The Island Project – Belize

workaway home in Belize

and then there was the Island Project…

I don’t even know what to say…I’m rarely speechless…

this was our day…

6am wake up in Pedro’s Hostel, hot, sticky, anxious to get on to the next adventure.

fryjacks and coffee at Estelle’s on the beach – super yummy!!!

rush Sam around to get the 9:30 water taxi to Belize City

retrieve our van from Quirky Dave at Edgar’s Mini Storage – all safe and sound for a whopping $160Belize including the 20 min ride to and from the van.

one hour in to the 2.5 hour ride to Hopkins, and we stopped at Cheers – a roadside diner owned by a lady from Mission, BC…great burgers and Sam had the best chocolate milkshake he’s had in months

uneventful drive, getting sleepy though…and the worse part, my brakes started giving me grief again!

same noise as before, same spongy sensation, pulling to one side and a ‘metal on metal’ sound…crap!!!

finally into Hopkins where we pick up Robbie (a Brit who is also headed to the Island Project for a week). He’s been staying at the local hostel – Funky Dodo which actually looks quite … well… Funky!

thought I’d better start asking around for a mechanic so spoke to Cheryl (originally Cdn now living in Hopkins running Happy Go Lucky Tours with her lovely husband…Luckie…next door to the hostel)

mechanic lined up for next week…

we load up Robbie along with Capt Rayon, our ride to the Island and the resident rhasta handy man, and off we go for our big grocery shopping.

done and done, after a second stop at the veggie store – then the Marina where I hope to store the van while we’re at the Island Project.

all good…paid for 5 days at the beautiful Hopkins marina – 24 hour security – some absolutely gorgeous dive and luxury boats – I’m sure my little van will be fine – again, a whopping $5 Belize / day – if only the beer in Belize was as cheap as their parking facilities!!

then the fun started! we wrapped everything in garbage bags and loaded into Rayon’s open boat – picture 22ft open tin boat – without the tin – instead, what looks like layers upon layers of repaired fibreglass…to the point that the sides are rather lumpy and crooked; layers that, once we hit the open water and the choppy waves, looked like they would literally come apart at the seams!

then the rain started! by now we’re soaked – so too our sheets and pillows as we would discover on our arrival.

½ hour later, just as the sun is setting, we pull up to the dock – greeted by the two lovely island dogs, and the Lady of the Island – Willow.

this is where the speechless part comes in…
we do an initial tour of the island to get our bearings and figure out our sleeping arrangements…by now I’m convinced I don’t have nearly enough Ativan to calm the growing anxiety in my gut!

the phrase “WTF” continues to drift in and out of my head…

here’s the run down:

initial pluses:

our sleeping cabin
our sleeping cabin

cute little cabin on the beach where Sam and I will stay
apparently decent snorkelling right off the main beach
crystal clear water
Willow seems really nice and friendly
work doesn’t seem too arduous – schlepping dead coral, maybe building some planting beds for veggies
Robbie seems keen and friendly

initial minuses: preface ALL of this with an optimistic hope and prayer that EVERYTHING will look better in the morning!!!

kitchen facilities are almost non existent – not exactly sure how we’re going to actually cook anything, but I’m thinking there’s a BBQ somewhere

bathroom facilities are also non existent – >

No.1 is off the dock or through a makeshift loo in the corner of the great communal palapa – which opens directly into the sea

No.2 is an open air bucket toilet situated on a little coral /sand path, next to a pile of seaweed which you use to cover your ‘business’ then the bucket is dumped periodically into a ‘sh*t pit’ which is again layered with seaweed. Surprisingly I didn’t notice any smell – however it was raining a bit, and windy, so it may be a different story in the stillness and heat of the typical Belizean day;

rainy season has only just started so there MIGHT be water for showering – but apparently no one has used the shower for almost a year – everyone washes in the ocean then rinses sparingly with collected rain water.

the only fridge currently holds only a bowl with a whole dead snapper, and some left over veggies from the last volunteer – which now smells like dead snapper (the veg, not the volunteer!) and there’s no ice – guess we were supposed to bring some…who knew!

the wind and storm proceeded to whip up into a frenzy, soaking our freshly made beds and pillows; Sam volunteered to find his way to Willlow’s house for a tray of ice – so in the midst of the storm and total darkness, I stand at the doorway to the palapa, watching his headlamp disappear in the sideways falling rain only to realize after a few short moments, that he has gone off in the OPPOSITE direction to her house!!!

I yell through the howling wind – he apparently hears me and flashes his lamp twice – as if we were speaking some mutually understood sign language, then flashes it red…I’m thinking this isn’t good, but he keeps moving AWAY from us! I yell “COME BACK!!” – Willow chimes up from behind me – “it’s okay, he’s going to my house for ice” – which is fine and brave and generous I agree – except for the whole “walking the wrong direction” part! “Ooops says she” – and we both yell through the bellowing winds – “COME BACK!” Soaked to the bone, headlamp fixed to the middle of his forehead – huge cheezy grin on his face – he returns…his first Indiana Jones Experience a temporary fail…but he’s off again once turned around!

My decision at this point was to find a quiet place like a hammock, in the dark on the deck where no one will see my tears – should there be any – which there weren’t – but there could have been!

I couldn’t eat and couldn’t even fain interest in the project or in these new additions to our traveling world family – at this point I didn’t care! I hoped sleep would block it all out and speed up the time between now and when I wake up in the morning and everything is … better!

Morning One: CLEAN UP! There wasn’t a hope in hell I was going to attempt to cook, let alone EAT anything in this kitchen (if you could call it that)…so job one – clean! counters, fridge (again, nothing here but a big dead snapper), the one burner propane stove (the same “mr. stove” we use for fondues at home), the big 2′ x 2′ stainless steel sink whose sides come up to my armpits, and more floors and counters…all quite disgusting!

workaway in Belize
one burner, one pot dinners – in the dark!

Breakfast of pancakes with Sam, Robbie and me and then it’s off to Willow’s house to plan our day…of course, I have to have a meeting! But honestly the scope of this project is so huge I had to have a meeting for my own sanity – to figure out what needs to be done, what she wants done, what I think we can get done, and what tools & materials we have to enable us to do anything.

The list is long and I find myself going to my happy place of interior design and “space” management – getting caught up in discussions for making funky plate racks and kitchen islands and … well… “lipstick ‘n’ pearls”.

All well and good except the still small voice inside me later shouts out – “stop the bus! you’ve got a water pump that doesn’t work, an island covered in rubbish that needs cleaning, a failing solar system, a gigantic hole in the floor in the main palapa AND a septic system that is full, neglected and unuseable!”

Palapa deck and docks

Note to self: What would Bradley do?

It ain’t pretty, but I’m thinking pumps, septic systems, power and dangerous holes in the floor trump plate racks and pretty cushions any and every day!

The term “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” comes to mind and I decide to be the voice of reason…let’s get the structural and operational stuff managed first.

By the end of the day, I’m exhausted, overwhelmed and slightly annoyed at the lack of focus and priorities. The Island Project is such a jewel of an opportunity, such an amazingly beautiful piece of paradise, but such an incredible amount of work.   After months of apparent neglect – the scope of the project seemed so daunting that I was ready to bolt.  My mind kept saying…this is too big for me, it’s too late in our trip to take this on, I don’t want to engage and be the voice of reason,  I WANT OFF THIS FLIPPIN’ ISLAND

Well, 5 days later and we’re heading into Dangriga for more supplies!

workaway in Belize
view from our kitchen

We’ve snorkelled with stingrays; seen the most amazing collection of gigantic star fish, watched dolphins and manatees play off our dock; tracked lobster hiding in the coral heads and then giggled underwater as Captain Rayon chases them down and captures them for our dinner. I’ve learned to make peanut butter and banana fryjacks; eaten FRESH tuna tartar and grilled snapper and we’ve sailed up and down the beautiful string of cayes in the area.

We’ve been witness to some of the most incredible tropical storms I can imagine – thunder that literally shakes the floor of our cabana and lightening that lights up the entire island!

to main palapaThe project is still huge and daunting and I think in some ways misguided…but I had a meeting (this time with myself) and decided to not focus on the forest, but instead to enjoy the trees, one at a time – the view, the fellowship, the crystal clear water, the oh-so-unique adventure…and to not worry about whether or not Willow knows how to operate or fix her water pump. She either will … or she won’t – with or without me.

workaway job in belize
By tomorrow there will be more

So we are staying longer than planned.  We will get materials for a couple of smaller projects and possibly one major one – like the hole in the floor!!! Other than that we will shovel and wheelbarrow our allotted amount of seaweed and coral off the beaches – a never ending task everywhere in the Caribbean right now due to an unusual bloom of seaweed that is literally choking out the beaches – and we will enjoy the moments of sunsets on the dock, swimming before breakfast, and dozing in the hammocks in the afternoon.

Laptop Lifestyle in Belize
My Belize Office
It’s a tough life, but someone’s got to live it!

2 thoughts on “The Island Project – Belize

  1. Ok, now I’M speechless! That’s an undertaking that any mere mortal would shrink from so for you to have that reaction is frightening to me. In typical Nadine fashion you’ve apparently made lemonade. Your perspective on this whole adventure amazes me. What just gave me great comfort…realizing that this story happened weeks ago! We’ve talked in the meanwhile, I know you’re back in Mexico and I can now exhale…

    1. Never forget to exhale Mom! YOU were the one who taught me that everything looks better in the morning! Not necessarily the NEXT morning! But one morning – it will ALL look better! And it always does! Love you!

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