Yep, back in “Belize,” as the country refers to its biggest population center, a sprawling ramshackle neighborhood on a point jutting into the Caribbean, cleaved down the middle by Haulover Creek. “City” really is stretching it, the place is so small and low, so the simplification is only appropriate. I arrive on a bus from Cayo â€” actually two buses, since I jump off at the Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary to check in with my friend, Matt Miller. Matt came down as a Peace Corps Volunteer over 20 years ago and never left, building something extraordinary at Monkey Bay, an education center, campground, research center, and more. He shows me the new facilities, his wife’s orchid and iguana house, then I’m off, huffing my pack to the highway where I jump on another bus, my last ride of the trip.
I’m in Belize City for three days, bookending my trip to Belize with the same amount of time I spent here over a month ago. I’ve got some odds and ends to tie up and a few meetings, including a lucky spontaneous one with Yasser Musa, President of the National Institute of Culture and History, head of the Image Factory Art Foundation, internationally renowned self-taught artist, editor of various Belizean publications, and oh yeah, First Son of Belize.
I find Yasser in his office/studio, surrounded by books, cameras, lights, his two children, and more books. He is in the middle of shooting an art project called “Diary of 100 Objects Consuming My Life,” but is happy to sit and talk about Belizean art and music with me for a short while. He loads me up with books and magazines and art catalogues, I give him a copy of Moon Handbooks Belize, asking for his help with the culture section, and I’m off. On the way out, I pass Yasser’s father, Prime Minister Said Musa, on the Front Street sidewalk. Only in Belize…
On my way up Front Street, I must wade through the mess of “Tourism Village,” a contrived carnival of mini-malls and shops built exclusively for cruise ship passengers who are swarming the streets with their entourage of hucksters, taxi drivers, and would-be tour guides. The gates surrounding the shops and marina of Tourism Village are designed to keep passengers â€” and their wallets â€” inside, and bear strange warnings about the authenticity of goods sold outside the gates, while at the same time, using curiously placed quotation marks to prove the authenticity of their own goods. Mind you, the millions of dollars invested in the “village” were backed by a few rich Belizeans and the cruise ship corporations themselves, so that the money flows right back into a couple of deep pockets. I’ve also been told by many a taxi driver about cruise ship passengers’ proclivity for buying cheap viagra and prostitutes on their short shore leaves. I try to keep open mind, but it’s difficult, especially when I see this silly choo-choo full of cruisers on their tour of Belize City. I guess it’s better than staying at home in Iowa…?