I thought I knew exactly what to pack when I moved down to my rock in Belize in 2011.
I’d be living on an island in the Caribbean Sea, so, clearly, all I needed to bring were some bikinis, shorts, tank tops, flip-flops, and my electronic gadgets that would allow me to keep in touch with the important people back home.
Over time, whenever I visited the States, I’d bring back a few more things that I hadn’t considered the first time down: jeans and hoodies for the winter months (when the temperature drops below 75 degrees… brrr!); a few favorite books for when the humidity effects my Kindle and it refuses to turn on; rain boots for when the puddles get too deep and suck the flip-flops right off your feet (I’ve since abandoned all forms of shoes and strictly go barefoot); and a small, tempurpedic pillow (because when you move around as much as I do, it’s just nice to have a pillow that you know hasn’t been slept and drooled on by 80 other people).
I learned pretty quickly what lasts and what doesn’t, and what kinds of things you actually end up with while living on a rock…
THINGS YOU LOSE:
Anything made out of cloth that doesn’t get stored properly, and anything leather – no matter where you keep it.
I’ve lived in some teeny, tiny apartments since I’ve been here and have had to keep clothes tucked away in their suitcases for months at a time (this happens to be the case now, actually). I learned the hard way that if you don’t air your shit out, the mold will get to it. Your bikinis, too – the sun and salt water will destroy the strings until they’re rotted out and useless (spare shoelaces, if you can find them, come in handy in this event). Same goes for leather – purses, shoes, belts, anything with a leather strap – the mold WILL get it.
Yes, you’ll have to replace them. Whether it’s because of the humidity and salty air destroying them from the inside out, or because you dropped them on the beach and they got full of sand, or because someone less fortunate decides to steal them from you while you’re sleeping by somehow shimmying up the wall of your third floor condo – whatever way it happens, just know they won’t be with you forever.
The desire to do anything with your hair
Seriously – curling irons, flat irons, hair dryers, straightening spray – they’re all useless here. Buy yourself a bunch of head scarves and bandanas to keep it from getting windblown and turning into dreadlocks… or, do what I did, and just roll with the Rasta look.
The ability to drive a regular car without having a slight panic attack
On Ambergris Caye, where I live, the majority of people who still want motorized transportation mostly opt for golf carts. The taxi drivers all have mini vans or small SUVs, and there are a few people who choose to have an actual car, but, on the rare occasion that I need something faster than a bicycle, I rent and drive a golf cart. Going back to the States once every other year and driving a car on the highway in Philadelphia is now an utterly terrifying experience.
The right to complain about your life
You would think that you’re still allowed to have bad days, no matter where you live, but you would be wrong. People from back home lose all empathy for any of your troubles – “… but you live on an ISLAND, how bad can life be?” is a typical response you’ll get whenever you air the slightest of grievances.
Maybe it’s just me, but I seem to either leave my flip-flops somewhere, or they fall apart. I’ve been through, literally, over 20 pairs of flip-flops in the past three and a half years. As I mentioned earlier, I now just go barefoot.
THINGS YOU GAIN:
An appreciation for mosquito coils
Ah, rainy season… when puddles, aka “mosquito breeding pools”, are covering the entire island and there’s no escaping those blood sucking bastards, Hejiahuan Black Mosquito Coils are the only thing I’ve found to help cut down the population in my home. Sure, burning one coil releases the same particulate matter as burning 75-137 cigarettes and the emission of formaldehyde can be as high as that released from 51 burning cigarettes, but I don’t care. They are a must have item.
An increased knowledge of how many uses of coconut oil there are
Rusty bike chain, padlock, or tools? Coconut oil. Need a natural, effective moisturizer? Coconut oil. Pets won’t eat their food? Drizzle coconut oil on it. Need a natural sunblock? Coconut oil is SPF 4. Have dry lips? Coconut oil. Deep conditioner for your hair? Coconut oil with a few drops of peppermint oil. Sand flies eating the shit out of you on the beach? Coconut oil will suffocate them – apply generously. Have a squeaky hinge that’s driving you mad? Coconut oil. Stuck zipper? Coconut oil. Easy salad dressing? Coconut oil, balsamic vinegar, grated ginger. Sore throat? Either mix a teaspoon of coconut oil into your warm beverage of choice or swallow it alone. Seriously… I use it for EVERYTHING.
An obscene collection of sarongs and bikinis
Even though it is totally possible to go for three months straight (or longer) without putting on a bathing suit, you’ll still think you need to buy every cute bikini you come across. I started with three… I now I have twelve. Sarongs are almost as useful as coconut oil – use them as a sheet, pillow, cover up, table cloth, sun shield, bag, beach towel, head wrap, scarf, as a shade to block sunlight from windows – the possibilities are endless. I had none when I moved here, I now own four.
A steady stream of drinking buddies
There will never, ever be a shortage of people to drink with on an island – whether it’s locals, expats, or tourists, you will always be able to find someone to have a few drinks with. You can count on that.
A ton of great (and not so great) stories
I could write a whole book just about the ridiculous ways people behave when they come here for vacation… The girl from New York who had public sex on docks every night with different local guys. The married couple who got drunk and started fist fighting each other on the beach. The British soldiers who got naked and ran around the entire island with their business just hanging out there for all to see. The multiple men who come here and “fall in love” with a local girl, who we all know has about 7 other “boyfriends” she receives money and gifts from when they can’t be here. The guy who thought it was a great idea to sit on the front of the golf cart so he could record the ride on his GoPro and ended up falling off and getting run over by his friend. The old, drunk Scottish woman who used to get so smashed, she’d throw wine glasses at the bartenders who tried to send her home. That time I accidentally pimped out a hooker. The local guy who killed my puppy… Yeah, not all stories are good stories.
The ability to live “without”
It’s totally possible to rent a nice condo or apartment here and get your cable TV, air-conditioning, and hot water – but not all of us can afford to (or choose to) live like we’re still in the U.S. I’ve learned that I can live without TV, air-conditioning, Walmart and Target, a car, shoes, super fast internet, Philly cheese steaks, and even a kitchen (fire pits!). I’m not gonna lie, though – I totally miss having hot water. Only four out of the nine places I’ve lived have had hot water and, I don’t care what the temperature is outside, a hot shower is ALWAYS better than a cold shower. At least let me have a “warm” option…
I’m naturally one of those people who just goes with the flow, but I’ve witnessed plenty of other individuals freak the hell out when something isn’t happening as quickly as they’d like (If you have to do anything involving the government, for example, get used to waiting). The ones who can’t learn to just wait it out patiently end up miserable here and going back to wherever they came from. We’re on island time, man. Just breathe.
– – –
There is so much that is different about island life. I’ve also grown accustomed to seeing many things that I would have considered strange back in my old life… Seeing a family of four on a motorcycle is totally normal to me now. A guy riding a bike with his baby (or a dog) in the front basket is also quite common here, as are groups of men walking down the beach with machetes. We don’t flush toilet paper, either – everything goes in the trash cans. No big deal. This is life now.
What odd things have you gotten accustomed to on your rock?