Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Singing the [Colors of the Caribbean] Blues

As the Northern Hemisphere welcomed winter and the end of the Mayan calendar drew nigh, the idea of soaking in some salty air and island scenery with a coconut drink felt appropriate. Each day the wispy and fluffy white clouds painted imaginary scenes across the sky, but my attention always came back to the ocean's colors: The sharp contrasts of blues tantalized the eyes like spices do to the tastebuds, and the variety would make a Crayola box envious.

These photos barely do justice to the waters along the Mesoamerican Reef System, the second largest barrier reef in the world--Wedgewood and Tiffany blue strips layer between deep bands of lapis.  In other sections, the light sand begins a progression of blues for which the color descriptions could be a gemstone casting call: aquamarine; turquoise; sapphire; and tanzanite.  And all this against a backdrop of cobalt and azure skies. 

The sailors and pirates of yore who first plumbed these waters were not seeking pigment inspiration for their inner artist; they were raiding, smuggling, pillaging, and enslaving. Then, colonists and missionaries arrived with their own agendas. Now, the tourists and expats visit seeking scuba sites and cheap coconut drinks. Regardless, nature keeps showing up with her beauty. Once you get past the natives peddling for everything, including prescriptions (one tourist was dismayed to learn the pharmacy was out of both testosterone and Viagra!), you can settle in for a picture perfect paradise.

Roatan, Honduras
Although geographically Roatan belongs to Honduras, culturally, the natives will distinguish themselves from the mainlanders. On this roughly 35-mile-long island, English is the primary language, and Spanish secondary, which is the opposite of Honduras. Many of the islanders descended from the British Isles, and due to the colonization, many of the towns and residents have English names.  

Although the island exports a lot of fish and iguanas, its economy relies on tourists who come to access the legendary diving at both the barrier reef and the various shipwrecks around the islands.

Belize City, Belize 
In the mid-17th century British lumber harvesters, needing a strategic trading post/port with access to the sea and local rivers and creeks, founded Belize Town, which had previously been a small Mayan city called Holzuz. Belize has been an independent nation since 1981.

Belize also attracts both scuba divers to access some of the 300km of the 900km barrier reef, and tourists to see Mayan ruins and beautiful beaches. In addition to a large ex-pat community living la dolce vita on a nearby island, Belize is also home to Mennonites, who came here in 1959 to escape religious persecution. They also created my tour buggy [see pic].

The Belize people readily express pride in their country, and are quite generous with their smiles, coconuts, and One Barrel Rum [with lime for the coconut].  At  a tasty chocolate factory tour [MOHO chocolate], you can support an indigenous and sustainable local economy while also making your own chocolate bar. Another popular historical landmark is Belize City's swing bridge. This bridge, the oldest in Central America and one of the few manually operated, still functions. This bridge has been rebuilt after three major hurricanes, but mainly for the tourists. River traffic has waned over the years, and so now the bridge only opens upon special request.  It requires a minimum of four men to crank it by hand until it is parallel with the river, and then it has to be hand-cranked to its original position.  For Christopher Walken fans, this is the bridge shown in the 1980s film, The Dogs of War.

Costa Maya

Costa Maya is a small fishing region in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico, which encompasses two villages– Mahahual and Xcalak. There is a small Mayan temple, a remnant from the Mayan tribe that inhabited this region from 200 BC to 900 AD.  The beach truly marks the beauty of this area.

Although it was devastated by a category 4 hurricane in 2007, the Senor Frogs has been rebuilt in the Mahahual region. Rather than being lulled to a nap by lapping waves, breezes, and swaying palms, one's heartbeat can instead compete with the techno music and DJ thumping from the swim-up bar.  I recommend walking a mile to the other end of the beach, where you can eat fresh ceviche and guacamole, soak in the colors of blue, and contemplate how you'd like to spend the days after the end of the Mayan calendar.  

all photos by NDM, 2012.