flight to Belize
Sunday, December 28 2014
location: rural Hurley Township, Ulster County, New York, USA
While our housesitter Rob spent the night in our king-sized bed upstairs, Gretchen slept on the couch near the woodstove and I slept on the couch in the teevee room. I awoke spontaneously moments before our alarms were scheduled to go off at around 4:20AM, and we quickly organized our stuff and departed. The dogs were sleepy and bewildered and didn't even follow us to the car anxiously the way they normally do when we're leaving on vacation.
The airborne leg of our journey was to begin in Albany, one of our favorite points of departure. Things are smaller and more human there, and there's less of a chance that we'll come across a TSA employee who suspects packages of unopened Chau cheese is secretly a plastique explosive. Even though the tart Gretchen had prepared for her father's birthday was in a metal pie tin, an impenetrable round circle on the x-ray, we passed through security without incident.
The first plane was a small prop-plane to Newark (the less-pleasant large airport we often drive to for the beginning of our travel), and, because overhead storage was tight, we had to check Gretchen's new rollie-wheeled luggage in the belly of the plane. Time was tight in Newark, so I stayed back and waited for the luggage to be retrieved from the cargo hold while Gretchen ran ahead all the way to the other side of the terminal to get food for our flight from some place she was excited about and then to meet me at the boarding gate for our plane to Belize. After being momentarily flummoxed by the number of grey wheeled valises, I selected one that best fit my memory of Gretchen's, opened it, and, seeing our familiar "bathroom bag," wheeled it away.
Though the plane to Belize was leaving from the same terminal as the one we'd arrived at, it must have been in the most distant corner. The thing about terminals is that directions to locations are always given without distances, and so the destination I was first walking and then running towards seemed as if it was being pulled away from me as I approached it. When I got to the gate of the plane for Belize, it was doing its final boarding call. I had a woman run a check to see if Gretchen was already on it, but she wasn't. She came running up moments later, swinging bags containing vegan sandwiches. As we made it to our seats, that tractor used for the purpose began pushing us away from the gate.
Our plane was a relatively recent model, and the backs of all the seats contained LCD displays offering various satellite-teevee channels on a pay-to-watch basis. There was a built-in credit card reader ready to finalize the transaction. Most people appeared to passively watch various channels during a brief free introductory period at the beginning of the flight, but then ignored their monitors once payment was demanded. After that, the monitors all played a short sequence on a montonous loop, hoping to scare up a few additional purchases during the flight. One scene in that sequence featured a sexy scene of young love and another showed a group of live-action actors dancing in the sort of playful alien outfits that would appeal to young children. This loop was continuous and highly distracting, though from what I could see Gretchen and I were the only ones on the airplane who figured out (independently at that) that if you turned the brightness down all the way on the monitors, the screens went entirely black.
Since it was a morning flight, the meal being offered for sale (we're past the days of free meals on airplanes) was "breakfast." Breakfast is a horrifying word to me, because it conjours up images of eggs prepared in various ways. As you may recall, I have a neurotic aversion to eggs in any form where they can be identified as such, an aversion that my mother has told me goes back to when I was only six months old (a good 40 years before I became vegan). Now that nearly my entire social group is functionally vegan, it's become rare that my egg aversion is tested, but when I'm crammed into a fart-filled tuna can with the general population on a Sunday morning, such testing is a distinct risk. As the flight attendant with the food cart approached, I heard her rattle off several options that would have been perfectly fine had the gentleman seated beside me decided to choose them. But no, he opted for what was called the "Power Breakfast" which included, among other things, a boiled egg. Of all the forms that eggs take, I think boiled is perhaps the most revolting. Here is this glistening white stinkbomb, which has to be laboriously coaxed from its shell so that it can make its local environment smell as though someone within it has been getting up on one cheek and letting the hot, silent, deadly ones slither out. For some reason Gretchen and I had been seated on either side of the aisle, each of blocking in two strangers, and when Gretchen tried to offer me one of her recently-purchased vegan sandwiches while that breakfast was being eaten, all I could do was give her an anguished look and say that I would explain it all later. I spent a good half hour rigidly policing my eyes so they wouldn't stray to the horrible visions of whatever the gentleman to my right was eating. I also did my best to breathe only through my mouth, since even one whiff of sulfur-tainted atmosphere would have spoiled my mood for hours.
Meanwhile Gretchen had discovered a couple empty seats near the back of the plane and had relocated there. After awhile she came up and announced that she was "99% sure that Stephen Colbert is on our plane." She claimed he and his wife were sitting right in front of the new seat she'd relocated to and that he was wearing a baseball cap and had allowed several days' worth of stubble to grow out. I was incredulous; why would Stephen Colbert be flying coach? Later Gretchen came back to report that the man in question must be Stephen Colbert because one of his ears was doing that weird cockeyed thing that we know that it does. He was evidently one of the plane's few passengers who had paid for satellite teevee and was paging through the channels with brio. She added that in addition to his wife, he must have also been flying with his kids (whom she later described as "fat"). So at some point I went back to the bathroom (where I had previously taken a massive shit not more than fifteen feet from what was looking increasingly like one of my biggest heroes). Gretchen was right behind me and said that she had seen his customs form and that the name was Stephen Colbert. On my way back from the bathroom, I got a good look at the customs form and there it was: "Stephen J. Colbert." (It later turned out that the middle initial was probably a "T.") Unfortunately, I neglected to look at the part where he stated his occupation (I had given mine as "web developer").
By now Gretchen had moved back up to her old seat across the aisle from me so as to confer with me about what to do. In the end, she decided to write Colbert a note. She proceeded to scrawl a message on a piece of paper saying that she and I loved the Colbert Report and that our favorite segment was always "Cheating Death." She went on to mention that once we'd been in his studio audience and had caught a pancake with his bite mark that he'd flung into the crowd and that we still had it in our freezer. In the note, she was clear to state that she understood that now was his family time and that she didn't want to disturb it in any way. She discretely delivered this note along with a container of kale chips (also purchased from that store she'd sought in the Newark airport). She happened to catch a glance of Colbert moments after he'd received his little package, and his sheer delight indicated to her that perhaps he actually enjoyed being a recognized celebrity. Hearing this, I wondered if perhaps Colbert's wife had forced him to wear a hat and grow some stubble so they could travel in peace, but that Colbert had selected an aisle seat where people queue up to wait for the restroom in hopes of being noticed anyway.
Nobody else on the plane who had payed for a ticket appeared to notice that Stephen Colbert was there in coach with us, although apparently at least one of the flight attendants did (another didn't know who Stephen Colbert was). The one who was aware of him told Gretchen that he'd been asking a lot of "stupid questions" about the customs forms, such as what to put for "place of embarkment." Later, as we were planning to deplane, Gretchen struck up a conversation with the boiled egg eater to my right about the book he'd been reading (she's become something of a contemporary novel nerd since working at the bookstore). Then she asked if he liked Stephen Colbert. When the boiled egg eater said yes, Gretchen pointed Colbert out for him and his wife and family of strapping teenage boys, all of whom were astounded that such a celebrity would endure the indignity of coach. Unexpectedly, coach deplaned from the back, so Colbert vanished into the blazing Belizian glare before we'd found our way to the tarmac.
We emerged from the Belize City airport hoping someone would be holding a sign for us, but nobody was there, at least not initially. We eventually saw a large well-groomed Latin man ("Alfredo") holding a sign with Gretchen's parents' names on it, and he eventually arranged a ride for us to the resort where we'd be staying with a smaller round-shouldered Latin guy named Pedro. We'd been expecting everyone to speak intelligible English, but Alfredo spoke mostly Spanish into his phone, and Pedro was from El Salvador and his English was so poor that Gretchen and he spoke mostly in her enthusiastic (if occasionally broken) Spanish. (I could follow most of what was being said but offered few contributions of my own.) Pedro drove us west from the airport, stopping early in the drive to offer us an opportunity to buy beer and rum (since that would not be available at our resort). On Pedro's recommendation, we mostly bought Belikin beers, along with a litre of gold-colored rum ($7 American/$14 Belizian). After we left the dusty congestion near the airport, Pedro drove us across a flat landscape of salt water palmettos interspersed with occasional piles of trash through which humans, dogs, and Black Vultures rummaged for valuables. Near our destination, we also passed a large prison surrounded by a surprisingly ineffectual barrier of fence. Inside, we could see a few prisoners standing around outside their compounds washing clothes or whatever one does when one is stuck in a Belizian prison.
Our destination was the Orchid Garden Eco-Village, a compound of hotel rooms and services set among lush tropical vegetation. The heat and humidity that we stepped out into was oppressive, and Gretchen immediately wanted to go swimming. Her ideal tropical vacation allows for swimming at a moment's notice, but unfortunately Orchid Garden did not offer any obvious swimming opportunities. Gretchen had been concerned about the fact that we'd be vacationing inland in Belize, but perhaps she could go swimming "in the lake" (wherever that is; I can't find it on Google maps). So she went to find the people who run Orchid Garden to ask about local swimming opportunities. They did their best to discourage her against going for a swim, first telling horror stories about someone who swam in a lake somewhere in the United States and got some sort of parasite. Then they raised concerns about crocodiles. Those stories would have probably discouraged about 99.5% of American tourists, but they didn't have this effect on Gretchen. Ultimately they told her that no, she couldn't swim in the lake. Gretchen returned to the room miserable. She also had bad things to say about Orchid Garden in general, calling its teevee room "dismal" and our room "depressing." True, its finishes and surfaces had a third-world crappiness to them. There tended to be large gaps between wooden trim and concrete walls (some of which sheltered tiny geckos), and tiles tended to be cracked and discolored. But at least the hot water wasn't being generated by an electrical stinger in the shower head. And who were we to complain? We'd made none of the arrangements for this vacation and had paid only to get ourselves to Albany.
Eventually the six others in our party arrived: Gretchen's parent's from Silver Spring, and Gretchen's brother's family from Pittsburgh. After a long nap, the eight of us reconvened in the Orchid Garden dining hall (a relatively pleasant semi-outdoor space) for a reasonably good meal of noodles with red sauce and tofu. Christine, the Taiwanese woman who runs Orchid Garden, came out near the end to confer with us about our mostly vegan dietary constraints and chirpily fill the air with difficult-to-parse pleasantries. [REDACTED]
Our three contingents each brought with them their own particular suite of characteristics which occasionally clashed in the way such things do in every family. Though we're all culturally liberal, vegan or nearly so, and all but me are Jewish, there are important differences. Our Hurley contingent is generally the most irreverent, non-traditional, spontaneous, adventurous, and beach-obsessed (though Gretchen supplies most of the latter-two components), whereas the Pittsburghers (being a family that includes children) tend to be more cautious, traditional, culturally religious, and interested in structured group activities. Meanwhile, the parents from Silver Spring exhibit a mixture of these two sets of factors. On the one hand, they're liberated by no longer having to worry about jobs and children, while on the other they take a grandparently interest in the Pittsburghers' kids. But they're from an older generation, when kids were allowed to take some responsibility for raising themselves and discovering the world on their own terms, and they don't seem to have the helicoptery neuroses that maddeningly plague the people raising the people who will one day have to operate the world on their own. When I was four and my brother was seven, the two of us once went on a bike ride (though I was actually on a ticycle) more than a half mile across Lanham, Maryland to play on an old abandoned utility truck in the woods (from 38.978392N, 76.856814W to 38.985623N, 76.862087W), whereas my eight year old niece wouldn't even go to the bathroom just outside the Orchid Garden dining hall without her mother.
For linking purposes this article's URL is:feedback
previous | next