When my boat first pulled into Punta Gorda, and, shouldering my backpacks, I walked past the bars, the trash-strewn Front Street, and the drunk men and their catcalls, suffering immensely in the heat, I thought I had made a mistake. But a lot has happened since those thoughts crossed my mind.
I’ve learned that the issues communities in the Toledo District face are far more complex than I ever could have guessed. I learned that communities are torn between protecting their land and traditional ways of life, and the desire for economic improvement. I’ve learned that many see oil exploration as an opportunity, if pursued respectfully and with the support of communities. I learned that despite seeing it as an economic opportunity, many fear what it will do. I learned about the importance of free, prior, and informed consent. And recently, I learned, that U.S. Capital Energy has plans to resume its oil exploration in September, without having spoken with the communities in the area. I learned that it will take a hard fight, and very committed people, to ensure that U.S. Capital Energy is held accountable.
I’ve also made some great friends here in PG. Friends from the UK, Germany, Spain, Mexico, New Zealand, and, of course, Belize. Friends that have joined me in drum lessons. Friends that have spent hours eating and drinking into the night while discussing issues ranging from environmental issues the world over to the best way to swear in Spanish. Friends that have joined me on countless adventures. Friends that I could laugh with while trudging through the swamps of the Sarstoon Temash National Park. Friends that cheered for 4 different countries during the Olympics Opening Ceremony. Friends that toasted the full moon with tequila, cashew wine, Belikin, drum playing, and a heavy dose of laughter. Friends that made me feel as though I was in a bike gang, cruising around PG. Friends that made PG home.
I’ve worked with some truly outstanding women. I was reminded of how fortunate I am to have the opportunities I have had in the U.S. I was reminded that one can, in fact, be old in many ways, but so young in others. I was reminded that what I enjoy most is really talking to people, listening to what they have to say, and sharing it with others. I was reminded that sometimes, it just takes a person willing to share that story, to make someone feel great. I was reminded that I really shouldn’t participate in any crafting activities (though I enjoy watching). I was reminded of the joy that a smile on someone’s face gives me. I was reminded that you can learn anything from anyone, at any time, as long as you are open to it. I was reminded that even though it may seem as though you live in different worlds, and have nothing in common, there is always something that binds.
I’ve come to love Punta Gorda. I’ve come to overlook the trash-lined streets, choosing instead to admire the natural beauty surrounding me: the impossibly green hills in the distance and the beautiful blue sea never far. I’ve come to look forward to the cries from neighbors and acquaintances as I bike through town. I’ve come to respond to each and every catcall, crying good morning, afternoon, or evening as I cruise past. I’ve come to recognize that I will never stop sweating in the oppressive heat and humidity, and that I just need to deal with it. I’ve come to look forward to the walk home, knowing that my Rasta neighbor King will have something philosophical to discuss, my hostel-owning neighbor will have something kind to say, and that the little neighbor girls will be eagerly awaiting my return.
When I shoulder my bags once again and walk back down Front Street on Saturday to board a boat back to Guatemala, and eventually a plane back to Denver, I’ll be looking at Punta Gorda in a whole new way. I’ll be looking at it as a gateway to the adventures I experienced, the things I learned, the people I met, and the hopes I have for Belize.
My summer, in 3 minutes and 16 seconds:
Posted By Laura Burns
Posted Aug 24th, 2012