Thursday, May 8, 2014

Hanging with the Belize Locals

One of our goals when we travel, and pretty much whatever we do in life (just ask my Mentor) is to be economical, which of course is just a gentle euphemism for being cheap. Or, as my Mentor would politely say, being "frugal." I can't help it, spending inordinate amounts of money on anything just doesn't make me comfortable, and personally, I find it a bit silly. Being broke helps to embrace this attitude, as well.

Case in point: traveling to an expensive resort and having people attend to you is so not my thing, I feel awkward to be in that situation. I didn't even like having a door man in NYC, I can open my own door, thank you. I also don't like dropping a huge amount of cash on a meal, and believe me, I love food.

While this makes life a little more of a challenge, especially when you travel, it also introduces you to facets of life you just don't get to see when you're in the lap of luxury. I experienced this a lot in NYC, doing things downtown in the East Village that uptown rich people wouldn't touch with a 10 foot pole. While some need not be described, others, like alternative theater and underground music, were really cool experiences.

Anyway, on this last trip, we had several options for activities. Belize caters to several tiers of people in terms of money. On the top are the resort types who want to be pampered and eat expensive meals and be taken on comfortable boats to look at waterfalls. Below that are moderate spending travelers who still want a good meal, like to have cocktails by the pool, and go on eco-tours. Below that are budget travelers who want cheap meals and accommodations, don't order wine with their food, and want adventure, but ones of their own making. Near the bottom of the economical ladder are the backpackers who just want a bed and a meal, and are looking for adventure and maybe a romantic liaison. Hovering with these guys are the locals.

I think we operate around the budget traveler, with maybe higher standards in terms of accommodations, mainly because we're with the kids. If it were just R and I, I would sleep in our car, which we've attempted but never really pulled off. While we tried to save money by eating frugally, we did occasionally splurge and eat a nice meal at one of the resorts, though it did leave us a little flat. The food was not that spectacular, it was like the stuff you get at home: pasta, chicken, steak/burgers, and of course it was overpriced. I really don't need cloth napkins and fine bone china. I've eaten meals in NYC that cost nearly $200/person, and believe me, it was not worth it.

Anyway, we searched out more affordable eats, and that took us into local territory. The main part of Ambergris Cay is a fairly bustling town, separated into three sections. The tourist part, called the front street, is on the beach and is like one big party, with beautiful people in bathing suits drinking beer (Corona, of course), eating ceviche, and listening to loud music. The next street in is middle street, and there are some upscale places, but it's more for the locals, with stores for supplies and kitsch for the tourists. On inner street, it's all about the locals. As you've probably already guessed, we opted for middle and inner street, and really enjoyed the experience.

I'm too old for beach volleyball, and I like to save some money. By eating with the locals, we got these killer meals of local food that included all sorts of stews and homemade tortillas, as well as pupusas, which we can actually get here from our friend from El Salvador. We also got to hang with the locals, and the people of Belize are super-friendly. We always felt welcome, and got a lot of great tips from the guys at our cottage, who were probably tripping out that we wanted to eat where they ate. We got to meet entire families who ran restaurants, with the matriarch standing in the kitchen, cranking out the fine dining. It's quite an interesting experience and always unique to wherever we visit.

It makes the trip that much more enriching, especially for the kids. I can appreciate a fine meal and a nice hotel, but at some point, when you're in the lap of luxury, you could be anywhere in this world and the experience would be the same. It's like being a cruise ship, why bother leaving the dock?

I know I'm just trying to justify my frugal approach, but there is value to enjoying an experience for what it is, rather than what it costs. Besides, anyone can cough up the big bucks to be taken care of, that's why people save up for vacations. The bigger question is, who has the wherewithal and inspiration to go off the beaten track and thing differently? It's not easy to break away from our routines, and if anything, most of us are enslaved by them.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to buddy medbery for the pic.

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