Heaven in our hemisphere

How nice it is to be the only guy sitting in the exit row of this flight! Savoring the rare luxury of leg room, I cross my right gam and rest it on my left knee. Since I’m wearing shorts, I can’t help but instantly notice the scarlet constellation on my right calf. A constellation of bites, little circular red bites, made by the dangerously stealthy and perpetually hungry no-see-ums of Belize. During the four hour flight to LAX, I have plenty of time to actually count the stars in this itchy formation (one possible name for my calfy constellation—Calamina). 55. Little sumbitches apparently found your correspondent to have excellent taste! But in the end, I must conclude that this mild discomfort is a small price to pay for my introduction to this extremely pleasant Central American country.

Belize, as in puh-leeze or puh-lease, depending on your preference, is a small gem facing the Caribbean. Or Caribbean. Here are some tidbits I discovered during my week in this happy place, tidbits of positivity that intrigue those of you with passports and a desire to visit new places. I can't think of another country that is easier for us norte americanos to deal with (well, OK, Canada). The official language, remarkably enough for a country surrounded by Guatemala and Mexico, is English. How charming. The currency is the Belizean dollar, but our bucks are gladly accepted, at the rate of 2 of theirs for one of ours. And the water is absolutely off the charts crazy awesome perfect.

To illustrate the point, consider the harbor of San Pedro, the main city of Ambergris Caye, the big island off the coast of Belize where most gringos seem to congregate. Usually, the water of harbors and ports is pretty darn dirty. That's just the way they are. You wouldn't ever swim in those waters, much less snorkel in them. But as we pulled into the dock at San Pedro, I was flabbergasted to see that these waters were completely clear. Not just swimmable, but snorkelable. There were needlefish on the top. Minnows all over. And then a two-foot wide sting ray glided by. Nice!

Of course, the majority of visitors come to Belize for exactly that—the water. Protected by the second largest barrier reef on our fabulous planet (only the Great Barrier Reef of Australia is larger), the waters of Belize are idyllic—clear, warm, and often dazzling. The bottom line is simply that the place is a tropical paradise in our own hemisphere, one that doesn't seem to be riddled with cartels. Christmas in Belize? Hmmm. I just have to remember one thing next time I visit—don't skimp on the bug spray. Those gnats like us gringos just as much as tavern keepers and trinket peddlers.