There was a brief moment when I thought we had made a mistake.
The island of Long Caye is a two-and-a-half hour boat ride from Belize City. That's two and a half hours of sitting in a small boat across open sea, crashing over tall waves, slamming back down, sloshing back and forth, the hot Caribbean sun beating down upon a New-Jersey-pale body. But that's not when I thought we'd made the mistake. That's when I thought I was in heaven. That boat could have pounded itself to timbers, pitching us all into the crystal blue sea, and I would have whooped and hollered all the whole way down. My worry had long since evaporated by then.
The boat travels to Long Caye twice a week, Wednesday and Saturday morning. Late Friday night in a bar in Belize City, we met with the representative of the company that ran the boat. She was a nervous and jumpy woman. She told us to keep a life jacket within an arm's reach while we went out. Her exact words were, "We've never lost a boat. But when they go down, they go down fast." Then she told us how lucky we were, because the company had recently bought a new boat, one much better than the old boat. She didn't tell us why they bought the new boat. That was still not the moment I thought we'd made a mistake. We were in a bar in Belize City, drinking beer from a bottle that had a Mayan temple on the label. The label even said "MAYAN TEMPLE," like the brewers had been asked one too many times what the hell it was they printed on their beer. How could any of this be a mistake?
The time I was worried about was a few hours before that, while we were waiting to check in to our hotel. Because the boat to Long Caye, the new boat to Long Caye, left early Saturday morning, we had to spend Friday night in a hotel in Belize City. And it was the person checking in before us who was the cause of my worry. He needed ESPN2. No, not ESPN, he told the woman working reception. ESPN2. ESPN-TWO. EEE ESS PEE ENN TWO. Did she not know the difference? Did the hotel not have it? It's ESPN2. He had it at home, and he wanted it here. And for a brief moment, I began to think that maybe my wife and I should have saved our money and stayed home in New Jersey with the kids. Because my kids may be a challenge on some days, most days, but at least they are not jackasses. Red-faced, bermuda-short-wearing jackasses.
But the man was a blip, a tiny bump, heard from once and then never again. The scene he caused when he learned that no ESPN2 would be coming out of his TV and that maybe he should turn it off and go outside and see Belize instead was mercifully short and I even made a few bucks off it by betting with Sharon that the back of the man's already impressively sunburnt neck would grow two shades redder before the exchange was through.
"No way," she whispered back. "It would burst into flame."
But she was wrong, and the four bucks I won from her paid for our beers later that night. Two dollars per Mayan temple.
We spent almost a week on the island of Long Caye, an island on the southeastern rim of Glover's Reef. The island was small and rustic and pristine. The water we drank was collected rainwater. What power there was was generated by solar panels. There was an old butane-fueled refrigerator in the kitchen stocked down one side with the 200 different kinds of Fanta and down the other with the beer the boat had brought from the mainland Saturday morning. They still hadn't gotten cold by the time we left. Nobody cared.
The island was delightfully, ridiculously small. It could be crossed, eastern shore to western shore, in forty-nine seconds. I timed it. I actually took a short video of myself running from one side of the island to the other with the intention of posting it here, but I now know I needed to have learned a bit more about how to run with a camera before attempting such a feat. I watched the video a few minutes ago and had the distinct and queasy feeling I was on the old boat to Long Caye just seconds before the need to buy the new boat arose. Oh well.
There were no radios, no cell phones, no TV/DVD players brought out in the evening to waste time and pass minutes. There were no minutes to pass. For two hours every evening while we were there, my wife and I watched the sun set. We watched it. We sat our butts in two wooden beach chairs and watched the sun burn into the ocean. We moved only to get fresh beers or to scoot our chairs closer to each other. Even when they were touching, we still tried to move them closer to each other.
The sun took all two hours to set. It moves slowly, our sun, but had it taken three, we would have watched it for three. Around five o'clock each day, as the afternoon light began to deepen and the colors of the island softened, one of us would look at the other and announce our need to go and start watching it. We said it like this:
"It's getting late. Must be time to watch ESPN2."