Little Man You Ve Had A Busy Day Sheet Music The Dangers of Belize

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The Dangers of Belize

When I arrived in Central America, I received a rude awakening. The drive from Mérida, Mexico to the border town of Chetumal promised jungles, beaches, white sandy beaches and sunny blue skies.

In contrast, the port on the border with Belize was a militarized zone with piles of barbed wire, barely assembled barbed wire sheds, and piles of trash beside the river. When I was about to leave Mexico, the customs officer asked for 200 pesos. But just like on the Belizean side, a woman with an unsightly, officious face told me that she would charge $19 when I decided to leave.

As I got closer to Belize City, the weather closed in and the landscape became more and more unsettled. Packed from a bus on a suburban street, this place didn’t seem very welcoming. Although there were few people around, the place was in ruins – crumbling buildings of wood and corrugated iron leaned towards the street, creating a closed, enclosed atmosphere.

After a short walk to the hotel I booked, I started to feel that the place was safer than I had imagined. But as I was crossing the suspension bridge over the river, a man approached me, seeming more interested than usual. He seemed stoned or drunk or both, so I walked past and decided to ignore him.

However, he didn’t get in the way and even told me to walk slowly in case I got a speeding ticket. I didn’t break my stride, but he kept going, wanting to know where I was from and listing off different country options.

He finally understood that I was English. As he tried to keep up with my fast walking pace, he threatened me with a knife, “Don’t touch it,” and demanded that I give him the money I had.

I thought it unlikely that the man had a knife and concluded from his demeanor that he was laughing at me. So I informed him that I had just arrived in Belize and had no money to give him. It was Sunday so I told him I should wait for the banks to open tomorrow. I just withdrew over $100 from the ATM but it was completely untrue because I didn’t want to hand it over. I thought it better to tell him I had no money than to tell him I refused to give him what I had.

In any case, the knife was not produced, and the man was falling further and further behind. His only option was to yell after me not to run away like an ugly mustard seed.

I continued to where I was supposed to be at my lodge. Unfortunately it didn’t seem to exist, or the instructions I was given were completely wrong. With no other accommodation in sight, I had no choice but to return to the city center again.

At the bridge I was asked, “Hey, Englishman. Have you got any money?” This is the same person I met in front of me, still determined to take cash from me.

“There’s an ATM right here,” he continued. “Let me show you.”

I told him again that I only had traveler’s checks and needed to open a bank tomorrow.

“What’s in your pocket?” he asked, and I could hear loose change clinking as I walked away. He sounded (and looked) like Gollum from the Tolkien books, so I smiled a little.

I told him it was just my change from Mexico because I had just left the country. He insisted that I finish. It was nothing more than small change, useless to me, and costing about 50 rubles, so I didn’t do any harm in giving it away.

I tried to walk past him, but he kept asking: where I was staying, if he could take me somewhere, if I wanted to change some more money. He even saw a woman from Mexico and asked me if I wanted to exchange Mexican money.

I still thought the man himself was harmless. None of his threats have been backed up by action, and if he was going to do something, he probably would have done something by now. However, his yelling and constant following were annoying and attracted a lot of my attention, which I thought might attract more hostile company.

A security guard patrolled and stopped my annoying shadow on the steps. As he braced himself in the doorway, he couldn’t help but yell, “Hey, man. It’s getting dark. You need a place to stay. I don’t want to be here alone.”

It actually seemed true enough. And when I was sure that the man had left, I found a taxi and asked the driver to take me to the hotel where I thought I had a reservation. He took me down a dark street to an address, but my place was nowhere to be seen.

Fortunately, there seemed to be another hotel there, so I decided that this place would do the same as the others. The man’s attentions and threats made me a little wary, and even though I didn’t think the place was that dangerous, it seemed to me that staying inside would be the safest option.

The lady from reception took me to my room. He was friendly and chatty—in a much more pleasant way than his acquaintance on the street outside. “I hope you won’t be listening to the music from the church next door. It’s Sunday, but I’ll have to finish soon,” she said, apparently worried that I’d be disturbed by the noise.

There was a really loud and fun choir singing from the building next to my room. As I prepare to take a much-needed shower after nearly a day on the bus, a soulful rendition of He Who Would Beliant Be interrupts the night air.

I turned on the shower and let the spray run down my hair and back. However, when I looked at the bottom of the tub, I saw a giant brown centipede about 8 inches long squirming around the plug hole. I don’t know if he’s been there all along, if he crawled out from under the tub, or if he just came out of the shower head.

Anyway, I decided to remove the creature. I didn’t think it was poisonous, but with my already slightly deranged mind, I wasn’t going to strike fear into the giant. I quickly diverted the shower head and after a few minutes I chased the slime back into the plumbing system.

Now showered and refreshed, I lay on my bed and turned on the fan to cool off the stuffy night air. Seconds after I did, the spinning fan blades threw a large winged creature that landed on the pillow next to me. After quite a bit of shuffling through my clothes, I shooed the bug out of the door and laid back on the bed.

As I rolled onto my side, I was just dozing off on top of the sheet in my shorts. In the half-light of the room, I could see a dark mass of shadows on the bed, right where my right hip had been. Already freaking out after the monster centipedes and flying insects, I thought it was a new creature trying to crawl into bed. Jumping to my feet and turning on the lights, I realized that the attacker was not an animal at all, just a collection of small coins that had slipped out of his pocket as he rolled.

I went back to bed and the rest of the night passed without incident.

The hotel didn’t provide breakfast that morning, but I was served coffee with a very unique taste. As I sipped it in the main room, I read the local paper, which covered police corruption, violent street murders, and gun battles between law enforcement and local drug gangs. A charming place.

Before I left I went to the bank because I had a lot of Mexican pesos. The hustle and bustle of a busy Monday morning restored a familiar sense of normalcy to the streets after the previous night’s unprovoked encounter. I walked along the river towards the center of the town, and on the far bank there were small sheltered shacks.

These were multi-family houses along the water’s edge, with bathrooms lined up in rows in front of the houses. A few residents of these houses crossed the river in small canoes, braving the dark muddy current. When I got out of the suspension bridge and looked into the water, I saw some long green molluscs swimming in the water. They were neither snakes, nor fish, nor lizards, but a combination of all three. Apparently falling is not an option for sane people.

I found a bank and went to the counter to exchange dollars for pesos. It was only a few hours away from Mexico and was the largest country bordering Belize, so it didn’t seem like an unreasonable request. There were no money changers at the border crossing, and a major bank in the capital seemed like a good place to make a transaction.

But I was completely mistaken about the possibility of exchanging money. I was told by the cashier that pesos cannot be exchanged on the grounds that exchange rates fluctuate and cannot be recorded daily.

While this is generally true for most currencies, I have observed that banks can do this. I discovered that old women in some of Bolivia’s most remote towns could often honestly exchange six different currencies, but I refused to share this with a skeptical clerk.

I was informed that the peso fluctuates too much and cannot be tracked against the Belize dollar. But Belize pegs the dollar exactly to the U.S. dollar, so there really isn’t any more volatility than there is between the peso and the U.S. dollar. I made this comment to a staff member who was unwilling to discuss advanced math and was simply told it was impossible.

I tried to exchange at several other banks in the city but received the same story each time. The exchange rate was so volatile that the bank could not control its daily movements.

On our way back to the hotel to pick up our backpacks, we came across a military marching band going the other way down the street. Around 40 smartly dressed young men in military uniforms are playing trumpets and beating drums. I thought I recognized the tune, and to my surprise realized it was a traditional British hymn, “The Soldiers of Christ Onward.”

In a small town in Central America, it seemed a little ridiculous to imagine this group of young men as Christian heroes “going to war.” They had carried no “Cross of Jesus” before, and there seemed to be no “Enemy” to defeat them. This phenomenon seems like some strange famine in the days when the British Empire was a colony, and all public ceremonies were accompanied by the spirit of Protestantism.

It was a short walk from my hotel to the bus station where I planned to go to the Guatemalan border town of San Ignacio.

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