I spy a British spy in Belize...
Ok, some could say that the title of this post is a little misleading. No, unfortunately (or fortunately) I was not recruited by MI6 into some fantastical Bond-reminiscent spy adventure in paradise. However, I did get to gallivant around San Pedro in a golf cart with a retired ex-British spy for a week, have a life changing psychic reading, fly a commercial plane, have lunch with the person second to the President of Belize, and get treated like royalty by the locals. Let me start from the beginning….
Fresh from my separation with my husband, a good girlfriend of mine proposed that we go on a trip to help get my mind off of things. I was interested in going surfing in Nicaragua (more of that to come in a later post) and she wanted to go diving in Belize. So, considering that both countries were in fairly close vicinity of each other, we decided to spend a week in each.
Based on a recommendation by a friend, as soon as we landed we bee-lined to Caye Caulker. Much to our disappointment however, it was not exactly the paradise we were looking for. I don’t mean it wasn’t beautiful, it was a cool, hippie sort of touristy town, but it had no beach. NO BEACH. Only a spit the size of a landing strip that a toy air plane would use and about a million tourists and locals booty-shaking to Bob Marley.
Really, I think I’ve seen watering holes during drought season in Africa that looked more hygienic. In any case, we stayed one night and the next day, booked ourselves into a luxury resort on San Pedro’s beachfront. I know, we’re diva’s – but we had just come from Nicaragua where there was no hot water and we felt like pampering ourselves.
It was paradise. I mean, it wasn’t the most culturally fascinating, or breath-taking place that I have ever been, but the diving was phenomenal and the water was warm, salty and 50 shades of turquoise. In fact, it was so beautiful that I decided to stay an additional week by myself (my friend unfortunately, had to go back to work).
There was this little restaurant there called Licks opened by a Canadian named Mario whom we had befriended and frequented quite often, mainly because we were paranoid about eating at the more local establishments. After my friend left, I had little to do but beach, dive, and visit this café for some good ol’Canadian small talk.
On my first day there alone, I was pigging out on some fresh mahi-mahi and an iced coffee when a little, wrinkly bald man with sharp blue eyes slid into the seat next to me. He ordered a drink and began reading his newspaper. Growing up in a big city, the rule of “don’t talk to strangers” is pretty much ingrained into my self-conscious, so instinctively, I stared intensely into my fish, avoiding eye-contact at all costs. This rule especially applies in foreign countries. But as fate would have it, I don’t think this man sitting next to me had ever heard of this rule. After about 10 seconds of reading his newspaper, he folded it up with as much fanfare as the Macy’s Day Parade, and introduced himself in a rather distinguished British accent as “Martyn”, but I may call him “Marty”.
Below is a photo of my friend and I at Licks:
Marty is a retired British Air Force Commander (or something like that) who now semi-permanently lives in Belize. His wife is from Chile (I think) and they live half the year in Miami and the other half either in Belize or somewhere in South America. How fantastic! We started chatting, and since I was feeling particularly lonely that day, I decided to tell him my sob story (of how my mother died and my husband left me 2 months later, and now I don’t know what to do with my life, etc..) and pretty soon we are both sobbing outside on the patio at Licks. I’m sure Mario was inside giving us the stink-eye as this was certainly not an appealing event to be unfolding outside his restaurant.
After a while…I'm not really sure how much time passed, (does time even pass in paradise…?), a bubbly strawberry blonde woman with an enormous grin plops herself down across from Marty and begins (in a distinctly southern American accent) a tirade about her morning yoga practice. After about 5 minutes without taking a breath she finally noticed me, tear-stained and sniffling, and introduced herself as Mary-Jo Briggs - yoga enthusiast, spiritual author, and clairvoyant extraordinaire. And yes, she is all of those things and then some. So there we were, three very unlikely souls (an orphaned Canadian divorcee, a retired British Air Forcee, and an American psychic), sitting on the beach in Belize talking about life.
Over the next few days, Marty (who apparently had a fair bit of time on his hands) decided to take me under his wing and show me around town in his little golf cart. He told me that it was less for my benefit than for his. “Oh, you wouldn’t believe the talk that goes on in this town if they see me with you! I’m going to tell them that I ordered you online from a catalogue!”.
I was slightly offended by this but was too distracted by the juicy town gossip he had moved on to as we drove down the street.
“Oh, you know the woman who runs that canteen? Well, she was involved with this drug lord a few years ago and stole a bunch of his money down in Columbia but then ended up giving it to her then lover/cousin to pay off some debts. But then the drug lord killed the cousin and she had to escape to Belize where she prostituted herself for a few years but now runs this canteen, which is also a brothel upstairs. They make excellent bbq pork by the way!”
Marty knew everything about everyone. He could tell you what the gas station attendant had for breakfast and when the last time the taco-stand lady picked her nose.
I know I must have spent way too much time with Marty because on several occasions (sans Marty) I would walk into a random knick-knack store and the employees would gush at me,
“Ohhh Miss Lesley! How are you today?? Can we get you some coffee or tea?”
At first I would have this frozen smile of my face and politely decline while racking my brain to remember if I’ve already met these people. When I was certain I hadn’t I would ask, “I’m sorry, have we met before?”
And they would say in a rather sly, cheeky manner, “Oh no! But you’re Mr. Martyn’s friend! We know who you are!”
Right…Mr. Martyn was apparently like a gringo-god here.
One night, after a long day of diving, Marty picked me up from my hotel in his trusty golf cart and we trammeled along to find some dinner. At dinner that night, after realizing that we only ever talked about me, I started to ask him about his life. He said he was married a few times, worked for the air force, and then the government as a consultant.
I asked him “What kind of consultant? Policy consultant?”
Marty grinned and with a little twinkle in his eye answered, “Not that kind of consultant…more in the intelligence field…”.
“Like a spy?!” I practically yelled for the whole restaurant to hear.
He laughed and said, “You watch too many James Bond movies. But I’ll let you think what you want because it’s probably way more interesting than what I actually do”.
“What do you mean ‘what you actually do?' I thought you were retired!” I said.
He looked at me sternly and said, “I said I was retired from the air force.” and then gave me a devilish smile.
Then before I could press him further, he changed the subject and I was completely distracted by the telenovela drama he had begun telling me about the couple sitting behind us.
That night as Marty was dropping me off he asked me, “What are you doing tomorrow? I have to go to the mainland for a lunch meeting with someone, do you want to come?”
Since I didn't really have anything to do, I shrugged and said “sure”.
Early that next morning, Marty and I hopped a ferry to the mainland and took a cab to the police station. “Who are we meeting again?” I asked.
"Oh, the head of police” (I can’t for the life of me recall his name) “Be on your best behavior, he’s pretty much second-in-command next to the president” he warned me.
Ok…right, don’t act like the dumb tourist you are.
We entered the main police building and headed up to the top floor and got ushered into a small room with a security guy sitting at a desk with gold front teeth holding an AK-47. Martyn greeted him warmly and introduced us (I also don’t remember this guy's name).
We waited a few minutes and promptly at noon a gigantic man strode into the room and bellowed out “Marty! Good to see you!”
Then he very politely greeted me and kissed my hand. Marty turned to me and smirked out of the corner of his mouth, “I think he’s quite taken with you” and gave me a wink.
We got escorted downstairs by the gold-toothy man and into a police armored hummer. We went for lunch at a nice upscale local place under a pallapa where Marty and the police guy talked politics – none of which I understood – and shortly after lunch, I asked if I could snap a few photos. Then Marty and I then did a little bit of sightseeing and caught the afternoon ferry back to San Pedro.
On the way back to the island I asked Marty, “So what was that all about?”
And he replied back nonchalantly, “oh nothing much, I just like to keep my ear to the ground…and I thought you might like seeing a bit of the mainland…”
I asked him, “So did you learn anything new…?”
”I sure did…” he answered looking out the window.
And that’s it. He wouldn’t give me anything else. Boo urns.
Every morning I woke-up at the crack of dawn and wandered down to a little local coffee shop where Marty, Mary-Jo, and another American ex-pat by the name of Arnie met for spiritual gatherings.
Arnie was…how can I describe….a taller, skinnier and less-jaded version of Marty. He was extremely spiritual and would be exactly the type of guy you would see sitting on a beach in full lotus position breathing in the power of the universe. But he was quiet and soft-spoken and had a very calming aura around him – I liked him immediately. Must have been all that universe juice – I hear it’s a detoxifying.
How Marty described their daily morning rendezvous' was “we like to discuss spirituality, personal growth, and supernatural experiences that one has”.
It sounded fascinating so I went. As it turned out, it was one third spiritual chit-chat, and two-thirds juicy town gossip. Even better!
One morning, Arnie said to me, “I’d like to conduct a spiritual experiment with you.”
I hesitated a bit…I didn’t want to end up in a séance with a ghost haunting me every place I went…Arnie laughed at my concern and reassured me that it was not that kind of spiritual experiment. We sat face-to-face and he told me to stare, for as long as I could, without blinking, into his eyes. He had, I should point out, the most piercing crystal blue eyes I have ever seen.
After a few moments he asked me, “Who do you see?”.
Ummm…in my head I was thinking..."...you...?"
But I know he wanted me to say something more enlightened. I didn’t want to let him down, so I said the first person I thought of…my great-grandma. I mean, she was old and had wrinkles around the eyes too….it was the best I could come up with. And I guess if I really squinted, I could kind of see my great-grandma...?
“AHA!” Arnie yelled, “I was your great-grandma in a past life!”.
I almost burst into laughter at this point. My eyes swelled up with tears because I wanted to laugh so hard, but Arnie thought I was crying at the revelation so I let him have the moment. It’s not that I don’t believe in re-incarnation. The universe is a pretty crazy place so who am I to say that something doesn’t exist or happen. Everyone needs a philosophy and I was happy to see that some people had found theirs even though I was still looking for mine.
*Marty is on the left and Arnie is on the right
Mary-Jo’s last day in Belize was just 2 days before my last day. We were sitting at Licks (of course) having an iced coffee when she asked me if I would like to have a spiritual reading done. Now, I have never had any sort of spiritual reading done in my life, but I had always been curious.
We went down to the beach and sat on two plastic chairs. She told me to clear my mind (whatever that meant) so I tried to think of frolicking sheep and green pastures. She placed her hands over my temples and told me to ask her any questions that I had on my mind, or about any problem that was really bothering me. I told her that I felt completely lost and unsure of what to do and where to go with my life. She paused for a few moments (I guess to…read my future….talk to spirits….?) Then she said something really profound. I mean, for me it was really profound.
“Usually when I look into someone’s mind, I see two or more paths. People often want to know which path to take to achieve happiness, and it’s my job to guide them to the right path. When I look into your mind, I only see one path…so whatever you decide to do, that’s the right path to take.”
Now, I’m usually really a skeptic when it comes to these sort of things, and I don’t know if she made this up, if it was true, or if she was just really good at reading people and recognizing what they needed to hear, but this was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment in my life.
Take from it what you will, but for me, it gave me the confidence to stop doubting myself and trust my instinct.
On my last day Marty took me to the little island airport. You can either take a small prop plane to the main airport, or take the water shuttle and then a cab to the airport. The plane was pretty cheap and since it took me directly to the airport, I decided to fly. I bid Marty goodbye, rather tearfully. In that week he had become my confident and mentor, and I was sad to leave him. He offered me a job the night before. He said he had “business” in Peru that he needed help with if I was interested. However, I was planning on travelling around the world so I turned him down.
Despite the fact that the airport was packed, I was the only passenger on the plane. Deciding to press my luck a little bit, after we takeoff, I meandered my way up to the pilot and asked him “Can I fly the plane?”.He looked at me, shrugged and said, “sure”. I couldn't believe my luck!!! I’d always wanted to learn to fly a plane! He strapped me into the co-pilot seat, explained what the buttons did and handed over the control of the plane to me. I'm not going to lie. It was far harder than I had anticipated. In my mind I pictured myself like a F-18 fighter pilot manuevering enemy planes, but in reality I think I was more like a drunk toddler trying to drive car.
It was a short ride and after making a couple of scary turns, we see the runway and I assumed he would take back control. He didn't. “Ummm…do you want me to land the plan…?”
“Of course!” he said. "Don’t worry, its not that hard, I’ll help you.” I felt the urge to close my eyes and just hope for the best, but decided this was probably not the best strategy. I followed his instructions precisely and Jesus-be-blessed, we landed, rather bumpily, but alive and inteact. And so ended my adventure in Belize.
In all, despite having traveled to quite a few countries this year, Belize was one of my more memorable experiences. Experiences aren’t just culture, landscape and food, but people and interactions and relationships that you build. But I guess that applies to life in general.
Sorry for such a long post, I could go on more about Belize…the phenomenal diving, getting caught in shark bait lines and being chased by a dozen sharks, but by the time I told the whole tale in its entirity, this post would be the size of a novel. However, if you ever have the inkling to visit Belize, let me know and I’ll be glad to hook you up with Marty for a personalized tour of San Pedro!
For more photos of Belize, click on the photo below!