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We've visited most of Europe, North Africa, several of the former eastern European countries, Mexico, Canada, Central America, and Brazil. Our trips have always been a pleasure, but there is a special country we keep going back to: Belize.

Here's why: In 1972, while living in Corpus Christi, I had some oil royalty to sell, so I contacted a buyer in Houston. After the sale, he mentioned having just returned from a vacation.

"Where'd you go?" Belize, he said.

He described a great experience, and after I returned home, Vertis and I were intrigued. Several airlines fly the two-hour flights to Belize City out of Houston. In Belize City, you change planes to a puddle-hopper and 30 minutes later you're in San Pedro, a town of about 1,000 people located on the barrier island of Ambergris Caye.

I had enough info to get a hotel reservation from transplanted American Jerry McDermott, a former oil man from Houston. He told me that after he returned from his first Belize trip, he was playing gin rummy in the Petroleum Club of Houston when he said, "I'm moving to Belize." He purchased a hotel in San Pedro. That's where we stayed.

It turned out that "hotel" was stretching it a bit, since the accommodations were thatched huts, complete with lizards in the ceiling. (Current accommodations have greatly improved.)

When Jerry first moved to Belize there was a contest to swim to the Belize Barrier Reef (the second largest barrier reef in the world, about 700 yards from the dock) and back. To enter, you pinned a $20 bill to the dock. The first person to swim to the reef and back would take the money.

All the professional divers entered. Jerry asked if he could, and at the age of 40, this American, who looked a little out of shape, was welcomed, since they figured his $20 was going to be a gift.

When the swimmers hit the water, the wiry divers darted out ahead. When they made the turn at the reef, Jerry was dead last. But after the turn the Belize swimmers began to tire, and Jerry pulled ahead. As the guides staggered in, Jerry, a former American swim team member, was pulling $20 bills from the pier.

On our first visit we met Eduardo Brown, who once worked as a diver for Jacques Cousteau. We hired him along with his boat for the week, and immediately hit it off; we've returned time after time to spend the week fishing, diving, and sightseeing with Eduardo.

After I described our trip to my brother Dr. William Mason, he visited the country several times. Over the years that we were back and forth to Belize, Eduardo's son Eduardo Jr. graduated from high school, and while William was there on a visit, Eduardo Jr. commented that he would love to attend college in the United States.

William, who may have had a little to drink, said, "Come stay with us and go to UALR." That fall William received a call from the Little Rock airport. It was from Eduardo Jr., who stayed with William and his saintly wife, Kittye, for four years.

But back to why Belize is my choice. English is the official language, and the country's dollar is worth 50 cents U.S. You can pay for anything in either Belizean dollars or U.S. dollars and usually receive change in Belizean currency.

Our week with Eduardo would go something like this: He would say; "Let's fish around the reef, dive and spear lobsters for lunch, and cook them on the beach." I can't describe how great fresh lobster tastes when cooked over palm fronds. The seafood in the town's restaurants is also excellent.

After lunch we often did a little beachcombing; our favorite spot was a beach opposite where a Spanish galleon, centuries ago, sank after hitting the reef. We would pick up pieces of the shipwreck, the most common being thick glass bases of wine bottles. Some folks have found gold coins. On our coffee table we have 20 or 30 wine bottle bases. They make for great conversation starters.

Or we'd take the boat and cross the bay to the mainland and go up New River to see the ancient Mayan city of Altun Ha where the center has been uncovered, revealing a massive stone pyramid a couple hundred feet tall, with a ball court set in the middle of a rain forest; it's still vividly in my mind.

Or we would wade across a lagoon about five miles down the island to an abandoned Mayan village. The lagoon bottom is muddy, and you had to double-tie your shoes or you would lose one. Vertis wasn't thrilled with wading in thigh-deep water with mud halfway up your knees, but she did.

Our kids Ashley (12 at the time) and Lara (then 14), beat us across the lagoon to where the village once stood. In what was the center, there was a six-foot-in-diameter hand-dug well for fresh water, foundation walls, and rectangular outlines of houses. Off to one side was the village garbage dump, where broken clay pots and arrowheads along with clam shells and oyster shells by the thousands had accumulated. I carted off as many of the broken pots and arrowheads as I could haul home.

Then, just before we left, Ashley, who was under a big tree, yelled, "Dad, look at this!"--pointing to a large python curled up on a tree limb. About the same time Lara shouted, "Look!" She had found a Mayan ring.

Where else can you take a two-hour plane flight and end up in such a wonderful, exotic country?

Email Richard Mason at

Editorial on 02/09/2020

Print Headline: A favorite vacation destination


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