By Joseph L. Romeo
Edited by Naturalight Productions Ltd.
NB: Remember to click on the links in the article to see all the images.
From where we stood on the balcony of our suite, breathing in the fresh salted air, the city looked beautiful with its shore, crystal clear. The turquoise water gave the sea a marvelous serenity and the warm morning filled us with anticipation of the sights ahead. Tender boats were already making the fifteen minute trip from shore to transport passengers to the docks on the mainland so my wife and I leaned out from our suite, observing the comings and goings of the busy people below. It was another day in paradise and today we would be visiting the one tucked on the Caribbean coast between Mexico and Guatemala.
The first people to be ferried from ship to shore were the ones who would be spending the day outside Belize City, climbing Maya temples, diving the Barrier Reef, touring on the rivers, fishing the flats, or snorkeling with sharks and rays. As they rushed to find adventures on the shore, we adjusted the contents of our backpacks for our own excursion. I decided that today would be "the" day to send my friends postcards so into my backpack I slipped my Hewlett-Packard palmtop. My wife, Betty, thought that she may enjoy sitting on the beach so she packed a few towels and I added my Nikon binoculars as an afterthought.
Our gear safely secured on our backs, we made our way down to the fourth deck and onto the tender ships that would take us to Belize City and off to another pleasant day. As veteran travelers we have become accustomed to the small islands of the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. An English-speaking country, which shares similar history and culture with the Caribbean, we thought, would be no different. We would follow our established routine when we pulled into port -- hire a local driver to show us the attractions then visit a Catholic Church.
Standing on the mouth of the Belize River is the Fort Street Tourism Village, a docking facility that features stores, restaurants and snack shops, tour guides and operators, and cultural entertainment. When we stepped outside the steel gates of the "village" we were met by the predictable local opportunists eagerly offering their services. A taxi driver reached out with his hand and introduced himself as Mike Pollard, a gesture that made us choose him.
We followed Mike up the street to his white Toyota that was sadly in need of repair. Mike apologized for the condition of his vehicle, pried open the doors, and invited us inside the van. Since we had already decided he was OUR guide and taxi driver, we stayed the dubious course through narrow streets, between concrete commercial structures and wooden homes, and across bridges that stretch over the Belize River.
Mike's tour took us to parks, pass a lighthouse, near the Museum of Belize, along the waterfront, and across a hand-cranked bridge that opens to allow boats into and out of the Belize City harbor. Mike concluded the sightseeing tour with stops at the oldest cemetery in the country which was near the oldest Anglican Church in Central America. Next we passed by the old Government House, a legacy of English colonial rule that has been converted into a House of Culture. At Betty's request, we headed to a local beach where a couple was getting married then turned our attention to finding the local Catholic Church.
Mike suggested Holy Redeemer Cathedral. Inside the church we met the resident priest, Father Callistus Cayetano, took some photos, and donated a few dollars to the renovation project that is at hand even today. Father was delighted to have two strangers show up with an offering for the church and promised to say mass for us. I handed him my business card, gave him a hug, and after a tour of the chapel, we returned to the fair of local merchants at the tourism village.
After reviewing the sensational woodwork, souvenirs, and colorful clothing, we made a few purchases and decided to return to the ship. I was sitting on the small stern when my wife asked:
"Where is your bag?"
I knew in a second that I had left it on the mainland which had since become a silhouette in the distance of the boat's wake. My mind raced: Where had I left it? Was it in the church or in one of the stores? I couldn't remember. What I couldn't forget was that the palmtop computer that held all my personal and business addresses, the very palmtop that was to facilitate my missives home, was lost with my bag.
Back on the cruise ship, personnel standing on the dock in their pressed white uniforms listened to my story, their hopeless chagrins echoing the hopelessness of recovering my little bag. I took a tender boat back to the shore, retracing my steps at the tourism village. My heart sank when the guards told me my search was futile and I resigned myself to my little bag being gone, even as I ran outside to the spot where the men had once stood selling transport services. After repeating the story to several people and asking about Mike Pollard, I was told with complete certainty:
"I'm afraid you'll never find your bag again" so I assumed my binoculars, book, and palmtop had found their way to the local pawn shop.
I said a prayer, asking God to do his will, and with that returned to the ship dejectedly. I drank a few too many gin and tonics to grieve the loss of all my personal information but mostly to anesthetize the stupidity of being so forgetful.
Back home in Nashville several days later, I had all but forgotten about the loss of my little computer and the binoculars when my secretary telephoned. She recounted a tale of a curious long distance call from some man with a thick accent who claimed he had our stuff. I knew instantly that it had to be Mike Pollard, our Belize driver. I was bubbling in excitement as I dialed Mike's number. His smiling voice answered the phone.
We started our conversation with the typical comments on weather and inquirers on how our trip back home had ended. Mike confessed that he was not a religious man but that he was impressed that we would leave our ship, not to see the sights, but to help the Church in Belize City. It had touched his heart. Mike had taken our little bag to Father Cayetano at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, presuming that Father could get our possessions back to us.
He was right. A few days later my little bag showed up at my office. Far more than binoculars, a book, and a computer, my little bag came back with optimism, hope, and this story about how we can help each other just by doing the right thing. Thanks to Father, thanks to Mike, and most of all, thanks to the people who help build our Catholic Churches around the world. As we found out in a paradise called Belize, for all its ups and downs, our Catholic church is still a place that brings us together even if sometimes it is only in a little bag of hope.
For More Information on Activities in the Belize City Area,
please click on the links below:
Images Courtesy of:
Tony Rath Photography
E. Roy Cayetano