Opinion: Belize is a nice place to take a winter vacation

Ginny and I just got back from Belize. It was our first vacation in years and our first vacation without our family in what seems like forever.

We went with two other well-known Northside couples, Brooks and Sherry Mosley and Jeff and Tracy Weill, all of whom we know from our long-time membership in Covenant Presbyterian Church.

We had a blast, got along fantastically and probably had a little too much fun for couples our age.

The trip was the brainstorm of Jeff Weill, former Hinds County circuit judge who now specializes in election disputes. He read an article about Bird Island and made it happen.

We planned this seven months ago and we all thought Covid would be long gone by now. Boy were we wrong. It was pins and needles waiting to see if some Covid surprise would wreck our trip.

Bird Island is about as small as an island gets, a spit of land, six miles offshore, with three or four trees in the middle of it. It’s far smaller than a house lot. A retired military man was able to acquire the land rights from the Belizean government and built a rambling structure with four bedrooms and lots of decks. It’s like being on a boat without the rocking motion. It was quite affordable and a lot less than a house at Seaside or Rosemary.

Surrounding the house, about 20 yards out in all directions, is a beautiful coral reef, part of the Belize Barrier Reef System, the second largest barrier reef in the world after the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland, Australia.

Belize is the only English speaking Central American country, having been a former British colony that gained its independence in 1981. It’s also the least densely populated country in Central America.

The people were very friendly, and understandably so. Tourism generates about 40 percent of its economic activity. Covid has wreaked havoc and any and all tourists are a Godsend.

Before we could enter Belize, we had to get a Covid test — four days before for a PCR test, two days for a rapid antigen test. Given the number of false positives and asymptomatic Covid cases, we were very nervous that one of us would test positive and spoil the trip. Each negative result was quickly celebrated with a group text.

Our 7 am United connecting flight to Houston got off to a rough start. The pilot announced that the FAA had upped the average weight of an American passenger and seven people had to get off our 30-passenger commuter jet. You would think they could have figured that out a little more in advance.

There were only two volunteers for the $1,000 reward for getting off the plane. As a result, most of the domestic luggage was rerouted to a later flight. As international passengers, we were spared. Then after all that delay, they realized the plane needed deicing. More delay, made worse by the cheery stewardess who kept announcing that the plane was still ahead of schedule because she thought Houston was in an earlier time zone than Jackson.

When we landed, we had something like 30 minutes to make our connection. Tracy nominated me to be the one to run ahead and try to keep the gate open.

We all know Murphy’s Law number 213, section h: The distance between airport gates is inversely proportional to the time you have to catch the flight. I ran the maximum distance to catch the terminal shuttle. Then ran the maximum distance from the shuttle to the gate. Exhausted, wheezing and sweating, I begged the flight attendant to wait and she did.

We landed in Belize City and caught a Cessna Caravan 12-passenger plane to Placencia, a beautiful, quaint beach town of about 7,000. This town had a large sidewalk that paralleled the beach with cute shops and restaurants on either side. The Belizean beaches can’t compare to the Florida panhandle but they were plenty pretty.

The next morning our guide took us to the local shops to buy all the groceries for our four-night stay. Everything was local and quaint and seemed like something out of a bygone era. We had fun figuring out what to eat and drink.

Our 30-minutes boat ride to Bird Island got a good tropical rain soaking but we made it fine. The guide explained how to operate the backup generator should a cloudy day undermine the required voltage levels from solar panels and windmill.

Bird Island was certainly not a resort and there was very much a rustic adventurous nature to our stay. Even so, most everything worked and the previous tenants left us a ton of fresh mackerel which Ginny cooked to perfection.

The first day brought very unusual 25-knot winds. We were grateful we all brought windbreakers and joked about our trip to Maine. Jeff and I tried to snorkel, which was a physical challenge with much coughing, gasping and trying not to get hurled against sharp coral by breaking waves.

Fortunately, the wind died down, the sun came up and we had three glorious days. We ate and drank and danced and talked and never once ran out of things to discuss. It was a wonderful bonding experience. Good thing I brought my boombox and first aid kit.

The final leg of our trip was the town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye in north Belize where we visited Northsider Mary Helen Ford, daughter of Brad and Sheldon Ford. Mary Helen bought the top-rated breakfast venue, Mesa, on the island of 18,000. It was awesome having a local show us around.

There were hardly any cars in San Pedro. Gas-powered golf carts were the main mode of transportation, supplemented with bikes and motorbikes. Cars were rare and couldn’t move very fast being blocked by the endless golf carts.

There was one main two-lane road that went the length of the 25-mile long island (four miles wide at maximum.) Most people lived within a two-mile stretch alongside the developed beach area. Taking the 15-minute golf cart ride from our resort to the restaurants in the heart of town was part of the fun.

The main drag had plenty of natural speed bumps caused by potholes and drainage culverts. Added to that were government speed bumps, so traffic was never more than about ten or 15 miles per hour.

On San Pedro, we stayed at a Hilton resort called Mahogany Bay, quite a step up and more expensive than Bird Island, but not as exciting. San Pedro is booming with construction everywhere. If I was a real estate investor, I would seriously look at this place.

In general, Belize is a great place for Northsiders to escape the winter cold. It’s directly south, a 2.5 hour flight from Houston. Highs were in the low eighties and at night it was cool, but not quite cool enough to require a jacket. Unlike the Bahamas in winter, the water in Belize was a pleasant temperature and you could stay in as long as you wanted. There was an immediate gasp of cold, but after that it felt just fine.

The Covid restrictions were way tougher in Belize than Mississippi. You had to wear a mask outside or face a $250 fine. We actually met someone who got fined, but in general the Belizeans don’t want to scare away the Americans, who they consider walking, talking ATMs.

To leave, we all had to pass yet another Covid test. A positive result meant a 10-day quarantine. That’s scary, but we all passed.

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