The beauty of life on an island, one that points north/south, is the sunrise. Our little house is parallel to the beach and I’m usually up by 5:00. I’ll make coffee first then ready Otis’s food. Our tiny patio is ten steps off the beach. It faces east, north east. As the sun begins to brighten the sky, the coffee is ready and Otis usually takes a spot on the patio, his snoot placed in an opening of the lattice, sniffing out the smells of morning.
My friends have brought some of Ricardo’s amazing coffee from his farm in Columbia and it’s a welcome change from the Sanka that’s usually served in San Pedro. A pretty blonde walks past and smiles as I toast her with my coffee.
“Waiting on the sunrise?”
The sun doesn’t rise, though. Our planet rotates on its axis while also racing through its year-long elliptical orbit around the stationery sun. Like a well kicked soccer ball, the earth spins, tilts its equator towards the sun, while also arcing across its flight path. Our horizon, our perspective, is constantly evolving, changing as the earth travels through space. And I believe perspective is everything, though sometimes it is nothing.
A memorable sunrise has sight and sound. The flags of the dive shops in front of us are fluttering in the wind and they’re running from the spot where the sun will slip over the horizon. There’s the constant rhythm of the waves, small waves, one every three seconds, as they whoosh onto the shore. That shoreline is usually cluttered with sargasso grass, and plastic. This morning I notice the grass isn’t so thick. The tattered flags snap repeatedly like little whips, like a warm sheet in my Mom’s hands before she would fold it. Some of the taller sailboats are tilting back and forth with the sea’s rhythm and their lines slap and occasionally clang against their masts. There’s the rustle of nearby leaves combined with the roar of the waves breaking over the reef. That’s a steady roar, omnipresent, it’s the background of everything here on the beach. It’s the sound of the French Broad River rushing over a rocky stretch near North Carolina’s Pisgah forest. It’s the thrum of a distant waterfall, a steady wash of white noise, a backbone to the splash of the shoreline’s coming and going waves.
The first delicate brush strokes of orange are here as the light creeps across the horizon, scorching the perimeters of clouds with fire. I see an ancient treasure map with burning edges, the kind those shallow charactered pirates from black and white movies used to carry in a tattered back pocket. Like a hefty flashlight aimed across clothes hanging in a dark closet, the clouds are now filling with light, brightening more map edges on the salty horizon. The rays peek over in orange shafts, individual rays now burning through previously unnoticed gaps in the clouds. The clouds drift apart and open as the warmth of the sun burns off vapor, forcing these stubborn clouds to yield. The color of the sky is evolving rapidly now. Its misty greys are now soft blues, now brighter blue. The water is grey, pencil lead grey. A few high clouds catch the sunlight, morph from dark grey to light grey to shades of white. As the sky brightens, smaller clouds pick up speed and head for the shore where they shed puffy bits of themselves. The orange that was previously soft and translucent is now a hefty splash across the sky. It’s the orange of a damp, glittery satsuma skin, gallons of it, spilled across a garage floor, reflecting on the steel, aluminum, and rust of these sailboats.
Perhaps forty feet away, Ronald, an elderly gentleman and night-time guard for the dive shop, eases back and the salted, weathered wood of the pier and his chair gently creak in unison. The wind has picked up just a bit and the leaves of the Bonsai-like almond tree and the nearby mangrove are fluttering. These are softer plants than the rugged palm in front of me. Their leaves are smooth and waxy and as the wind blows, they create a sound as a sheet of silk gathered up by young, delicate hands. Palm leaves are stiff and rugged, they scrape against each other like sheets of Nori being removed from their crunchy Cellophane wrappers. Now the sun has arced over the horizon, scattered all but the most stubborn clouds, cast a shimmer of gold on the water and warmed my face. My wife’s hand curls around my bare shoulders, seeking purchase, inviting another cup of coffee. Now the sun is out in the open, and the orange has turned to shades of steely silver and blue. In the time it takes to enjoy a kiss and a sip of coffee, the clouds have dissolved, the sun is well above the horizon and Ronald is waving to us as he saunters past and offers us a good morning.
The water taxi is rumbling to life. Its diesel engines grumble and protest as the captain maneuvers it to the south side of its dock for the 6:30 run to Caye Caulker then Belize City. The sunrise is over, my coffee cup is empty, and now the day begins. There’s more people on our beach, joggers, shop owners, a dive crew, a few tourists having a walk.
In a few hours we will pick up our friends for our final day here in San Pedro. They’ll spend the day, and night with us. Tomorrow we head to Placencia for our remaining months in Belize. Placencia sits on the tip of a peninsula and its water is calm, placid due to the town’s natural harbor. Placencia is much further from the reef so we will not have its roar. Its beach, where we will stay, is devoid of boats and docks and there’s no water taxis on our side of the peninsula. Our perspective will have changed. Our mornings in Placencia will be much quieter, yet less dramatic. I’ll miss spending those fleeting moments with a San Pedro sunrise.
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, recovering 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.