Saturday, December 16, 2006

Belize, 15 December 2006

I am at the Tropical Education Centre, walking a trail in dense, wet forest. Last night it rained, and water is still dripping from leaf to leaf to leaf to ground. A pair of chicken-like birds chuckle as they whizz overhead. Even though I have been here before, more than once, it strikes me how alien it is. Unfamiliar trees are draped, climbed and strewn with oddly familiar houseplants. I wonder what it is that urges us to seek out the unfamiliar. I remember the Northern Ontario bush of my youth: spruce and birch, pine and maple, poplar and fir. There I know what burns when wet, where to make camp, where to fish; there among the beaver ponds and rock, lakes and creeks I feel truly at home. I must confess that I am a little uneasy travelling in foreign lands. And yet I, like so many others, am compelled to explore. And this puzzles me.

Yesterday morning I was sitting with Lorena in the Tucson Airport, as we waited for nearly simultaneous flights from adjacent gates. We were about to part company for many months, and we were talking quietly about anything but that fact, and suddenly her flight was called and in two minutes she was gone. What can you say to someone you share your life with, every day for months, when you are going to be gone for so long, with some unacknowledged risk you may never return? How can you quiet a desperate longing, in a few minutes in a public airport? There can be no satisfactory answer. There is only hope, and a clinging to familiar memories and shared dreams. And you carry on.

I allow he uncertainties of travel to occupy my mind. Will I land in Houston close enough to my departing gate to make the next leg of my flight? As it turns out, I land in a nearly adjacent gate. Weird luck. but it doesn't last. The flight departing for Belize City is late, a creeping delay that grows to over an hour. Last time I flew to Belize my plane was 20 minutes late landing, and I missed my connecting flight to Dangriga. This time, when we land, the flight captain tells us that connecting flights are being held for us. I doubt my luck, as Dangriga airstrip has no lights, and it is growing dusk outside as I wait for my bag to come off the plane. Then Customs discovers my VHF radio (I told them I had one when they asked what was in my case), and tells me I need an importation permit. Or I can pay duty. I respond that I am passing through, and I would pay duty as long as it is refunded when I leave. They don't buy it but agree to hold the radio for me until I leave. There is nothing to do but hand it over in exchange for a receipt, and worry about it later.

Now my plane is gone, it is too late to catch a bus to Dangriga, and my funds are low for such things as hotels and taxis. It costs $25US to take a taxi to Belize City from the airport. Just my options are drying up, an Island Expeditions bus is spotted leaving the parking lot. I run and jump in. Rudy and Albert are taking two guests to the Tropical Education Centre, so I catch a ride, and get a free meal and nights lodging. Soon I will flag down a bus on the highway and make my way to Dangriga. The luggage will follow me in a couple of days. Time to hike out.

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