When you ride a bicycle around the island San Pedro, Belize, you have a better chance of becoming a local, to blend in, be accepted, hang with the guys on the street, learn the life of where you are at. It is always different and always the same as your own life back home.
In San Pedro, your bike will not have gears- one speed, and you will brake by pedaling backwards as you did when you were a kid. It takes some getting used to. Your chain might fall off, then you’ll have to yank it free and thread it over the wheel, brown rusty muck covering your hands.
I learn to ride in the gutters, by watching the locals, for the streets are paved with stones and really really bumpy. In the gutters though, will be puddles if it just rained, which it often does at this time of the year. So in a very short amount of time, your back will be sprayed with a line of white sandy drops. No matter, so are the locals.
Riding a bike allows me to wave easier, stop at a roadside stand for some fresh pineapple slices and coconut juice, hop off to take a picture, chat it up. I have to dodge the 3,000 golf carts which motor up and down the 10 miles of roads on San Pedro. On the street by the airport are dozens of golf carts parked- island taxis. At this little local airport, which is so chill, I am allowed to ride my bike right over to the landing strip and pull it into a bike rack and wait for my photographer friend Steve Wewerka to fly in from the mainland. I like this relaxed security.
One morning, Steve and I, get up early from the Banyon Bay Hotel to see if we could make some pictures. We ride down to the wharf where the fisherman unload their catch, clean their fish and throw back the guts and heads. Huge tarpon mozie in to eat the gunk, reaching up to 6 feet long. Fruit is being sold, and loaded onto bikes. When a rain shower comes on, we duck under a canopy where a half dozen men are lounging and they welcome us to hang with them.
They offer us some Belizian rum, which they pour into cups and mix with water. “You can’t drink it straight, it’ll kill you,” they warn. Eight am and they are starting to drink. Steve and I decline. The owner of the “carport home,” lies on a massive reclining chair which doubles as his bed. Underneath are plastic bags, clothing, all his belongings it appears, then is covered with a piece of fabric. His bros sit around on a bench, sipping and talking and laughing. Today must be bath day as a few take turns to stand by the water and dump buckets over themselves after lathering up, rain pouring down on them. Or maybe they are just doing it for the photographer.
The man who owns the carport has a rosary around his neck as a necklace. Many on San Pedro are deeply religious- Catholic. He tells us of his half dozen children who live around the world or are attending universities, most with their masters or working towards them. His wife, he says, does not live with him (at the carport). Not sure if this has something to do with his 8 am drinking but who’s judging. When the sun breaks through, Steve and I make the rounds and shake everyone’s free hand (the other holds a cup) to say goodbye. They invite us back the next morning.
“We’ll be on a plane back to the mainland,” we decline, as we step on a pedal and get ready to ride away. “You’re always welcome,” our new friends yell to us and because of our bikes, we learn a little more about island life in the Caribbean- at least this side of it, which is a legitimate real side of it too, and one we would not have had the privilege of sharing in had we not been pedaling a bike.