by Pa Rock
Our first stop in Central America was Belize, a small, impoverished nation that was known as British Honduras in colonial times. The port was relatively shallow and did not have berths for large ships, so the big cruise ships had to anchor at sea and run “tenders” back and forth to the waterfront. Each trip in these small, high-speed boats took about fifteen minutes.
The port in Belize City was awash in tourist shops and cafes. It was clean and safe, though very small, and very similar to what was to be found in most Caribbean ports. I signed up for an excursion into the countryside to see some Mayan ruins. As soon as our bus left the port area, it became obvious that we were in a third-world country.
Belize City was crowded and busy, but had the look of a small town that had recently exploded into an urban center with poverty in evidence at every turn. As our bus drove through a residential neighborhood, the guide pointed to one house among several located along the street that we were traversing. “That,” he announced proudly, “is the home of our President.” It was a nice home, by Belize standards, on a nice street, but certainly nothing exceptional. It looked completely accessible, as though anyone could walk up and knock on the door.
The Mayan ruins were in a recently cleared patch of jungle. Two days later as I was exploring another set of ruins not far from our southern Mexican port, I began to figure out the dynamic. The Mayans had been quite ubiquitous in southern Mexico and Central America. Whenever a new port was opened and tourists began to pour in, developers would march off into the jungle, find an appropriate set of ruins, and clear out the extraneous vegetation and snakes. Then the area could be promoted for its beautiful beaches, local color, and archaeological significance! The ruins were a necessary element in the complete tourist package.
The Belize ruins had several small pyramids, but none nearly as awesome as the one that I had seen at Chichen Itza while on a tour out of Cancun several years earlier. Instead of being given a walking tour, visitors were basically just turned loose to view the site on their own at their own pace. The thing that I remember best about the ruins in Belize was an extremely long column of large marching ants that were crossing a sandy, shaded area. Their organization and dedication to duty would have made any platoon sergeant proud!
I boarded a waiting tender late that afternoon for a ride back to our ship. I got on late, and the good seats under the canopy were already taken, so I pushed my way through to the back of the vessel which was deserted. I sat my packages down and closed my eyes for a power nap.
When the tender’s engines started, I opened my eyes, planning to take a few snapshots during our brief trip back to the ship. I wasn’t surprised to find that another passenger had pushed her way through all of those damned tourists and was sitting across from me, but I was surprised to see that she was Tyne Daly. She was staring out to sea as we set off, and I managed to get a good candid shot of her as well as pictures of the receding port and the awaiting cruise ship. Although I took the picture of Tyne in a very surreptitious manner, I suspect that celebrities can sense when a camera is pointed in their direction. The resulting photo was great – I have it framed!