five inches lower than the road's surface. Although the bush was not thick enough to qualify as true jungle, the nearby mangrove swamps housed millions of hungry mosquitoes, which swarmed through the open windows of the van seeking fresh blood.

"Can't you drive any faster?" Alexis said, as she swatted another one.

"God damn it! You think I enjoy getting eaten alive? If I drive any faster the bottom of this crate will fall out and we won't go anywhere. Keep those bugs off Jordan, would you? Put some more of that citronella oil on him." Max slapped his neck twice in a row. "Man, this is bullshit."

It took almost two and half hours to complete the tortuous stretch from Orange Walk to Belize City, and when they arrived, the squalor that Alexis and Max found there defied comprehension – at least by North American standards. The narrow city streets were filthy with discarded boxes, rotten fruit, broken glass, and other refuse. Unpainted frame houses huddled one next to the other in various stages of disrepair, some leaning as much as fifteen degrees. Other buildings, such as schools and churches were made of sturdier cinderblock, but they grew a disgusting black mold on the lower walls, especially where drunks and dogs urinated on them. Run-down bicycles, people on foot, ancient pickup trucks, and aged taxis all competed for space in the grimy streets, while battered trucks growled noisily and belched noxious fumes that mingled with rank odors from the nearby fish market. Since all the streets were one-lane, and therefore one-way, there was a limited pattern of circulation that allowed a vehicle to get from one place to another. Unfortunately, there were no signs marked accordingly.

A navigable waterway sixty feet wide divided the city, and only a single bridge in the center of town provided for the traffic from east to west. Once on the west side, Max and Alexis saw the most loathsome characteristic of Belize City: the network of disgusting canals that acted as open sewers. With no indoor plumbing available, people simply collected their wastes in "night buckets" and emptied them into the fetid canals in the early hours of the morning. With no substantial circulation to move it along, the slimy green-brown scum wafted sluggishly to the main waterway in the center of town and finally drifted out to sea.

"Do you think we made a drastic mistake by coming here?" Alexis asked as she looked around. She felt nauseous and was sure she was going to throw up.

"I don't know," said Max. "Maybe. But I can't believe the rest of the country is this bad. Apparently, there are quite a few Americans here, and they sure as hell don't live in places like this."

Continuing west, with the city now forty miles behind them, the country still remained devoid of beauty – a tedious wasteland of eroded flatlands and small stands of scrub palmetto and saw-tooth palm. The soil was reddish-yellow with a coarse grainy texture – a highly acidic content in which nothing else would grow. An occasional smattering of gaunt southern pine accented the otherwise barren landscape, but there were no real trees and, again, no shade. However this no-man's-land did have one thing that made it memorable: a small black biting insect known as the "bottle-ass" fly. Landing silently, it delivered a voracious bite that left a distinctly flat raised welt with a little blood spot in the middle, which itched and burned for hours. Alexis looked up from her map and suddenly pointed.

"Max, look over there, to the south. Mountains, I think, unless it’s just clouds on the horizon. No. look, there are mountains coming up from the south, angling toward the west. See them?"