Corozal is a small town in Belize near the Mexican border. While I was there it was named in a ‘Top Eight Locations to Retire’ online list, much to the despair of the existing ex-pats in Corozal who would much prefer Corozal’s reputation remained under the radar.
I stayed at a small hotel run by one such ex-pat, a Welshman named Gwyn who used to be tour manager for The Who. Along with running a hotel he now teaches alternative energies, ruminates on life and thinks of ways to more effectively hurricane-proof his establishment.
Gwyn’s small and aptly named Sea Breeze hotel sits on the edge of the bay and gets the sea breeze. The upstairs balcony and bar is as nice a place as any in Corozal to take relief from the heat and humidity and enjoy an ice-cold monopoly brand Belikin beer.
And so I spent a couple of days in Corozal.
By night, I hung out in the bar with Gwyn and a variety of boomer ex-pats including an ex-Navy American with a recently acquired head injury, a Kiwi with an Australian twang and silvery whiskers, and Layla the dog, who had a penchant for my long skirt as her breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Other hotel guests included a young American couple who were working out how to move to Corozal to escape the Rat Race of Florida, and an energetic blonde Belgian woman, Karin, with whom I had crossed the Mexican border and now shared a room.
Gwyn recounted requisite rock and roll stories, including pre-show arrests and imprisonments in Swedish jails, the freedom from which could only be negotiated by the tour manager for ABBA who rode in on his white stallion (Lear Jet) to save the day; plane groundings due to on-board flaming Sambuca incidents; the origin stories of famous songs (Roxanne by Sting); and accidentally offending Princess Catherine of Monacco while crewing an Eric Clapton gig.
The humidity was clamming, the beer was streaming and the hits of the sixties and seventies were playing. The air was thick with the dirty scent of the notoriously terrible duopoly brand cigarettes of Belize. “They taste like the ground”, Karin informed me.
The following day, Gwyn took the rare measure of shutting up shop, directed me to his ageing Mercedes and took me for a meal at the local Chinese restaurant (the only food one can get of a Sunday in Corozal). We ate Chinese food and drank Belikins and talked about the politics of the United States and Central America.
A common thread from nearly all US ex-pats I listened to in Corozal is the feeling that the United States is on the decline and the sooner away from it the better. There was some speculation about the portent of a recently passed US Act that means that from 2013 it will become much more difficult to take money off-shore from the US.
The largest US Embassy in Central America is located in Belize, a nation of only 350,000 people. The US has a long and chequered history in Central America: the Monroe Doctrine, banana republics, covert CIA operations. For the past ten years, Afghanistan and Iraq have been holding the gaze of the generals. If and when the war machine pump needs priming again, Central America is an old favourite, a fact that is known all-too well by Central Americans.
From the Chinese food feast, we alighted the Mercedes and I was taken on a small tour of Corozal. We drove down Gringo Row, stopping for a small turtle that was crossing the road and a Bianco Cuba Libre (white rum and sprite) at friends of Gwyn’s. Talk over our drinks focussed on the various merits of different hurricane proofing technologies on the veracity of one’s abode in the event of the Big One. It was just like being back in Christchurch. As we were talking a storm swept in across the bay so we downed our drinks and ran for the car, just making it in time to avoid the rain coming in through the open windows which, coincidentally, are not hurricane proofed.
We took shelter from the storm at the bar of the ‘’flashest resort in Corozal’, drinking Belikins under the sturdy palapa and talking to two American guys in their 60s who had just crossed the border. They were a little jumpy and some of their answers to simple questions seemed less than direct or honest. I felt like I was in the Wild West.
We returned to the hotel for another few drinks. We were joined for a time by a very strange East German, known affectionately or otherwise as ‘Herman the German’, his Belizean wife and their Polish friend who ‘liked guns’ and had one with him that he took joy in showing to all. The Herman contingent left and it suddenly felt very late. I retired to my fan cooled room and imbibed as much water as possible to balance out the day’s beers.
The next day I awoke before 6am to be greeted by a perfectly clear and still day. I was deposited by Gwyn and his old Mercedes at the Corozal wharf, after first allowing Layla one final chew on my skirt. I jumped a boat for the Cayes, Ambergris and onto Caulker, little aware I was about to face some of the most truly wetting rain I have hereunto known. But that is for another post.