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  • Melissa Westemeier

reluctant review

I hate to post this, my heart is torn. You see, we went to Belize this summer and it was marvelous. Warm, friendly people who express so much pride in their country and culture. Delicious food, gorgeous scenery, fascinating history. And it's not commercialized and franchised and wrecked by too many tourists. Yet. There's no Hard Rock San Pedro, McDonald's or KFC in sight. Here's an example of the simplicity of Belize, the entire country has one brewery and their beer is everywhere: Belikin. You can buy a bottle of regular, light or stout. That's it. Belize is pure, authentic and not westernized to the nth degree. This destination is great--they deserve my endorsement, I want people to enjoy experiencing this country as I did. But on the other hand, if you all go there, you'll insist on making it JUST LIKE EVERYWHERE ELSE with conveniences and brands and end up making it the SAME AS ALL OF THE OTHER PLACES that have become interchangeable. How does one know whether they've landed in Cancun or Jamaica or Cozumel? They don't because all of these places look the same: Hilton and Hyatt and stupid mega-sized souvenir cups for drinking eighteen shots of fruit-flavored alcohol available on every corner.

So please, whatever you do, read my post and know Belize is fabulous, but don't rush to get there.

Let's begin with ease of travel, five hour flight, everyone speaks English and Spanish, the currency is a 2 to 1 exchange rate so you can spend Belizean or American money without going through hoops or paying fees. The country is pristine, the waters off the coast so clear you can see the bottom while you fly overhead to your resort on Ambergris Caye.

You might feel initially inconvenienced by the lack of all-inclusive lodging, but a closer look at that model of vacationing will convince you of the absolute violation of human rights incurred by exploiting people's labor for crap pay, so you'll appreciate that people in Belize, while generally quite poor, have better opportunities compared to people in neighboring countries who offer all-inclusive resorts for a cheaper rate. The accommodations in Belize are clean and range from adequate to luxurious, depending on what you care to spend. Plus, everyone knows that when you leave a resort for meals or entertainment, you stand a better chance of getting the local flavor. Each member of my family tried new things--from fried plantains to red snapper to soursop. (I became addicted to soursop juice and have not been able to find it here in America.)

I spent the week there blissfully hot (not uncomfortably, ocean breezes were lovely) and barefoot because Belize is a laid back place where you'll eat all of your meals outdoors on the beach and notice that your waiter is barefoot, too. The tourist crowd tends to be older or families, so the beach isn't overrun like some sort of MTV Spring Break event with obnoxious music and debauchery.  It's easy to find a peaceful spot by a palm tree and feel your soul soothed by the sound of surf and the salty air. (If given the choice, I'd spend my life by the water.)

Belize offers adventures. We snorkeled and saw an incredible range of sea life by the barrier reef. Stingrays, nurse sharks, coral, moray eels, tuna, grouper, sea anemone, starfish--we swam with all of these things. The boys found conch shells and we even discovered a baby octopus washed into our kayak (we replaced her into the ocean after admiring her for a moment). We hiked in the rain forest, astonished by the racket howler monkeys make while establishing their territory. We explored Mayan ruins a mile from the Guatemalan border. We learned about all sorts of flora and fauna, dazzled by the myriad of ways the rain forest provides for us. We zip-lined over the canopy and rode in rubber tubes down a rock-bottom river as clear as glass. We floated through caves filled with Mayan artifacts, stalactites and mystery. Team Testosterone went deep sea fishing, far past the edge of the reef, and caught barracuda and grouper and even a shark. (The fish tasted wonderful, we brought it to a restaurant down the beach and enjoyed it family-style, prepared in a variety of ways by a creative local chef.)

Belize exceeded my expectations for relaxation and recreation. I loved it. You would, too. But please, stay away, so it remains lovely when I return.

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