I was flying over the Gulf of Mexico, staring out the window of seat 1A. I had a Buffalo Trace in hand. My second, I’ll admit. A box of snacks had just been delivered and nobody was asking for a credit card. Which made me think, Just what in the world was I doing in seat 1A with drinks and a snack box? The seats were wide, the service attentive. Suddenly I realized a mistake: I’d booked first class for my return trip from Belize.
I hadn’t paid for the ticket, but someone had. When it was time to present my expenses, I could picture someone rolling their eyes. I’d only be able to say, “Well, it’s been a while since I flew international.” Who knew if I’d have to cut the difference. Either way it got me thinking that most of us are in the same boat. Travel still feels odd, unfamiliar, a bit challenging.
In fact, the potential for curveballs has never been greater. One touch of a key and you end up in first class. Miss your timeframe for a covid test and I don’t know what might happen. Flight changes? Extra nights at hotels and lodges? Meals and incidentals? And what if you contract covid while away? Got a backup plan for affordable accommodations?
I knew what I was getting into when I flew to southern Belize, but the opportunity to fish for permit on some of the most productive flats and reefs in the world seemed too good to pass up. Got to live, right?
Day one I discovered how difficult permit can be. Day two? Ditto. High winds, bad casts, spooky fish, difficulty spotting them with untrained eyes . . . I was starting to feel inferior, wondering how I could have caught so many thousands of trout and so many salmon and steelhead in my life, and yet couldn’t put together a solid cast to save my life for a permit. But on day three I got lucky. I cast to two fish, thought I heard the guide say cast again, lifted the line and fly from the water only to hear the guide scream, “No! Why cast!”
I wanted to say, “Well, hell, I don’t know. Just practicing my double haul,” but I simply cast again. Fly landed, the fish turned, I slowly stripped and suddenly was tight, everything happening no farther than 15 feet from the boat. Fifteen minutes later I had my fish and one angling goal was checked off the list.
I wasn’t the only one taking the plunge; while visiting a few fly-fishing lodges I overheard several people saying that they’d cancelled their trips three or four times during covid before finally touching down in Belize. Whole families were present and all seemed in good spirits. Yes, there’s risk to travel. And yes, coordinating covid tests and keeping up on any changes to international entrance requirements is somewhat of a burden, but the rewards of travel remain as great as they’ve ever been.
For instance, I’d just returned from a small coral island off Placencia. I wanted to buy water but I still hadn’t been able to break a US hundred dollar bill—and that’s all I’d brought to Belize. Hundreds. Another rookie mistake, made while returning to international travel. I’d tried to break it at BZE. Then at a hotel in Belize City. Tried at a high-end resort in Placencia. Tried at the lodge. And now I was trying to break it at a tiny gift shop at the Placencia airport where the minimum credit card purchase was $20 US. Didn’t want to use the credit card. All I wanted was two large waters. We’d ended the previous evening with a solid jolt of Patron and now I would have walked barefoot across a bed of shark teeth for safe water. An older Belizean woman at the counter said, “I don’t have change for that.”
I said, “Darn it,” and turned toward the refrigerator. She stopped me and said, “Ok, you can have one.”
I said, “That is so generous of you. Thank you so much,” and she replied, “You take two.” I told her I would pay her back on my return travels and she smiled.
She wasn’t working when I returned, but her crew was keeping an eye out for me, probably wondering if the “gringo” would live up to his promise. By this time I’d broken a hundred and when I handed over a twenty I said, “Enough?” They smiled and nodded in a sincere, kind way.
I said, “Please tell her I was here. Please tell her she is wonderful and kind.” One of the women replied, “We will. She was hoping we would see you.”
When I walked out of the gift shop that day I was just a little softer in the heart and a bit more optimistic for the world than I’d been just a few days before.