Belize City, Belize
From staring up the Caribbean towards Trinidad a short flight brings us about face to stare back down it over Cuba. The jump from Venezuela to Mexico is an unusual move for us – quite aside from the international flight experience, the departure lounges and the mindblowing prices at Miami airport.
This year has been a series of small steps and I’ve been fascinated by the difference and variation between South American countries – differences that have grown over the last two hundred years as each country carves out its independence.
The divide between Peru and Ecuador is marked, but only five hundred years ago they were the twin capitals of the Inca empire. And the differences between Argentina and Brazil are enormous, but stem, to a significant extent, from quite recent history.
Here the tables turn. Mexico and Venezuela have never been the same place – their ancient history is completely distinct. They weren’t even part of the same landmass until very recently in geological terms, and their geography is different, as well as (and in part causing) very different indigenous societies. While the (Venezuelan) Pemon people lived simple village lives, harvesting termites and yucca, the (Mexican) Mayans built huge temples and cities.
Yet these countries seem drawn together by their recent history. So what strikes me here is similarity not difference. There’s a dose of the same Caribbean calm and there’s no sense of urgency at all. In Venezuela last week Marisa was trying to take a photo of a rather stylish looking bus as it drove past (an old US school number with some suped up modifications). The driver actually stopped and waited while we took the pic. Imagine that with a red London Routemaster on Oxford Street.
The perpetual call of manana is a joy and a nightmare. Waiting for anything can be truly painful. But when it arrives, somehow you can’t bring yourself to care.
There are other similarities. After the panpipe sounds of the West and the Calypso of Brazil, here we are firmly back in Salsa territory. They have salsa with everything. And it’s good.
And despite Venezuela’s reputation for rum and Mexico’s for tequila, these are beer drinking places. In large quantities. Though while Mexicans go the easy route with one litre bottles of Sol, Venezuelans have to rattle through cases of 250ml bottles of Polar for the desired effect. The end result is the same. Even the brand names seem drawn together in some yin and yang kind of way.
It’s a low down, kick back way to start a whole new continent. The people are so friendly (in both countries) that you’re tempted to just stop, settle down and grow some roots.
Today we are actually in Belize – separated from Mexico by only a fairly oblique bit of history. How strange then that it feels so completely different here – walking the streets is like a glimpse of a truly West Indian experience. Though the friendliness and the (very, very slow) pace are still with us – clearly some kind of regional trademark.
Must go – a man with a boat is due to take me to visit and island. After which I think I’ll have a Margarita if I can find anyone who can be bothered to mix it for me.