An unexpected and intense humidity slammed against my face at the top of the airstairs. Coming from the icebox of a 737 galley, I liken it to that gush of heat you get when you bend down to check something in the oven, the kind that nearly singes your eyebrows and fogs up your glasses. Only this was constant. And it wasn’t long before I felt the power of the sun pounding away at my dark brown hair, my black Russ & Daughters T-shirt, and my khaki pants. Whose idea was it to wear pants to Belize anyways? With that weather, naked would have been covered up and I was practically wearing layers! I rushed inside, fingers crossed there was air conditioning, and thank god there was or I would have melted….I swear!
After grabbing our bags at the single baggage claim conveyor belt, we stepped outside with caution. Heat I can tolerate, for a little bit anyways, but humidity, that’s the pits—literally! Like New York in July, this felt like being trapped by the air in someone’s crotch after they’ve run a marathon in Spandex or polyester—whatever fabrics don’t breathe well. So under the overhang is where I stood while the group figured out what the next steps were.
A local man carrying a small dry erase board with our names on it stood smiling off in the distance. And wouldn’t you guess, he was our ride.
“Hi my name is Cedric,” he said. “I’ll take you to the dock where the boat will be leaving from.”
“Do you have air conditioning in your car?” I asked, holding my bags hostage until he confirmed and the answer was “yes.”
“Of course, of course,” he said, and all was right again.
From there Cedric drove us through Belize City, which to be honest, leaves a lot to the imagination. Most of the homes look run down and abandoned. The roads are full of potholes and some of the locals walking the streets are barefoot. Dogs with their giant testicles sway back and forth, and any structure that looks somewhat “nice” is behind a gate. What did I get myself into, I thought. Memories of getting lost in Tijuana came rushing back. But everything was colorful, with homes painted pink, yellow, purple, and Tiffany blue. All the colors you see at the hardware store and think “who the hell would paint the exterior of their house this shade of orange?” It felt tropical in a way, weathered, but tropical. And so instead of thinking it was like Tijuana, I figured it was more like the New Orleans 9th Ward—the part that has yet to recover from Katrina.
Cedric explained that Belize was a melting pot of races.
“The grocery stores and hotels are owned by Chinese,” he said. “The Indians and Germans own the car dealerships and tire shops.” And once you see the roads, you realize rubber is a very lucrative business in Belize.
“There are a lot of poor people in Belize and a few rich,” he said, and we all looked at each other, feeling a little guilty to be the white American tourists on a somewhat lavish vacation, “which isn’t anything new!”
Moving on to a cheerier subject, I asked him what food we should be on the lookout for while in Belize. He told us about johnny cakes, which are a cross between a biscuit and a bread roll. He said Hudut is one of his favorite things to eat, which is a Garifuna style dish of fish soup. The Garifuna are the local descendants of the West Africans that came to the Americas during the slave trade via the Caribbean. He said there will be lots of rice and beans, and stewed chicken too.
All this talk of food and I was getting hungry. Fortunately, Cedric dropped us at the dock where we’d catch our ferry to our first destination. But we were early. And there were some other guests joining our ferry trip who were about a half hour away.
So to kill time, and our hunger pains, we skipped across the street to the Radisson, where they have a poolside bar and restaurant called the Stonegrill.
Belize City Radisson’s Stonegrill Bar & Restaurant
It didn’t take long, really just a few random conversations with strangers until we realized that the Radisson in Belize City is actually the nicest hotel in town. You see, Belize City is no longer the capital of Belize. It used to be, but the wild storms and hurricanes coming off the Caribbean caused the government to move the capital to Belmopan, a city just about an hour inland from the airport, and slightly more protected from the coast. So Belize City is really the place where everyone flies into, and then they embark on their vacations via boat to an island off the coast, or they rent a car or take a puddle jumper flight to the inland jungles, or the coastal areas of southern Belize. So the Radisson is really a means to an end. Which for us, was a place to get something to eat and an ice cold beer.
Stonegrill gets it’s namesake for the volcanic stones they serve some of their dishes on. The plates come with a large black square of a piping hot brick, and whatever protein and vegetables you order are placed on top raw, and cook within minutes right in front of you. Sort of cool, but in the Belizian heat, I’m not sure who thought that was a good idea.
I started with a Belikin. This is the national beer of Belize, and it’s great. Similar to a Negro Modelo and slightly heavier than a Presidente.
We ordered a plate of nachos….which for nachos weren’t all that great, but since we were hungry they totally hit the spot. And to be fair, I ate all of it so they were better than they looked.
We got a ceviche appetizer, which you can pretty much find on any menu in Belize. It was some combination of conch (it’s everywhere in Belize), shrimp, and fish. Note the different colors of this ceviche than most Peruvian or Panamanian ceviches…..that’s cause Belizians often put sweet carrots in their ceviche which makes them a little sweeter and less tangy.
And we ordered the Cajun chicken fingers because I really wanted to experience cooking my food on a lava stone. Which, now that I’ve done it, I can say is totally overrated.