You…Colossal…F$*% up.

Each step down the pothole riddled, dusty dirt road pissed me off even more than the last. I was so upset I wanted to scream. Cry. Anything. I absolutely could not believe I was so forgetful that I’d left my fly rod in that stupid truck. It could be anywhere up ahead and the only thing I had to go off of was that it was a black truck with a Hispanic man driving.

Those aren’t common in Belize or anything.

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Kids on bicycles occasionally rolled by, swerving smoothly between potholes as they peddled. Slowly but surely I was making my way out of Hopkins, and on my way down to Sittee River to the south. Since it was a dead end down there, I hoped that -maybe- I could find the truck I’d hitched a ride in. But with each step, I only found myself getting more and more upset, and quickly losing any hope of every finding the rod again.

——

That’s what you get for hitch hiking, Alex. And in a different country no less. You moron.

But I was tired…and he did -seem- nice.

Idiot

Maybe he’s just down the road and the fly rod is still there.

Probably not.

But there’s always a chance

Why did you think that was a good idea? Hmm? You’ve known yourself for 26 years. And you didn’t think something bad might happen. To YOU? Of all people. You’ve kinda got a track record.

It was an honest mistake

Stuff like this man…This is how you’re gonna wake up murdered one day. Or even worse…Lose your fly rod in Belize.

——–

I was beating myself up so bad that I didn’t even notice the brand new, blue Toyota Tundra that had pulled up next to me. Suddenly a man’s voice interrupted me mid-argument with myself. An American’s voice! I turned to my left to see your standard white  guy, mid 50’s maybe, looking at me with his windows down.

“Umm…I’m sorry?”, I responded, completely and totally shocked to be looking at what was in front of me.

“I said would you like a ride? I’m going to Sittee River…”, he said with a slightly concerned look on his face.

Aha! Not this time! We’re not falling for this one again…

But I could cover ground quicker in the back of that truck.

Woah woah…Pump the brakes. Seriously? It’s clearly a trap! Did you learn NOTHING from what just happened? It was like 45 minutes ago for Christ’s sake…

“Actually…Yes. Please”, I piped up and explained my situation to the man in the truck. He told me to hop in the back, and yell if I saw the truck I was looking for. I quickly climbed in, and took a seat on the edge of the bed as the truck sped down the road toward Sittee River.

You idiot….

The ride down to the next town was bumpy to say the least and occasionally I had to duck down to avoid taking palm fronds to the face. But eventually we arrived in Sittee River. On several occasions, I spotted out small black pickups, but upon closer inspection, was disheartened to discover they weren’t the one I was looking for. The man driving the truck was nice enough to drive me around the entire town in search of this truck (although the town was remarkably small). After close to 30 minutes of driving around, we were almost out of options. The only place in town that we hadn’t checked was the marina in the south end of town. Many potholes, several small bridges, and numerous low hanging branches later, I arrived at the marina.

There was a large, two story building at the marina and in the back, what looked like a small restaurant underneath a pavilion. Boats of various sizes filled the slips while some of the bigger, offshore boats, were docked up on the river’s edge. The parking lot was about half full and almost immediately a lone truck caught my eye. It looked just like the truck I’d been after! I leaped out of the bed of the Tundra and ran over to the truck. It -had- to be the same truck. I was sure I’d looked at every vehicle in Sittee River. So I got to the truck, looked in the bed, and…

It wasn’t the right truck. The one I was after had a tire and a ladder in the bed. This truck just had some trash and leaves. It was over. My fly rod was gone forever and I could do nothing but thank the man who drove me down to the marina for being so nice and patient with me. He wished me luck on the rest of my trip, and drove off down the dirt road back to the main part of Sitte River, leaving me there at the marina.

Hitch hiking’s a one way ticket, remember?

With no reason to be in Sittee River anymore, I had no choice but to make the long walk back to Hopkins and find a place to sleep for the night. I was still absurdly upset. I kept my eyes peeled for that truck, but it was just false hope. That rod was long gone, and my fly fishing days in Belize were over.

Walking back to Hopkins seemed to take longer than walked to Sittee River. Maybe it was because I was so distraught over the fly rod. Or maybe my legs were just tired from walking. Who knows? What I do know is that slowly but surely, I made my way back into town. I passed several small groceries, little “restaurants”, and run down homes on my way to the center of town. Soon I found myself standing right where I’d been dropped off hours beforehand. I heard a car coming up behind me so I stepped aside and continued walking. But the car didn’t pass. Out of curiosity, I turned around to see what the car was doing.

It was the truck! And the man who’d given me the ride!

I raced up to the truck and looked into the bed. My fly rod wasn’t there. I quickly went to the window and started blabbering at him. Honestly I have no idea what I said, but it probably wasn’t English. Not that it mattered though considering the man only spoke Spanish. Good news? He knew what I wanted, and with a big grin, handed me my fly rod.

You’re the luckiest person alive…

I look for you”, the man said with a heavy accent. And I thanked him profusely, even offering to buy him a case of beer for his troubles, but he refused and just seemed happy to have gotten the rod back to me. Not nearly as happy as I was to have said rod back, however. I was ecstatic. Not only did I have my beloved fly rod back, but this man single handedly restored my faith in humanity. It’s a relief to know that there are still good people that exist in this world.

I thanked the man a few more times, then set off on my way. It was getting dark, and I desperately needed to find a place to stay. “The Book” claimed that on the north end of town was a place called Lebeha. It was a drumming center, but also had rooms for rent. So I wandered my way around locals on bikes, stray dogs, and amongst the smell of delicious street food until I saw Lebeha. Actually, I didn’t see Lebeha first. I heard it.

People were busily beating wooden drums in the courtyard of the center and singing when I arrived. Not wishing to interrupt, I sat down on a chair and listened while they finished their song. One man in particular (who I later found out was co-owner of Lebeha) was teaching others drumming lessons. Eventually, they stopped playing and the man asked if I needed a place to stay. I explained that I did and he got me in contact with his wife Dorothy. It turned out that the room I wanted to rent was taken for the night, but she had another that was shared with a stranger for 7$.

Yeah…Why not?

So I took the room, secured my belongings, and since I was on cloud nine about having my fly rod back, I decided to treat myself. With the place I was staying being a drum center, I’d overheard that the local band was playing at a pizza place on the north end of town (about 1/4 mile away). It was getting late, I was starving, and after the hellacious day I’d just suffered through, I needed a drink. So I wandered off in search of pizza and beer.

I’d been sitting at a long wooden table in the bar for over an hour while I ate pizza and listened to the band drum away just a few feet from me. Generally a beer drinker, it was an odd sight for me to have a giant, five-gallon bucket sized Pina Colada in front of me. But sweet Christ it was delicious. The pizza wasn’t bad either. And the fact that I’d gotten my fly rod back made everything all the sweeter.

A little while later a family of four walked into the bar and, as my table was the only one with open seats at it still, they asked if they could join. I didn’t mind, of course, and they sat down at the table with me. There was something, however, that really stuck out about this family of four (two sons about my age and their parents). They were white Americans. I’d only seen a couple throughout my wanderings around town, and from their reaction to seeing me, I think the surprise was sorta mutual. Hopkins is a bit off the “tourist” path. So you really don’t find the same amount of tourists here like you do in other places around the country. Regardless, we all began talking and over several more beers and pina coladas, learned that they were from California and had all sorts of plans for their stay in Belize. It ended up being a great night and after a paying a record breaking bar tab (for a different country), I said goodbye to my new Californian friends as well as the band, and wandered back to my room.

———-

Just breathe through your mouth dude. You’ll be alright.

He stinks so bad though…It’s like…It’s like I can smell it in my eyeballs. How does no one else seem to notice this??

I took a glance around the school bus as we flew down the road just west of Hopkins. We’d all, of course, been crammed into the bus like sardines and the man who’s personal bubble I was forced to share standing space with smelled like he’d died about two weeks ago. Somehow the other passengers seemed unphased by this assault on the senses. Either that or they two had learned to breath through their mouths.

The stop is just about 3 miles ahead. Suffer through it.

The bus dropped me off at the intersection of the highway and the cut off road for Hopkins just west of town. The plan was to make a short hike to a national park and do a little jungle hiking. That was at least the “plan”.

I began walking down a dirt road in search of this national park. But after a couple of miles, I soon found myself standing in the middle of a citrus orchard with zero sign of a preserve entrance in sight. Convinced I’d screwed up, I walked all the way back out to the highway to see if I could get my bearings. When I arrived back at the intersection, there were a couple of men waiting for a ride from the bus. I asked them directions to the national park and they said “Just about a mile -that- way” and pointed north down the highway. So I thanked them, and started walking.

And walking.

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Then I walked some more.

This man’s version of “about a mile” quickly turned into close to 7 miles. And even though this was December, it was pretty hot. Hot enough that by the time I FINALLY reached the turn off for the preserve, I was almost completely out of water. The good news? Don’t kid yourself. There was no good news. The sign read that the actual entrance to the national park was 4 miles down this NEW road. With no other option, and after having walked this far, I made the choice to just continue on.

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The dirt road wasn’t particularly well maintained, but it was decent enough to walk on. Thankfully there were several shaded patches which was a blessing after reaching the dregs of my water bottle. A few cars passed by as I continued on and each one left a cloud of dust behind them, forcing me to stop and wait rather than breathing it in and getting sent into a coughing fit. I’d made it maybe a mile down the dirt road when I heard a car coming from behind. In my usual fashion, I stepped off to the side of the road and continued walking. But the car slowed, and pulled up next to me.

“Hey! We know you!”, yelled a voice from the car.

I turned to look and see my Californian friends from the bar!

No. Freakin. Way.

They surely saw me drenched in sweat and breathing hard, so without hesitation they asked, “Need a ride? We’re going to the preserve”

By this point you’d think that maybe I’d learned my lesson about hitching rides. And you’d be wrong. I gratefully hopped into the back of their SUV and we motored along to the preserve. These were some of the nicest people I encountered during my stay in Belize. They gave me a cold Gatorade and some water (which was a life saver) and were all around just great people. And rather than make me walk the 13+ miles back to Hopkins later that day, they even offered me a ride back. Which I gladly accepted.

The national park was absolutely gorgeous. I learned that there was a trail that led straight up the mountainside and eventually ended at a waterfall, so I chose that one for my hike. As I walked along, I noticed my first cat track in the mud. I still don’t know what sort of wild cat this was, but I still found it pretty cool.

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But not another three or four hundred yards down the path, I heard something that sent shivers down my spine. No. Not the roar of a big cat. Something far more deadly.

It’d been 28 years. 28 years since Dutch and his team of Commandos fought the Predator deep within the Central American jungle. And here it was. I’d stumbled across it again. Armed with nothing more than an empty water bottle and a half eaten sandwich.

Turns out those are Howler Monkeys, and I realized this after just a few seconds. But it did scare the life out of me at first. Besides, I know better that I’d never hear Predator if it was hunting me. I could only hope to spot out his tell-tale shimmer.

The hike up the mountain was steep to say the least, and the combination of Howler Monkeys in the distance and crashing water from a nearby creek made everything surreal.

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I eventually reached the waterfall at the top of the trail, and took a swim in its crystal clear waters to cool down. It was one of those rare instances where pictures just don’t do it justice. So rather than breaking out the camera and ruining the moment, I opted to sit on a rock, eat my lunch, and listen to incessant yet soothing sounds of crashing water. After a little while, other people made their way to the top of the trail, and I’d been there long enough. I certainly didn’t want to miss my ride with the Californians. So back down the mountain I went, eventually meeting up with the Californians and hopping back into their car.

On the drive back, I couldn’t help but stare out across the jungle and be absurdly thankful. SO many things could have gone horribly wrong during the past couple of days, but thanks to a few truly good people and a healthy spattering of luck, things turned out perfect. I’ve got quite a lot of good deeds to do to make up for everything that happened, but I look forward to it. The world could always use a few more good people.