Tag Archives: Australia

Hammer time!

In retrospect, I feel like I didn’t give Ecuador enough time. It’s such a geographically diverse country for its size. There were so many places I didn’t get to.

And I could have stayed longer if I wanted to. I turned down a ‘job’ offer teaching English on the Galapagos Islands. Essentially volunteering in exchange for accommodation & a bit of lunch money. I would have had to get a 2nd job to make ends meet, let alone make the most of everything the Islands had to offer.

I’m not 100% sure why I didn’t take it. But put it this way: I was focusing more on the reasons why it wasn’t a good idea rather than the reasons why it was. So I went with my intuition. I’m sure the reasons will reveal themselves in time.

So, exactly 12 months after leaving Aus, I booked my flight home. I admit to having troubles hitting the ‘Confirmation’ button. There was such a big part of me that felt like I wasn’t done. So much more to see. Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Argentina. But it felt like time. I was missing my mama’s cooking, my friends, babies I haven’t met yet, and our beautiful beaches. And besides, I needed to get a job, pull some more savings together and try & be a proper grown up. Enough of this gallivanting around the world with just a backpack to my name & no real plans to speak of.

It was Mother’s Day back home, so I called Ma to let her know. She burst out into tears, she was so happy. Bless.

There was one more thing I had to do before I felt I could leave the Galapagos. I had been chasing hammerheads since Nicaragua in November. The only issue was the next available dive was on Sunday. Same day as my flight out to Guayaquil. Everyone reassured me that getting on another flight on Monday wouldn’t be a problem.

I decided to go on the dive. I had to see these dang sharks. I’ve racked up 44 dives in the past 12 months. This was a pretty hectic dive. For starters, the water was cold. Maybe 18 degrees at depth. We were fitted with 7m wetties which make you feel like the Michelin Man. There was a lot of surge. And the visibility in some places wasn’t all that great.

We came up from the first dive. No hammerheads. And of course the other group came up chattering excitedly like schoolkids. I couldn’t help but be quietly petulant. We had seen some amazing things on our 1st dive. But it wasn’t what I had come here for. I looked down at my wrist: “Gratitud”. Mmmm.

We went down for our 2nd immersion and then my DM started pointing his fist very deliberately. I scanned the deep blue waters & saw what looked like pretty much your run-of-the-mill shark. But then I saw his head. I could not believe my fucking eyes. Shaped just like a big flattened hammer (I’m gunna say his head was close to a metre in width) and with big bulbous eyes on the ends! What a peculiar looking beast. I was spellbound. Then into my peripheral vision swam two more. I looked up and around and saw we were floating in amongst a school of maybe 12 of them. Unlike most sharks, hammerheads usually swim in schools during the day, and become solitary hunters at night.

Up there with one of the most amazing dive moments of my life. I came up from that dive happy as Veruca Salt when she thinks she’s going to get her golden egg-laying geese.

The “next day, ‘nother flight, no worries” actually turned out to be quite the opposite. The only flight with my carrier on Monday was full, and so I had to wait another day. This meant I would be really pushing it to meet my dear old friend Michelle in Peru on time. Shell was coming over from Aus so we could do Machu Pichuu together.

Flights from Guayaquil to Lima were nearly $500 one way, so that was out of the question. I spent a bit of time hunting around & found a cheap flight from a little town just south of the border. I could catch a bus to there and be in Lima on Wednesday morning. Michelle could get a good night’s sleep from her long haul over & we could get on with it.

Well, 4 buses, 2 planes, 2 taxis, 1 boat, 1 tuk-tuk, 1 lost Kindle (GUTTED), 1 scary motherfucker wearing army fatigues, a balaclava & waving a machine gun around, plus another night-time border crossing but this time UTTERLY on my own –

And 26 hours later I was having a good old giggle with one of my besties in the foyer of her fancy hotel in Lima.

Hello Peruuuuu!

How to make gravy

The Aussies & Pinky stayed on for another week or so. They were at once both smart & silly boys and so, Steph & I hung out with them a bit in our free time.  Sometimes it’s reassuring meeting people from back home. Todd & Piers reminded me of boys I love back home: Snowy, Toby, Tyler, Scotte…

For me, they couldn’t have come at a better time. Island Boy had picked up with an American tourist and even though i knew it was never meant to be for he & I – it still felt like a slap in the face. Egos are a fragile thing, aren’t they?

The island began to shrink, and there were days when i just wanted to get the hell out of here.

When you arrive by panga in the morning sun to live on a small island for a month or more, you are full of anticipation. What a wonderful life awaits. Sunny days, blue seas, white sands, amazing diving, fruity cocktails, blazing sunsets, dirty dancing, hot sex. You know. That sort of thing.

At first everything seems so uncomplicated, charming, chilled. And on some levels, it absolutely is.

We drink water that we pull from a well. We eat beef that has been butchered by our neighbours in their front yard that day. We give thanks when the ‘town’ generator gets up and we have electricity for ½ a day. There are no roads. No cars. No malls. No cinemas. No bookstores. Just a handful of places to eat & drink. And only two places to bump & grind. Albeit, to invariably rubbish music. And with boys i have absolutely zero interest in.

In other words, there are not many distractions. And for the most part, I’m not a person who needs many distractions. I’m an only child. I can happily entertain myself in a million ways.

It’s been raining most days that i’ve been here. Sometimes for just an hour, sometimes all day. The rain doesn’t bother me so much. But it does make for shitty dive conditions. And it means there’s been a lot of just sitting around. I’ve spent a good whack of time getting stoned. Which isn’t something i normally do. But, when in Rome.

One of the great things about getting stoned, is just having shits & giggles with your mates. I love noting more than shooting the breeze with friends.

One of the downsides is you spend a lot of time looking for things you just put down. I also find i spend quite a bit of time taking a good long hard look at myself. Facing your demons can be a good thing. But sometimes you can get too much into your own headspace. There have been days and nights when i’ve definitely had island fever.

But it’s also an extremely difficult place to leave. I’ve made some really beau’ful friendships. Both with expats and locals. And I have fallen in love with more than one little person. They do make gorgeous kids here.

I had a lovely couple of days with them just this week – helping out with a beach clean-up that a visiting kiwi organised. And also with the creation of a colourful Christmas tree made from bits of plastic washed up on the beach. I now have three lil island boyfriends who come racing up to me with big hugs whenever they see me. What a way to make a girl feel special.

I came back to Little Corn Island because the universe conspired to have me here. A job and a house fell into my lap. Even if Island Boy hadn’t been part of the equation I would have come. It was disappointing things didn’t work out between us. It was hurtful to see him with another woman. But she left. I got over it. He & I have talked and we’re all good. We’re doing Christmas with our mutual friends up at his place. I’m grateful to my friends, especially Cimba, for convincing me to stay on for Christmas.

I believe now, I came here because I was supposed to learn a lesson. That being, to not push things. To just let it come.

I remember in my 20s having a ‘shroom-induced conversation with a good friend, who was a bit of a long-haired, patchouli wearing hippy, who said “you need to go with the flow, man.”
I replied, “only dead fish go with the flow.”
He shot back, “they’re all dead because they get around like you, y’fucker.”
It’s only now, I see he could well be right.

* * *

So, going back to the tropical island fantasy checklist: Sunny days (for the most part, no), blue seas (sometimes), white sands (potential without all that rubbish), amazing diving (one out of 10 so far & i still hold out hope), fruity cocktails (far too many), blazing sunsets (a couple), dirty dancing (don’t even go there), and hot sex (maybe Santa can help out here).

* * *

So it’s Christmas Eve today. Christmas Day back home in Australia. The sun’s out here and it will be back home too. I’m super excited about tomorrow. But it won’t be the same. This will be my first Christmas away from home.

I will miss my morning swim at Bondi beach. I will miss me Mum & Dad. I will miss Champagne and stuffed turkey. And I will most certainly miss my friends. I want to send a special shout out especially to Lyn, Scott, Shell, Lea, Andrea & Dave and Toby and all their families.

Running up that hill

Last Monday, we had our second last day of class. We had a paper and a portfolio to turn in the next day, but I managed to get 99% of it done by the time London Mike bowled in from San Andres that afternoon.

I had somehow managed to score myself a ‘job’ hosting trivia up at the Irish pub and I was due to start at 7, so I made arrangements to meet him beforehand for dinner & drinks.

I was having a post-class bevy the week before, minding my own business, when I got the gig. I got talking to the bartender who suggested I stick around for trivia that night. I mentioned that I used to host a night in Sydney, the boss overheard me & asked me, “Would you like to host ours next week?”

Sure. Why not.

He gave me a one pager which answered most of my questions. I asked him how much he’d pay me. He said he’d pay me with a dinner and all I could drink. I laughed and asked him if he knew I was Australian. We shook hands, and that was that.

London Mike and I had met in San Ignacio Belize, had met up again in Flores (in the north of Guatemala) and had kept in touch while we both studying. Sometimes when you meet people on the road, they remind you of friends back home and it instantaneously feels familiar. It’s like that with Mike, who I had nicknamed Sparkles. We were both looking forward to catching up and letting our hair down a bit.

It was a pretty international crowd at Riley’s and they got rowdier & rowdier as the night went on, but it was a fun night. Sparkles pitched in with the scoring and music round, so it was an easy night for me. I drank like drinking was a sport, and I was representing Australia. We stayed until stumps. Sparkles walked me to my door and stumbled off into the distance to his hotel.

On Tuesday, I woke up with a raging hangover the size of a Whopper burger. I only just scraped through that last day of school, and somehow managed to finish all my work.

I called Sparkles, when I knocked off. He was having a social in a nice little courtyard bar with Dave – an Aussie bloke he’d bonded with during a small bus crash up north. I met them for a beer. We later met another one of Sparkle’s mates on a rooftop bar, a young Scottish lad by the name of Cameron, who would come to make a really big impression on me in a very short space of time. We ended up in the bar where Shelby sells shots on Ladies’ Night. You can get a plate of nachos about the size of a horse’s head at Monoloco’s. I kid you not. And damn good they are, too. So we did. Many beers later and I have to say I don’t really remember much of the night.

I collected Sparkles on Wednesday morning, we went to the markets to get some stuff for dinner, and then went for a walk up to Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross). I can see it from my lil casa. It’s lit up at night, providing a nifty navigational point if you’re really drunk. I’m sure that’s not what it was designed for, but it’s come in handy a couple of times. There’s a great vista of the city from up there. It was a cracker of a day, so we decided to go back to the Sky Cafe to get the photos we missed the day before. We ambled about a bit more and then went our separate ways for a few hours.

I had him and my lovely teacher, now neighbour (just call him Stalker Phil) over for a roast dinner. Phil’s from Watford and there’s not a lot of English folk here, so I thought he might appreciate Mike’s company and a traditional English meal. I did a bloody good job of it, even if I do say so myself and we had a very civilised night.

Thursday, Sparkles and I were up at 6 to climb Pacaya, an active volcano about 1 & ½ hrs drive from here. After being dormant for a century, it erupted violently in 1965 and has been erupting continuously since then. The last time was in May last year. It rises to an elevation of 2,552m which is just slightly higher than Mt Kosciusko, NSW.

I leaned in to talk with Sparkles at one point on the bus trip in, and all I could smell was booze. I don’t think I smelt much better, truth be told.

It was a hard 1 & ½ hour hike up a pretty steep incline. I was bringing up the rear of our group, huffing & puffing and behind me were about ½ dozen caballeros – basically dudes with horses. The word translates to gentlemen in Spanish, but they were pissin’ me off by breathing down the back of my neck and asking me if I wanted a “taxi” the whole freakin way. As much as I would have loved to have jump on one, I knew I would regret it if I did. The only way you’d get me on one of those things is if I was with a particular group of friends and we were in fancy dress. You know who you are.

I made it. And it was totally worth it. Even though, we didn’t have the clearest day, it was simply stunning in a very surreal way. It was like standing on another planet. Volcanic ash is like rough, rocky black sand. There was a remarkable amount of tenacious greenery growing. Smoke billowed from natural potholes. We climbed into a big one and it was like stepping into a natural sauna in the cloudy chill cloaking the mountain. We toasted marshmallows, and breathed in the sharp crisp air.

I had an afternoon kip, and later that night, met up with Phil, Sparkles and Cameron and a few others at Gaia – a gorgeous hookah bar with lush cushions and beautiful decor. We had a few drinks and easy conversation, while an awesome local band played. Albeit too loudly. But hey, it’s Latin America – they don’t do ambience here.

Friday afternoon, Sparkles, Cameron and I had a very cultural afternoon. We stopped into La Merced, which is a building I’ve walked past nearly every day. It used to be an old monastery, which was built in the 1700s. Outside, there are all these intricate white religious carvings, niched into the happy yellow walls. Inside is surprisingly massive and the courtyard features the largest water fountain in Antigua. From the top terrace, you’ll get a great view of Volcán de Fuego, which you can see almost everywhere from this pretty little city. But not like this.

We then walked up to a place called Casa Santa Domingo, a glorious old hotel which is situated in the stupidly beautiful grounds of another monastery. We wondered around for a while, oohing and ahhing at the gardens and the statues
and the art and the relics and the pretty Scarlet Macaws, which are kinda like rainbow lorikeets but bigger and brighter.

From there, we got a ride in a fancy golf cart to a place called El Tenedor del Cerro (which translates to “the fork on the hill”). It’s essentially a wedding reception venue / high-end restaurant, but the reason we went there is because the place offers what has to be the best views of the city, and all throughout the grounds is this eclectic collection of completely unexpected weird-arse large-scale sculpture by lauded local artists. We spent a good couple of hours there, taking photos and fooling around.

We missed the return shuttle so I flagged down a fancy car to hitch a ride back down the hill. The wife of the Guatemalan driver was an American lady, all decked out in jewels. I asked her for her story and she told us she had been living here on-and for some 30 odd years. Her mother was a missionary who took in 58 orphans and gave them a home. She told us she was still in contact with many of them. Amazing story right there in a 15 min drive. Awesome stuff.

We parted ways for a bit of downtime. The boys had to pack as they were both leaving the next day. Cameron back home to pick up his studies back in Scotland. And Sparkles was headed for Honduras. We met up one last time at Monoloco with all their mates. Many beers and many silly photos later, I bid my farewell to them both rather unceremoniously, given how much I had enjoyed their company. It’s very likely Sparkles & I will be able to link up again in Nicaragua. and I wouldn’t be surprised if Cameron rocks up on my doorstep one day.

I’ve spent the last two days just chilling out, mucking around on my new netbook, listening to music, watching movies, cooking meals and drinking wine. I did venture out yesterday afternoon for a tasty Asian meal and a poke around a contemporary artist’s workshop, but apart from that – it’s been
pretty quiet since the boys left town. Which has been fine by me…

Mysterious ways

Religion on the whole, doesn’t really blow my skirt up. Very little of it makes sense to me. The do good, be good bits do. But it’s not hard to work that stuff out on your own, is it?

It’s easy to write off folks with a faith because… well, there’s evolution for starters… but really, I think because there are so many freaking religious nut jobs out there. Ranging from those who live in pretty green countries who are warring with their neighbors, through to racist grandmothers who go to church every Sunday, and the pedophiliac priests who don’t think my gay friends have a right to be married.

Having said that – I have met some wonderfully smart, incredibly articulate, well travelled, open-minded and completely inspirational people who are religious.

I don’t think I had ever met a nun, before I was invited to have dinner with ACDC’s Aunty Ivy. She totally fits my definition of cool. She is interesting. And interested. She’s quietly spoken by nature, but you can see how rowdy she’d get at Rabbitoh’s game. She’s got a gentle spirit but I don’t think you’d be wise to be messin with anyone she loves. She struck me as someone who likes her creature comforts but she’d also happily sleep on a dirt floor in an African country to do volunteer work with kids in need. I just loved all the contradictions. I don’t know why, but it never occurred to me that you could be a nun and like a tinny or two.

A couple of years ago, I met this bloke at a party full of fitness freaks. Short and ruddy with an unruly beard and a gruff voice – his name was Graham Long and he was the larrikin pastor of a well-known chapel in Sydney’s red light district, a place called The Wayside. Their ethos is giving people a hand up not a handout. They provide a range of services to people who have fallen, well… by the wayside. Everything from showers, to referrals for health and home agencies, advocacy, and I love this: “a judgment free space for those just looking for a chat, a coffee or a quiet place to think.” God only knows, we all need that. I remember him (Graham, not God) saying to me that he came home “at the end of every day completely spent, but completely energized” by what he did for work. And that he didn’t really consider it a job. He’d do it even if they didn’t pay him.

A few weeks later, I was reading an article about a woman who was coordinating a singles / charity event. I really liked the idea of mixing the two. Fail to meet the right bloke? That’s okay. You still get to feel good about yourself, because you’re doing something for someone else. She said, “I don’t have a job. I have a life I love.”

Both of these things have been rattling around in my head for a long time.

I suppose you could say I’ve done some interesting stuff for work. I’ve been the voiceover in upscale department stores. I’ve sold everything from ice creams, to ‘sexy giftware’, to cars. I was the production manager on a low budget film shoot. I did a short stint in the medical imaging field. I once wore a bunny suit (man, those things Smell. Bad.) I was the graphic designer of an independent newspaper. I worked in the engineering industry for a while (loved those boys. They swore like sailors and introduced me to French champagne). I worked for a wee while at one of London’s top ad agencies as a proofreader. I waited tables (that only lasted 4 hours). I have hosted trivia nights and been the MC at weddings (although i did the latter for love). And most recently, I was one of the Marketing Managers for one of Australia’s most famous icons (the pointy white building on Sydney Harbour).

I’ve spent a bit of time over the past year thinking, what would make me feel like the pastor or the social entrepreneur? What do I want be when I grow up?

Things that kept popping up time and time again: writing, teaching and / or training, having my own consultancy…  I also harbored romantic notions of owning  an old-school pub and spending my days listening to old sea dogs swill stories around inside their schooners.

So, when I decided to take some time out this year to travel – I also decided I would work towards effecting change in this part of my life… To that end, I found myself signing up for a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Certification.

It has been a particularly intense month. I haven’t done any formal study (apart from a few professional development courses) for a decade, so it was a complete shock to the system. I don’t know what planet I was on – but I really did think I was just going to swan on in to our pretty lil Spanish colonial school for a few hours of class, maybe do a bit of homework in the gorgeous garden with its statues and water fountain…  and then breeze through a couple of prac lessons. I mean – there couldn’t be that much to teaching English. Surely.

On day one, our teacher told us to not make plans for the last two weekends before the course ended. And now i know why. We’ve basically squeezed a uni semester’s worth of work into 150 hours. We’ve had 6 hours of practical teaching which has necessitated hours of lesson planning, prior. We’ve had reading almost every night for anywhere between 1-2 hours. So I’ve seen the inside of the classroom, the computer lab, my text books, and my eyelids. And very little of Antigua.

We had to study grammar. And then we had to study how to teach grammar. And then we had to teach grammar.

In the 70s, grammar wasn’t on the Australian curriculum. So it was just as well, from a very early age – I had taken a personal if not rather peculiar interest in the way our language was constructed. I read a dictionary like a normal book. Like from front to back. I was editing the high school newspaper at age 13. I took a 2 day intensive course on grammar at Sydney University. Of my own free will. (nerd.)

A native speaker simply acquires knowledge of grammar through common usage. We don’t need to understand it. I intrinsically understand what goes where and when. I just suck at knowing what it’s called and knowing why we use it. And i wouldn’t be all that bothered, except you do kinda need to know this stuff if you’re going to teach English to others. And you need to be prepared that some of your students will know more about grammar than you do.

I still don’t remember what past perfect progressive is.

Anyway, I was absolutely fine with it all until I had started having The Meltdown, which began on Wednesday night. All the feedback I was hearing (& I should make the distinction between hearing and receiving) was so damn ‘constructive’ – I was wondering if I was in the wrong place. Maybe i wasn’t cut out to be a teacher after all.

My good friend Andrea prompted me to recall how it felt to start any new job. I don’t know about you, but I always end those first few weeks in a new job, thinking maybe I’d rather just work in a record store.

The Meltdown bubbled and boiled for two days. Apparently The Meltdown is not uncommon among TEFLers. One of our classmates dropped out. Another got quite ill. My stress just manifested through my leaky eyeballs.

Then at the end of my last prac lesson on Friday – my students made an announcement (in English) saying they wanted to host a party for me to say thank you. Then they laid out a little spread of home-made Guatemalan food in the garden. And sung me happy birthday. (My birthday’s not until November.) And well, that just sent me right over the edge. There were tears. Of gratitude. And i admit, of relief. But mostly of gratitude. These people have so little and yet were being so generous towards me. I was just lost for words.

For the last few days, I had been of the mindset that I wouldn’t actually pursue any teaching jobs. Because I felt like I sucked at it. And because grammar could go fuck itself.

But then last night we had a wee graduation party at our school. And of course, as fate would have it – a lady who had taken the course with our teacher in Feb and who was now teaching in Costa Rica had come up to Guatemala for her border run. She had walked past the school earlier that day, swung in to say hi and ended up at our party.

We talked, and she told me she had gone through EXACTLY the same thing. She said it was entirely different, once you were out in the field. She said it was far more relaxed than she ever imagined. And all the students wanted was to practice their English and to have a laugh. And then she said this: She didn’t feel like it was really work, she had so much fun everyday.

And I was reminded of the social entrepreneur and the pastor. Maybe God does work in mysterious ways.

Everyday people

I once met a strange man who sold sausage skins for a living. I’ve had dinner with a quietly-spoken Aboriginal Greens activist. I know the enigmatic owners of Australia’s longest-running fetish club. I met a grown woman, who spent her whole time dressed as a fairy. I had a fling with a Gold Medal Olympian. I’ve partied in Prague with a professional clown. I worked with a woman who has survived 4 different types of cancer. One of my mates is a firefighter by day, a director of a film festival by night and a lawyer on the weekends. I knew an ex-Nazi POW. I have shared a 4-day train journey across the Nullabor with a well-known social researcher. I once dated a blind man, who owned a car. I’ve done lines with a biker with tears tattooed on his face. I’m friends with a woman who has singlehandedly raised one of the most impressive teenagers you’ll ever meet. And I once picked up a hitchhiker who was carrying nothing but a box of mice.

All of these people share one thing in common: the most incredible stories.

In Belize just recently, I met a man who’d been jailed for 7 years for a murder he says he didn’t commit. He shared with me his story of what happened on the night he got arrested and some of his time in jail. I bought a book of his poetry. Stuff he wrote, while he was doing time. Letters to his mother. Heart wrenching stuff.

Last night, I invited my neighbor around for a drink. Michael is a fascinating gentleman in his late 60s who, after several career incarnations, is now a journalist and travel writer. He told me about a massacre he reported on… Less than 4 months ago in the Peten province just a few hours from here, 29 people were found beheaded in a field. He told me about the time he drove 700 miles to Montana, only to watch a hillbilly predict where they would find gold by waving his keys over a map. And they did. And then he shared with me a rollicking story about an acid-taking gem merchant who he got mixed up for a bit in India. Needless to say, I’m hoping to get some more Michael time before I leave.

And in my TEFL class, there are these two nothing-short-of-inspirational women.

One has only just turned 18. Shelby is bright-as-a-button and looks like she belongs in the Mickey Mouse Club with her cute lil bangs. She hasn’t shared her story with me just yet, but I suspect she must have one… How else does someone so young end up living and studying in such a foreign country, and volunteering with orphans who have the most atrocious deformities (stuff that would bring a grown man to his knees). And yet here she is, on her own. When I was her age, all I was doing was getting drunk, shagging boys, and skipping school. You just know when you meet Shelby she is going to lead an amazing life. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

The other woman is a sparkly girl in her early 60s, who as a teenager had to give up her firstborn for adoption. Over quiche and lemonade, she told me the most tear-jerking story about how everything came together, so she could her meet and have a healthy relationship with her biological daughter. Jenny also has an adopted Guatemalan daughter, which is how she ended up here two decades ago. At the time, she met a local man whom she immediately connected with. And he proposed to her.  Problem was, she was on the cusp of marrying someone else. Now, after several wrong marriages between them, they are finally getting a second chance. He said to her a few weeks ago, “the next time I ask you to marry me, you’re not allowed to say no.” It’s a romance to rival The Notebook. And it’s by no means her only story. I’m in love with all the beautiful lines on Jenny’s face and i imagine that behind every one, is another incredible story. And I want the privilege of hearing them all.

10 Sept

You can’t always get what you want

The following night, I linked up with Mr Belize. His brother and his sister-in-law, from Cayo, were visiting. They were up for a big night and I had a dive planned in a place called Shark-Ray Alley the next day, so I called it early.

The next morning, I used the coconut wire to tell Mr Belize to meet me at Hurricanes for lunch at 1. And went on to have another great splash about in the big drink. I saw my mate on my way back, and he confirmed Mr Belize would indeed, be meeting me.

I showered and went to the jetty bar for a Michelada and some ceviche. While waiting (Belizeans are even less concerned about time than Mexicans), I got talking to a lovely Polish lady who had been raised in Italy and lived the last few years in Belize. She was an English teacher. I have a feeling I will be in contact with her again.

I was headed to Caye Caulker that afternoon, a tiny island about 30mins away from San Pedro. Mr Belize offered to take me there on one of his mate’s boats. Sahweet! Russell was black as the ace of spades, sported a big gap between his two front tooth and wore his dreadlocks short and neat. He was from the dive shop I’d been out with, that same day, an outfit called DownUnder, which I thought was quite amusing. All the boys wore Australia tee shirts. I’d met them on day 1 and asked them if they were Aboriginals. They knew I was taking the piss immediately.

The boat comes around to collect me from my hotel’s jetty (which sounds a lot fancier than it really is). We go and collect the brother and sister-in-law and a ‘niece’. The boat stops about 1/2 way across, and we all jump out for a snorkel. Mr Belize catches a snapper with a spear, which I must admit, I found a bit sexy in a Mills & Boon kinda way.

We cruised into the lagoon called The Split at Caye Caulker, with a bar built over the point, and reggae was pumping out of a massive sound system. There was a mix of locals and tourists hanging out in the water, drinks in hand. A sweet smell of ganga perfumed the dusk air. We watched the sun set; i got eaten by mosquitoes; and Mr Belize decided he’d stay the night. He ended up staying two. Again I was lucky to jag the top floor of my hotel with sweeping views of the Reef. We scored a little Jamaican goodness and had a lovely couple of days, just lazing about the hotel, chatting, drinking, sleeping…

I feel compelled to let you know, that while this all sounds very romantic – I do feel a bit compromised.

You see, Mr Belize had come across to Caye Caulker, without his wallet. I had invited him to stay the night, knowing that in all likelihood, he wouldn’t be taking me out to dinner. Everybody here is just getting by. I had a great time, and got me a bit of much needed lovin-  but in retrospect, there’s a part of me that feels like a rather silly gringo girl. Okay, so he cost me a total of $50, mas o menos… It’s nothing to write home about, in the grand scheme of things. However, there’s a part if me which feels like I just participated in a transaction of the oldest kind.

They call these guys, ‘sharks’ here. A lot of them don’t have regular work, if indeed they work at all. They cruise the tourist bars, making the lonely, old or ugly feel desirable. In return, they might get dinner, drinks or at the very worse, *just sex*. And they’re good at their jobs.

At the end of the day, I don’t have any fanciful ideas of having an enduring relationship with a boy I met in Belize in a bar. But do I want to pay for a fling? I suppose that even if it’s not cash – there’s always a cost of some sort, isn’t there?

Am starting to sound like Carrie Bradshaw, so will stop now. But I am interested to know what you think. Hit me up with a comment, a judgment, a story or a bit of advice.

Mon 8 August

Three little birds

Belize welcomed me with a big shiny white toothed grin and a proper Caribbean accent, mohn.

I’ve crossed borders where I didn’t have the right paperwork, I’ve crossed borders where no one can speak a word of English, I’ve crossed borders with machine guns pointed at me. Crossing into the Czech Republic from Poland, 13 years ago- it was all three.

I made a deal with myself once, that I would never cross a border at night.
And so of course, crossing the border from Mexico to Belize happened at night.

Anything to declare? A bottle of vodka and an apple. You’re fine to go through, Miss. Welcome to Belize.

Right then.

I spent the first two nights in a place called Corozal. I rocked up to the Sea Breeze Hotel, and was welcomed by Gwyn. The Lonely Planet describes his place “as reminiscent of the kind of cheap and pleasant Key West hotel where Ernest Hemingway might have spent his last years.” The Welsh innkeeper, who used to be a tour manager for The Who and had toured with Queen, instructed me to dump my bags, and come to the bar – we would sort out paperwork in the morning. There were 7 people seated on stools around the bar, where talk was pattering between places, philosophy and the deeply personal.
After a few drinks, a very sweet older American couple drove me around the corner so I could get some Belizean dollars and a feed. We chatted over various meals made from pork, and then they drove me home. I was beat.
I spent the next morning strolling around the sleepy little seaside village with it’s sporadically set out marketplace, a few dinky shops and a couple of quiet restaurants. Not much happening in this here lil place.
I spent the afternoon writing, drinking and sharing easy chat with a well travelled English couple, while avoiding a maybe mad, maybe alcoholic older dude who wanted to talk AT me about union strikes, his family tartan and all manner of things I wasn’t particularly interested in. I had to blank him after he told me to google a religious site.
That night I had dinner with Angelo & Kirsty, and a beautiful interesting older gentle man called Mike, who quietly shared snippets of his life with a self deprecating sense of humor: his divorce, his path from rich to poor, his successful career, his acid taking days, his journey in and out of depression… I could have talked with him forever.
The next morning, Gwyn put on a pot of coffee. He necked a clove of garlic, and then took me to the ferry.

The ride to Caye Ambergris was 2 hours and gentle enough for me to snooze.
I arrived at San Pedro and asked for a room at Ruby’s on the Beach, a very simple wooden guesthouse, not dissimilar to a Queenslander, with sweeping views of the Barrier Reef.
I was immediately transported. A completely different Caribbean from the one I’d just left. More Rastas, reggae and reefers than I’ve ever seen in one place for starters.

My hotel neighbor, Kevin from LA was a highly strung ex alcy who thought too much about everything, offered too much information, asked no questions, and was of the view, he knew all he needed to know about a place after a mere 3 days. He was a high school teacher, who’d completed his Masters in Behavioral Psychology. After doing 2 years of psych at uni, I can categorically tell you empiracle studies have proven that 98.72% of people who undertake studies in psychology are absolute fucking nutbags. I later had an early afternoon dinner with Kevin. He wasn’t altogether uninteresting.

The next morning, I did a couple of dives on the Belizean Barrier Reef, which is home to more than 100 different types of coral and more than 500 different kinds of fish. And the scientists reckon they only know about 10% of what’s out there. Scientists also say that around 40% of the reef is damaged by bleaching, which is caused by rising sea temps. And i saw it with my own eyes.
The exact same thing is happening in Australia. I don’t know about you, and at the risk of sounding like a bourgeois-fucking-hippy, my religion (if i have one at all) is pure immersion into an underwater world, watching the sun explode into a million versions of red, and dancing to a full moon in a faraway forest… I like Nature. She’s pretty. And she makes me feel good. And I want my kids and your kids to see stuff made by Nature. Climate change is real. I should be doing more. We all should.
So it was shallow diving in warm, crystal clear tropical waters – the DM was movin at Belizean pace. Firsts included no wetsuit of any kind, a Spotted Eagle Ray (majestic), a 1:1 dive, and a hooked angle grinder shaped fish, whose name I will remember at 3.33am tomorrow. And then there were the usual suspects of sharks, rays, and ridiculous numbers of brightly colored, “ooh look at me… I’m so pretttteeyyy!!!” tropical fish. Anyways, suffice to say, it was everything you’d want your first dive at one of the world’s most incredible dive sites to be.

We were done by mid morning, so I went and had a second breakfast, and spent the day just mooching about the tiny town. I got my haircut (AUD$10!) and my nails done and treated myself to a new dress and a new pair of pretty panties. Do I miss Westfields Bondi Junction. Fuck no. Do I miss a bit of pampering and a damn good buy. Shit, yes.

Later, as i was having a Belikin at one of the communal wooden tables on the balcony of my hotel… A tall handsome black Belizean man stopped by for a hello. We chatted for a few minutes before I invited him to sit with me. Mr Belize was articulate and spoke in a soft brown velvety voice. At age 32, the youngest boy in a family of 8, he had lived a while in in Los Angeles, and harbored dreams of building a sophisticated camp site on his granddaddy’s land, where he grew up – a place near Crooked Tree. Coincidentally (?) he was a Dive Master at the shop I had dived with, that morning.

He offered to take me around in a boat to a reggae bar by the lagoon, to watch the sunset on the other side of the Caye. The Eat Pray Love chick would say, “some opportunities only come once, right?”. And as much as I loathe saying so, she’d be right.

The bar was perched precariously over the water, thatched roof, simple log stools, music blaring out of a massive sound system. The Belizean flag, a picture of Bob Marley and one of Che Guevara adorned the back wall of the bar where tequila had been replaced by rum. We smoked a spliff with the bartender, and watched alligators bubble up and then bubble back below the water’s surface.

We stayed for the sunset and a second drink and then headed back. Mr Belize wanted to take me to the Chicken Drop. A weekly event on the social calendar, this Belizean form of bingo featuring a chicken who has been primed for pooping, is dropped (kindly) into a pen which has a bunch of numbers of the ground. Tickets are sold for the corresponding numbers, and well – you get the idea.

It was a fun night. I met some of his mates & we shared a few drinks and laughs. I bought a strip of tickets, and a few games later, my number came up! I shared the winnings of BZD$100 with another gringo and the winnings more or less paid for our entire nite. (If I ever run out of things to write about, you can remind me of this potential post, “Why men from tourist towns never seem to have any money, and why women are prepared to pay.”)

We grabbed a burrito in the market square where kids were still up playing. And then he walked me home.

Black men have got THE best lips. That’s all I’m saying.

Fri 5 August