Why Belize for an extended family reunion? That’s what about 35 people scattered in Colorado, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, California, New York, Chicago and elsewhere wondered. By way of family background, about ten first and second cousins who grew up in India immigrated to the U.S. three decades ago. Now, most of us—with spouses and children in tow—eagerly look forward to an extended family reunion every two years. For the children especially, it’s the only time they meet each other and can bond.
As we started investigating Belize, it soon became apparent it’s more central and easier to get to than anyone thought: just a 2 ½ hour direct flight from Dallas. Delta, American and other U.S. carriers fly to Belize, so frequent flier miles could be used. Belizeans speak English. Prices are unbelievably reasonable. Then, there’s the magnificent barrier reef and resorts set right on the beach. The promise alone of underwater treasures motivated the snorkeler in the family to get scuba certified. Others who had never snorkeled before were suddenly eager to discover life below the surface. And it was refreshing to learn Belize is not dominated by a chain of hotels or restaurants. Almost as refreshing, we soon found out, as a cold Belikin beer on a hot afternoon…but that’s another story.
Everyone was thrilled to take a 15-seater plane from Belize City en route to our resort in the fishing village of Hopkins in the Stann Creek district. That thirty minute ride beats any theme park experience! Total time from boarding the flight to take off was less than 30 seconds: think about that when stuck on a runway in the U.S. awaiting take-off. Back on the ground, a semi-paved road through mango and orange orchards and pockets of civilization led us to the coast.
Our accommodations were free-standing thatched huts with quaint wooden porches, air conditioned and spacious, especially the bathrooms. There were no other crowds. We didn’t have to share the beach with anyone else but ourselves. Each afternoon we enjoyed fresh coconuts pulled from the trees on the beach. Thunderstorms one night caused the lights to go off. Our reunion group and a wedding party roared in unison when a back up generator quickly kicked in. To this day, my youngest (who turned eight in Belize) fondly recalls that incident—and the small plane ride—as highlights. Strangely enough, it was the men in our group who pampered themselves with massages given in an open air hut on the pier jutting out into the sea. When we weren’t relaxing or enjoying the fresh seafood, we rode horses, hiked, ziplined and explored ancient caves.
But by far the most welcome surprise was the generosity of the people. The average Belizean is not driven to acquire material things as the secret to happiness. Belizeans exude a feeling of contentment with what nature provides and have a genuine respect for what they have. And why not? When you have rainforests, mangoes so big that Belizeans nickname them “Belly Full” mangoes and miles of pristine beaches, what else is there? In Hopkins, it’s a different way of life, a different value system, a deep ancient melding over centuries between immigrants and locals…a great success story. And for us, Belize made for a magical reunion.