As a city known for its history of multi-flag reign, New Orleans can share their transitional spirit with Belize.
When the Big Easy starts to feel the biting cold of a wet winter it’s time to look south. There’s nothing like time spent in a tropical paradise where the water is crystal clear turquoise, the food is delicious, and the people friendly. As a New Orleanian you can transplant yourself into Central America very easily
True, we are already "the northernmost part of the Caribbean” but Belize is “Mother Nature's Best-Kept Secret”. Take the time to visit this often flown-over country to see the similarities and differences between us and them. That is after all, why we travel.
First, let’s start with the people because, after all, they are the flavor of any destination.
Historically, slavery kickstarted it all after the decimation and mistrust the Spanish and French brought to the native people of the Yucatan. Colonialists shipped in African slaves for the lumber industry to this string of land in the middle of beautiful scenery. Belize is “built off the backs of the Creole people” as one put it. Creoles are now one of the most represented groups in Belize with their language (Creole) being officially recognized and their dishes (rice and beans, stewed chicken, etc) being national Belizean dishes. They were brought over to start the logging industry, and then married into the French, Spanish, and British populations. Many are still loyal to their heritage, the Crown, and their place in Belize.
When interviewing Franz Vernon (whose mother was a famous Creole activist and Belizean music icon) he mentioned how his mom, LeeLaa, is famous for saying “Who sey Creole no gat noh culture!” In proper English, “Who says Creole’s don’t have any culture!” The Creoles of New Orleans and Belize both have movements to represent their history and future in the midst of numerous cultural heritages.
In modern day Belize there is a mash-up of cultural groups, but primarily, Garifuna, Kriole (Creole), Mayan (descended mainly from the larger classifications of Kekchi, Yucatec, and Mopan Maya), East Indians, Mennonites, Asian, etc.
Much like New Orleans you get an eclectic viewpoint of the world from Belize. The country is built on a changing landscape of cultural history and a trip in the country reveals of lot of heart and soul of the Yucatan.
If rice and beans, fried chicken or fish, and fresh fruit is your thing then look no further than Belize. With a variety of flavors mixing up the staples (Mayan vs Creole versions of beans and rice, salsa, etc.) eating the same meal over and over again never gets old.
The Creole-influence is heavy in Belize as it is in New Orleans. “Stewed beans” are red kidney beans and white rice. Sound familiar? They serve them more than just on Mondays and they are delicious.
We may be known for our beignets, but Fry-Jacks need to migrate up to New Orleans. These are flour dough shaped into a triangle, fried so it puffs up, and then stuffed with breakfast ingredients such as: ham, eggs, and hot sauce or honey and fruit. They are delicious for an on-the go meal or as you watch the sunrise over the Caribbean Sea.
The coffee is surprisingly underwhelming for a country around so many well-known coffee regions, but again, you’re in a post-British colony heavily influenced by the crown. New Orleans, for all the delicious flavors we produce chicory does not fit the bill. Belize and New Orleans are once again a lot more similar than different.
When you go to Belize don’t spend the entire time drunk on the beach (maybe just 75% of your time). Take the time to travel throughout the seven regions (central coast, Northern Belize, North Islands, Belize Reef, Southeast Coast, Southern Belize, Western Belize) and experience mountains, jungles, marine life, open water beauty, etc.
The Mayan sites are not as well known as those in Mexico, but they do not disappoint. Many are secluded down gravel and dirt roads which add to the mystique of visiting places where people not only survived, but thrived 1000s of years ago.
Out in the jungle you can hear howler monkeys waking up to the day, but watch out for the big cats, they are out there. The reef on the islands in the Caribbean Sea are said to be some of the best in the world. Whether scuba diving or snorkeling you can see marine life like never before.
So, why travel to a place that is similar to where you live? Because even when two things seem similar they are worlds apart. New Orleans and Belize may be bred along the same lines, but a visit to this wonderful country reveals much more about the world, and how it influences your city.
And for goodness sakes only go to Guatemala if you’re into getting rowdy, or hiding from the police.
Written originally for Where Y'at.