Friday, January 11, 2008

Travelling Close to Home, by Jess Lourey

belizeMy mom, my two kids (ages 9 and 5) and I just returned from Belize, Central America.  It's a tiny country about 300 miles south of Cancun, Mexico. We were there for 12 days of toucanriver expeditions, Mayan ruin exploring, caving, jungle hiking, snorkeling, and birdwatching.

I chose the country as our vacation destination because it has some of the best close-to-shore snorkeling and diving in the world, and I am trying to get my kids to love snorkeling as much as I do. I'm also fascinated by Mayan history and am tossing around an idea for a mystery series featuring an archeologist who investigates the crossover between ancient unexplained stories and current events, sort of Da Vinci Code meets Indiana Jones. That makes the trip a tax write-off, right? 

Like most vacations, there was a lot of stress and a race to relax, and it seemed like we could never hit the weather right. I also spent too much money. But now that I'm back, I am remembering why it is that I go on these trips every year--they remind me how small the world is and how generous most people are.

The citizens of Belize were unfailingly kind, funny, and intelligent, and constantly challenged the stereotypes that creep up on me living my sheltered life in St. Cloud, Minnesota. For example, at the Baboon Sanctuary outside of Belize City, the four of us went on a tour led by a snaggle-toothed, dreadlocked, sunken-cheeked man howler monkeywho tried to sell us some shaggy plants to keep  the bugs off. He smelled like menthol Parliaments and a Drakkar knockoff. I followed him into the jungle against my better judgment, and it turned out my better judgment really wasn't. This guy was one of the founders of the entire howler monkey conservation movement (there are no baboons in Belize, or this hemisphere, for that matter; the British misnamed the howler monkeys baboons, and it stuck), including creating a co-op of local landowners willing to voluntarily leave land undeveloped so the altun hamonkeys could survive.

That's what the Belizeans were consistently like--knowledgeable about world and local politics, environmentally aware, and crazy-wise about rainforest medicine, which I find fascinating. Also, the country has a minimum wage, universal health care, and social security. My point is, sometimes my world gets too small, and I get too sure of my place in it. Travel shakes me out of that. If you can't afford to go far (which it turns out, I couldn't), do something today that breaks you out of your regular routine. I challenge you to eat at the hole-in-the-wall restaurant that you always walk past, pick up a book by an author you've never read but always thumbed your nose at, or volunteer at your local Humane Society. Do something, anything to rattle your own cage. The payoff is good. I promise.


Joanna Campbell Slan said...


When I went to Belize, I ate a termite. Yeah, my guide explained how the local Indians could live off of them and offered us one for a snack. What the heck? Tasted slightly nutty, with a bit of a crunch. In Australia I ate balmain bugs and kangeroo meat. Nix-ay on the kangeroo meat. It's grey--an indication of yuck!

It's wonderful you took your kids. We took our son to Paris and Cairo, Egypt before he was ten. You are teaching your children to be citizens of the world. A much needed approach to modern life.

Keith Raffel said...

Jess, Like the series idea!

Jess Lourey said...

I love your sense of adventure, Joanna! My mom ate a gibnut in Belize (they look like a big gopher when they're alive), but that's as crazy as we got. Teaching our kids to be citizens of the world is important, isn't it? Does your son still travel?

p.s. Thanks for the tip on eating kangaroos.

Felicia Donovan said...

Jess, great post and a great adventure that your kids will always remember. I, too, think it would make a great series.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Yes, my son will pretty much go anywhere at the drop of a hat. He was one of the only freshmen three years ago to sign up to go to Spain and France. Once your child realizes that people are generally kind and helpful, that we all love our children, that the world is actually a small planet, they will never be beset by some of the small thinking that plagues our leaders.

Candy Calvert said...

Jess--well said, and it sounds like a wonderful trip. I couldn't agree more about the benefits of travel; adventure, new sights, tastes, sounds and textures--but, best of all, a sense of common humanity that extends far beyond borders, time zones . . . and especially politics. On our recent trip to Egypt, we started out more than a bit worried (men armed with automatic weapons followed us everywhere--could we be sure that they were on OUR side?). But our sense of the local people was one of peace, warmth, heart, and great spirituality. They were celebrating Ramadaan, and it was so great to get a glimpse into that and--especially--to see a side of these people that isn't sensationalized on the evening news.

Rick Bylina said...

New adventures pave the way to new stories. It takes us out of our comfort zone, not so that we can be uncomfortable, but to see things from that ever so important different angle which is a must for a writer.

I come from a sedantary family and inherited the gene. Fortunately, my better half can easily pry me from my chair for adventures I truly end up loving.

Inertia is hard disease to overcome.

Julia Buckley said...

Jess, what a great post, and what a role model you are for me. I am Mrs. Comfort Zone, but I'm going to try to take your advice and move myself out of it. There, I moved slightly, did you see that? :)

But what a wonderful adventure for your kids--and it sounds like they'll just keep on coming. When they're adults they'll say--Have you heard of the writer Jess Lourey? You have? You're a big fan? Well, that's my mom. And she gave us a delightful and exciting childhood.