Wednesday, April 14, 2010

There's No Place Like ...

On the first day of our vacation, shortly after we arrived in Belize, my nine-year-old daughter pulled me aside and said quietly, "I want to go home. I don't like it here. People are very poor here and it isn't nice."

At that moment, I knew my vacation budget was money well spent.

It's easy to look at two countries, especially when one of them is the US, and do some quick math and decide which seems to have it better. Yes, Americans would seem to have bigger, or at least fancier, houses. For sure, our roads are better - you never really appreciate paved roads until you drive a half hour on an unpaved one. And yes, despite what the folks at Brita would have you believe, you can drink tap water in America.

But Belize is a beautiful, amazing place filled with the loveliest people I can imagine, and in many ways, Belize has us beat:

- Their bathrooms are cleaner than ours. Why this should be, I don't know, but as a woman who was reliant on public bathrooms for an entire week, who never once uttered the word "skeevy," my appreciation for this small fact is boundless.

- Geckos are everywhere, and I do mean everywhere, but they're not trying to sell you car insurance, and thus not nearly as annoying as ours.

- They have proboscis bats in Belize. Proboscis bats hang out in neat, tidy rows on trees, thus appealing to my OCD tendencies. Add to this the fact that a proboscis bat can eat 200 mosquitos in a day, and I think you know which critter is my new favorite. Top that, Roomba.

- Wildlife in Belize is both spectacular and predictable: The most amazing creatures appear whenever your camera is out of reach (or the battery has died). We spent 20 minutes gazing at a herd of manatees at sunset, at the edge of a pier. We named them all but did not manage to capture a single image of Barbara, John, or Alphonso.

- The bread in Belize is magical. What is it about American bread that sucks so much? Mushy, bland, blah American bread. I kind of expected a week of tortillas but instead it was a week of breaded bliss: cinnamony Hot Cross Buns on Easter Sunday, spicy cheese-and-pepper bread with dinner, coconut-and-pineapple cupcakes after dinner, coconut spice bread with breakfast. I had a bread maker for years and never turned out anything that could hold a candle to the bread I feasted on in Belize.

- Business is less generic. In A Supremely Bad Idea, the author talks about The United States of Generica:  The way American business is dominated by large companies and there's a peculiar sameness about everything. It's all very nice and slick, which is wonderful in it's way, but some of the character is lost under all that shiny veneer. Not so Belize. If you've got a bus, you can set up your own bus line. We saw buses in many colors (sometimes many-colored buses), with all different names: James' Bus Line was my particular favorite. Nearly all the store signs were handpainted by their proprietors, which on one occasion left me quite startled to discover that the business in question (David's Wood Working) sold elegant, handcrafted, US$200 wooden bowls. Selling a house? No problem. Spray paint "FOR SALE" on the side of your house and you're good to go.

Still, at the end of the day, it was nice to come home, and so we did, with a camera full of pictures, a mind full of memories, a sprained ankle, a sunburn, and a case of hives.

Money well spent.

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