Hand Shakers

January 26, Belize City, Belize.

            Today I was going to ride all the way to Belmopan, the capital of Belize, but I decided to stay in Belize City because I thought there might be a store where I could buy a new raincoat.  I've heard mostly negative things about Belize City but I figured they'd at least have a mall, or somewhere I could buy a new raincoat.  No mall or raincoat, just a store where I could buy a cheap rubber jacket that would never work on a motorcycle, which made me particularly unhappy because it rained during most of my 3-4 hour trip from Chetumal.  Then I spent over an hour in Belize City looking for a hotel while being very wet and cold; not a mood enhancer. 

            I got to see most of the city during this search and was pretty sure there'd be no specialty rain-coats here.  Belize City does a great job of hiding their hotels.  The many signs pointing to the "Hotel Zone" are conflicting and there really isn't an actual hotel zone.  Cities I've visited so far have a much greater range of hotels.  In Belize city it's either cheap, and take your chance with parking in the street, or expensive, with safe parking.  I ended up at the Radisson for $120, three or four times more than I usually pay for a hotel, plus they charge for wireless internet use.  Belize city was the first place on this trip where I was completely certain that if I parked my motorcycle on the street it would not be there the next day, or at least there would be parts missing.  I'll be leaving first thing in the morning for Belmopan where I'll see the zoo and maybe some Mayan ruin caves that I've read about, then I'll head into Guatemala the next day. 

            The highway between Chetumal and Belize City was far worse than most in Mexico but probably better than what I'll see South of here...  The many small towns had colorful houses, many on stilts; many of these homes had a store or restaurant sign hanging on their porch but they were obviously just homes.  These small business are common throughout Central America but they seem more frequent in Belize.  I stopped at one of these home/stores and the store part was just boxes of random crap scattered throughout the living room of a standard home.  As I approached Belize City the roads became more crowded and pot-holed and the buildings became more ghetto.  I talked to several people on the way here and they all seem to speak "reggae"; it's actually called 'Creole' but it's more fun to call it reggae and that's how it sounds.  Everyone waves and seems friendly.  In Belize City, however, the friendliness mostly seems to have a motive.

            The two stores most likely to have rain-gear are about 10 blocks from my hotel so I walked.  In that 10 blocks I was approached by at least 10 people that all had different requests for cash, wanted to sell me drugs or girls, or "only nead ta juss tell ya wan ting maahhn".  They all wanted to shake my hand but I quickly learned that when I shook their hand it was taken as an obligation to listen to their hardship story and they wouldn't let go until I forcefully pulled my hand away; otherwise the only congenial closure to that interaction would be to hear their whole story and give them money. 

            I'm all about 'time-efficiency'; some people call it impatience but that's the small price you pay for being 'time-efficient'.  I believe in saving my time AND the time of others, and this efficiency kicks in a bit quicker if I've spent a long wet day on my motorcycle and an hour looking for a hotel room.  After the second or third handshake I realized that me and the hand-shakers were just wasting each others time because I wasn't going to give them any money; so when I saw a hand I just kept my hand down and told them I'm not going to give them anything.  Sometimes they followed along anyway and started telling their story of hardship.  One guy claimed that he didn't want anything from me but it was just important for me to listen to him; I asked why he was so different from everyone else who approaches me here and then I asked him to give me some money if he's so different.  He left.  Another guy got in front of me and stopped, I kept waking and just yelled "NO!", very loudly, as I ran into him and almost knocked him over; nobody approached me for the rest of that block.  [I've actually used that approach several times in past travels - if someone gets in front of me to beg I just keep on walking, unless it's an old lady but old ladies usually don't use that approach].  By the time I reached the store I was almost completely void of any nice-guy-ness, which is saying something because I'm usually a pretty nice guy.  

            These street beggar interactions are due to my pale-ness.  In comparison to the locals I'm a friggin' strobe-light walking down the street so they can see me coming from several blocks away and pale skin means money here [as well as most of the places I'll be traveling but it's more extreme here].  I can always tell who is going to approach me long before they do because they see me from a block away, or more, and it's pretty obvious when they've locked onto a target.  They try to position themselves in my pathway so they can ask for my cash when I reach them; to make it even more obvious I would make sudden changes in my course by suddenly crossing the street or turning around and I would see 3-5 people immediately scramble like a defensive back in football, quickly reacting to my change.  On the return to my hotel I actually improved my time-efficiency in dealing with would-be cash takers by perfecting a very cold stare and an angry grunt that effectively warded off anyone who even looked like they were thinking of asking for money.

            I'm sure Belize City will be nicer tomorrow but my first impression is not a happy one...