This is a series of posts about Belize and Guatemala that starts here.
The cave canoeing was great. We have a lot of caves in St. Paul carved by nature and teenagers out of the limestone cliffs that line the banks of the Mississippi. Some are large enough that they were used by mobsters as speakeasies during Prohibition. But limestone is soft, so there are no stalactites or mites or clumps of diamond-like crystals or splotches of yellow and pink mineral deposits that create 40-foot high abstract impressionist-like paintings on the walls, like there were in Belize.
We glided through the darkness as Jose and Alex pointed these things out with their headlamps as though they knew by feel exactly where they were. Jose had a degree in Geology and, during the school year, taught the subject at the high-school level, so he was a great guide.
It was very peaceful, unless you were afraid of bats, the dark, drowning, or enclosed spaces.
Jose and Alex talked to one another from time to time in Spanish. When canoes passed going in the other direction, Jose would talk to their guides in the local Belizean Kriol (their spelling). Then he would effortlessly switch to English to point out some formation to us. I have always envied this facility with multiple languages. I asked him which languages Belizeans learn, and when.
“English is the official language, so we learn it in school. But we learn Kriol from the cradle, the closer you get to the Guatemalan border, the more people you will find who also speak Spanish.”
Back on dry land, Mike’s wife whipped up a big meal for us, served with the ubiquitous Belizean beer, Belikin. “You want dessert?” she asked. Everyone nodded; we hadn’t had dessert the night before.
“What do you think it will be?” someone asked.
“It’ll be flan,” I pronounced confidently. At that moment Mike’s wife and her helper returned with a dozen servings of flan. Everyone stared at me.
“I’ve been to Costa Rica and El Salvador, Mexico, Cuba … flan is the standard dessert. And it’s delicious.” Most of them had never heard of it.
“Does it contain dairy?” “Is there gluten in it?” began the questions to Mike’s wife. Some of us without sensitivities happily ate their servings.
The guy who had read every road sign out loud the day before said, “You sure enjoyed being right about that, didn’t you?”
I’m pretty sure he was irritated not because I had known dessert would be flan, but because I had been so confident. If I had been a man making such a confident statement, maybe it wouldn’t have been received negatively. I don’t know.
All I can do is look at my own behavior; I can’t change someone else. I’m afraid I can sound like a know-it-all. I didn’t want to be like the guy from Jersey I’d met in Amalfi who spewed out a constant stream of facts. I decided to reign myself in a bit. After all, what difference did it make if they knew flan was coming ahead of time or were surprised by it?
We drove to the border and began the laborious ritual that goes with land border crossings. There, I did it again! I wrote that like I’m an expert.
I’ve only ever done two land border crossings: Crossing from Minnesota into Canada is still pretty easy; you wave your passport at the border agent as you roll past in your car.
The second was the opposite, when I crossed from Jordan into the Occupied Palestinian Territories/Israel over the Allenby Bridge. This was complicated by me being with a Palestinian colleague who had an extensive arrest record.
As far as I knew, none of us had records that would land us in a Guatemalan prison. The agents weren’t rude or suspicious, just very, very slow. Mark had researched the process as much as he could without actually going through it. He handed over an envelope full of US 20s, then we stood in lines for an hour to have our passports manhandled and stamped. That was the exit from Belize, next we had to get into Guatemala.