photo by chef john malik

Island Turkey

Considering his night, Bobby’s smile is energetic. He six foot tall frame balances gracefully in his six foot long kayak. He’d spent the night fishing the coral reef and has several Jacks and a Permit or two in his boat.

“Cualquier otro pescado?” I ask.

“Yes” His voice husky is tired from his overnight excursion and returning to the dock with a broken paddle. He opens his cooler and shows me six gorgeous red snappers, each about five pounds.

“Thanksgiving turkey!” I spout.

Buying fish on the dock

Ben, the groundskeeper at Feathers, laughs heartily. Bobby spoke little English and after Ben translates, Bobby croons with raspy laughter.

“Si. Pava pescado, senor.”

We decide I’ll return in ten minutes and Bobby would have my snapper scaled and gutted and when I do so, I pay him his asking price of 21.00 BZ, $11.00 US, plus a nice tip. Bobby smiles, thanks me generously and wishes me a beautiful day. Bobby spent his night in a small, recreational kayak. His cutting board was a three-foot piece of two by four and he had a small LED flashlight strapped to the bill of his ball cap. He dropped lines into the water, no rods, no reels, just baited line. His hands probably could’ve sanded wood. I walk back to Amy, waiting for me with our dogs in our rented golf cart. The impossibly fresh fish for our dinner tonight would fetch $20.00 a pound back home. I have an eighty dollar fish in my hands.

Spectacular Red Snapper

For perspective, suppose an international tourist stopped by our farm back home and asked if I had anything delicious for sale. My only comparable offering would be Grey Squirrel which I’d have to shoot then clean. I wonder if he’d tip me for providing something I consider a nuisance?

Our Thanksgiving started with a 4:30 am rain shower. Under our tin roof the rain creates a pleasant, tropical sound. I made coffee sweetened with honey and tamed it with a shelf stable cream, curiously labeled Crema Media. “Media” means half yet this cream is as thick as pudding, much closer to heavy cream than our half and half. It is quite lovely and has none of the scorched flavor notes of canned milk. We shared a cinnamon roll from our nearest bakery, grabbed our camera, saddled up the dogs and putt putted our way to the beach.

Local landscaper loading Sargasso seaweed into his truck.
Photo mine, editing courtesy Richard Ondrovic.

The recent rains have left gaping holes in these gravel roads. And those holes are still fat with grey water so driving across these roads is akin to “Whack a Mole”. We dodge and skirt the watery divots, our golf cart transmits every bounce through our backside and spine. When another cart approaches it’s hurry up decision time. Do we return to the proper side of the street, likely plow through a nasty hole and possibly splash the bike passing us on our right? Do we wave the approaching cart through as we wait our turn for the less-bone jarring side of the street and if so, will the folks coming up behind us be in a gotta get to work hurry or will they also value their bones and joints as we do? There’s no chiropractor on this island (Edit: There is a very excellent Chiropractor on the island. David “Doc” Arnold. Tell him hi from the Bowens, former island residents now living in Merida, Mexico.) and but a few medical clinics and there’s plenty of broken carts with cracked wheels, rusted out leaf springs, drowned engines, fried electrics. This town is a graveyard of golf carts so we usually yield to those with an agenda. There’s but a few miles of paved road, and when I say paved, I really mean not gravel. Those particular roads are crowned with pavers and every quarter mile or so there’s an enormous depression with a “caution” sign. Sometimes those signs are near the depression, sometimes not. After the heavy rains of Eta, work began on those depressions. That work is still going on and it makes for more games of Golf Cart Chicken.

The mean streets of Belize

Access to the beach is available about every third block. We park, unload the dogs, lock up the cart. Our dogs love this adventure and on our walks they’ll chase iguanas, sniff Sargasso, watch leopard rays from a dock, spy a variety of sea and shore birds, maybe get a sausage treat from one of the vendors on bicycle. The rides through town are bumpy for us, the dogs don’t seem to be bothered. Their four legs absorb shock much better than our rumps and they smile and chatter all the way to our destination.

This is our fourth week here on Ambergris Caye  and this afternoon we discussed Thanksgivings from years ago. Parades, television, pies, broccoli, more pies, turkey & gravy, football, and of course there was always friends. Our dinner tonight will be a baked grouper, so fresh its eyes are crystal clear. I’ll stuff it with slices of lime, cilantro, onion, and hot peppers. We’ll have rice, cucumber tomato salad, avocado salsa, and fresh tortillas. One of the tortilla houses sends out a guy in a golf cart through the town. He has two ice chests full of warm tortillas, wrapped up in wax paper, 30 each. He charges 2.00 BZ for a pack of 30. This particular tortilla house grinds fresh corn every day, makes the masa, then cooks the tortillas on a comal and loads them into an ice chest. Maybe an hour later our guy swings through our neighborhood tooting his horn, letting us know the tortillas are here.  I believe we’ll have a glass of Hibiscus Rum Punch, too.

Fresh, warm tortillas can be had daily

We miss our friends and we have made new ones in this distant country. And we’ve also reminded ourselves of the bounty of America. Over the years we’ve been to Romania, The Bahamas, Mexico, Morocco, Yugoslavia, Greece and now Belize. And every time we’ve traveled, we’re reminded of the things we take for granted. Here in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, there isn’t one traffic light, there’s one gas station, little in the way of air conditioning, no movie theatre, one local beer. You get the idea. However, the charm and simplicity of life here reminds me of the things we seem to have forgotten. The natural beauty here is quite breathtaking, there’s fresh local fruits and vegetables available on almost every corner, there’s street food, simple little bars on the beach, and constant smiles for strangers. And we both believe Thanksgiving should be something we experience year-round, not just one day. A daily appreciation of all things beautiful, a daily expression of thanks and gratitude is the way to true happiness. We are enjoying ourselves immensely.

Hibiscus blossoms simmering for tea.
Look for the Hibiscus Rum Punch recipe soon.

“It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy that makes happiness.” ~ Charles Spurgeon

Sunrise on San Pedro. Photo mine. Editing courtesy Richard Ondrovic.

If you’re new to this website, you’re reading the year-long adventures of John & Amy Malik in Belize, Central America. We’re professional chefs, restaurant owners, food & travel writers, adventurers, experienced tent campers, and hikers. We prefer authentic street food over a steakhouse, craft beer over traditional lager, a glass of Spanish Garnacha over California Merlot. Should you feel so inclined, please share this essay with someone you’d take on a rustic adventure, and sign up for our next dispatch from Belize. Just click here.

6 Comments
  • Jane Courter
    Posted at 08:13h, 27 November Reply

    Happy Thanksgiving! Miss you! We are in Colorado visiting my oldest son Elliott. How are Tudor and Holly doing? Jane

  • Joan Henderson
    Posted at 14:06h, 27 November Reply

    Thanks for sharing your awesome adventure with us. Will there be a book? You are missed.

    • ChefJohn
      Posted at 17:11h, 28 November Reply

      Joan a book is certainly my goal with these essays. Thank you.

  • Cheryl Bowen
    Posted at 12:11h, 28 November Reply

    There is a very excellent Chiropractor on the island. David “Doc” Armold. Tell him hi from the Bowens, former island residents now living in Merida, Mexico.

    • ChefJohn
      Posted at 17:11h, 28 November Reply

      Thank you for the information, Cheryl. I’ve edited the essay.

  • Robert Chiles
    Posted at 12:54h, 28 November Reply

    Beautiful story. Beautiful photos.

Please add in your two cents.

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