In the last blog posting, I mentioned that we’d met a backpacker named Alex at Chichen Itza in Mexico and that he accepted our offer of a ride to Belize to start his adventure. Here we are, one day shy of two weeks later, and Alex is still in Belize. As Alex says, “Belize seems to have sunk its claws into me.” But that’s a good thing!
As I said in the previous posting, we dropped Alex off in Belize City so he could get the water taxi out to Caye Caulker. One day in Caye Caulker turned into two, and Alex had what he described as probably the best weekend of his life snorkeling, eating, and just hanging out on the tiny caye off the coast of Belize. He took an all day snorkel tour with Ragamuffin, saw lots of great underwater wildlife, and thoroughly enjoyed himself. He ate lobster – a must on Caye Caulker during lobster season – and, like Tom and me, had a few meals from the wonderful bakery on the island. He arrived on the island on Friday morning, and took the water taxi back to Belize City on Sunday morning. He went from the water taxi terminal to the bus station, where he got on a bus and headed to the Belize Zoo. There, he met Sharon purely by chance and was interviewed for a BBC program Sharon produces, and, in the bargain, got to feed chicken to the crocodiles. After a very enjoyable tour of the Zoo, he got back on the bus and headed into San Ignacio, where Tom and I picked him up on Sunday afternoon.
As we were talking about what he’d like to do while in Belize, he mentioned that if any of the local schools were looking for volunteers for a few days, he really wanted to do that as part of his experience. Again, purely by chance, our friend Julio, chairman of the village of 7 Miles, stopped by for dinner so Alex was able to ask him if it would be possible to volunteer. Julio assured him that any time he could give the school would be appreciated, and they arranged for Alex to volunteer from Wednesday through Friday.
Given a couple of free days, we decided to take Alex on a horseback ride to Sapodilla Falls. Monday was a beautiful day, and we set out in time to get to the falls by lunch, swim for a couple of hours, and then head home. The first part of the plan went the way we expected, and we had a great ride to the falls with Tom on Es, me on Glin, and Alex on Ness. We ate lunch, then trekked down the hill for a swim. Then Tom and Alex climbed to the very top of the falls while Recona and I took a nap in the sun on the warm rocks. After another quick swim when the boys came down, I changed and headed up the hill to get the horses ready for the ride back to the farm. I finished cleaning up lunch from the picnic tables, got the horses ready to go, and waited. And waited. And waited some more. I was just about to go see what was happening when a very wet Alex appeared at the top of the trail with his hand looped in Tom’s belt, which was acting as a sling around Alex’s shoulder. He’d been trying to take a picture of one of the little waterfalls when he’d slipped on the rocks and fallen in the water, bashing his thumb, chin, and camera in the process. The chin wasn’t too bad, but the thumb wasn’t looking too good and the camera was out of order. We had a quick discussion of the best way to get Alex home, and decided that I’d head for home on Glin through the jungle at a trot, and Tom and Alex would take the park road out to the village of San Antonio, where I could meet them with the truck. This was a shorter and less strenuous ride for Alex, and after I set out on Glin, Tom and Alex did a quick clothing swap with Alex wearing Tom’s jeans so he didn’t have to ride in his wet ones, and Tom putting on his almost dry swim trunks with his half chaps. I made it home in 58 minutes, then headed into San Antonio where I waited for almost an hour for Tom and Alex to appear. We loaded Alex and Ness’s tack into the truck, then Tom ponied Ness home while I taxied Alex home for a warm shower, some ice, and some ibuprofen.
The next day Alex’s thumb was very swollen and very bruised. We all agreed that an x-ray would be a good idea, especially since they’re so reasonably priced here in Belize, and since Alex, who speaks almost no Spanish, was planning on heading into Guatemala where he could have some problems if he decided to seek medical care there. Tom had some errands to run on Tuesday anyway, so they set off for La Loma Luz hospital.
The good news was that the thumb was only sprained, not broken, but that bad news was that Alex was supposed to keep the brace on until he could use the thumb again. But, being a good sport and being out to experience whatever he ran into on his trip, Alex made the most of the opportunity of riding around with Tom and doing errands for the day, and found that he was totally fascinated by Spanish Lookout.
From riding across on the ferry to just meeting and talking to the Spanish Lookout Mennonites, Alex found the whole day fascinating. He said he wrote a six-page journal entry on that day, and that three of the pages were devoted to the Mennonites.
On Wednesday morning, Tom took Alex to 7 Miles to start his volunteer experience. Long story short, he loved it. He worked with the Standard 5 and 6 students, doing drama exercises with them, helping them with their normal schoolwork, and playing football. He ate meals with Julio’s family at the house in 7 Miles, and then spent the nights with Julio in the cabin at the orange grove house, so he saw a very good cross-section of life in Belize.
Alex showed up at Moonracer Farm again on Friday evening, and we started talking about what he planned to do. He hemmed and hawed a bit, and then finally admitted that the school principal had asked if he could stay any longer, and since he had thoroughly enjoyed himself, he took a look at his plans and his finances, and decided that he could spend another week in 7 Miles. Not able to stay away from the school, he spent Sunday working on a painting project there, then came back here for the evening, and hitched a ride back to 7 Miles on Monday morning.
Again, the plan went a little haywire, and after a long day shopping for Tom and me on Monday, we were sitting on our porch getting ready to eat dinner, and we saw a flashlight coming up the driveway. Tom went out to see who it was, and found a very under-the-weather Alex. He seemed to have caught some sort of flu, and said that he’d been sick to his stomach and coughing and sneezing all day, and he didn’t want to stay near Julio’s family for fear of making them sick. Tom and I sort of snickered, since it’s our experience that it’s usually the kids making the teachers sick and not the other way around, but even though he felt like total crap, Alex’s top concern was being considerate to Julio’s family. We checked to make sure he didn’t want to take another trip to La Loma Luz – he didn’t – and then steered him towards the guest cabin, where he slept for 17 hours. When he woke up yesterday, he said he felt better and looked pretty much back to normal – he’d looked totally wiped when he showed up the night before – and he spent yesterday afternoon just sort of hanging and helping Tom and Chuck with a few things around here.
This morning he was back down the road to 7 Miles, and is planning on volunteering at the school and staying with Julio and his family for the rest of the week before heading into Guatemala on Saturday. As far as Tom and I are concerned, Alex can stay in the area for as long as he wants. He’s been totally considerate both to us and to his hosts in 7 Miles, and, being very observant, has been doing a great job of fitting in and not causing anybody any extra work – and he’s still worrying that he’s imposing on somebody. He was horrified with himself last week when Julio volunteered Janet, his wife, to do Alex’s laundry, and Alex said okay. He didn’t realize until it was done that Janet doesn’t have a washing machine, and that she did each item by hand. He came back here, distraught, and asked if I could run any future laundry through the washer to prevent Janet the extra work. Given the fact that he’s backpacking and traveling with very few clothes, it’s no trouble at all for me to throw a few of his things in when I’m doing wash, and I was amazed how thankful Alex was for that little thing.
Now we just have to see if Alex really leaves this weekend, or if the 7 Miles school principal manages to convince him to stay a little longer! And, by the way, we don’t have many pictures since Alex’s camera wasn’t working after the dip in the water, although there’s some hope for it if the water spots dry out of the lens. It spent a few evenings hanging over my stove so the heat from the oven could dry it, and it has improved, but only time will tell if it will become useable.