By Joshua Berman — Globe Correspondent / May 1, 2005
BELIZE — There are many ways to end up alone on a desert island. The most obvious — by shipwreck — was too easy. We were no castaway cliche, my bride and I. Neither were we deposed royalty, which ruled out forced exile.
”Reality” TV temptations bored us, and a self-supported paddling expedition was, for practical reasons, out of the question.
That left tourism. In Belize, a little coastal country bordered by Mexico and Guatemala, there were islands to spare.
Left alone on a tiny spit of sand, we would relish the wind blowing through the open windows of our wooden pink-yellow-green cottage. We would be the only people there, surrounded by coral, waves, and an ocean of sun. There was indeed a place where we could do this, an islet between mainland and reef that could, for a fee, be completely at our disposal.
We would not go there directly, however. We would save our island treat for dessert, the sweetest release after more than a week of strong-plate sampling in the rest of the country. In fact, I worried that our itinerary, which formed a squiggly plus-sign on our map of Belize, was overly ambitious.
But how could we sit idly on a single Caribbean beach when there was so much else to see?
”Keep it simple,” said my innermost Zen traveler in a relaxed, even voice.
”Make it active!” screamed his restless, red-eyed rival, tugging his hair and waving us hectically through the plane door.
Fortunately, my travel and life partner was game for anything, so we hit the ground running and made straight for the mountains, ascending to the Pine Ridge and Hidden Valley Inn. There, cool streams sprang from the ground and fell toward the sea, deep blue holes strung like jewels between babbling branches, all shaded in greenery and awash in waterfalls with names like ”Secret,” ”Butterfly,” ”Devil,” and ”Hidden.” We claimed our pool and picnicked on burritos, fruit, and warm champagne after a bracing dip. At night, the fireplace in our cottage burned warm and dry with pine, and outside was wild with insects and owls.
We continued west to the top of El Castillo, a Mayan temple rising above the Mopan River Valley. We tried to picture the ancient city of Xunantunich before its collapse: 10,000 Mayans living, farming, playing, and praying right where we stood. We discussed the image with a pair of smooth-faced, teenage Creole soldiers atop the 300-foot-tall pyramid; they cradled M16s, sucked at cigarettes, and laughed at the good fortune of their assignment (protecting tourists) as we all enjoyed a backdrop of clouds, treetops, and, in one stunning shaft of 4 o’clock Guatemalan sunshine from across the nearby border, a fat rainbow.
In San Ignacio, friends enticed us to stay longer, even offering employment, but the sea beckoned so we sped to it, skimming its surface for nearly two hours to reach Salamander Hideaway, a thatched cluster of cabanas 10 miles north and worlds away from the trendy, sand-packed streets of San Pedro.
There we snorkeled, sailed, sat, stretched, and savored each day’s catch: coconut-curried snapper, baked whole grouper, shrimp ceviche. We also dived, floating through a boundless cathedral of reef and blueness, 60 feet below a sparkling ceiling of glass — weightless, lost, breath bubbling.
Our banquet lolled lazily through time, forward, I guess, as we boarded another succession of boats and planes that carried us south to the blustery Placencia Peninsula, a twisted, dangling stretch of beach and mangrove. Offshore, scores of sea-swathed dots of land rose from the ocean floor, including a tiny cay named ”French Louis,” a half-acre of breeze-bent palms where, yesterday morning, my wife and I were deposited with nothing but each other, our entwined thoughts of the future, and the unbelievable brightness of Right Now.
Striped, sharp, palm-frond shadows flutter on my journal page, playing over my salty hand as it scribbles back and forth. The air rushes westward, shoreward, same as the waves, the skimming clouds, and the tide.
But not us. Not yet.
We still have the rest of the morning to be here, a few more hours, alone and together, both imprisoned and freed by the 360-degree horizon that frames our existence in this moment. From the porch hammock of our love-shack, we sip coffee and stare at it — the horizon — to the south. From open windows above our bed, we watch it, flat and blue, to the north. From the eastern tip of the cay, there it is again, the curved edge of Earth where a full moon appeared last night, only moments after the sun had set in the opposite direction.
The propane fridge in the pink-yellow-green cottage is fully stocked; last night, I drowned a pile of shrimp in butter, garlic, and lime. This morning, we had eggs, bread, oranges, and tea.
Our island is home to other, more permanent, denizens as well. They include a spotted mutt named Blondie and a blond lab named Thunder, both of whom greeted us, tails a-wag, at the dock, and who sit by my feet as I write. There are multitudes of crabs, terns, grackles, and minnows keeping us company, too.
Then there is us, waiting for a boat. But not truly ”waiting” since we’re still here, spending time. On our island.
I lied before. French Louis is not quite the final morsel of this meal. There’s still tonight at Maruba Resort Jungle Spa, north of Belize City, with its incongruous, crazily creative accommodations of feather beds, hookah lounge, Japanese mineral bath, all clothed in thick, lush vegetation and mismatched, gaudy jungle-chic decor. On the menu tonight: shark salad and water buffalo. Tomorrow morning, after baked grapefruit and a plate of lime-soaked papaya, we will be coated in skin-sucking ”mood mud,” then rubbed down with lemongrass oil that will soak through our clothing on the plane home.
The trip will be over, but the honeymoon just begun.
After all, we’ve got a job offer in Cayo to consider — and we’re still hungry.
Joshua Berman is a freelance writer. He is the author of the most recent edition of ”Moon Belize” (Avalon Travel Publishing).