Eleven years ago, Hurricane Iris smashed into southern Belize.
It was a disaster for the small village of Placencia. A massive storm surge steamrolled that narrow peninsula, washing much of the village into the lagoon. We’d been to Belize only once before; that winter we returned, three months after Iris, to find the village an utter shambles—homes and vehicles tossed into the sea, thousands of trees shredded, a seemingly endless pile of rubble.
We weren’t prepared for the ruin we encountered, even though our friend Bubba tried to warn us. Come anyway, he’d said. The village could use the money.
We wandered around, dazed, and a bit depressed. Fortunately, we had a mission: record radio interviews with Placencians, many of them homeless and still in shock. Hal and I did our first public radio story about Iris; and it was those interviews that introduced us to the folks who would later become some of our closest friends.
We interviewed people who had surfed the storm surge inside their wrecked homes. We listened to a terrified kid who cowered as a VW bug washed by him. We talked to Sonny Vernon, who was quite fearless about telling strangers how vulnerable and scared he’d felt after Nature smacked his house off its piers like so many cricket wickets. “Honored” is the only word to describe how we felt when he shared his story.
And we spoke with Japs the Sailor, who we’d met the year before on a sailboat excursion that taught us a little something about patience and the futility of plans. I remember very clearly what he said, when we found him one afternoon on the broken sidewalk, amid the ruin of his village. “It’s OK. We’ll build it better,” he grinned, his gap-toothed, wide Rasta smile. (note: Ask Japs sometime how he lost his front teeth. #2ndCricketReference)
We found his optimism nearly impossible to share at the time. Turns out, he was right. Placencians did just that, as you can see:
I’m not sure how many times we’ve been to Placencia since then. Eight? Nine? No matter. It’s become one of our favorite places on earth, and the more time we spend there, the less we do once we arrive.
Don’t get me wrong. There have been adventures: A Nine Night with “The Lyrical King.” That sailboat excursion with Japs that left us stranded at sea. A rained-out wedding in the jungle. (Our wedding, that is.) Another sailing trip with the McDougalls to Guatemala. But with each journey to Placencia, the place seems to seep more and more into our bones, and we get better at slowing down to match its pace.
The above photos are from our latest trip (last winter), in which I’m pretty sure we did nothing at all. #success And as I scroll through them, and compare them to the images of destruction archived in my mind, I stand amazed, relieved, and proud of the Belize (and Belizeans) I’m only just beginning to know in depth.
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