Monday

Belize Survivor, part 99

"I can't believe we're going to do this,” said Alexis, happily. "Actually taking a vacation." Compared to the old Land Cruiser, the little

Chevy truck allowed them to ride in unparalleled air-conditioned comfort as they headed east towards Belize City.

"Hey, why not,” said Max, magnanimously. “We've been working hard and deserve a break. Besides, after hearing about San Pedro for all this time, it's ridiculous that we've never been there. Lots of tourists think Ambergris Caye is Belize. Many of them never come to the mainland at all.”

"Where are we going to stay? The hotels are expensive."

"I don't think it will be a problem. Eric told me about a guy named Raul, who has a nice hotel for tourists, but also some little cabañas that he rents to locals for cheap.

"Are we considered ‘locals'?"

"I would think anybody who's living here on the Belizean economy would qualify, and your jewelry business with the army is what's supporting us. Speaking of which, we'll buy some more raw black coral while we're in San Pedro. Also, we’ll take the bulk silver wire and other findings, just in case any of the island artisans are interested in components. That way we can combine business and pleasure." It made sense, of course, but somehow Alexis was disappointed that their trip wouldn't be a business-free vacation. But it would still be a break, and she decided not to make an issue of it.

"Are we going by boat or by plane?" she asked, instead.

Jordan looked up from his picture book as he heard the magic word. He had always loved to watch the helicopters flying over Emoyeni. Now he ran over with excitement.

"Airplane, Daddy! I wanna go on the airplane!"

"Could we Max?” Alexis pleaded. “Just this once? I know the boat is much cheaper but it also takes five hours to get there; the plane takes fifteen minutes."

Max thought about it. "Okay," he conceded. "We'll take the plane. Just for you, Jordan."

Arriving at the tiny municipal airstrip in Belize City, the single-engine Cherokee was a five-seater, the tiniest plane Alexis had ever seen. It shuddered and shook down the potholed runway, threatening to lose its wheels before getting up enough speed for takeoff. A little nervous, Alexis thought it was like flying in a Volkswagen with wings, but Jordan wiggled with excitement, his nose pressed hard against the window. As the small craft gave a final bounce and vaulted into the air, he cried out with exhilaration. In seconds, the aircraft was across the open ocean, beginning the climb to its cruising altitude of a thousand feet. Belize City had never looked so beautiful, and, far above the squalor, it was easy to believe that below them lay a shining city of cleanliness, charm, and grace. As the minutes passed, the city faded in the distance and the little plane continued on its northeasterly bearing.

"Look, Mummy, the houses are so small,” said Jordan. “We're really flying." Max and Alexis smiled indulgently and their eyes met. Things had been good between them and this break from routine felt like the beginning of a new phase. Alexis gazed down on the brilliance of the sunlight reflecting on the Caribbean. Small cumulus clouds floated beneath her, and beyond them, the sea, in deep shades of cobalt, turquoise, and aquamarine, brought back memories of the Déjà Vu.

Ten minutes later, the island came into view, the palms shading a string of red-roofed houses and the odd rustic hotel. Expertly, the young pilot manipulated the rudders to compensate for the crosswinds, and the wheels touched down lightly. Jordan was first out of the plane, and he skipped around in eager anticipation as Max and Alexis retrieved the luggage.

There were only fourteen vehicles on the island, and Raul was the proud owner of the newest. He had driven his pickup to the airstrip to save his guests the mile-long walk back to his hotel. As a budding middle-aged entrepreneur, Raul had the beginnings of a beer belly and a delightfully casual manner. Business on the island was so informal and relaxed that most of Raul's transactions were conducted from a hammock strung under the palms. One of his daughter's had playfully pinned a sign on the hammock that read: Office.

Elevated on short four-foot stilts, Raul's cabañas were constructed of tasíste stalks and finger-leaf bay palm brought over from the mainland. The room was simple, lacking in artistic flair, but it was clean and adequate to their needs. There was a double-bed and a single portable cot, sink, shower, and twenty-four hour electricity. Alexis lifted the suitcase onto the bed, but before she could unpack, Jordan stripped himself naked and dashed for the water. Laughing, Max ran after him, tiny bathing suit in hand, explaining to the youngster that, although he didn't have to wear much clothing in San Pedro, minimal decorum was still required, and no peeing in the bush.