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Hiding From A Pandemic In Paradise

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Posted: Thursday, April 23, 2020. 4:40 pm CST.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.

About the author: “My name is Brent Timm, and I’m the creator of SnackChat Live – A Food & Travel YouTube Series. I left my career and home just over one year ago to chase my dream of eating in all 195 countries.”

By Brent Timm: I was only supposed to spend 2 weeks in Belize and just 72 hours in San Pedro–how did I end up staying on the Ambergris Caye for over 72 days and counting?

After traveling to over 15 countries in 2019, I began a journey that was supposed to take me through all 7 countries in Central America, with Belize set to be the first destination. I departed Minnesota on a freezing-cold Monday in February, and watched as the snow-covered landscape of home transitioned into the blue waters of what would be my new “home” for the foreseeable future.

While countless people had their travel plans dashed due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, my journey was initially halted by an ill-timed fall, and a few pulled back muscles. On my first full day hitting the beaches of San Pedro, I slipped on some seaweed-covered dock steps, and reaggravated a back injury. After a doctor’s consultation and a cortisone shot, I was advised to “take it easy” for a few weeks to properly heal. As a full time YouTuber, I carry a lot of gear to help create my videos, and the next cities on my itinerary were flush with hiking, caving, and other physically-taxing activities. Not wanting to risk reinjury, I opted to stay a few more weeks at the Sandbar Hostel, resting and recovering in a 12-bed dorm room, right in the middle of tropical paradise.

Despite a rocky start, my next weeks in San Pedro would prove to be some of the best of my life, with all credit due to the amazing people I met on the island. I found the locals of Belize to be extremely kind, generous, and genuine. I cherished the relationships I was able to create with fellow travelers, business owners, and other island inhabitants. Being surrounded by beauty, delicious food and good company will do wonders for a person’s well-being. After a month of numerous doctor and chiropractor visits, I finally felt well enough to explore the mainland of Belize and then cross into Guatemala. Unfortunately, something called Covid-19 had other plans.

On March 19th, my home country of the United States issued a level 4 travel advisory–the strongest ever issued in peace time–urging all citizens to abandon their travel plans and return home. Upon seeing this “warning” appear in my inbox, I scoffed at the idea of “repatriating,” since cases were mounting in the USA, and all analysis pointed to the situation only getting worse at home. In the hostel and in the streets, conversations about secret beach, nightlife plans and everyday life slowly began to vanish. In their absence, virtually every discussion would soon revolve around the growing pandemic. Even before the advisory was issued, tourists and expats were beginning to leave the island en masse. Dorm rooms once filled with snoring guests had now gone silent. Dance floors that were recently packed, were now empty, and an island that personifies the idea of “spring break,” was coming to terms that the holiday may be over.

In choosing to stay in Belize and not “run” home, I was confident that this country, and the Ambergris Caye specifically, was the absolute safest place in the world for me to be. I felt that staying on the beach would be the best environment for my mental, physical and creative health. After all, at this point, Belize still had no confirmed cases of Covid. Why would I put myself in danger, if I was perfectly happy living the island life? A part of me also didn’t want to “concede” that the pandemic was going to interrupt my career dreams, while another part of me remained hopeful that the virus wouldn’t be as destructive as many experts predicted. Despite the air of security and many people’s insistence that “it’s too warm in Belize for Covid to spread,” the silent enemy would indeed reach this amazing country, with its first visit taking place just a few miles from me, right here on San Pedro.

It’s now been 4 weeks since the first, and only confirmed cases of the virus arrived on the Ambergris Caye. This month has somehow passed by both incredibly quickly, and at the same time, excruciatingly slowly. I can barely remember what life on the island was like before the state of emergency and lockdowns were initiated. During my time in Belize, I have found the local people to be extraordinarily kind, generous, genuine and helpful. I cherish the friendships I’ve made here, and my heart breaks for those who are now out of work. Myself, the citizens of Belize, and the rest of the world now find ourselves waiting for a day that no one can even begin to predict will arrive. Waiting for the pandemic to end…waiting for the tourism to come back…waiting for our lives to go back to “normal.”

In the past month, several US and Canadian repatriation flights have come and gone. I still feel San Pedro is the best and safest place for me to be, and I consider myself extremely fortunate to be constantly surrounded by a group of hostel staff and guests that have now become something like a “family” to me. Whenever I do decide to leave, I know I’ll still remember the savory taste of fry jacks, the hum of golf carts, and the sweet aroma of the city’s bakeries, long after my tan fades.

You can catch more of Brent’s adventures on his Youtube channel.

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