Thursday, 3 March 2011

Running For The Border

WE DIDN'T LIKE Placencia at all. It probably didn't help that we were struggling to find a room, wandering around in torrential rain. Soaked to the bone, we finally secured musty rooms in an old guest house. The woman running it was American and in her early 60s. Clearly drunk, and with a rasping voice like sandpaper, she insisted we paid up front, and wouldn't even let us drop the bags in our room first. Did she think we were going to squat in a place with a bathroom that smelled like a squash court?

Nothing happens here. It's a tiny town on a short peninsula in the south of Belize. It seems to be popular with older ex-pats from this side of the Atlantic, and as a result we were some of the youngest in town (a novelty). We headed to the town's most popular nightspot, after dinner with Bigmouth and Jahlee. The waitresses knew the crew, as they make the trip often, and weren't giving Bigmouth any attention, despite his theatrical peering over the table and leering at them as they walked by. Who did he think he was impressing? We had tipped the crew, despite several people saying they didn't want Bigmouth to have anything, as he'd been a thorn in our side the whole trip. But it wouldn't have been fair on Jahlee, who had been great: if we'd had two of his calibre, the trip would have been a lot different. They offered to take us for a few beers. Back home this would translate as them buying us one, but in Belize-speak I think it means "We'll show you where the bar is, and you buy the beers."

I sat and took in the clientele. There was a French-looking guy with swept-back hair, hooked nose and a solid tan, dressed completely in white...like an aged Fabio. An older Indian woman was surveying the younger men in the bar, while her white friend pranced barefoot around the dancefloor to the sound of the live band, eyes closed with a serene look on her face, matted dreddlocks swinging behind her knees. I wished they'd been a bit longer so she might have tripped over them and made my night. I was pleasantly surprised when Ben Stiller muttered "I hate white people with dreddlocks." Most people in this hellhole looked like they'd stepped off a yacht or off the set of some film about colonialism, all safari shirts and chinos. The band launched into a Bob Marley cover; I downed my beer in one and left.

Kneehead rolled in at 2am, his snoring keeping me awake. I hit him a few times, and tried to roll him onto his front. He insisted he wasn't snoring, and was on his front already. He rambled, telling me he'd been warned off dancing with some of the local girls by the hoods hanging around. I could just picture it. A fitful and brief sleep was interrupted again by the sound of incessant banging from the upper floor, and the coarse cackle of our old soak of a landlady. I considered going out, but was beaten to it by a well-spoken English girl, who asked for the noise to be kept down a little. "Well, whaddayaknow" Sandpaper rasped "the fucking English...they think everyone should be travelling the world getting stoned." As opposed to pissing your life away in a sad little dusty town? Sounds like a better option, in my book.

Morning saw me up early, Kneehead apologetic for my disturbed evening. Sandpaper was outside at the BBQ on the terrace, three sheets to the wind already. Glass of rum in hand, she loudly wished me a good morning. I asked who the noisy buggers were upstairs last night, fully aware she was one of them. She said she didn't hear a thing, as she was in bed...but that Friday was the rowdy night, everyone would be quieter this evening after the late finish. Eyeing the glass in her hand, I doubted that. There was an art fair in the town but, counting the silver-haired heads passing by, I suggested we get off to Hopkins. The rest of the gang agreed.

We boarded a chicken bus for a fairly uneventful journey, marked only by the father and son who boarded, fair-skinned religious types from the States who dressed in identikal green overalls and shirts, woven hats covering their bowl hair-styles. I had to hold my breath as the older man passed, almost chewing the thick, tangy air around him. Unpleasant. I don't care what god people believe in, so long as they believe in soap, too. Bognor Kim struck up a conversation with the fellow, while his son squinted suspiciously at those around him. Turns out that they were heading to sell mahogany seeds in Dangrigga, as they couldn't sell them in Belize City after being robbed on every occasion. Kim was curious about their beliefs, and distrust of science and space exploration. I was more interested to know when his armpits had last seen water?

Dumped at the junction on the highway, we got a taxi for the last few miles to the Garifuna village of Hopkins. This is billed in the guidebooks as a charming little fishing community that time forgot. All I would say is that this description is up there with an estate agent describing a shithole of an area you are looking to rent a flat in as vibrant. Time has certainly forgotten it. And it's charming if you think downtown Detroit would be lifted slightly by palm trees and a few skiploads of sand. Its two streets run parallel to the beach for miles, lined with derelict and abandoned houses like broken teeth in a rotting mouth. There's nothing charming about people living in poverty and naked children...I almost felt guilty being here.

Two days of staying in and smoking grass later, and we were ready to leave. The grey skies and rain hadn't bothered me, as the beach was nothing to speak of, and the water murky. A couple of rickety buses later, and we were at the border. It's around £15 just to get out of the country overland, and this sticks in the craw after the expense of the place as a whole. I was asked to fill out a tourism questionnaire before leaving. In the section where the nosy sods asked how much I estimated I'd spent, I simply put "Too much."

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