First Impressions

15 06 2010

Casa Gnoma

So it’s coming up on my one week anniversary in Belize City and I didn’t get robbed! Woo hoo! Mission accomplished.

I feel it is an appropriate time to share some of my first impressions of my new town. Of all the disadvantages of the place – and there are not few – I must say it does possess a certain charm.Sort of. It has that languid colonial sea port kinda feel, but in a really rundown, ramshackle kinda way.

It is literally built in a swamp, at the mouth of the Belize River (as evidenced by the multitude of mud crabs making their homes in people’s front lawns and the armies of itch-inducing bugs that have waged war on its poor residents). Mosquitos and sand fleas have ravaged my legs and driven me to the brink of insanity. Drainage canals filled with stagnant water and sewage line the streets which, depending on which way the wind’s blowing, can give off pungent aromas of rotting and decay. Wooden houses slump on their stilts, slowly succumbing to gravity with a defeated – almost desperate – air.

Perched on the coast, Belize City is extremely vulnerable to the wrath of hurricanes and is prone to severe bouts of flooding. Conveniently enough, my internship overlaps directly with “hurricane season”, which meteorologists are predicting to be one of the worst on record. Good thing I brought a raincoat!

Buccaneering and piracy have been hallmarks of Belize’s history dating back to the early seventeenth century, and appear to be alive and well today, though in slightly different forms. I had been warned, re-warned and warned again about the thievery and violence that have come to characterize Belize City. Gangs and drugs are becoming increasingly prevalent, resulting in a real culture of fear amongst the city’s residents. I am learning that there is a fine balance between heeding caution and living in a state of paranoia – however I have yet to find it, leaning more towards the latter. I am learning to live with maxed out cortisol levels and a neck tired from endless shoulder checks! Haha, no I exaggerate. But, unless accompanied by Vin Diesel, I generally do not venture out after sunset, preferring to lock myself away in the [relative] safety of my gnome house. This does not bode well for meeting people and I worry that my entire social sphere will consist of middle aged men, David Attenborough and, worst of all, myself.

One thing to celebrate is the ethnic diversity here, unlike any I’ve seen in other parts of Central America. A real smorgasbord: from Creoles to Mestizos to Garifuna to Maya…to the sunburned tourists and expats. While English is the main language here, Spanish is widespread. As is the mellifluous Creole language, which while apparently based on English, I find completely unintelligible. Pretty much everyone I have come across has been incredibly friendly, helpful and hospitable – my landlord even brought me mangoes when delivering my receipt for the rent. Mmmm mangoes.

In addition to ethnic diversity, I have been totally impressed with the biodiversity within city limits. While taking coffee breaks on the pier behind my office, I am treated to magnificent frigatebirds and brown pelicans soaring overhead (though the turds floating by somewhat detract from the majesty of the experience). Herons, kiskadees and hawks, as well as saltwater alligators, frequent the mangroves by my house. And I even saw a dead, and very bloated, manatee (which was a traumatizing first encounter with such a beautiful animal). So, if this is any indication of what’s in store, I can’t wait to get my geek on in the “wilder” parts of the country.

Anyway, enough of this blogging. After having achieved my milestone 7 days with no incident, I am treating myself to a weekend on Caye Caulker to relax, dive and, hopefully, finally interact with others in my age bracket. Peace out sea trouts.




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