"Of course we're happy here," says Rudolph Castillo in his own carefree manner. "How can anybody be unhappy in a country where rum is 7� a shot?" Lately a locally brewed beer called Belikin has become popular (DRINK BELIKIN! BE BELIZEAN! a sign says) and is even served in a milk shake invented by local chef Felix Nunez, who recites his recipe with relaxed imprecision: "To make de Belikin milk shake for four people, two beer is quite sufficient. No, three beer. No, four beer. Yes, four beer. Den you get evaporated milk and condensed milk for to sweeten and a little nutmeg, and den you mix together, and dot's de way Ah makes it. A good drink for children, too. Makes de sick children sleep or be unconscious." Nunez was only too happy to oblige with other local recipes, but I found it difficult to retain my interest in recipes that began, "First buy one fat pig's tail" or "Take a plump curassow."
For those who are too poor to indulge in the inexpensive Belikin beer or rum at 7� a shot, there is always home brew, which the local people make from blackberries or from the fruit of the cashew tree or from just about anything that will exude alcohol. There is a traditional drink consisting of alcohol garnished with exactly nine live "wee wees," the energetic umbrella ants of the Central American jungles. The drink is supposed to turn lazy people into working fools just like wee wees, but the claim has not been scientifically validated. There is less and less consumption of the wee wee drink these days now that everyone is looking toward independence and less need for the wee wee's inspiration, and indeed one can spot a disturbing trend toward temperance among the populace. Once Belize City was a carnival of hard-drinking, hard-brawling Caribbean roustabouts and mahogany loggers and thirsty natives who made every Saturday night an insane Mardi Gras. But one day the revelers awoke to find Methodists in their madness, dedicated Wesleyan missionaries who preach the gospel of Christianity and moderation.
Nowadays Belize is much less raucously wild, but this is not to say that the visiting roisterer need go thirsty or lonely on a Saturday night. Women of practically instant virtue can be found (indeed can scarcely be avoided) at the seedy Hotel Continental, where the locals are quick to advise that these painted creatures come from El Salvador, Mexico and "Spanish Honduras," never from Belize itself. Liquor supplies are more than adequate at bars like the Bamboo Bay, hangout of the local British garrison, and the Fort George Hotel, the city's only hostelry good enough to be classed second-rate. There are infrequent fights late at night, and on a recent evening in Belize City a cabinetmaker dispatched his competitor with a saw, a homicide which had the town buzzing on our arrival.
Despite such overreactions, Belizeans still have so little major crime that they are titillated by it, unlike urban North Americans who have had to learn to take rape and murder and robbery with their breakfast coffee. A single heinous offense fuels weeks of gossip over Belize City's fading fences and open trenches, and one reads inexplicable items in the
Belize Times, e.g., "Masvidal's case has been adjourned again. This time for Monday, January 17th. But even then his case will not be heard until the following morning, which is the 18th." No need for a foreigner to try to understand; the
Belize Times is for the Belizeans, and they already know about Masvidal.
The classic case in the history of Belizean law enforcement happened many years ago, but it is still the subject of daily discussion. When Nora Parham became disenchanted with her common-law husband, she waited until he was comfortably seated in the outhouse and then jammed the door closed. She sloshed gasoline through the half-moon opening and threw in a match, effectively solving her marital problems once and for all. Rumor has it that Nora Parham was utterly bored by her punishment; it is said that she repeated the Belizean national phrase, "It's no big deal, mon," before striking a resounding blow for Women's Lib by becoming the first (and only) woman ever to be hanged in the colony.
Nor did the case of Ms. Parham deter other embattled housewives, who could not fail to recognize a useful technique for handling husbandly oppression. Soon after the Parham case a woman killed her mate in exactly the same fashion, but the English authorities let her off when it was firmly established that her husband had been an absolute bounder. Then a third woman attempted an outhouse incineration, but in her haste used a bucket of water instead of gasoline, chilling her husband and scaring him half to death. As she was led off to jail she was heard to mutter disconsolately, "One little mistake."
The only other Belizean crime problem of any import involves the Boledo, the national lottery, a pastime which has become a public craze like the Tierc� in France and football pools in the U.K. Frequent enthusiastic attempts are made to cheat the Boledo, to "pass the post," with indifferent success. Years ago the daily number used to come by wireless from Panama, but a local Nicely-Nicely Johnson intercepted the number, quickly got his bets down and cleaned out some local ticket sellers. To combat such practices the government took over the lottery and instituted a public drawing each night, with two numbered balls being selected in front of a noisy crowd. At first a couple of insiders rigged the public drawing by putting two balls on ice during the day and then picking them out by feel. There are frequent other attempts to beat the house odds (the payoff is 73 to 1, but the odds against are 99 to 1, giving the government a comfortable vigorish), and such an attempt was described in a recent
"Three lottery books were stolen from the grocery shop of Councillor Adolfo Lizarraga on Sunday morning. The culprit whom Mr. Lizarraga suspected to be have been a woman walked out his shop with the books, and after the winning number in the National Lottery was drawn she sent a little boy to collect 10 out of 15 pieces Mr. Lizarraga asked the boy to bring his grandmother so that he could discuss her winnings but she failed to appear."
To the trickle of tourists who find their way into Belize, the country's main appeal is most likely to lie in its jungles and rivers and offshore fishing holes, where normal North American descriptive references simply become useless. How is one to describe the panic of an American fisherman who is lazily trolling in a narrow canal when a 500-pound jewfish hits his lure? How is one to describe the flycaster who puts his Mickey Finn streamer squarely between a pair of mangrove fronds and hooks a 95-pound black snapper on a 6X leader? How is one to describe the bird hunter who sits at his stand in the middle of the forest and tries not to breathe as a 700-pound tapir rumbles by followed by several hundred wild hogs, all of them with built-in Wilkinson blades? How is one to describe the hunter who steps on a fer-de-lance?
"American sportsmen are just not prepared for what they find down here," says Fred Keller, an automotive executive who bought a sport fishing business in Belize and swears he will never return to the executive rat race. "I've been here four years, and I'm still being surprised three times a day. I'll give you an example: bonefish. They're prize fish for a lot of sportsmen, right? When I lived up North, I always thought that a fisherman who went out and caught one or two bones had had a pretty successful day, something to brag about. Well, down here you'd be thoroughly ashamed of yourself if you only caught a few bones in a day. You'd slink around and keep your mouth shut, and your guide would swear you to secrecy. The bone-fishing around here just never quits! I don't know who caught the most in the shortest time, but Tom McNally once took 59 in 6� hours, and nobody even thought it was anything special. There's a physicist from Union Carbide, Dr. John Frye, who comes down here year after year and fishes for bones 10 hours a day with four-pound-test spinning line, and he thinks nothing of landing 30 or 40 a day. And releasing them, of course. We stress release of all fish, tarpon, bone-fish, whatever, and as a result our schools offish never seem to diminish."