When it Rains…It Pours: Belize day six

We knew that it was too good to last. So far our vacation has been perfect. Perfect weather, perfect food and drink and perfect group out here on Half Moon Caye. Our last night was full of dancing, drinking and sharing tales. We watched the sunset at the beach just outside of camp while partying with all our new friends. We took pictures and shared email addresses then went back to camp where the guides performed native Garafuna drumming, song and dance. We all danced the night away and had a lovely prepared meal (no shortage of those). Then off to bed.

The sun began to wake up the day as a big ball of pink in the morning sky. A cloud bank began to roll in and by breakfast the storm had arrived. We all ran out to our tents and secured the rain flaps. Within 5 minutes the rain began. First a little drizzle, then the lightening and thunder accompanied the sheets of rain. Now we are all sitting in the mess hall watching the rain, hoping the boat coming to get us today actually will leave Belize City and make the 2-3 hour trip across open water. I personally would be happy if the boat was unable to come.

Chris and I recounted our trip so far. Chris said that this island adventure reminded her of summer camp. There was always activities to sign up for each day, an applause after each meal, educational moments and of course glamping. So now every time I think of the last five days I smile and think “adult summer camp”.

A Proud People

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Weekly Photo Challenge

Decompressing

One of the reasons we are traveling to so many strange and new places it to “try them on for size”. Last year we went to Cotacachi, Ecuador… before that Belize, before that Costa Rica (8 times), Mexico, Peru, Chile, Argentina and all over the Caribbean.

The last time we went to Panama our experience was less than a good one. One overpowering event molded our opinion. The fact that one company took advantage of five gringos by putting us on a rafting trip on a river deemed unsafe by SINAPROC, and putting our lives in danger, was an impression that burned deep. We chose to give Panama another chance. This time… the Islands of Bocas del Toro.

Now I’m not saying we are professional travelers, and heaven knows we are not perfect. Not saying that every now and then we compare our lives at home to what we see and experience in our host country. We both are looking for those special places we can settle into for a while, some place to call home, even if it’s for a month or two. One important thing we look for is how the indigenous people take care of their homes, their people, their natural resources. How do they treat travelers?

Bocas was a bit of a let down. Online it was painted as this beautiful “Caribbean type” place. The people, bright eyed, smiling and inviting… an up and coming eco-friendly set of islands with beautiful beaches. What we found on this trip was far from that. Not to say it was all bad… we made it enjoyable and definitely relaxing. In decompressing though we found that it was a bit disappointing.

Now let me say that I was not expecting an “American 5 star resort”. When the places you are staying average 80-100 dollars a night, you would think that they would be top notch. In our experience, a country where the people are living a modest life, at best, the locals and expats usually rent their homes at lower rates… and if they do charge a premium… at least there should be screens on the windows, a working fridge and stove, and a bed big enough for two normal sized adults, not one child. The property should be free of trash and debris. When they say you can snorkel “right off the peer”, there should be some resemblance of a reef or at least some fish.

I guess we are partly to blame for wanting to believe in people and what we see on their websites. Believe that those that live there… depend on tourists to improve their current station in life… these people would want to modify their behaviors, clean up their beaches, repair their homes and not overcharge their guests, and lastly not prey on visitors. Perhaps they should not over embellish what they have to offer, so that when we arrive, we find what was presented online.

Please… I know that there are many places that cater to travelers, but we are not “rich”, we cannot afford 200-300 dollars a night… or more. The restaurants we had to eat in charged prices like a European restaurant but with local cuisine and their establishments were in disrepair. We were afraid to walk on the floors thinking the rotted boards might fall through. Walking on the boardwalk trails around the marine park we visited, was like taking your life in your hands. One gentleman told us that they have cut back flights to the islands. It’s not because they want to punish local tourism, but perhaps that more and more people, like us, are seeing this in real life and seeing the pretty pictures painted are far from the truth. Sad…

As a travel writer I feel I have an obligation to tell it like it is. This is my opinion of course. I understand that countries try their best to grab their share of the million dollar tourist industry. The internet has made the world a small place. Just don’t believe all the pictures… or everything you read. At the same time these countries/people have an obligation to at least try to represent what is true and accurate… not just from a Tuesday when they raked the beach, photoshopped the buildings and used a wide angle lens to portray a fantasy world. When we arrive it is a huge letdown. We spend hard earned money and dedicate our precious limited vacation time to this online fantasy. Not only does it harm us but the people who are trying to improve their lives through our visits.

I don’t really know if there is anyone to blame… at the same time, perhaps the locals might make a concerted effort to clean up, make repairs, and improve the level of service they offer. Take pride in their country and the impression indelibly etched into the tourists mind. Feedback is everywhere. We need to stop sugar coating it and be honest. Change will never occur if we continue to paint a rosy picture of a destination in serious need of renovation and cleanup. Travel abroad can be dangerous, not only to your safety but also to your health. If we don’t sound the alarm, and get honest, nothing will change. The next time we are afraid to hurt someone’s feelings… do you really think they will care if you are mugged or seriously hurt just walking around? Travelers beware.

While we were in Bocas del Toro, a lady on a jungle path on Isla Sorte was mugged walking on a recommended trail, another was lost on Basementos where there is a known gang who hate the gringos on their island and hold up people at gun point. My partner almost fell backwards while stepping off a floating swimming pad, provided by the lodge we were staying at,onto their dock which had a loose board. Had I not had her hand she could’ve been seriously injured only three days into our two week trip. If you don’t think it happens…think again!