Journey to Belize: An Unsettling Experience

This post continues the retelling my my 2017 trip to Belize: participating in an archaeology field school and learning about jaguar conservation. The previous entry is located here.

At least the sunset was nice that day.

June 28, 2017 was probably my most unsettling day in Belize – for an unexpected reason.

After an easy morning, I headed to Everest Indian Restaurant for lunch to visit Raj. He was quite busy, which I was happy to see. I sat down at an indoor table, and was soon joined by an American expat named Elsa.

Elsa was a kind, pleasant woman. She appeared to be in her upper sixties, and had lived in Belize for the past twelve years. She was a long-time friend of Raj’s, and we had a good conversation.

I told Elsa that I had been toying with the idea of visiting the Peace Corps office in Belmopan. I knew that Peace Corps volunteers had previously worked at the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, and wanted to know if they still did. Elsa encouraged me to do so, and gave me directions to the location.

A waterfall in the Cockscomb Basin. Came so Far for This by Jay Joslin. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I therefore left Everest after lunch and began following Elsa’s directions. I eventually found myself walking through a secluded corner of Belmopan. I crunched along dirt roads through a quiet neighborhood, seeing few people. I got turned around once or twice, but managed to find the Peace Corps’ office. I immediately wished I had not.

There was nothing welcoming about this place. It was surrounded by a tall, menacing, and seemingly impenetrable fence. With its fortified-looking exterior, the main building appeared to be designed more for war than peace. I had a deep sense that I should not be there.

But I had walked all this way, and was unwilling to simply turn around. I found a guard station, and explained that I was an American citizen who was trying to learn about jaguars. I had heard that the Peace Corps used to work in Cockscomb, and I wanted to know if they still did.

I was too scared to take any pictures of the Peace Corps office. Here is a photo of a cat I took that day as recompense.

The guard took my passport and told me to wait outside the gate. I stood there for several minutes, until a well-dressed American woman came out to see me. She was polite and friendly, but it was obvious that my presence was not appreciated. She told me that only pre-approved individuals were allowed in The woman then gave me a business card, and encouraged me to call and schedule an appointment. She returned my passport and went back inside.

I left immediately. Everything about the Peace Corps’ office, from its militaristic architecture to its secluded location, felt paranoid to me. I never called.

After that unpleasant experience, I swung by the Belize Forest Department’s headquarters to ask about research permits. The person I needed to speak to was not there, but I was given his contact information. I then began the long walk back to Raj’s house.

A park I frequently passed through on my way to and from Raj’s house.

As I walked, I made the mistake of allowing myself to think. I began to feel trapped by my graduate program. I was increasingly realizing that I was not an academic, and that scholastic achievements meant nothing to me.

I loved what I was doing in Belize: speaking to fascinating people about topics that interested me, taking detailed notes, and imagining how I might share those stories with the public. I found that infinitely more fulfilling than paying thousands of dollars to shake my fists at capitalism.

My ruminating ceased when I finally made it back to Raj’s house. After dark, Raj and I sat on his balcony and chatted in the cool night air. He told me stories about his life in Nepal – which I do not feel comfortable sharing. I was grateful for his company, but just as happy to go to bed. After trudging all around Belmopan that day, I was exhausted.

21 Thoughts

      1. Maybe they have classified information about aliens behind those fences. And, that’s still quite interesting. Plus, you’ll learn more from real life first hand experiences and talking to others than just reading in a book about it.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. The Peace Corps was thought to coordinate with the CIA? Well I don’t know anything about that, but the building I saw didn’t look like a volunteer organization’s headquarters at all. I was thinking I’d arrive at an office building, not a military installation.

      Ah yes, a writer. Of all the things one could be, I happen to be suited for the most accursed and least profitable profession of all. At least, that’s how former English teachers of mine made it sound. I must’ve been a very bad beetle in my past life.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It was a fleeting idea: mostly. I continued my studies, since dropping out wouldn’t have helped anyone. In fact, I’m scheduled to finish my master’s degree this fall. However, if an opportunity to do more traveling comes along – if it is an opportunity I can’t pass up – I’d be willing to put my studies on hold to pursue it. I’m never going to drop out though; I might just take a temporary sabbatical. It’d have to be a really good opportunity, however.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I noticed a difference in the style of your writing. It was less academic and more descriptive. You said you wondered how you might share your stories. It doesn’t have to be one way or the other. The most important academics are the ones who tell can people stories about their field of study. I’m thinking of Academic like Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, Michio Kaku, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. I’m shocked by how the Peace Corp has changed. What was your sense of why you got this treatment? The last time I looked the Peace Corp was still a federally funded program.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Robert! Great to hear from you!

      I purposely try to write in a more descriptive sense, because that’s the type of writing I find most enjoyable to read. I don’t want to confuse anyone: I want them to be able to envision what was going on at the time.

      You’re right through: the academics who’ve inspired me the most have been the ones who excelled at storytelling. I’d add Dr. Alan Rabinowitz to your list as well.

      My impression of why the Peace Corps treated me the way they did was that they were paranoid: paranoid of terrorist attacks. They acted as if everyone they encountered might be a suicide bomber or something, which is utterly ridiculous. Why would anyone attack a minimally-staffed Peace Corps office in a tiny Caribbean country? Besides, if Belizeans were hostile towards Americans – which they most assuredly are not – the danger would be on the coast: that’s where most of the tourists go.

      Liked by 2 people

          1. A segment of the US population was made crazy by a targeted act of psychological warfare.

            You can tell Putin’s attack was a success because the U.S. press continues to discuss trump’s presidency as if it’s legitimate, even as the most competent and respected members of our Intelligence Community tells us Trump is in the white house because of an act of war.

            The definition of ‘crazy’ is losing touch with reality.

            Trump’s base is a ‘low information’ collection of elderly delinquents that believes it’s surrounded by an imaginary liberal elite who will take away their guns and confederate toys and force them to get over themselves. Sad.

            :)

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Oh no, Trump’s base is much broader than just elderly individuals. When I was living in Humboldt County I ran into a large number of Millenials who supported Trump wholeheartedly: mostly for religious reasons. I also ran into quite a few elderly people who hated him.

            Then there were the Bernie supporters I overheard at a talk who were refusing to vote for Hillary, because they thought she was worse than Trump. They were Millennials too, I might add.

            Then again, that seemed to be a place where extreme opinions thrived: both right and left.

            Liked by 1 person

          3. When I say ‘elderly delinquents’ I’m commenting more on what I see at Trump’s rallies and in
            the streets. I’m also thinking about the wizened crooks he uses as surrogates. I mean, why get old
            if you’re not going to get wiser and smarter. It seems like a waste of being old.

            Liked by 1 person

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