It felt like my “home away from home.” I spent so much of my childhood and adolescence listening to the mothers of my Belizean friends speak Kriol, eating Johnny cakes in the morning and stew chicken in the evening, and attending more than a few different family gatherings over the years.
A dear friend of mine from college invited me with her to visit her family for the first time, and I was excited to say the least. Nothing could compare to actually being in Belize, being hugged by the humidity, embracing the people and the fresh fish panadas.
Although I was almost devastated after forgetting to pack bug repellent, I was excited to snap a gazillion photos to document my trip — one of myself at the Mayan Ruins, on a secret beach, of my fish, plantains and rice and beans, even my unwarranted mosquito bites.
That plan failed miserably. Although I managed to make it to the island of San Pedro and all the way to secret beach, all my day’s memories were washed away when I concocted this grand idea that resulted in my playing drunk flip cup with my phone while in the water.
Once I sobered up and realized what I had done, all of my intentions for this trip changed. I still drank, partied on the beach, and had a great time that weekend, but during those moments of silence when everyone was on their phones or calling their loved ones, I was completely and utterly detached.
Luckily, it didn’t take away from my experience. If anything, it made my memories more vivid. This is how I survived a week in Central America with no cell phone:
The convenience of having wifi allows you to be accessible virtually anywhere except for in the moment, free of distraction. Because I was hands free and offline, I spent a lot of time talking to strangers, making eye-contact (I forgot how intense that can be), and asking questions (because it’s what I’m good at). It was nice to be in social space and just enjoy the company of others, in the moment, despite the fact that we might never cross paths again.
Taking mental pictures
Because I didn’t have a camera, I had to paint mental pictures of everything. I can remember how warm the water felt and the weird feeling I got from the seagrass tickling my feet. I remember looking out to the horizon and watching how the sun danced over calm waters. I can recall the chirping sounds gabbing geckos made in the late into the night and the nervousness I felt in the split second I looked down while climbing the Xunantunich temple. It helped to give detail to all the stories I told when got home.
Learning about the culture
I didn’t know about the history of the Mayan civilization at length, so again, I asked questions about the history of the country and the history of Africans in Belize. This sparked my interest in reading and learning more about the revolts that took place in Belize by the country’s native people, groups such as the Garifuna and the Kriol culture.
Listening to nature
Visiting the village where my friend’s grandparents were from was a nice change of pace from the weekend spent in San Pedro. Independence and Mango Creek had little to no street lights (if any at all, from what I remember). I mentioned the gabbing geckos, but there was also the croaking by frogs and toads, the sound of the trees, the pouring rain; everything with its own rhythm.
Living every day a day at a time
When we washed our clothes, they needed to be hung. When showering or cooking in the morning, there was a chance the electricity might go out or the water might cut off. So we kept reading materials for when we couldn’t get a signal and an extra bucket of water in the shower. Because I didn’t have a phone, I spent a lot of time reading and writing.
There was a machete outside for busting open the coconuts from the trees in the yard. And breakfast and dinner was prepared at home every day, or by another family member in the same village. The sense of community was inspiring and the uncertainties of the day humbling.
All in all I can’t say I regret a thing. I eventually took my phone to a repair shop where they were able to recover the photos. But so much of it lives in my experience that the photos do no justice.
So, next time you travel, try using your phone less. Some experiences can’t be summed up in a few a photos.
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