Hermits on the islands of Belize
BELIZE ISLAND, Belize- “We are on a deserted island!” a young American tourist whooped upon landing on the white sands of a Belizean cayo.
“That is a real stupid thing to say!” boomed an unexpected voice from the interior, “this island is not deserted, I’m here!”
It is true, there are hermit caretakers on many of the cayos that stretch out to see from Belize. I met two on the cayo that my boat stopped at. One was named Big Mac, he was big and black, had a booming voice, a broad chest full of frizzy little kinky hairs, big eyes, and a friendly smile. He approached our boat as soon as we landed.
He seemed to enjoy our intrusion.
I made a sandwich for him.
He had a friend with him on the day that we arrived.
“He is the lighthouse keeper on that island over there. I invited him here today because I had some extra coconuts to share,” Big Mac told me.
These men were hermits in the truest sense. They live out on these islands just watching over them. Big Mac said that he was presiding over his cayo for the owner of the long deserted hotel that crumbled behind him as we talked. His friend, a little shorter and fatter Garifuna man, turned on a lighthouse of a neighboring cayo at night, and, I imagine, flipped it off in the morning. Both men lived lives secluded on these islands, which were no bigger than square kilometer or two.
Every few weeks a boat picks them up to go back to the mainland to reprovision their supplies. Other than that, they hitch rides between the various cayos with fishermen or any other boat they can flag down. Both men said that they did not have boats. They did not seem to care that they were virtually marooned.
They raided our food supplies. I let them.
Can we have this? Can we have that?
Big Mac told me that he was once a police officer on the mainland. He was now way past retirement age, a grandfather a couple times over. He told me that he sometimes watches drug drops between his cayo and a few others in the near distance.
They drop the packages in the water by plane, and then a boat picks it up right away.
“There is a hole that goes from here up to Mexico,” Big Mac explained, “and from there the drugs go to the United States.”
I asked him if the drug traffickers bothered him too much. He replied that they didn’t, but then replied:
“I use to be a police chief, so I know what I am looking at.”
He did not seem overtly worried about the drugs moving through the cayos right in front of him. It seemed to be entertainment for him to watch, and entertainment for him to tell me the story of.
I was entertained. Truth mattered little — maybe packages of cocaine from Colombia are dropped off in front of this hermit’s island doorstep. Either way, the hermits seemed overjoyed at the presence of a dozen new strangers to talk with, to tell us their stories. They seemed to gravitate towards me. We talked, they smiled.
“How long have you been here for?” I asked Big Mac.
He seemed happy. In every direction stretching away from him was nearly every man’s quick rendition of paradise — a shinning sun, a glistening sea, white sand islands, few people, far from civilization, coral reefs, fish, coconuts, palm trees, an old broken down and forgotten hotel.
I wished the hermits goodbye as they pushed our boat for us away from the beach and out to sea. We departed, they stayed.
We waved. They did too.
“Those men on the island,” the driver of our boat later joked with me, “their only friend is the moon!”
A statement that was, for all intensive purposes, very true.
Belize Travel Guide