Belize was the only real place we visited on our recent cruise, although we did make three other port calls. Two were to Mexico, but both were fake Mexican places, Cozumel and Costa Maya, built solely to collect American dollars. Cozumel has been around awhile and still resembles Rosarito Beach more than anyplace in real Mexico, full of tourist traps. The best you can hope for is a dip in the Caribbean without being too annoyed by the loud rap music and the whistles of waiters trying to encourage people from the Midwest to experiment with repeated tequila shots coming from the beach bar behind you.
Costa Maya is even worse. It didn't even exist before somebody built a dock big enough for cruise ships on this remote part of Quintana Roo. Now it consists of a specially cleaned-up mall that people willing to fight back their terror long enough to set foot in Mexico can visit to say they've been to Mexico, even though they will not encounter anybody speaking Spanish there, and a small "downtown" a five-buck cab ride away where you can be cajoled into buying the same Mexican tourist junk you can buy anywhere in Mexico, and where endless hustlers try to get you to eat and drink at one identical beach bar/restaurant after another. Palapas and plastic Corona chairs as far as the eye can see, and the only amusement in the whole place is listening to the hustlers tell you that if you don't follow them to their joint, you will surely be robbed at one of the other ones.
We went to Roatan Island, too, which is technically part of Honduras. It styles itself as "La Isla Bonita" of the old Madonna song, which it may well be, because it does have that going on. The other thing the island has going for it is enough police presence to keep the locals from descending like velociraptors on the hordes of fat, middle-aged-and-up gringos being disgorged from the cruise ships,which the rest of Honduras does not. It's kind of like going to America and only visiting Catalina.
But Belize is real, although not real big, well-populated or important. It makes up for that by being beautiful, and by having as charming a history as any nation's I've ever heard. It's only been around since 1981. Now, this ever-changing sphere has produced many new nations since I was born, but this was my first visit to one of them, and not only have I been around longer than Belize, but I was already old enough to legally drink when it was founded. It was British Honduras on the map of my childhood years, and is named after a man named Wallace, who managed to distinguish it politically from the surrounding jungle. The locals couldn't pronounce "Wallace," however, and the place became the closest thing they could pronounce to it, which was Belize. Kind of takes the shine off being the father of your country, in my opinion, although Wallace is no longer with us to try and correct the error.
Belize celebrates its national day on the anniversary of a battle in which nobody on either side was injured or killed. A Spanish ship arrived in the shallow harbor. Its captain had the intent of conquering the place. He fired a couple cannon balls landward, took a few musket shots in return, and, apparently surprised by the fervor of the resistance on the part of the Belizeans, said "Chinga este!"* and sailed away. Would that all national histories were so mild.
Belize has a labor hero too. A man whose bust stands near the government building led a strike in the nineteen-fifties demanding a raise for workers in the mahogany mill from 4 cents a day to a full 25 cents a day. After being jailed on trumped-up charges for thirty days, he was released and all his demands were met.
I don't mean to mock a man who was imprisoned for his principles and emerged triumphant, but thirty days? I for one do not think Nelson Mandela would be impressed.
Belize has no docks big enough to accommodate cruise ships, so we cruisers have to be ferried in from a few miles offshore on local tenders. On our way back after our day in Belize, the crewmember assigned to make sure we didn't fall overboard on the trip gave a short, heartfelt speech about how grateful he was to have a job, thanks to the visits by "these marvelous ships" (His words).
So what you have in Belize is a member of the United Nations founded non-violently, governed sufficiently if not overly, and populated by citizens at least some of whom are grateful you dropped by and brought them money.
Can't wait to go back.