Alright, I’ll admit this: I have few regrets in life. I swear. But there’s one regret that nags on me every time I think of this trip I took to Belize in 2006. My then-boyfriend, now-husband Joey and I were exploring Belize and Guatemala (for more on the great places we stayed, check out this post) and had met this amazing couple, Beth and Kevin, who were on their honeymoon. I won’t go into the details about how we couple flirted with them for days before finally garnering the courage to talk to them, but needless to say, we fell in love with them and I think they liked us too (we’re still friends), and it turned out we shared a love for Phish, scuba diving, and travel, which leads me to my next point….
One morning while we were in Placencia, Beth and Kevin joined Joey and me in our rental car for a drive to what we’d heard was a great local market about three hours south in a town called Punta Gorda (or ‘PG’ by locals). We made it to the market (which offered a practical array of goods for locals, everything from fresh fruit to backpacks) and grabbed lunch at a nearby restaurant. The day was hot (as most days under the Belizean sun), but the town was colorful and the scenery unspoiled. We decided to head north after lunch to make it back to the hotel in time for an afternoon swim. About an hour north of Punta Gorda, the car’s steering wheel veered sharply and we heard a pop from one of the tires. Then another pop. Joey pulled to the side of the road and we got out to assess the damage. We had two flat tires. The other two tires were also very deflated. We didn’t have cell phones and there was nothing surrounding us but fields and jungle. It was early afternoon and the sun was oppressively hot. Joey and
Kevin (okay, really just Kevin—sorry, hon) replaced one of the tires with the only spare we had. There seemed to be no cars traveling on this stretch of the Southern Highway. When the occasional bus passed, we waved it down, but no one stopped. As we were about to split up to walk to the nearest town to find a pay phone, we saw, in the far distance, a young man sauntering toward us. He was alone and he seemed to rise out of the haze like a traveler in the desert. As he drew nearer, we realized he was pushing a cart. We waited for him, sitting in the car, running the A/C for a bit but worried about our depleting fuel. Finally, the man walked past us. He looked our way, waved, and we rolled down our window.
‘Hello,’ we said, as English is the common language in Belize.
‘Hola,’ he returned. Okay, we realized, no English and none of us spoke good Spanish.
‘Pantalones?’ the young man asked us. Although his question may have implied he needed pants, he was wearing a pair, as well as a short sleeved shirt, sneakers, no hat, no sunglasses. He didn’t seem to be carrying much with him aside from a cart full of stacked pants. Quickly, we realized: this is a traveling pants salesman in the era of online retailers and WalMart. But to whom was he selling? There was not one home for as far as the eye could see. And he was WALKING. ALONE.
‘Sorry,’ we told him. ‘No pantalones. Teléfono?’
He looked confused. We pointed to our deflated tire and the spare. We were covered with sweat and mosquito bites. This man barely glistened, as if he was merely out for a daily walk in the chilled air of San Francisco.
‘Iglesia,’ he said, pointing down the road ahead of us. I knew enough French from middle school to understand this meant ‘church.’
‘Donde?’ we asked.
He shrugged, then told us maybe a few kilometers away.
We asked him where he was from. He said ‘Guatemala.’ We gestured to the pants, made a motion of walking, and said ‘Tu? Walking? De Guatemala?’
‘Si,’ he sighed, as if this question were insane. Of course he had walked from Guatemala pushing pants. What did we think asking him how he’d gotten here? We were at least forty miles, as the crow flies, from the Guatemalan border, but stranger than this, there was no direct highway into Guatemala from Punta Gorda, Belize’s southernmost town. In fact, at Punta Gorda, the road just stopped and turned to dirt roads and swaths of damp jungle. Where did he walk from and how did he find enough patrons to buy his pants?
We thanked him for the information and he pushed onward down the endless road north. We turned our attention to the car, questioning whether or not we could drive it slowly enough to make it to the ‘Iglesia.’ We took turns drinking our last bottle of water. Finally, Joey set the car in drive and we rolled down the road at no faster than a snail’s (or pantalones salesman’s?) pace. We found the church, made a call to the hotel to let them know where we were in case we never made it home. Some kind men at the church told us about a tire shop a few more kilometers up the road. Again, we returned to our slow-moving vehicle, happy we had any wheels at all. There wasn’t anyone at the tire shop, so we walked across the street to a small grocery where we asked the owner if she knew when the tire shop would open. She said she didn’t know, but as we talked to her a bus driver walked in and said, ‘Oh you mean Ramon? Yeah I know him. He’s the town *%($.’ (Input your own offensive homophobic expletive here—you’d think I’m making this up, but I’m not). ‘He’ll be back soon,’ the bus driver told us, mumbling something else about Ramon’s sexual preferences as he slipped out the front door and we stood there stunned, looking to one another for proof we’d really heard what we thought we just did (in retrospect, not saying something to the bus driver about his offensive remark was Regret #2).
Okay then, we thought. Apparently Ramon is well known around these parts.
Finally, Ramon returned to his tire shop and we brought the car over. Unfortunately, Ramon didn’t have any tires that would work and we’d have to wait a few days. Humph. He suggested we drive farther north to Alabama Wharf, the largest nearby town where at least if the car was not drivable, we could take a ferry from there across the strait to Placencia. In Alabama Wharf, we did in fact find our savior—Jose, nonetheless, a proselytizing Christian who, while fixing the car, talked to Joey and Kevin about how he found Jesus.
In the end, Jose fixed the tires enough for us to roll safely to Placencia. However, when we finally ate our meal together at the hotel that night we looked to one another and exclaimed, ‘Pantalones! Why the heck didn’t we buy the pantalones?’
In the heat of the sun, the pantalones salesman had asked us a simple question but we were too distracted by our own worries about the flat tire that we couldn’t spend what probably amounted to a few US dollars to help the guy out. We didn’t need pantalones, we thought in that instant, we need a new tire! A telephone! Too overwhelmed with our situation, we hadn’t bought what would likely have become a loved souvenir of our Belizean adventure and would’ve rewarded the poor traveling pantalones salesman for his entrepreneurial efforts. Sure, this may not seem like a large regret, but it has always haunted me, reminding me that there are larger things in life than spare tires and finding the way home. Sometimes, all you need are a pair of pantalones, two healthy legs, and a view of the horizon.