A Memorable PlaceBelize stops the clock and...


A Memorable Place

Belize stops the clock and turns it back

By Herb Smith

San Pedro on Ambergris Cay, Belize. From Baltimore, it takes three flights, so it's not easy to get to. But this island is well worth the trouble.

Belize is an increasingly popular destination for ecotourism, and San Pedro is one of its many highlights. Imagine a multiracial and cultural community at peace with itself and protective of the environment. That's San Pedro, a town of about 4,000 people perched on a 25-mile-long island protected by the second longest barrier reef in the world.

On arrival, you realize immediately you're in a simpler place and even simpler time. A local ordinance mandates no buildings over three stories high, so sunrises and sunsets are available to all.

San Pedro has no McDonald's or Gap or Starbucks franchises. It's not Disney World. It's not a theme park of any kind. What adventure there is, you make for yourself, interacting with the people of San Pedro and the natural environment.

You can begin your day at Ruby's Cafe on Front Street, talking with the fishing guides who gather there at 6 a.m. You can snorkel or scuba dive suspended in the saltwater, and witness the countless miracles of life.

There are colors and forms under the water that you can scarcely imagine. Corals of every shape and size grow in profusion on the reef and are host to shoals of blue tang, mangrove and Lane snapper, as well as schools of Spanish grunts.

Visit Shark-Ray Alley, where docile nurse sharks and southern stingrays cruise for handouts. Or you can fish. Our guide, Captain Pete, could spot bonefish and barracuda on the flats from a hundred yards off.

Or simply relax and watch the sun emerge from the sea and track across the Caribbean sky. And you can always stay up late and close some oceanfront bars, where tourists and locals mix freely.

San Pedro is an effective antidote to our commuterized and fast-paced lives. Too often we drive when we should walk, buy fast food when we should cook, watch the TV or computer screen when we should actively play.

These are the patterns of 21st-century life. We eat the burgers, wear the latest style, think the latest conventional wisdom; but most of us know there are older rhythms, truer to the self -- the ways of the land and the sea -- where we can find ourselves, grounded in nature and things that are real.

San Pedro teaches these subtle lessons in a way you will never forget.

Herb Smith lives in Baltimore.

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