Belize Revisited: GIP Island 1.0
(Ambergris Caye, 2003)

Eight Volumes
about 300+ pp each

All the pictures from the months' long visit. At the present time there are nine island projects. Each is represented with extensive, appropriately designed pdfs, films, and field recordings. Each image has a link to my website and subsequent information. I may still include portions of a larger, perhaps composite text. Right now I'm basing the writing (outside of a few individual handwritten accounts), on what I can remember 15 or so years later. At a distance. The photographed boats (and the distinctive Belizean BBQs made from repurposed metal gas cylinders), are featured on the Island 1.0 frontispiece along with jumping fish drawings and Aztec images. Seeing as how there was little support for the first 1.0 book and of course, nothing from arts institutions, the cost is negotiable for both that and this. But if you can add pertinent/anecdotal info on some of the images in the book, I'll send both in appreciation. Collective temporal publishing...

on amazon, but buy direct:
other items

My other books that concern Belize are: SanPedro House, Belizian Pinholes, PeoplePerch, BZFish: brush drawings with hour long audio field recordings, and of course Global Islands Project: Island 1.0

I was interested in visiting (and possibly relocating to Belize) for more than ten years before I finally summoned the courage and funds to visit for several months in 2003. I hadn't traveled much at that point and the process is still stressful. Border goons and lawless airport zones. In Belize, real estate development had certainly begun but was nothing like the ludicrous prices demanded today. Many much less affluent locals lived in basic, slightly elevated "fishing shacks," some around the informal city dump -- today, after a little more landfill, there are million dollar unstable, foreign vacation homes, also highly prone to flooding and hurricanes... I paid for a budget room in big but usually empty hostel-like structure up on stilts: I had to wade through water in the night when I first arrived. I paid maybe $500 up front for the three months. The squat loudmouth British owner was also selling his internet cafe business but I was too late. Somewhere (my blog probably), I have a copy of his fairly recent ad offering to sell the hostel, for I think $1.5 million! Even with all the water! His smaller house was adjacent to the hostel. A Mexican-Belizean very young couple and their impossibly cute daughter, lived below and eventually also in the first/front room in the hostel as you came up the external wooden stairs. You could nearly walk around underneath -- locals had beaten a path through but the young caretaker tried to discourage them. It was apparently not even safe to lock a bicycle up below as the lock would be cut.

As I attempted to do on most islands, I bought a bicycle in order to get around but I usually did a daily circumnavigation on foot as well, when possible. This beach bike was all chrome! Just a glare in passing. I still had to apply WD40 especially to the rims to ward off salty ocean rust. I usually kept it locked in a vacant room even though that meant lugging it up and the down the long staircase. It was usually just a straight shot down to a long semi-public pier for sunbathing (under the Texaco star) after breakfast. It was easy to sell when it was time to fly back home to Oregon. I think it sold for $150BZ: half what I paid for it. Seemed fair. Upon looking through these pictures, I see that my bike here was green in color so the all-chrome one must have been in Nicaragua. Sometimes a Hawaiian? lady came down to my pier for morning calesthetics: she once said, 'the water is very alive today.' And so it was. The wind could lift up small briefly flung peaks in the vast flat expanse of water within the reef.
The couple (I'll remember their names eventually: this is 14 years ago... Jacob,...), maybe because they felt responsible in some way for me, an early customer - the business was getting started - 'special' long term guest, but they perhaps also exaggerated the danger of Belize City: the girl said she had a necklace snatched off her neck there and would never again go back to this main port, closest to many Islands via boat. It was a long, tiring, bumpy, wet ride in a monster dual outboard launch ("Thunderbolt"). You had to duck beneath an overhead bridge while slowly motoring into the City and I remember my legs being quite stiff upon disembarking at the dock. Open sewage channels and spiced, cool fruit chunks awaited. I usually went back the same day to avoid additional lodging cost. I can't remember there being much fruit or vegetables on the island. The soil was likely too sandy, (apart from a few pockets of fertility from Mayan times). The sand was good for just passable concrete. It had to be sifted and washed but you'd still see buildings and ballistrades failing apart due to rusted structural wire within. ) I bought my breakfast, which I'm pretty sure didn't include fruit (as the proffered beverage was cold horcata), from an older couple in Town on a corner lot (from India? he'd reply to most conversation with a non-committed "acha".) Once I asked for duck eggs sometime as there were so many birds roaming around the grounds. They thought this a novel idea but one happy day scrambled duck eggs were served. Their business was an informal plastic table and a few plastic chairs, a sun umbrella and coolers, paper plates: the wife did the cooking inside their house. It was rare to find someone who did not speak the other official language of Belize: English... but the thickest patois was at times impossible. Latino, Creole, Maya, Garifuna and Mennonite frequent the mainland. Many Garifuna are coastal fishermen. The first Global Islands Book 1.0 is largely based on this Kriol language thereabouts. Belize is also one of the very few nations still using Imperial measure. The other usual, when I could afford it, island beverage was Belikin Beer. Staggering amounts, mostly in bottles (clank, clank, clank), were delivered on big infrequent commercial barges from the city. All the many bars. (This same barge was what the national army came over on during the 'riot').
Somehow I missed the island's first riot. Apparently a local fisherman was apprehended by the corrupt police and was drowned (what we now know as waterboarding) during their interrogation. It was likely drug-related. Bales of ditched cocaine from offshore drug runners would sometimes wash ashore and were known as "white lobsters" as they'd represent a substantial cash buyback from the drug lords. Once the townsfolk heard what had transpired, they surrounded the police station and pelted it with stones: the cops inside were terrified and called for troops from the mainland which seemed to end the matter.
It was at this point in this story which was being posted to the ambergriscaye commercial/tourism website along with 8 pictures each time, that the moronic web gatekeeper blocked my posts. This is hardly the time/place to censor opinion/information in order to mollify dubious advertisers. I'll post one 100mb book at a time here and look for another venue to relaunch the story/posts.
I grew to really like the Belikin Stout: very dark black brew with high 6.6%? alcohol: almost every purchase from a 'white Belizean' shopowner would be interrogated as only the local riff-raff drank it. There were/are annual free nationalistic Belikin swimsuit calendars featuring mostly modest Belizean girls from various identified regions. The hostel caretaker and I split the cost of a flat of beer (24?) in order to get the free calendars. Their space under the owner's house and the owner's house had a refrigerator. The reef around Ambergris Caye goes out a long way and very long docks sometimes with cabanas at the end were common. Most days I could find a good spot to spend the day over the water and in the sun, watching the ocean and passing activity. Many colourful bait fish. And literally a bus-driver on his holiday: who would swim between the piers and then struggle to get the water out of his ears. He stayed in a local room for $100/mo I think. Another frequent visitor paid something like $30/mo. He just brought a hammock and alarm clock; put his money in the bank's safety deposit vault. He always greeted me with upbeat phrases like "life is good" rather than "hello." There were certainly some expensive, often gated/guarded lodges: one with a daily crocodile feeding. They love raw chicken and fly out of the bush come feeding time. A Lonely Planet guidebook writer stayed at my digs and others but didn't seem impressed. I was of course concerned that my room could easily be robbed as the walls between the rooms/hall did not reach the ceiling and were not very high. Consequently I had to convince the owner to install a secure place to keep at least some of my things, so we eventually built a long lockable cupboard under the beds. Not sure they progressed past two rooms. One guest claimed he'd been robbed of money from his room and the police were there one day taking his story. The caretaker thought he'd made it up, and that he'd really been robbed when stoned/drunk in a bar across the way. The caretaker family and I went fishing off a channel one night. I remember him hooking a stingray and cutting the line. And pretending that her daughter may have not broken my Mag flashlight: easy to turn the lens hood too far and have contents spill out. And once we illegally climbed over a fence and across the airport runway (yes, I could hear every landing/takeoff quite distinctly.) to a local 'shop' to buy eggs and other groceries. I was mystified at the high prices compared with the markets just in town. Apparently they offered credit when others didn't. I bought them and a new girl who came by to help sometimes, two famous but small Belizean Black Christmas cakes. Oddly this didn't go over all that well. Perhaps they then felt obligated to return the favour/gift in some nearly impossible manner. They later bought and shared (a horrible) commercial Pizza from town and told me this was in exchange for the cakes. This is something I've seen on other islands: if you do something for someone, they'll reciprocate at the very first opportunity. That practise and cross-eyed children and at least one albino, most every island. Airfare to Belize from Miami could be as low as $99rt at the time. Consequently I imagine, there were quite a few young American tourists that just decided to stay even when their money ran out. I'd see some on the piers fishing successfully with no more than line and an open safety-pin. I imagine many indigenous poor people were also eventually forced out by all the consequential development. Not sure how the land was allotted: some at least was familial/heritage property. I remember my favourite chicken, beans&rice seller at the food stalls downtown, telling me that locals were offered free stalls to benefit from the tourist dollars but they just sold them to outsiders. I made a chart ranking my opinions of various offerings. Shirley, a rather large Creole lady, was one of the better foodstall cooks who loved to laugh. One day I asked her if she had especially good hearing as her old b&w tv had a picture but no sound: oh she thought that was funny... Oddly enough I discovered that I had unknowingly stayed with her sister on the coast one night during occasional bus trips on shore. I remember that it was quite loud in the house. My rented room was upstairs in their home. Carribean houses then were often just planks on a frame really, so it was easily noisy. I got stranded in this fishing village and had to await a single bus back the next day. During the day, I explored the Hopkins village and shore and added to my collection of handmade beached boat photos. Some were actually dugouts; eventually they would fall apart on the beach. Lobster fishing was probably profitable. (And then there's the "white lobster.") So the husband also had to be up by the "third cock" (third round of early morning rooster calls) -- as did I, to catch the bus. I remember showing Shirley some of my photos and she seemed genuinely impressed: this is what led to our conversation about Hopkins and her sister.
At the present time there are nine island projects. Each is represented with extensive, appropriately designed pdfs. Each image has a link to my website and subsequent information. I may still include portions of a larger, perhaps composite text. Instead I'm basing the writing (outside of a few individual handwritten accounts), on what I can remember 15 or so years later. At a distance. The photographed boats (and the distinctive Belizean BBQs made from repurposed metal cylinders), are featured on the Island 1.0 frontispiece along with a jumping fish and Aztec images. There was an expat that you could find along the central shore who sold a thin paperback about "Ambergris Caye" (which essentially means whale secretion: perfume source). I have it somewhere: featured his dog. Mandatory Souvenir. Seeing as how there was little support for the first 1.0 book, the cost is negotiable for both that and this: still a very good deal. But if you can add pertinent/anecdotal info on let's say 50 of the images in the book, I'll send both to you in appreciation. Collective publishing.
Shirley's place was one of many kitchen-businesses just off the main street just a little before the main dock/ramp. I see online that the "food stalls" are still a big draw for visitors, although likely more expensive, predictable and hygienic now. There weren't that many customers when I was there. Sometimes not all the stalls would be open and they were all only open late afternoon on. Shirley had my vote for the best beans and rice, sometimes with chicken. Often a bottled soft-drink: I started documenting all the various island beverage bottles: I should track them all down. Can't remember what I usually had: probably Pepsi: I would have preferred a Diet Coke but Pepsi had major marketshare on the island, and the Diet concept was foreign. The big soft-drink and beer trucks would clank along behind the stools in front of the stalls on their way to/from the dock. I met an interesting Creole frequent visitor at Shirley's who turned out to be from Lake Oswego, Oregon (a very upscale enclave not too far from where I live now). He offered to rent me his sailboat, moored in the back bay as accommodation when he wasn't here. There was a little boat of some sort to get back and forth. Curiously he was frequently scrambling to pay for his meals. He didn't seem to be especially well-liked locally and at some point he was apparently slipped some drug (LSD?) which accounted for a long absence at the foodstalls. He was quite shaken by the betrayal. I don't think he was a religious zealot. You can't just assume all will be the same when you return... I still feel a little badly about not saying farewell to Shirley when it was time to leave: maybe I didn't want to hear something insincere as I really couldn't entirely tell where I stood. I proudly caught a nice (I thought) fish one day from the pier and brought it to Shirley to see if she would cook it (no facilities at the hostel), but apparently it wasn't a fish that locals ever ate.
There was a partially completed painted sign in town of a leaping sportfish that I often copied in a sketchbook and recently made into an ebook along with an early mp3 field-recording compilation. Eventually the owner covered it up likely because he frequently saw me standing there pen-in-hand. I enticed some local children to try their hand at drawing the fish. The image seemed like it might be easy to draw but was actually difficult to catch the liveliness of the caught fish in mid-air.
The hostel owner basically browbeat a teller at Belize Bank into giving me an account and debit-card -- he did this on the basis of his business and a super-deluxe (gold, platinum, ether...) Amercian Express Card. I could have kept the account in what was a tax-haven I guess, but it required a minimum annual deposit(?), so I never kept it up. I remember being upset that their banking machine 'ate' my card one night, but the security guard helped with this... The later US banking laws for expatriot-banks apparently continue to reek havoc on the afflicted.
I was on a very tight budget as usual so was happy to be included on an existing last-minute small fishing charter at a big discount thanks to the hostel owner who said it was his gift to me... considering that I would have been interested in his internet cafe. AC is a big dive site: Blue Hole, Tres Cocos, Hol Chan Marine Reserve... I watched some beginning divers training while sunbathing: seemed too claustrophobic for me, although I can snorkel with good gear -- and it's clearly a very expensive sport. Anyway, I went out on the water with an American tourist couple, three crew (one of whom was a stellar deaf lobster catcher... you'd look over your shoulder and he be gone: slipped silently into the water); first we caught some bait using those cool throw nets and then at the appropriate spot we almost continuously hauled in fish as fast as the crew could reload our hooks. We then petted some nurse sharks who were accustomed to being fed. We beached at a small public cabana (that I'd seen before on my bicycle trips) and cooked up mounds of fish and lobster tails (I think I had several, which paid for my charter share right there!) I've come to not really like lobster: it tastes mealy to me and needs a lot of butter... I brought a bag of these red? fish home for the hostel caretakers. The open water can be dangerous. I heard many near-death diving tales including one from the owner. I also remember seeing massive/ugly scars on the midsection of a man (who looked after a chichi resort and rudely shooed me off their supposedly private pier) from what must have been a shark bite! How he managed to survive would have been interesting to hear. You could even see where the shark teeth dug in. I suppose he'd tire of telling the tale. I'm trying not to mention all the subsequent islands stories too much considering that there are many fascinating congruencies which cover alot of ground.
At one point I came across an art enclave (which requested a donation), whose unseen proprietor collected beach flotsam, notably many single flipflops and driftwood which he assembled and painted as fancible creatures. Much of the property construction and house were built from reclaimed, previously painted lumber. Judging from the chronology of my photos, I must have returned again and took more pictures including some of the owner. I imagine I was disappointed to see a red-haired expat, but I still admire his enclave and traditional stilt house. He also built a ramshackle viewing tower; there were other, sturdier examples to be found on the island. I suppose there is a proclivity to want to see farther out over this fairly flat reef or to see oncoming hurricanes. Stargazing was also popular. The Southern Cross constellation can be seen. The date when it's perpendicular to the horizon is a Christian-Spanish celebration. This may be San Telmo Living Arts. He's certainly a showman, and presumably held music/religious events under his elevated house. Having this open but sheltered space beneath is often a handy feature: sometimes livestock are tended there. I wonder if he was Argentine.
Not sure I'll do this island revisited approach on any but this first 1.0 Belize book. It was maybe the only instance where I made little initial use of my photographs; I didn't like the mild distortion that the Fuji rangefinder digital camera produced: it doesn't seem all that objectionable to me now, although the economical low resolution setting delivered some contrasty/grainy images especially under the bright Caribbean sun -- nearly all required some digital manipulation. Now they seem (parenthetically) intimate and intuitive. I can't clearly remember the colour of the light and water, but looking across hundreds of images you can intuit what it likely was like. I took many shots of the water, sky, reef, passing boats and weather from my lounge chair beneath the Texaco star. I also opened-up the shadow end given the smaller pdf-publication size. The interior lens-smudge (fungus from the moist climate? upper rh corner) is still distracting but I've delivered a whimsical meterological solution: the hateful world ends with me. In cafes with a good view of a busy thoroughfare I also employed a wait-and-let-the-subjects-come-to-you method -- a hunting blind. I remember using the "double tap" photoshooting method -- at least that's what I call it -- so you'll see pairs of similar images from the same vantage point. The sequence of congested fishing sloops in the harbour, found in Island 1.0 was taken from a launch leaving Belize City by positioning the camera on the gunwale and randomly shooting as fast as the camera would recycle (full frame versions are found here: note the dugout/formed canoes as dingys on deck) The Fuji Finepix? camera that I used was one of the first decent pocket models and used SmartCards (up to 64mb) and also rapidly depleted rechargeable batteries: I can remember almost pleading with some subjects to wait while I changed batteries. I don't think I ever had any problems while taking pictures, although I do sort of recall some sleazy character down by the Pedro main street, where locals sold their carvings to tourists into the evening once the shops had closed, saying "... that camera's going to get you in trouble." Maybe the town was more tightly policed than a visitor would notice. I vaguely remember feeling badly about being too aggressive with the pictures during the San Pedro Parade: I can see it now looking at some of the photos. It wasn't easy for me to photograph people, and I probably over-compensated that day but the division between tourists and locals is well illustrated. What you might expect when a fishing village begins to prosper from tourism. After some deliberation I'm sure, I started photographing local signage. Signs are a little too literal but the handpainted variety have another dimension. The N.American formed metal sort are also featured as another ebook. Also included as occasional insets are (particular and frequent) turquoise-blue and yellow-ochre painted cast concrete decorative blocks. These colors were popular and seemed to reference the water and land. Yellow (mercury vapour), green (florescent) and blue (television) Illumination will also be noted.

Looking at some of the forgotten pictures I think this was a road not taken with something like trepidation. But it would have been better if I had arrived ten years sooner on first impulse and grew to know the recent communities and informal economies before it all became too tourist oriented, hierarchical and too dependent on the mainland. I'm not too fond of hurricanes/cyclones either. There are some spectacular photos here of storm-damaged houses at the south? end of the island. Some local houses are raised 15 ft or so up on stilts: they know what to expect. Shallow-rooted palm trees are the first to be affected by a hurricane so if you don't see any old ones that's a good sign of recent activity. Hurricane Earl struck in 2016; Mitch, Keith and Iris hit prior to my visit in 2003. The extensive barrier reef and remaining mangroves offer some protection. One might also tire of all the muddy streets and puddles. Another issue, of which I was blissfully unaware at the time, is malaria and dengue viruses, although sitting way out over the water would have avoided mosquitos. One time a leg went numb but was remedied with dehydration salts -- I've carried them with me to other islands ever since. New syringes along with a medical letter are another prudent travel item in developing nations. The beaches on Ambergris Caye were in need of constant daily grooming to hide the influx of seaweed (sargasso.) Some businesses extended the tended sand indoors. The sea continues to reclaim the land. The San Pedro River bisects the island ("the cut") so there was a small hand-pulled barge/ferry (trailing a return-rope), that connected San Pedro Town with other parts of the caye -- apparently now replaced with a toll-bridge. Greed travels faster than community?

I still enjoy/envy the informal architecture on the Caye. I imagine there aren't too many regulations but seeing the rebar sticking up from the roof so as to avoid taxes on a 'completed' building, there must be some requirements. Many of the little 'fishing shacks' seem like squatter settlements but land tenure and communal rights must figure in this somehow. Many seem quite impromptu so you wonder if these are efforts by desperate mainlanders to find alternatives: certainly the island-people seemed much happier than those in Belize City. Of course, the Maya have very long standing claims. I'd forgotten how many thousands of photos I took: I must have photographed the entire island!

Christmas-season Holidays include Garifuna Jankunu Dance, Christmas Bram, Maya Deer Dance, Las Posadas, Not sure what I witnessed but it seemed to involve a Garifuna horned creature that terrorized children and visited local homes.

Caye Caulker is another popular destination. There are shorter photo sequences of that and other locales. Caye Caulker seemed tidier and more tourist oriented. Presumably it will be obvious when I'm in Belize City or the Zoo or up the coast, but the majority of images are from Ambergris Caye. Staying in a Belize City guest house, maybe on the river, would have been interesting but too adventurous/risky for my first island trip. Seems to me, I got as far North and South as Chetumal City, Hopkins, San Ignacio, Dangriga, and Quintana Roo, bordertown with Mexico. No more borders for me thank-you, even though it was reported to be a popular discount shopping destination and is favoured by expats. But hopefully this mealy tale is of some help to some.

Other books that concern Belize are: SanPedro House, Belizian Pinholes, PeoplePerch, BZFish: brush drawings with hour long audio field recordings, and of course Global Islands Project: Island 1.0
on amazon, but buy direct:
other items

Global Islands Project: Island 1.0
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